Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Contender 12 face off in the Hollywood Casino 400

The Contender 12 carry special stickers. Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Fate and skill will decide who moves forward....

It's time to prepare for glory or defeat - the Contender Round is upon us. (NASCAR promo)

The championship points have been reset and 12 drivers now sit tied at 3000 points. An equal playing field for all.

Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon,  Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin survived the Challenger Round and advanced to the Contender Round. Will one of these Chase drivers win today and automatically advance to the Eliminator Round?

Kevin Harvick broke his own track record in claiming his eighth pole of the 2014 season (197.773 mph in Round 2 of 3.) If you're keeping score at home, that's his sixth track record this year and the 20th time this season a new track record has been set in qualifying.

Jeff Gordon's Challenger sticker in Victory Lane at Dover
credit: Beth Bence Reinke/Skirts and Scuffs
Will Harvick finally show why he's called The Closer? Or will he again suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as he has so many times in 2014?  Six-Time spun out in qualifying and starts way back in 32nd. Will the real Jimmie Johnson finally stand up and find Victory Lane?

For Jeff Gordon, back-to-back wins used to be commonplace, but he's not managed that feat since 2007. That was also the last season he scored more than three wins. Can he ring the Hendrick victory bell again this week?

Then there's the four drivers who were just eliminated from championship contention. Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, and Kurt Busch can still finish as high as fifth in points. Almirola qualified an impressive third, Biffle begins in 11th and both showed speed in the first practice.

The Roush Fenway drivers tested at Texas last week and must have found something on that mile-and-a-half that translates to Kansas because they're looking racier than they have all season.

Dinger starts from 20th, but was fast in the second and the final practices, while Busch starts 24th and seems to be searching for speed.

Perhaps a non-Chase contender will break out a win. Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson have been factors in the last few races and both showed wicked speed in practices. McMurray starts 14th and Larson 18th, but both will probably get to the front quickly. If Larson can keep his No. 42 Chevy off the wall, he might earn his first career Cup win.

The green flag flies in the Hollywood Casino 400 at 2:19 pm ET on ESPN. Tune in to see who draws first blood in the second round of eliminations.

Here's your complete starting lineup. The drivers in bold are the Contender 12.

Rank Driver Time Speed
1   Kevin Harvick 27.325   197.621  
2   Brian Vickers 27.508   196.307  
3   Aric Almirola 27.530   196.150  
4   Joey Logano 27.544   196.050  
5   Jeff Gordon 27.544   196.050  
6   Brad Keselowski 27.548   196.021  
7   Kyle Busch 27.555   195.972  
8   Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 27.593   195.702  
9   Tony Stewart 27.619   195.518  
10   Kasey Kahne 27.641   195.362  
11   Greg Biffle 27.696   194.974  
12   Carl Edwards 27.732   194.721  
13   Paul Menard 27.654   195.270  
14   Jamie McMurray 27.669   195.164  
15   Martin Truex, Jr. 27.681   195.080  
16   Austin Dillon 27.684   195.059  
17   Ryan Newman 27.690   195.016  
18   Kyle Larson 27.704   194.918  
19   Clint Bowyer 27.711   194.868  
20   A.J. Allmendinger 27.716   194.833  
21   Justin Allgaier 27.738   194.679  
22   Marcos Ambrose 27.748   194.609  
23   Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 27.798   194.259  
24   Kurt Busch 27.832   194.021  
25   Denny Hamlin 27.873   193.736  
26   Casey Mears 27.885   193.653  
27   Matt Kenseth 27.891   193.611  
28   Michael McDowell 28.026   192.678  
29   Danica Patrick 28.111   192.096  
30   Reed Sorenson 28.126   191.993  
31   David Gilliland 28.243   191.198  
32   Jimmie Johnson 28.254   191.123  
33   Alex Bowman 28.274   190.988  
34   Josh Wise 28.296   190.840  
35   Landon Cassill 28.302   190.799  
36   Michael Annett 28.313   190.725  
37   David Ragan 28.325   190.644  
38   J.J. Yeley 28.436   189.900  
39   Cole Whitt 28.584   188.917  
40   Timmy Hill 28.640   188.547  
41   Mike Bliss 28.660   188.416  
42   Joey Gase 28.913   186.767  
43   Mike Wallace 29.499   183.057  



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