Bruce Martin
Monday August 16th, 2010

NAPERVILLE, Illinois -- With just three races left until the 12-driver lineup for NASCAR's Chase is set, Kevin Harvick was the first to lock into the field with his victory on Sunday at Michigan. By clinching the first spot in the Chase, Harvick can concentrate on wins for the next three weeks to improve his seeding when the 10-race playoffs begin at New Hampshire in September.

Currently, Denny Hamlin and four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson are tied with five victories apiece. With his third victory, Harvick would begin the Chase in the No. 3 position despite his huge 293-point lead over Jeff Gordon.

Gordon, Hamlin, Stewart, Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch have not officially clinched their spots in the Chase, but their names are on the cusp of being included in the group that will contend for the championship.

Out of that group, the driver on the move is Edwards, whose third-place finish at Michigan continues his summer hot streak.

Up to sixth in the standings, Edwards could easily surpass Johnson for the No. 5 spot in the standings heading to Bristol for Saturday night's 500-lap short track showdown in the East Tennessee hills.

Despite being winless this season, Edwards has already had quite a season but for all the wrong reasons. His feud with Brad Keselowski has been legendary; including a tap that sent his rival airborne at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 7 after Keselowski had punted Edwards into the wall earlier in the race. And then there was the Nationwide Series race at Gateway last month when Keselowski banged Edwards out of his way on the final lap in Turn 2 only to have Edwards extract revenge by hooking Keselowski out of the fourth turn, sending him slamming into the wall.

Although Edwards was allowed to keep the victory, his actions put him on probation by NASCAR officials for the rest of the season.

Despite the negativity, Edwards' positive momentum has continued and at 266 points ahead of 13th place Mark Martin, Edwards is all but assured of making the Chase next month. And that comfort zone now allows Edwards to try to get back into Victory Lane.

"That makes me feel real good," Edwards admitted. "I had no clue we were that far ahead now. So what do we have left? I believe it is Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond. If we can get through Bristol and be 200 points ahead of 13th, then we just go for broke. I think of it as 100 points per race is what you need. If we were 300 right now, we would really go for it at Bristol."

Edwards had gotten into this position by putting an emphasis on qualifying. Starting up front has allowed Edwards to finish in the top-10 during his recent resurgence. Poor qualifying performances often put this driver back in the field where he was prone to get involved in needless crashes with other drivers mired in midpack.

Although he started a disappointing 24th at Michigan, Edwards was able to overcome that handicap.

"Today our pit selection and starting spot hurt us and that is all based on qualifying" Edwards said. "We have started to work on it more. It is not something we can just all of a sudden be super good at though. It is something we are building. I hope we can get it good in the next eight or 10 races and do a better job of it."

Edwards led a three-position sweep for team owner Jack Roush, who was released from a hospital last week after suffering injuries in a plane crash in Wisconsin. Teammates Greg Biffle was fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth which shows that Roush Fenway Racing is finally returning to form.

"It is great," Edwards said. "We really wanted to get a win for him today. That is a strong performance for us and for Ford. It meant a lot to perform that well for him."

If Edwards can continue his recent surge over the final three races leading into the Chase it won't be long before he is placed in the category of potential favorites, but don't think he's ready to pick a winner just yet.

"I don't think that going into the Chase that there is a favorite," Edwards said. "I think that if we can continue gaining like we have been, we will be right there. You can't count the Hendrick bunch out. It is going to be a heck of a battle."

Every NASCAR driver in the field is a hero to legions of racing fans, but who are the heroes to the drivers? Some may be famous, most are from the racing world and some are the men who sat across from the table at dinner every night.

Let's take a look at six of the top NASCAR drivers in the race and look at their heroes.

