As the NASCAR Sprint Cup gang prepares for 300 miles of racing at "The Magic Mile" in Loudon, NH, this weekend marks the start of the final 10 races which are perceived as "The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship."

After 26 "regular season" races, Denny Hamlin dominated the tour with six victories in his No. 11 FedEx Toyota. Led by car owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Mike Ford, the 29-year-old looks poised to fulfill his word about becoming a Sprint Cup champion. Certainly, his team's been stout all season long, preparing fast cars and often keeping their driver in a position to win races.

However, he's got a pack of 11 other drivers just ready to strike first blood down the stretch, including four-time defending titlist Jimmie Johnson, who won five races, JGR teammate Kyle Busch and Richard Childress Racing veteran Kevin Harvick with a trio of victories, Penske Championship Racing pilot Kurt Busch (2 wins), as well as Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart, who each won an event in the summer segment of the season.

Behind them are winless but equally capable racers in Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer, who are proven drivers on the circuit that just need a break or two to return to Victory Lane. They've been in position to win races this year but circumstances have either led them astray or poor strategy has taken them out of contention in the final laps.

To say the least, it's going to be a harbinger of a championship battle. NASCAR Chairman Brian France has reportedly wanted to make changes to the Chase system to create a World Series Game Seven atmosphere to his sport's postseason battle.

Well, Mr. France, I think we may just have that without having to go to extremes, especially with a talented group of drivers who certainly have proven themselves as the most consistent and strongest racers of the pack all year long.

With the Chase looming, "The Podium Finish" will start to focus on the upcoming races and the players who'll play a part in the championship battle. After each race, there'll be insights and reactions about the drivers and teams in terms of how they performed in the race as well as their chances to win the title.

Along the way, there'll be some personalities who'll chime in about their perspective on the 12 driver field, ranging from insiders to upcoming racers who know a thing or two about what it's like to be on the track.

So without futher ado, ladies and gentlemen, here are your Top 12 Chasers heading into New Hampshire, followed by brief analysis and a forecast of how they'll fare in the Chase.

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

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

What more can you say about the 2006 Raybestos Rookie of the Year winner? He's been a steady foot and force for Joe Gibbs Racing, brought in as a relatively unheralded replacement for Jason Leffler late in the 2005 season. And he's never looked back.

Now's his chance to capitalize on his promise and potential as a champion, as he's often said that the only thing that separates his team from the Cup is well...his team.

True enough, as an individual makes their luck, not so much what others bring to the table, although contact by any driver on the track could result in the No. 11 Toyota being behind the wall, racing wounded and losing valuable points.

Needless to say, most media prognosticators and fans feel he's the "hot" driver heading into the Chase, thus making him the odds-on favorite to win it all. On paper, it may seem that way.

However, the one variable that may be of some concern with Hamlin and the No. 11 team is that they're a streaky group. Sure, they'll win a lot and finish up front when things are going their way. That said, they're equally as mediocre when they're rattled in a race, be it by a mechanical gremlin or late race contact.

If Hamlin can keep a steady head and purely focus on his team's efforts in the Chase, he just may be the man to dethrone "King" Jimmie Johnson from the throne he's sat on since 2006.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 80-85%

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

5 wins, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10s, 2 poles

It's probably the beard. Yep, it's all figured out, and rest assured, if the El Cajon, Calif. native keeps it on, you might as well watch the NFL contests on CBS or FOX while the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team does its usual devastation in the Chase.

Partially kidding there, perhaps the answer as to why Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have suddenly looked like a group that's poised to win the Cup after some lackluster finishes in the summer was that they were in a position to experiment and try some new things with their cars before going ot their tried and true formula.

How many times have we seen the No. 48 team often lay back, play dead for a majority of the race, and suddenly emerge in the late going like a bandit in the night? And on some occasions, how many races has the Lowe's collective put it altogether with a dominant machine that's as untouchable as a bullet?

OK, corny analogies aside, until the Lowe's team is beaten fair and square by any of the other contenders in this year's Chase, you have to certainly believe that they're the absolute favorite to win it all in 2010.

Their weak points are their inability to adjust a car that's probably just a tweak or two away from running on rails as well as the overly aggressive style of Johnson, particularly this year more than ever, spinning out alone while leading or just running into other cars instead of smoothly marching to the front.

Then again, this is a group that can absolutely thrive on the big stages of Dover, Del., Concord, NC, Talladega, AL, and most of all, basically any of the final ten tracks. Until they suddenly forget how to win a Cup, maybe those gridiron contests might not be such a bad alternative sporting event to watch...or not.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 85-90%

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

3 wins, eight top-fives, 14 top-10s, 2 poles

He's somewhat mellowed this year, sporting a sense of humor most recently in the Nationwide Series race at Richmond by driving a pink No. 18 Toyota from a fan contest that included "kitties, bunnies, and little baby seals."

While it would have been a hilarious and popular victory for the 25-year-old Sin City native, it's been a solid season for the '05 rookie winner in the Cup ranks, building consistency as his trade along with his usual tactics to go for victories.

It's not exactly the same Kyle Busch who was on fire for all of the 2008 regular season. After all, that one basically vanished in the Chase, relegating back to a 10th place finish in that year's points standings.

Certainly, it wasn't indicative of the kind of season and prowess displayed by "Rowdy," who then experienced an off-season last year before returning to glory in 2010. Crew chief Dave Rogers has been a steady leader in the pits for his young racer, and in turn, it's shown results wise on the track.

Now comes their best shot at winning a Cup, and while they're not scary good as of now, the potential to dominate and come right off the bat as a favorite might just happen, although it'll have to be at a track that's been feast or famine for this group in the form of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 75-80%

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

3 wins, 11 top-fives, 17 top-10s, 2 poles

Typically, he's called "Happy Harvick," a nickname that became a part of the veteran RCR driver in his 2001 double duty season in which he won the Nationwide title and Cup rookie honors.

Well, he may have to be called "Mr. Consistency," looking more like Mark Martin and Terry Labonte with his staggering amount of top-fives and 10's thus far in the 2010 campaign.

While the point system's not exactly favored to consistency, he's within striking distance of the top three drivers that if he sticks to his season long strategy, he may just have what it takes to have a winless Chase campaign and still be good enough to win the title.

He's been superb at the superspeedways, showcasing that Richard Childress Racing powerplant's abilities as well as his terrific racing skills, savvy enough to know when to push his car for a win and when to just haul it home for the best finish possible.

The only weakness with this bunch is that he's going to have to beat the Gibbs duo as well as Jimmie Johnson and company. Additionally, there are times in which bad luck has found them at the worst moment of a race, such as the case in the Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta just a few weeks back. A cut tire or even poor fuel mileage could be what it takes to cost Harvick a shot at his first title.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 80-85%

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

2 wins, eight top-fives, 15 top-10s, 2 poles

Now here's a team that can go in either direction in the Chase. While they're strong and are perennial front runners, you almost never know what you'll get with the No. 2 team.

Sure, they're solid at the intermediate, cookie cutter tracks, which will comprise four of the final 10 races of the year. Without a doubt, they'll be a favorite at venues like Charlotte, Texas, Kansas, and Auto Club.

However, it's a Forrest Gump-like experience at the other tracks, where it's basically like guessing what position your favorite racer's at in a restrictor plate race.

Crew chief Steve Addington has guided this Penske collective in a good place to attack early, but they have to build on consistency, starting at New Hampshire. If they're off to an early start, the question then becomes, will they run out of gas or will they have a stranglehold of the points lead heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway in November?

Chances of Winning the Cup: 70-75%

6) Tony Stewart, No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet/Stewart-Haas Racing

1 win, seven top-fives, 14 top-10s, 2 poles

It shouldn't come to anyone's surprise that Tony Stewart has suddenly emerged as a title favorite in the Chase. What should be a surprise is that heading into first race of the postseason, they've only got a single victory to show for it in an otherwise good year.

Crew chief Darian Grubb, along with Stewart, admitted that their team was a bit lost during Charlotte Speedweeks back in May, a time in which they couldn't do anything right.

Even when their cars were fast, very seldom did their preparation pay off with a well deserved result.

Now, we're talking about a team that, while ranked slightly lower than where they truly should be (about a 3rd of 4th place team at the moment), this group has what it takes to win a slew of races, especially in the early going.

Stewart's won at New Hampshire, Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Martinsville, Talladega, Phoenix, and Homestead-Miami. His only Achilles' heal would have to be Auto Club, but then again, at the rate this team is going, the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet efforts may be sitting pretty, especially halfway in the Chase.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 80-85%

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

1 win, five top-fives, 14 top-10s

It's been trying times for the Roush-Fenway Racing team, especially with team owner Jack Roush's close call with death in the late summer just around the Brickyard 400 weekend.

Living up as "The Jack With Nine Lives," his near tragic experience may have inspired his rather stagnant team, propelling them into races with more chances to win rather than settle for survival.

Greg Biffle's certainly been a workhorse for the No. 16 team, particularly in the Sunoco 500 at Pocono, capitalizing on Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson's late race stops and winning the summer race at the colossal 2.5-mile superspeedway.

