Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski lead Sprint Cup Series in victories, likely championship favorites entering New Hampshire

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, and Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, celebrate after clinching a spot in the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2011 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Through the first 18 races of the season, two drivers have staked the boldest claim on the Sprint Cup Series Championship. They are also the drivers tied with the most wins thus far (3) as Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski appear poised to battle for the crown heading into the second half of the season.

It's interesting that Stewart and Keselowski are the two with the most wins. Both are known as summer starters, especially Stewart, whose 40 of 47 career wins come in the summer months after June 1.

His biannual monopoly of winning at Daytona in July (fourth win in eight years) is typically the first of a hot summer streak. But the fact that he's won three by mid-July has to be quite frightening to anyone hoping to beat the defending Series champion.

It's frightening to everyone except Brad Keselowski, that is. He doesn't seem to be scared of anything. He's bold, brash, and reeling with the confidence of a second-consecutive three-plus win season. He's also riding the momentum of a hot-stretch that started in July of last year.

Roughly one year ago today, Brad Keseloski was 22nd in the championship standings, one win, and 70 points out of the Chase cutoff, and desperately in need of wins to get back into playoff contention. We know now that Brad won two of the final nine races, earned the first wild card and finished fifth in the final standings.

That's 22nd-to-fifth in 19 races and it all started at Kentucky. He led 79 laps, his most dominant performance since winning a fuel mileage race in Kansas, and ultimately finished sixth. He suffered a set-back the next week at Loudon (35th) but went on a tear the next eight weeks with finishes of fifth, first, second, third, seventh, sixth and 12th.

He made the Chase and hasn't looked back. He wasted no time in resuming the pace begun last year, winning three times in 2012 at Bristol, Talladega and Kentucky.

If Indianapolis in two weeks sets the stage for the stretch run, New Hampshire presents one more chance to make a statement. It's also one more chance for the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth to say that they belong in the discussion with Stewart and Keselowski.

Tony Stewart qualified tenth for Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301. Brad Keselowski qualified 22nd. Kyle Busch is on the pole. The rest of the qualifying order can be found after the jump. Is this the championship battle or will the final eight races of the regular season invite someone else into the discussion. Tell us in the comments section below.

Qualifying Results
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
20th Annual LENOX Industrial Tools 301
Provided by NASCAR Statistics - Fri, July 13, 2012 @ 05:05 PM Eastern
Track Qualifying Record: Ryan Newman 07/17/11 28.1649 135.232
Pos Car Driver Team Time Speed Fastest Next
1 18 Kyle Busch Interstate Batteries Toyota 28.548 133.417 0.000 0.000
2 5 Kasey Kahne Farmers Insurance Chevrolet 28.551 133.403 0.003 0.003
3 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Freight Toyota 28.552 133.399 0.004 0.001
4 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Auto Parts Toyota 28.565 133.338 0.017 0.013
5 15 Clint Bowyer 5-hour Energy Toyota 28.569 133.319 0.021 0.004
6 39 Ryan Newman ARMY ROTC Chevrolet 28.578 133.277 0.030 0.009
7 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Chevrolet 28.583 133.254 0.035 0.005
8 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Chevrolet 28.595 133.198 0.047 0.012
9 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. National Guard / Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet 28.628 133.045 0.080 0.033
10 14 Tony Stewart MOBIL 1 / Office Depot Chevrolet 28.651 132.938 0.103 0.023
11 16 Greg Biffle 3M / WB Mason / Post-it Ford 28.665 132.873 0.117 0.014
12 29 Kevin Harvick Rheem Chevrolet 28.666 132.868 0.118 0.001
13 27 Paul Menard Menards / Duracell Chevrolet 28.730 132.572 0.182 0.064
14 51 Kurt Busch Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet 28.735 132.549 0.187 0.005
15 55 Brian Vickers MyClassicGarage.com / Aaron's Toyota 28.762 132.425 0.214 0.027
16 20 Joey Logano The Home Depot Toyota 28.762 132.425 0.214 0.000
17 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row / Farm American Chevrolet 28.769 132.393 0.221 0.007
18 47 Bobby Labonte Luke & Associates Toyota 28.782 132.333 0.234 0.013
19 34 David Ragan Front Row Motorsports Ford 28.797 132.264 0.249 0.015
20 9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Ford 28.811 132.200 0.263 0.014
21 99 Carl Edwards Fastenal / LENOX Ford 28.814 132.186 0.266 0.003
22 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Dodge 28.836 132.085 0.288 0.022
23 43 Aric Almirola Medallion Financial Ford 28.891 131.833 0.343 0.055
24 22 Sam Hornish Jr.(i) Shell Pennzoil / AAA Dodge 28.952 131.556 0.404 0.061
25 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet 28.972 131.465 0.424 0.020
26 10 David Reutimann Mohawk Northeast Chevrolet 29.016 131.266 0.468 0.044
27 17 Matt Kenseth NESN Ford 29.023 131.234 0.475 0.007
28 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops / Allstate Chevrolet 29.023 131.234 0.475 0.000
29 83 Landon Cassill Burger King / Dr Pepper Toyota 29.034 131.184 0.486 0.011
30 93 Travis Kvapil Burger King / Dr Pepper Toyota 29.112 130.833 0.564 0.078
31 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Degree Chevrolet 29.150 130.662 0.602 0.038
32 26 Josh Wise # MDS Transport Ford 29.267 130.140 0.719 0.117
33 13 Casey Mears GEICO Ford 29.336 129.834 0.788 0.069
34 87 Joe Nemechek(i) AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota 29.342 129.807 0.794 0.006
35 36 Dave Blaney Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet 29.371 129.679 0.823 0.029
36 98 Michael McDowell Phil Parsons Racing Ford 29.406 129.525 0.858 0.035
37 32 Ken Schrader Federated Auto Parts Ford 29.453 129.318 0.905 0.047
38 49 JJ Yeley Robinson-Blakeney Racing Toyota 29.463 129.274 0.915 0.010
39 38 David Gilliland Taco Bell Ford 29.490 129.156 0.942 0.027
40 30 David Stremme Inception Motorsports Toyota 29.504 129.094 0.956 0.014
41 23 Scott Riggs North Texas Pipe Chevrolet 29.557 128.863 1.009 0.053
42 79 Kelly Bires Team Kyle / Bestway Disposal Ford 29.637 128.515 1.089 0.080
43 33 Stephen Leicht # LittleJoesAutos.com Chevrolet 29.714 128.182 1.166 0.077
44 19 Mike Bliss(i) Humphrey Smith Racing Toyota 29.740 128.070 1.192 0.026
*Required to qualify on time, OP - Top 35 in Owner Points, PC - Past Champion,(i)Ineligible for driver points in this series
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.