That’s all that’s left in the 26-race NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season, after which the championship battle begins in earnest. Now is when drivers and teams want to be building momentum for the stretch run.
Over the last six races, the Sprint Cup Series has raced at a 1.5-mile oval (Kentucky), a restrictor-plate track (Daytona), a 1-mile flat oval (New Hampshire), a 2.5-mile flat oval (Indianapolis), a 2.5-mile triangle (Pocono) and a road course (Watkins Glen).
In other words, enough different types of tracks to paint an accurate picture of who’s running well and who isn’t at the moment.
There are 16 drivers in legitimate contention for the 12 spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Here’s how they stack up over the last six races:
1. BRAD KESELOWSKI, average finish 4.833 — Dodge may be pulling out of NASCAR, but Keselowski is on a fabulous hot streak, just like the one he went on last summer. In the last six races, he has one victory, four top fives and a worst finish of ninth. Plus he’s tied with Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart for most victories (three) so he will be a high seed in the Chase.
2. KASEY KAHNE, 6.17 — The newest Hendrick Motorsports driver saw his season start slowly, but lately it’s caught fire. In the last six races, Kahne won at New Hampshire and finished second at both Kentucky and Pocono.
3. JEFF GORDON, 8.33 — The four-time champion has had a season much like his teammate Kahne’s. One victory and three top fives in the last six races have vaulted Gordon back into wild-card contention, though he’s by no means a lock.
4. MARTIN TRUEX JR., 9.50 — Truex isn’t running great — he has just one top five in the last six races — but he’s consistently good and isn’t making any mistakes. He has four top 10s and no finish worse than 17th during this stretch.
5. JIMMIE JOHNSON, 11.17 — The five-time champion’s stats are somewhat skewed by his 36th-place finish at Daytona, where he got wrecked for the second time this season. Throw that out and his average finish in the other five races is 6.2
6. RYAN NEWMAN, 12.17 — Currently in the second wild-card slot, Newman has finished 11th or better in five of the last six races, with a best of fifth at Daytona. Consistency has been a strong point.
7. GREG BIFFLE, 12.50 — The Biff led the points for much of the first half of the season, stumbled for a bit and now seems back on track. He has finished ninth or better in three of the last four races.
8. CLINT BOWYER, 12.50 — One of the pleasant surprises of 2012 is the performance of Bowyer at Michael Waltrip Racing. In the four most recent races, he’s finished eighth or better three times.
9. TONY STEWART, 13.17 — It’s been an up-and-down season for the reigning and three-time series champ. He won at Daytona last month, but finished 32nd at Kentucky and 19th at the Glen.
10. KEVIN HARVICK, 14.33 — It’s easy to sum up Harvick’s season: He’s been plenty consistent, but his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets lack the speed of the leaders.
11. DALE EARNHARDT JR., 14.50 — Finishes of 32nd at Pocono and 28th at the Glen dramatically skewed Earnhardt’s numbers downward, but he’s still having a career year.
12. MATT KENSETH, 14.83 — The 2003 series champ finished 35th in the Brickyard 400 after getting wrecked by Joey Logano. A 23rd at Pocono didn’t help, either.
13. KYLE BUSCH, 15.33 — Joe Gibbs Racing fans have good reason to be concerned: Of the four drivers at the bottom of this list, three are from JGR, including Busch, who is coming off a huge disappointment at The Glen, where he crashed on the last lap.
14. MARCOS AMBROSE, 15.50 — A long-shot to make the Chase, Ambrose helped himself with his Watkins Glen victory, but is it too little, too late?
15. DENNY HAMLIN, 16.5 — Third at Kentucky and second at New Hampshire, Hamlin has finished 25th or worse in three of the other four races.
16. JOEY LOGANO, 19.67 — It’s been a bad stretch for Logano in what well may be his final season at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.