Loudon II: Round 27 preview

Setting the Field: The 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Begins New Drivers, Teams Spotlighted as 3rd Chase Begins DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 12, 2006) -- The field is set, the stage prepared. Sunday's green flag at New Hampshire ...

Setting the Field: The 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Begins

New Drivers, Teams Spotlighted as 3rd Chase Begins

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 12, 2006) -- The field is set, the stage prepared.

Sunday's green flag at New Hampshire International Speedway marks the beginning of the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, and storylines pop faster than dashboard gauges.

Among them: Fresh faces, rejuvenated ones and some fascinating facts.

The Class of 2006 features only three drivers from the Class of 2005 -- standings leader Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), second-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and seventh-place Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford).

Five of the 10 participants are Chase rookies -- third-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Reese's/GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), fourth-place Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet), fifth-place Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), eighth-place Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chervolet) and 10th-place Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge).

Four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) return after one-year absences.

Harvick and Burton's presence also means their team's Chase debut -- Richard Childress Racing.

And Denny Hamlin's participation is the first by a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate; the second by a first-year driver. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) did it last season.

"We really didn't expect to go out and be able to be contenders like we are this soon in my career," said the 25-year-old Hamlin. "To do that is just a good sign of things to come."

One final nugget: Kenseth, Johnson and Martin are the only three-time Chase participants.

Chase Primer: What-When-Where Of Championship-Deciding Format

What: 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup

When: Last 10 weeks of season

Playoff-Style Format: Top 10 drivers in points post-Richmond have their point totals "adjusted." They are separated by 5-point increments -- a total of only 45 points. Top driver in points starts the Chase with 5,050 points, down to the 10th-place driver who starts with 5,005.

Tracks: New Hampshire (Sept.17); Dover (Sept. 24); Kansas (Oct. 1); Talladega (Oct. 8); Lowe's (Oct. 14); Martinsville (Oct. 22); Atlanta (Oct. 29); Texas (Nov. 5); Phoenix (Nov. 12); Homestead-Miami (Nov. 19).

Facts:

Since the inception of the Chase in 2004, there are more drivers than ever in the running for the championship, down the stretch of the season.

*There is more fan interest than ever.

*All drivers -- not only those in the Chase -- continue to compete for race victories, race purse money and season-ending point-fund money.

*In '04, the first Chase resulted in the closest championship battle in history, with Kurt Busch beating Jimmie Johnson by eight points.

*Last year, Tony Stewart's margin over Greg Biffle was only 35 points.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin