The race to make the Chase is now in the rear view mirror for all but the 12 qualifiers who will comprise the lineup for the season-ending 10-race run to the 2012 Sprint Cup championship. The 12-car field in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, the 10-event playoff that will determine this year's Sprint Cup champion in stock car racing's top racing series, begins this weekend at Chcagoland Speedway in the city of the same name.
Twelve drivers will compete in the 2012 Chase for the Cup, led by points leader Denny Hamlin, who drives the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Defending Cup champion Tony Stewart is also in the Chase field.
Hendrick Motorsports will have all four of its drivers in this year's Chase, including five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who will start on the pole in Sunday's race at Chicagoland. Michael Waltrip Racing is one of two teams, along with Roush-Fenway, with at least two drivers vying for the championship, and one of the Waltrip drivers, Kansas City-area native Clint Bowyer, is coming into the first of the 2012 Chase races with as much montentum as anyone in the field.
Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., and his 5-Hour Energy No. 15 Toyota, won last week's Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway and finished sixth in the final standings that set the 2012 Chase field. Bowyer, who also had a win this season at Sonoma in one of the two road-course races on the NASCAR regular-season schedule, will be in the eighth spot on the starting grid at Chicagoland.
This is Bowyer's second time in the Chase field and his second time in the last three years. He was in the Chase in 2010, driving for Richard Childress Racing. This is the first year, however, for a Michael Waltrip car in the championship field. Martin Truex Jr., the second Waltrip driver to make this year's field, is also in the hunt for the Cup, despite having not won a race so far this season.
While Bowyer's career resume may not be as impressive as some of the competition he will face from others in the Chase field over the next nine weeks, no one can top his attitude and outlook as one of the prized dozen drivers who are still racing for something as NASCAR heads into the homestretch of its 2012 season.
"It's fun man," the native Kansan said this week during practice sessions in Chicago. "It was fun the other day to see all the Chase drivers happy and excited. You don't always see the drivers exactly happy, all at the same time.
"But I promise you those 12 drivers were happy to be (here) and having a lot of fun, he said. "We'll probably be back to miserable (come Sunday)."
Notably absent from this year's Chase for the Cup is another Kansas City-area NASCAR favorite son, Carl Edwards, who is missing his first Chase in six years. Edwards, from Columbia, Mo., has gone winless in Sprint Cup competition since winning at Las Vegas in March 2011. The driver of the No. 99 Ford for Roush-Fenway has recorded only two top-fives in 26 regular-season races leading up to this Sunday's race and finished
"Everything I've done this year has been geared toward these 10 races, and the idea of missing them...that wasn't the plan," said Edwards, last year's runner-up in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. "I'm physically fit and I can be. I'm mentally fit. I'm prepared, and I feel like we're ready to go, and there are still victories out there. But there's not that huge goal, and that's tough."
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