They say that trimming down may be a good thing, and in the case of last Sunday's Pepsi MAX 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., it meant for an all-around competitive and exciting 200 lap race that saw six position changes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship field.

Among the biggest winners from ACS were Tony Stewart, who had to feel "great" like his Kellogg's cereal counterpart in Tony The Tiger, Jeff Gordon, who salvaged a ninth-place finish after what could have been a disastrous day after a pit road speeding violation, and of course, Jimmie Johnson, whose point lead increased from eight to 36 markers.

Stewart's second victory of the 2010 season was just the beginning for what has been shaping up as a great week for the two-time Cup champion. Not only did he leapfrog five spots in the standings (from 10th to fifth), he solidified his plans for the 2011 season and the foreseeable future.

The Stewart-Haas Racing collective look solid heading into next year with new sponsor Mobil 1 sponsoring his No. 14 Chevrolet along with the Office Depot and Burger King. In addition, Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, appears to have some sponsorship deals locked up as well, thus making for a happier campus and team overall.

Gordon had about 24 reasons to be dejected with his ninth-place finish, which wasn't indicative of the kind of car they had on Sunday. Still, after a self-inflicting speed violation on pit road with 40 laps to go, his drive from 20th to 9th in the last laps of the race was the kind of drive that might be a defining moment for this year's championship.

And it didn't have to hurt that he jumped up to fourth in the standings, 85 points behind his teammate ad points leader Jimmie Johnson. Crew chief Steve Letarte believes that if anyone can dethrone the "Lowe's Dynasty" in the Sprint Cup Series, it's their DuPont Chevrolet unit.

Johnson had another typical Sunday afternoon drive, driving smoothly and taking home yet another top-five finish in what has been one of his more consistent Chase efforts in spite of his subpar finish at Loudon last month. Another top-three finish, not pushing the envelope, and another finish that pads his points lead from doable to slowly but surely making his competition feeling a bit hopeless.

It's been nearly five months since the last race at Charlotte, NC, which is considered as most teams' home stadium and in that last event, Kurt Busch swept May "Speedweeks" with convincing victories in the exhibition "All-Star" race and in the Coca-Cola 600.

Aside from Johnson and perhaps every single hard working individual on any race team, nobody else looks forward to a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway other than Busch, the 2004 Cup titlist, who's in position to make a little "instant NASCAR history."

If Busch takes the checkered flag in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 (Live, 7:30 on ABC/"ESPN on ABC"), not only will it be an unprecedented sweep of all the Cup races at the famed, 50-year-old 1.5-mile speedway, but it also means that the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger will be a part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Will Busch make instant history with his third win of the 2010 season? Is Saturday night's race going to mark the beginning of the end of championship aspirations for some of the Chase contenders?

Here's a look at the top 12 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship contenders, including a glance at how they performed last Sunday at Fontana and a preview of what's to come for each team for this Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, complete with a probability percentage of their chances to win the title this year.

1) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet/Hendrick Motorsports

6 wins, 13 top-fives, 17 top-10's, 3 poles

Jimmie Johnson's third place finish last Sunday could be compared to a California drive complete with a Beach Boys tune: cool, calm, and sunny.

With a third-place finish, he and crew chief Chad Knaus are inching ever closer to an unprecedented fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. This portion of the Chase schedule is conducive to flat dominant performances by the No. 48 Lowe's team, capable of reeling off consecutive wins as easily as Lady GaGa getting all the press she gets for her fashion.

That said, do not discount the fact that they didn't exactly have a great race at Charlotte back in May, spinning and crashing out to a 36th place result. Look for more of the same cool, consistent drive from Johnson, who'll pilot his Chevrolet to a top-five finish in an almost quiet fashion.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 90-95%

2) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Toyota/Joe Gibbs Racing

6 wins, 11 top-fives, 14 top-10's, 1 pole

On most occasions, a top-10 finish would be acceptable for Denny Hamlin and Co., especially if they were points racing instead of going for a victory. Instead, their eight place finish last Sunday at Fontana was more like watching Laverne and Shirley with only one of the original characters remaining - alright, but just not quite great.