TONY STEWART -- "A.J. Foyt is my favorite all-time driver, because anything he got in he could drive. That's something that I've taken a lot of pride in during my career. I didn't pattern my career after A.J., but I've taken pride in the fact that whatever car I got in on any given day I wanted to be competitive in it. As time goes on, I think you see the similarities between the two of us and our careers. It's just made me really proud to know him and have driven for him in the past. Just the aspect of A.J., that he calls it like he sees it, whether it's popular or not, he's honestly going to tell you what he thinks. That's the same belief I have."

KYLE BUSCH -- "Jeff Gordon was my favorite driver growing up, so I've always been a fan of his and he would be the guy that I looked up to as far as people in the public eye. The other person that I looked up to was my dad (Tom Busch) because he played such a huge role in my life and my upbringing. He was the one that got me and my brother interested in racing and got us started in racing. Him and mom both foot the bill for us but dad was always there making sure we were in the garage working on our cars and making sure we were as serious as we needed to be to make ourselves successful.

"I think my favorite memory of watching Jeff Gordon as a fan growing up was the T-Rex car. Being a Jeff Gordon fan and watching him dominate that night and pretty much taking everybody to school was something I remember. I guess that car probably took everybody to school more than he did. It was fun to be a Gordon fan that day."

KEVIN HARVICK -- "As a kid from Bakersfield, Calif., my hero growing up was Rick Mears. It seemed like everyone wanted to be an Indy car racer like Rick Mears, as he took home four Indianapolis 500 wins."

MARK MARTIN -- "My dad (Julian Martin) was very instrumental in my career. He taught me how to drive, and really supported me through every form of racing. He was a constant in my racing career. I miss him every day. I see the other drivers with their fathers at the race tracks and that is really something special."

JIMMIE JOHNSON -- "Growing up in Southern California, off road racing and Indy cars were big. People like Rick Johnson, Ivan Stewart and Rick Mears were some of the guys I raced against and looked up to. Rick (no relation) lived with us for awhile when I was growing up and he really taught me a lot about how to race and carry yourself at the track. Those guys really were the ones when I was racing that I looked up to and wanted to be like. They were a pretty big deal where I grew up."

KURT BUSCH -- "When I grew up out in Las Vegas, we made it a family gathering around the TV every Sunday to watch the big boys of NASCAR race. To tell you the truth, though, I looked at my dad (Tom Busch) as my racing hero when I was growing up. He won a ton of races and track championships and I looked up to him, not only as a father, but also a racing hero. From a more conventional standpoint, I guess you could say that I grew up as a Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. fan. We all watched the races in awe of how he drove and what he was able to do out there on the track. Yeah, I had all the Earnhardt t-shirts, hats and all the wearables, too. There's a picture floating around that shows my dad and me at my first-ever race as a fan -- at Phoenix back in the early 90's. There I am -- wearing my Earnhardt t-shirt -- but the irony of it all is that I am standing in front of Rusty's (Wallace) pit and holding the No. 2 sign board. My favorite race car of all times, though, was that No. 28 orange-and-white Hardee's car that Cale Yarborough drove for so many years. That was the coolest-looking car."

"The best thing that can happen, really, in any conversation that's going south is somebody has to be the bigger man and bite their tongue and that's normally (crew chief) Lance (McGrew). I have a hard time biting my tongue and always want the last word and all that good stuff. And I'm in a 120-degree hot car and at the moment I feel like I'm doing the majority of the work. And right or wrong, I'm just saying that's how you feel, whether it's right or wrong. You don't want to hear no crap and you don't want to take no crap. I think that me and Lance actually do pretty good and I think the more we work together, the better we get at it. We've really run pretty rough in the last little stretch here and we've survived it; our working relationship has survived it." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his propensity to get a little "lippy" on the radio with crew chief Lance McGrew.

While NASCAR heads to Bristol for what is probably the most popular race on the schedule -- the Saturday night race in Thunder Valley -- the IZOD IndyCar Series continues its points race at the final road course of the season at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. And while there may be more on-track action in NASCAR's short track showdown, a trip to the San Francisco Bay area is pretty tough to beat for the IndyCar Series.

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