Chase starts and eyes are on familiar faces

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 11: Denny Hamlin, driver of the  FedEx Office Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 11, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Christa Thomas/Getty Images for NASCAR)

With the final 10 races of the Sprint Cup season about to get underway the talk of the series surrounds the same names it has earlier this year.

With New Hampshire first on the docket Jimmie Johnson (4 time champ and 5 time winner this year) and Denny Hamlin (6 wins) are the focus this weekend. Combined the two have 18 top-10′s in 26 starts including 4 wins. Hamlin’s average finish of 8.2 is the best at the track with Johnsons 9.0 second.

But we’d be boring if we talked about Johnson and Hamlin for an entire article highlighting a NASCAR weekend.

Other drivers to keep an eye on are Jeff Gordon who has won three career events at New Hampshire and whose consistent runs have him as the driver who may win the championship with a win this year. Oh yea Gordon has finished fourth or better in 5 of the last 8 races at New Hampshire.

Tony Stewart may be peaking at the right time. He’s not far removed from a win and it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if the #14 again finds victory lane this Sunday. He ran second earlier this year and has ran inside the top-10 in three of the last four races here.

Could we see a back-flip? Maybe?  Carl Edwards is certainly picking up steam at the right time. He’s got a decent average finish of 14.8 but most of that is made up of 12-17th place runs. Perhaps we’ll be eating M&M’s with Kyle Busch instead. Busch managed a second place run at Richmond after starting back in the pack. He’s got top-10′s in 5 of his 11 starts with four of those runs being inside the top-5.

Another veteran with a nice resume at the track is Jeff Burton but he too is win-less this year. In addition Burton has finished better then 12th just one time in the last six trips to the track. While he has four career wins at Loudon he they occurred from 1997-2000.  So all that makes Burton a good pick, but not a great pick.

Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth have combined for one win in 40 starts but have finished inside the top-10 21 times. Of the two Harvick likely will run better this weekend but both figure to garner valuable tv time.

While I maintain staying away from Mark Martin, I’ve found myself conflicted on Ryan Newman. The driver of the US Army #39 has looked good and bad this year. Newman has two career wins at Loudon and has 11 top-10′s in 17 starts. He’s certainly worth the gamble.

HAMPTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 05: Greg Biffle, driver of the  3M Scotch Blue Ford, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on September 5, 2010 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Call me crazy but Greg Biffle is another driver I think will have a breakout day. Biffle has been in a mini slump the last few weeks with car troubles but with a fresh start could the Biff be Ford’s best chance? Biffle has 6 top-10′s in 16 starts including a win in the fall 2008 race. Even with my gut saying the nice things about the Biff I don’t know. He’s been a mixed bag and is just as likely to finish 31st as he is to finish 3rd or 1st.

For the back pack boys two options are Martin Truex Jr and Joey Logano. Logano won the spring race last year and was ninth earlier this year. As for Truex he’s looking to return to the success he had in 2007 and 2008 where he posted finishes of 3rd, 5th, 4th, and 7th.

I’ve also thought about changing the way I do this. Since I pretty much talk about the same drivers every week I was thinking of simply making a list of the guys 1-10th with a few bonus picks.

For example this week I likely would go.

1. Hamlin
2. Johnson
3. Kyle Busch
4. Tony Stewart
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Ryan Newman
7. Jeff Burton
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Carl Edwards
10. Greg Biffle
11. Joey Logano
13. Matt Kenseth
21. Mark Martin