Phoenix II: Penultimate round preview

* Several Chase Drivers Remain Close to Cup Phoenix To Set Championship Stage DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2006) -- Two races remain in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season and while all 10 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are still ...

* Several Chase Drivers Remain Close to Cup

Phoenix To Set Championship Stage

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2006) -- Two races remain in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season and while all 10 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are still mathematically eligible for the title, at least five have a realistic chance.

Only 105 points separate the top-five drivers, one of the closest margins in series history.

For the second time in this year's Chase, all 10 drivers changed positions. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) used a second-place finish last week at Texas Motor Speedway to climb back on top of the standings where he had been most of the season.

Johnson became the fourth different driver to lead the 2006 Chase field -- the most in the format's young history.

Things weren't looking as bright for Johnson early in the Chase. He considered his championship hopes dashed after falling to eighth in the standings, 156 points behind then-leader Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) after four Chase races. Johnson fought back with four consecutive finishes in the top five. He won at Martinsville and finished as the runner-up in the other three races. During that stretch, Johnson gained 173 points, climbing from eighth to first.

Johnson now leads the standings by 17 points over Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford) - the second closest margin under the current points system, which began in 1975. Richard Petty led Darrell Waltrip by eight points with two races remaining in 1979.

There isn't much breathing room behind Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), a two-time winner at Phoenix is third. Fourth-place Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Chevrolet) sat on the pole for last year's race and finished 13th. And fifth-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Reese's Cookies Chevrolet) won the spring race at Phoenix.

-credit: nascar

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Denny Hamlin