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Kansas marks Chase separation time

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

The Chase enters its most crucial three-race string, as dictated by Jimmie Johnson. This is the stretch last year when he first caught up to Mark Martin, then took the lead and from there never looked back.

Stick with Johnson through Kansas, Auto Club and Charlotte and you have a shot. Lose ground and you're likely out of contention. Because after this stretch it's on to Martinsville, where you're likely going to lose ground to him; Talladega, where you can only pray to gain something; Texas, where he's as good as anyone; Phoenix, where he's better than everyone; and Homestead-Miami, where he typically puts it on cruise control.

It may be cliché, but it truly is now or never for Johnson's challengers.

Each Wednesday during the Chase, Yahoo! Sports breaks down the 12-driver field. This week the Chase rolls into Kansas Speedway for Race No. 3 of the Chase.

Here is a look at how the field stacks up heading into Sunday's Price Chopper 400:

5368 pts.
Hamlin

It's put up or shut up time for Hamlin. He got through his nemesis, Dover. Now the schedule gets into his comfort zone. Can he remain mistake-free?
Last week's result: 9th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
6 11 1
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 19.0
Last time: 5th
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Martinsville (6.6)
Worst: Talladega (19.3)
Total avg.: 14.2
2. Jimmie Johnson
5333 pts. (-35)
Johnson

His intermediate-track program has been questionable this season, but Johnson said a third-place run at Atlanta gave him some confidence. Is that for real or is it false?
Last week's result: 1st

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
6 11 3
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 10.2
Last time: 9th
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Phoenix (4.9)
Worst: Talladega (17.8)
Total avg.: 9.6
5323 pts. (-45)
Kyle Busch

Who would have thought it possible for Kyle Busch to do anything quietly, but he has so far in the Chase. We know he'll make some noise, but will it be from a burnout or a flame out?
Last week's result: 6th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
3 8 2
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 24.3
Last time: 12th
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Auto Club (10.8)
Worst: Homestead-Miami (25.2)
Total avg.: 18.5
5309 pts. (-59)
Kurt Busch

Self-inflicted mistakes have cost Kurt Busch about 40 to 50 points, and now he heads to Kansas where he's never been great. Expect him to lose even more ground.
Last week's result: 4th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
2 9 2
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 19.7
Last time: 11th
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Auto Club (12.2)
Worst: Martinsville (21.6)
Total avg.: 16.6
5303 pts. (-65)
Harvick

The master of head games got beaten at his own game at Dover. Harvick must regain his focus before he loses sight of Hamlin, Johnson and the Sprint Cup trophy.
Last week's result: 15th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
3 12 2
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 15.9
Last time: 24th
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Homestead-Miami (8.4)
Worst: Charlotte (20.7)
Total avg.: 15.5
5295 pts. (-73)
Edwards

No one has more on the line this weekend than Edwards. This is where he either plants himself as a contender or becomes a dreaded Chase "participant."
Last week's result: 5th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
0 7 2
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 13.3
Last time: 10th
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Homestead-Miami (6.5)
Worst: Talladega (22.5)
Total avg.: 13.8
5288 pts. (-80)
Burton

Burton is the most intriguing of the 12 Chase drivers. You can't peg him as a top contender, but you can't count him out either. Kansas is kind of like that for him, too.
Last week's result: 2nd

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
0 6 0
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 18.6
Last time: 23rd
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Phoenix (11.4)
Worst: Kansas (18.6)
Total avg.: 15.6
5285 pts. (-83)
Gordon

Gordon and Steve Letarte need to figure out how to finish races, because not being their best at the end is costing them points every single race.
Last week's result: 11th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
0 10 0
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 8.9
Last time: 2nd
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Martinsville(6.7)
Worst: Talladega (16.7)
Total avg.: 11.8
5228 pts. (-140)
Biffle

Expect Biffle and the 16 team to pull out all the stops. Kansas is his best Chase track, meaning if he doesn't get it done now, it's likely he won't the rest of the way.
Last week's result: 19th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
1 5 0
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 9.0
Last time: 3rd
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Kansas (9.0)
Worst: Martinsville (22.3)
Total avg.: 17.3
5206 pts. (-162)
Stewart

Smoke is running better than where he sits in the standings, but that's little consolation when he's staring at a 162-point hole.
Last week's result: 21st

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
1 7 2
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 13.2
Last time: 1st
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Phoenix (11.7)
Worst: Auto Club (14.9)
Total avg.: 13.4
5203 pts. (-165)
Kenseth

There aren't many positives to talk about with Kenseth. He's better than a 15th-place driver, but that's where he's running every single week.
Last week's result: 18th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
0 5 0
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 22.1
Last time: 39th
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Auto Club (9.1)
Worst: Kansas (22.1)
Total avg.: 16.2
5133 pts. (-235)
Bowyer

It's unofficially over for Bowyer. Yes, he's not done with his appeal, but even if he were to win now the distraction obviously cost him major points at Dover.
Last week's result: 25th

2010 STATS
Wins Top 5s Poles
1 5 0
CAREER
AT KANSAS
Avg. finish: 11.0
Last time: 21st
REMAINING TRACKS
Best: Kansas (11.0)
Worst: Talladega (21.4)
Total avg.: 15.2