Commentary

Five drivers to watch: Sharp AQUOS 500

Five drivers to watch: Sharp AQUOS 500

Updated: September 4, 2007, 9:32 AM ET
By Joe Breeze | ESPN.com

Five have clinched. Two can clinch simply by starting the next two events. And five others are sittin' awful pretty in the Chase picture.

That picture's not as rosy for the boys on the bubble, though.

With two races left to determine the Chase for the Nextel Cup field, only three drivers are within striking distance of the 12th and final Chase spot now held by Kurt Busch: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (158 points back), Ryan Newman (175) and Greg Biffle (317).

Of those three, only Earnhardt has a mathematical chance -- but far from a realistic one -- to overtake Busch in Sunday's Sharp AQUOS 500 (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) at California Speedway in Fontana. To reclaim the coveted 12th position, Junior would have to win the race and lead the most laps, and Busch would have to finish last without leading a lap.

Points leader Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are locks for the Chase. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton will make the dance just by starting this weekend in Fontana and next week at Richmond.

Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch round out the top 12.

With that in mind, here are five drivers worth watching this weekend:

Matt Kenseth

1. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth, who'll make his 275th consecutive Cup start Sunday, is the only two-time winner at Fontana since 2000. He won there in February, and he's hoping to become the first driver to sweep a season series at California.

Kurt Busch

2. Kurt Busch
Sunday's pole-sitter has won two of the past four Cup races, but the numbers aren't in his favor. Busch has only one top-10 in his past four California starts, and no driver has won at Fontana from the front row.

Jeff Gordon

3. Jeff Gordon
The points leader is the only three-time winner in Southern California and has led more laps there (457) than any other driver. His seven top-5s lead all Cup drivers.

Jimmie Johnson

4. Jimmie Johnson
JJ leads all Cup drivers with a 7.4 average finish in nine races. He has finished no worse than 16th at Fontana. Johnson qualified second fastest and will start alongside Busch on the front row.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Junior is running out of chances. He had a solid fifth-place outing last weekend at Bristol but failed to make up any ground in the race for the Chase. Junior needs to duplicate last summer's runner-up finish at Fontana and hope Kurt Busch encounters big-time trouble.

Five others to watch: Tony Stewart (won three of past six Cup races), Denny Hamlin (16 top-10 starts in 24 races), Ryan Newman (12 top-15 starts in past 13 races), Kasey Kahne (defending race winner, qualified third), Kyle Busch (four straight top-10s at Fontana).

Joe Breeze is a motorsports editor at ESPN.com. He can be reached at Joe.M.Breeze@espn3.com.