Losing some ground, the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team led by crew chief Mike Ford knows they cannot afford to lose more ground in the Chase. They'll have to make the best of it, hope that Johnson struggles, and just run the best they can before the series heads off to Martinsville next weekend. Anything short of a top-five will be disappointing.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 85-90%

3) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell Chevrolet/Richard Childress Racing

3 wins, 13 top-fives, 20 top-10's, 2 poles

Another top-10 finish at ACS and another good day in the office for Kevin "Happy" Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin. While they lost ground to Johnson last Sunday, they made the most of their afternoon and raced wisely, making for a good, steady Chase campaign so far.

Of course, Harvick would love to win a race in the Chase, and he just might do that at some point. While his name isn't one that comes up immediately as a contender at Charlotte, don't forget that he won the 2007 All-Star Race, which shows he can hold his own against names like Johnson, Gordon, Edwards, Stewart, and Busch.

Look for another top-10 effort from the No. 29 team, who's probably the best dark horse contender with enough determination and power to overcome Johnson's reign on the Sprint Cup trophy. Nobody's more hungrier nor as aggressive as the 2001 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year winner, especially when there's a trophy on the line.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 85-90%

4) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet/Hendrick Motorsports

11 top-fives, 16 top-10's, 1 pole

It could have been equally disastrous as it was successful, but in the end, write one for the miracle books regarding Jeff Gordon's Chase title hopes this year.

After speeding down pit road at just enough of a clip to warrant a penalty late in last Sunday's race, it looked like another race to write off for the No. 24 DuPont Chevy team. Instead, it was a patented Gordon comeback of sorts, driving with one goal in mind: just finish with the best result possible.

He somewhat made it up to his team by charging to a ninth-place result, but certainly, his car was top-five material.

Capturing the Coors Light Pole Award on Thursday night, Gordon was surprised they grabbed the number one spot in qualifying after posting the 33rd fastest time in pre-qualifying practice. That said, his savvy, experience, and success at Charlotte has to make him a favorite this Saturday night, enough to boldly say he'll contend for the win in the last laps of the 500-miler.

At worst, he'll capture a top-five, but nothing's more important than a victory for this team, who knows they're capable of reeling off a streak of wins once they capture checkered flag fever.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 80-85%

5) Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot Chevy/Stewart-Haas Racing

2 wins, 9 top-fives, 16 top-10's, 2 poles

Speaking of a racer who's got a fever for wins, is it any coincidence that the racer holding that distinction as of the moment is a man whose nickname in motorsports is "Smoke?"

Well, look no further than this two-time Cup champion, who's got to be liking his chances of winning the title. Looking about as confident and comfortable as he's looked in five years, it could be at least a three-man heavyweight match at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November should Stewart and Harvick keep up with their performances in relation to Johnson.

After his win on Sunday and a new sponsorship signing (set for 2011 and beyond) this week, there's only one other thing left to accomplish for the No. 14 Chevy team: a win at their backyard track.

Realistically, look for this bunch to capture a top-10, mixing it up a few times for the lead. Good enough to win, but has to contend with the likes of Edwards, Busch, and Johnson on race day.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 80-85%

6) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge/Penske Championship Racing

2 wins, 9 top-fives, 16 top-10's, 2 poles

They may call Charlotte Motor Speedway as "The House Jimmie Built," but lately, it's looked like "Kurt's Krib," and yes, I spelt it with a "K" like new school style.

The tour heads to one of those 1.5-mile quad-oval tracks and Kurt Busch is certainly a speedway specialist, lately having the knack to win at CMS. Determined to make NASCAR history on Saturday night, a win would mean a great deal for his hopes of at least contending in the Chase for the Cup, especially after a disappointing, crash-related 21st place result last Sunday.

As for Saturday night, does pre-race favorite sound good for Miller Lite/Blue Deuce Nation? Either checkers or "the last call" for the elder of the Busch brothers.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 70-75%

7) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Aflac Ford/Roush-Fenway Racing

7 top-fives, 16 top-10's, 2 poles

I've been pretty difficult on the Ford teams because of their underachieving RF9 motors, which have picked it up in the second-half of the season. That said, for once, it was a motor problem that did in a Ford racer like Carl Edwards, who has been performing well in the Chase, but instead, it was a broken rotor in the distributor that did him in at Fontana.

