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Driver Reports: Chase favorites rise; others fall

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1. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,063 points.
Last week: What a way to start the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Kenseth entered the postseason as the top seed and with more points than anyone else, then earned the maximum of 48 points in his rain-delayed victory at Chicagoland in the playoff opener. Kenseth won and led the most laps, giving him all possible bonus points. And on a day where engines went down, especially in the Toyota camp, his No. 20 ran strong through the checkered flag.
What he said: "I've always wanted to win here in Chicago. It's only a couple hours from where I grew up -- up in Wisconsin. So, it feels great to finally get the win here. We've been close a lot. Man, it's been a long week for everybody. So, it feels great to finally race and be here in Victory Lane."
Outlook: In 27 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kenseth has five top-fives and 13 top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Kenseth ranks 20th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 15.7. He finished ninth in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

2. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is second in the standings with 2,055 points.
Last week: Busch couldn't quite pull off the tripleheader sweep, but he came as close as a driver could get. Following victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series, Busch finished second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth. The No. 18 Toyota led 67 laps and was winning late before Kenseth passed him with 23 laps remaining.
What he said: "I can't say enough about the guys, Dave Rogers (crew chief) and these guys did a great job from Saturday where we were to (Sunday). I didn't think we had a shot, but the speed really came alive here at night for us and we were really fast."
Outlook: In 17 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Busch has one win, five top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Busch ranks 12th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 14.3. He finished second in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

3. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson is third in the standings with 2,052 points.
Last week: Johnson faced several issues that could have derailed his day (and night), but the No. 48 team rallied as it so often does in the Chase. First, an apparent official's mistake on pit road cost Johnson time. Then on a later pit stop, a brand-new jack broke and slowed him up. But the 48 got better as the night went on, and tore through the field late to finish fifth. Johnson also led 40 laps.
What he said: "The next to the last run, we got ourselves right back in the thick of things. And unfortunately, just didn't have the speed at the end there, for that final segment to go race for the end. But, from a jack failing to a call on pit road for a lug nut that was not supposedly on, and a variety of issues, it was a great comeback."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Johnson has three wins, eight top-fives and 16 top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Johnson ranks third out of 56 drivers with an average place of 9.9. He finished sixth in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 2,048 points.
Last week: Harvick was one of the most proficient drivers on restarts throughout the night, which enabled him to continually move up from his starting position of 17th. That was enough to overcome some pit-road pitfalls, including losing ground by taking four tires (everyone else took two) and once when he was blocked in by Dave Blaney in a traffic-jam of cars during fuel-only stops.
What he said: "Yeah, we had a lot of fun. Obviously our car was running really good after the break there. These guys did a lot of work in between while it was raining there. So they did a good job with the car and making some adjustments to the car there toward the end. Had a lot of fun and came up a couple short, but a good day."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Harvick has one wins, five top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Harvick ranks eighth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 12.8. He finished seventh in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

5. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is fifth in the standings with 2,040 points.
Last week: Edwards didn't finish in the top 10 at Chicagoland, like eight other Chase drivers did. But in the No. 99 Ford, Edwards finished 11th and also got a bonus point for leading a lap. The bonus point for leading a lap helped him keep fifth place in the standings -- which is where he was entering Sunday's race.
What he said: "There are a couple of things I wish I could take back. I tried the high side one time and about five or six guys freight-trained me on the bottom. The last restart we all just kind of fought for the bottom and I had to check up or I was going to wreck Greg (Biffle). That got us. Other than that, the strategy I think was very good to have good tires at the end."
Outlook: In 18 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Edwards has two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Edwards ranks 13th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 14.3. He finished eighth in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

6. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is sixth in the standings with 2,040 points.
Last week: Busch got busted for speeding on pit road Sunday, something that has plagued the driver all season. But it happened early enough in the race to where the No. 78 could recover. A series of cautions allowed Busch to get back on the lead lap, and his Chevrolet kicked into cruise control from there. The 'Outlaw' drove to a fourth-place finish and moved up four spots in the standings.
What he said: "We had to overcome adversity with speeding on pit road. All my lights were green, but hey, when you are cutting it that close and they say you are speeding just take it, get your penalty over with and get back on your horse. We had to come from behind and then we got the wave around. Battling up through on the restarts, one of them we went from eighth to third and then the car just was off just a fuzz. Top-fives are what it's all about in the Chase."
Outlook: In 25 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Busch has three wins, seven top-fives and 11 top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Busch ranks 10th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 13.5. He finished 31st in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

7. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Gordon is seventh in the standings with 2,039 points.
Last week: Gordon didn't know he would drive in the postseason until two days before the race, when NASCAR awarded him an unprecedented 13th spot in the Chase field. The veteran made the most of it at Chicagoland and finished sixth after losing out on a spirited duel for fifth place with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. Gordon was in the lead on a late restart but, in an incredible bit of bad luck, had a front tire go down. (Watch video of that incident below.) Forced to pit, the No. 24 team later caught a fortuitous caution to get back on the lead lap. Now Gordon is, appropriately, 24 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
What he said: "Well, that was an incredible accomplishment. It just shows how much fight this team has in them. We never give up. And, what an awesome Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet race car we had tonight. To think how far down we were with 40 laps to go, to be able to come up through there and get sixth and have a shot at a top-five was a lot of fun."
Outlook: In 37 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Gordon has three wins, 16 top-fives, 22 top-10s and four poles. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Gordon ranks first out of 56 drivers with an average place of 7.3. He finished 10th in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

8. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is eighth in the standings with 2,035 points.
Last week: Newman is like Jeff Gordon in that he wasn't included in the initial 12-driver field, but was later added following NASCAR's ruling after the controversy at Richmond. And also like Gordon, Newman made the most of his chance, finishing 10th in the Chase opener and gaining four spots in the standings. " Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: "Track position was really important. We were stuck in the back of the pack for a while and couldn't really get going -- every time I got up behind someone, I'd just get so tight I couldn't do anything with it. Matt (Borland, crew chief) got us position with a couple of two-tire stops, and once we were up front we were able to make a little more of it."
Outlook: In 23 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Newman has three wins, six top-fives, 15 top-10s and six poles. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Newman ranks ninth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 13.0. He finished 39th in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

9. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is ninth in the standings with 2,035 points.
Last week: Bowyer's finish at Chicagoland was a story we've seen several times this season. The No. 15 Toyota was nowhere near the lead pack for the majority of the race; then suddenly, as the race neared its end, Bowyer somehow found his way into the top 10. The driver finished ninth to cap a pretty miserable week in which he was accused of intentionally spinning at Richmond. He's ninth in the standings now, and the lack of wins this year is starting to catch up.
What he said: "It was a good night."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bowyer has two wins, four top-fives, six top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Bowyer ranks sixth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 12.1. He finished 13th in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

10. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 10th in the standings with 2,032 points.
Last week: Kahne survived a calamitous situation on pit road in which he was bumped by another driver, causing damage to his No. 5 Chevrolet, and finished 12th. His showing gave Hendrick Motorsports three drivers finishing in the top 12, and also ensured that 10 of the 13 Chase drivers finished in the top 12.
What he said: "Yes, it was actually a pretty good finish for what we had. There were like three or four guys clueless on pit road; they are all stopping and can't find their stalls -- like we've never done this before. I was racing Carl (Edwards) and the next thing you know I'm trying to stop and Junior is trying to get stopped and we are all hitting one another. Hurt our car pretty bad and from there we just battled."
Outlook:
In 19 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kahne has one win, three top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Kahne ranks 14th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 14.3. He finished 11th in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

11. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is 11th in the standings with 2,032 points.
Last week: Biffle's car nearly blew up for good multiple times Sunday. Combine that with some problems on pit road, and The Biff wasn't too disappointed in his 16th-place finish. His No. 16 Ford led two laps and ran in the top three at times before losing some power. The fact that his engine didn't blow completely ensures that Biffle is still in reasonable contention for the title. " Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: "That was a rough night. We had major issues in the pits. I don't know what happened. We started from the back a few times and it is really hard to get track position to pass. Our car was pretty good but every time we got ourselves worked up there, something happened. Something broke. I thought the motor broke but it must have been something on the exhaust system. We were down quite a bit of power the last 100 laps."
Outlook: In 22 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Biffle has one win, five top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Biffle ranks 16th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 14.5. He finished 15th in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

12. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 12th in the standings with 2,011 points.
Last week: Logano's night ended in an absolute disaster. The No. 22 Ford started on the Coors Light Pole and was one of the fastest cars of the night. Logano led the first 30 laps to the competition caution, and appeared to have a top-five car. Then a lengthy rain delay didn't do any favors to Logano's engine, and he dropped two cylinders when racing resumed. His team told the driver to log as many laps as he could until his engine blew up, which it did on Lap 176. The 37th-place finish leaves no room for error in the final nine races. " Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.
What he said: "I am pretty angry. That was such a fast race car we had. Unfortunately the motor blew up. You have these every once in awhile. It is a bummer to have it in the Chase when you are running for a championship. I feel like Chicago was one of those tracks we could win at."
Outlook: In 10 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Logano has one win, two top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Logano ranks 25th out of 56 drivers with an average place of 22.6. He finished 40th in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is 13th in the standings with 2,010 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. started the Chase in a hole, considering he had no wins in the regular season and therefore no bonus points. His 35th-place finish at Chicagoland, after his engine blew up late in the race, puts him last in the 13-driver field and 53 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. (Watch video of his incident below.)
What he said: "We had a car we were pretty happy with and you know just thought we were going to have a pretty good night. Something broke there in the motor. It's tough. It's going to be really hard to win a championship this far behind."
Outlook: In 28 career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has seven top-fives and 11 top-10s. In the past eight years at New Hampshire, Earnhardt Jr. ranks fifth out of 56 drivers with an average place of 11.7. He finished 14th in the first 2013 race at New Hampshire.

MORE:

READ: Kenseth wins at rainy Chicagoland

READ: Engine failure halts Logano's fast Chase start

WATCH: Post-Race Reactions GEICO 400

WATCH: Final Laps: Kenseth takes Chicagoland
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