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Chase Watch Las Vegas: Who will win and get in?

March 06, 2014, Staff report,

Jimmie Johnson tops list of playoff-clinching contenders, including Tony Stewart

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick have punched their tickets to the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with wins in the first two races of the season at Daytona International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.

Harvick and new crew chief Rodney Childers' performance in December at the Charlotte Motor Speedway intermediate track test could bode well for back-to-back wins for the No. 4 car. Unlike Phoenix, where he's the all-time winner and has the top Driver Rating, Harvick has yet to win a Las Vegas Motor Speedway NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and is eighth on the Driver Rating list, one spot ahead of Earnhardt Jr. who is also winless in Cup at Las Vegas.

Looking forward to adding a third driver to the 16-person Chase Grid, here are some favorites who stand a good chance of winning their way into the Chase on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.

Jimmie Johnson: With four wins, Johnson is atop the career Cup victories list at the track. He also has the best average finish among Cup drivers at 9.5 in 12 starts. His 112.3 Driver Rating is nearly nine points ahead of second place. Johnson hasn’t won at the venue since 2010, part of a current string of five consecutive races with a different winner at the track. The last time Johnson was in Las Vegas, he was celebrating his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. A win this weekend would put him on the road to a record-tying seventh title.

Matt Kenseth: The defending race winner could put a stop to the recent trend of different victors by winning on Sunday before his birthday on Monday. His win last March gave him six top-five finishes, tied with Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart for most at the track. He's led more laps in Las Vegas than any other Cup driver (513), and he's had to move through the field to lead those laps. In his three wins at the racy facility, his best starting position is 17th.

Tony Stewart: If not for late-race pit strategy in 2011 that saw Carl Edwards' two-tire stop beat Stewart out of the pits, Smoke would have two of the last three wins at this track. His date with Victory Lane was deferred a year, and it was his first at the track, first of his championship season and first with crew chief Steve Addington. On Sunday, Stewart seeks his first win with Chad Johnston. His 103.4 Driver Rating is third-best at Las Vegas with the third-fastest Average Green Flag Speed of 170.371 mph.

Carl Edwards: Three consecutive top-five finishes and two wins at Las Vegas make Edwards a contender for a win and a Chase spot. Along with Johnson, Edwards is the only active driver with a top-10 average finish at the facility (9.7). He's sixth-best in Driver Rating (98.8) on the strength of being second-best in Green Flag Passes (571) and Quality Passes (344). Jack Roush also has more Vegas wins than any other Cup owner with seven trips to Victory Lane.

Kyle Busch: The Las Vegas native has five top-five finishes in 10 starts at his home track. He also has the best average start among all Cup drivers with 7.1. Busch's one Cup win came from the Coors Light Pole in 2009. He's one of five drivers with a Driver Rating over 100 at the track at 103.0.  Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kenseth also will attempt to get their first NASCAR Nationwide Series win on Saturday.

Jeff Gordon: Starting a season with two top-five finishes for the first time in 17 years, Gordon brings momentum to a track where he's second on the Driver Rating list at 103.8. He's tied for most top-five finishes with six. Gordon’s lone Las Vegas win came during his last championship season, 2001.

Go deeper: Check out NASCAR's Las Vegas Statistical Analysis for more stats and notes for Sunday's Kobalt 400

Heading into the third race of NASCAR's regular season, here is how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings look:

Pos. Driver Chase berth
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Winner: Daytona
2. Kevin Harvick Winner: Phoenix
3. Brad Keselowski 2nd in points
4. Jeff Gordon 3rd in points
5. Jimmie Johnson 5th in points
6. Joey Logano 6th in points
7. Matt Kenseth 7th in points
8. Denny Hamlin 8th in points
9. Carl Edwards 9th in points
10. Greg Biffle 10th in points
11. Casey Mears 11th in points
12. Jamie McMurray 12th in points
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 13th in points
14. Kyle Busch 14th in points
15. Ryan Newman 15th in points
16. Austin Dillon 16th in points


READ: Harvick dominates
in Phoenix win

WATCH: Patrick, Allgaier
initiate wreck

WATCH: Post-race
reactions from Phoenix

READ: Official Phoenix
Sprint Cup race results