Placing 37th, his title chances took a hit but in his words, "We've got six races left and we're 162 points back...that's not a lot of points per races, so I think we can do it."

Charlotte is a relatively good track for Edwards, with an average finish of 13.2 in 11 races, including four top-fives and seven top-10's. It could be a good, quiet Saturday night finish for the No. 99 team, placing in the top-10.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 65-70%

8) Jeff Burton, No. 31 CAT Chevrolet/Richard Childress Racing

6 top-fives, 14 top-10's

In order to win the Chase, a team has to be able to overcome adversities of all kinds, be it an ill-handling machine, a miscue on pit lane or a crash on the track.

For Jeff Burton and company, it was a lost opportunity, placing 23rd and losing more ground in the Chase. At this juncture, it's about holding down a top-10 spot in the points standings for a table and speech at Las Vegas.

As for the 500-miler on Saturday night, there's reason to believe that Burton could win, capturing three checkered flags at Charlotte (May 1999 and '01, Oct. '08). However, look for this team to meddle with a top-15 effort at best, simply being overpowered by the other Chasers, including the racer behind him who's counted himself out from the hunt.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 60-65%

9) Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&M's Toyota/Joe Gibbs Racing

3 wins, 8 top-fives, 16 top-10's, 2 poles

"It's over."

Those were the words simply said by Kyle Busch to his team after his engine expired late in the going at Fontana. Indeed it may be, but until the fat M&M's lady sings, dare I say, "Rowdy" still is in contention for the championship despite a 35th-place finish.

In 13 previous starts, he's tallied four top-fives and seven top-10's, with a best finish of third on three occasions, most recently this past May. Much more of the same will probably happen, as it usually does for the younger Busch. Just when he counts himself out, he just might post a stellar result, anywhere from a win to top-five

Chances of Winning the Championship: 55-60%

10) Greg Biffle, No. 16 3M Ford/Roush-Fenway Racing

2 wins, 6 top-fives, 15 top-10's

As motorsports writer Jeff Gluck put it on Twitter (though not in verbatim), if your last name's Busch or you're a driver with Roush-Fenway Racing, Fontana wasn't a good race for you.

In the case for Greg Biffle, it meant a mechanical ailment that relegated the No. 16 3M Ford to a 41st finish, certainly enough to end his championship hopes in 2010.

All his team can do (and for that matter, 10th on back) is just shoot for the best finish possible, and Biffle's best result at Charlotte is a second-place effort in the '08 Coca-Cola 600. He placed 32nd last May, not quite indicative of this team's abilities. A top-10 would suffice for this team, but a realistic finish is probably a top-15.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 0%

11) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Crown Royal Ford/Roush-Fenway Racing

5 top-fives, 11 top-10's

It's been a lost year for this Chaser, who hasn't exactly embraced this points system following his rout of the Cup field in 2003. Capturing the title with consistency over aggression, it's been slim pickings for the Cambridge, Wisc. native, who's probably looking forward to 2011 like a high school senior in any state.

Placing 30th after experiencing mechanical problems late in the going last Sunday, the only thing that would make this team smile (besides a Crown Royal) would be a "W" at Charlotte, where he's won before back in the May 2000 running of the Coca-Cola 600.

However, a top-10 would be just as good after enduring yet another perplexing campaign in the Cup Series.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 0%

12) Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Cheerios Chevy/Richard Childress Racing

1 win, 6 top-fives, 16 top-10's

What more can you say about this team, whose title hopes ended much sooner than it should? There's no doubt they pushed the envelope in the Chase, enough to cost them their crew chief for some races, some cash, and most of all, points that would have placed this team in fifth spot (without the 150 point penalty).

They're capable of winning at Charlotte, but this team just cannot wait for 2011.

Chances of Winning the Championship: 0%

Author's Note: Catch the Bank of America 500, Live on your local ABC affiliate, Saturday night at 7:46 ET or on your local PRN affiliate. Pre-race coverage can be found on NASCAR Countdown on ABC at 7 PM.