DOVER, DE - OCTOBER 02: Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Aflac Ford, leads a pack of cars into turn 1 during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on October 2, 2011 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
A third of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is in the books, and after the series' next race, the field will be halfway home in the 26-race regular season.
There's still plenty of racing left, but for several drivers on the outside of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's top 10, the clock is ticking a tad louder.
The full-court press for wild-card berths in the championship-deciding Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup picks up steam Sunday in the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks (FOX, 1 p.m. ET) at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The Monster Mile, known for its exacting nature and tendency for punishing mistakes, could present itself as a wild-card track for wild-card hopefuls.
Carl Edwards, a former Dover winner, clings to the 10th and final guaranteed spot for title eligibility, but Brad Keselowski (four points out of 10th) and Clint Bowyer (six points back) are in closest pursuit. Behind Bowyer is a break of 29 points before Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, who are tied for 13th. The rest are drivers who aren't logistically eliminated from qualifying for the top 10, but may have some of their best chances to advance to the postseason through the wild-card process, which raises the field to 12 by adding two drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins.
Keselowski carries the best hopes of those perched on the outside, based on his two wins this season. Third-place Denny Hamlin and ninth-place Tony Stewart are the only other drivers with two victories in 2012.
The only other Chase outsiders with a win under their belts are Newman and 15th-place Kasey Kahne, who emerged as a wild-card player with his first triumph at Hendrick Motorsports last weekend in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, who is already on record that his best shot at title contention is probably a wild-card berth, needs to start accumulating wins to reach that goal. Gordon is already familiar with taming Dover, where he has four career wins but none since 2001.
"It's a challenging race track and our team has always excelled at the tracks that are most challenging," said Gordon, who will be attempting to log the 400th top-10 finish of his career Sunday. "We haven't been as successful there recently, but I do think that certain team and driver combinations get on a roll at certain tracks. That was one that we really got on a roll."
Greg Biffle leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings by 10 points over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth; both have won twice at Dover.