There's still some curiosities about the RF9 motors, which have proven to be very fast but somewhat unreliable. Like the Gibbs bunch with their Toyota powerplants, you have to wonder just how well (or poorly) their engines will hold up in the course of a 250-500 mile race.

They may not exactly exude championship confidence, but having been a part of the 2005 Chase, in which Biffle was within striking distance of the Cup, some of that experience may prove to be an asset, especially if the No. 16 team are leading or close to grabbing the points lead by Talladega.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 65-70%

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

Six top-fives, 14 top-10s, 2 poles

It's been a story of two Carl Edwards in 2010, with one that appeared lost at sea early in the season and another that looks like the guy who was dubbed as a title favorite heading into Speedweeks 2009 at Daytona.

The guy who looked lost was the same one who just couldn't catch a break, even if he couldn't grab a Frisbee. Couple that with the unreliable RF9 motors and you'd think this was a group walking wounded into the Chase.

Instead, it's a team that looks like the biggest dark horse of all, even more so than Jeff Gordon's No. 24 group. However, it's going to take multiple victories for this bunch to truly prove themselves as a true title contender, and to do that, they're going to have to start off strong at New Hampshire and Dover.

Edwards surely wants to bring the "power" back to the No. 99, not so much as merely being the car that reminds people to "cue the duck." Aggressive and as determined as ever, look for Edwards to be within the thick of things, but at best, a top-five points racer as of now.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 70-75%

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

10 top-fives, 13 top-10s

Hardly looking like the team that could've won at Martinsville, Phoenix, Richmond, and Chicagoland, you have to wonder if the No. 24 team's truly out to lunch or just experimenting with setup combination.

Driver Jeff Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte claim to be communicating as well as ever, with the headwrench of the DuPont team receiving a contract extension midsummer and Gordon reaffirming to his critics that he'll stick around for another four years.

Off the track, it's been a good time to be Gordon, with wife Ingrid giving birth to their second child in Leo Benjamin, who along with their daughter Ella, surely would love to see their father win races and titles.

The good news is that they've won at all the tracks in The Chase except for Homestead-Miami. However, on the flip side, they've hardly looked like winners in the past month, qualifying poorly and as a result, having to battle for survival instead of victories on race day.

Months ago, the question was whether or not Gordon could close out a race. Now it's wondering whether Gordon even has it within himself to just put together the complete race.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 70-75%

10) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 DeWalt Ford/Roush-Fenway Racing

Five top-fives, 10 top-10s

Quiet, unassuming, and calculative.

Those are basically the words to describe Matt Kenseth throughout his racing career, as the 2003 champ from Cambridge, Wisc. looks to capture his long awaited second Cup title.

Lately, times have been iffy for the No. 17 DeWalt Ford team, which hasn't been the strong, potent threat as it was back when General Manager Robbie Reiser led the group from 2000-'08.

However, there are those 10-top 10s, which are signs that this team, given fast cars, can get the job done in putting together a string of great finishes.

Then again, this is the Chase we're talking about and down the stretch, it's about maximum points. Wins are at a premium for any of the contenders and this isn't exactly the strongest facet from the 2000 rookie winner's team.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 60-65%

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

Five top-fives, 13 top-10s

"This is the most fun 10 weeks of the year. This is what you live for."

From a guy who cut his teeth racing at the tough, mean asphalt grounds of South Boston Speedway, it's a long way from those Saturday night late model features and races, now living in the most prestigious and well known racing series in possibly all over the world in NASCAR.

A veteran who's seen it all and battled with some of the sport's greatest legends, like Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, and the late Dale Earnhardt, he's been in some dogfights towards the final stretch, when it all really matters.

Maybe they look hardly like a team to even consider during the Chase, but do not count out the No. 31 team. Crew chief Todd Berrier's leadership along with the the vast resources at the RCR campus makes this group look like the quietest but perhaps one of the more deadliest contenders for the title.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 65-70%

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

Four top-fives, 14 top-10s

He's the last link of the Richard Childress Racing Revival, which seemingly happens every two to three years before relegating into mediocrity, much like franchise teams in the stick and ball sports.

Yet, the Emporia, Kans. native looks like a good dark horse to spoil and rain on Jimmie Johnson's parade, turning it up lately with three top-fives and six top-10s in the past ten events on the circuit.

Moving forward, he's probably got to like his chances at Kansas and Charlotte, which have been relatively kind to him, especially when he drove the No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet.

While he's certainly got his work cut out for him and that he's not exactly dubbed as the ultimate dark horse for the championship, if he and crew chief Shane Wilson hit on a combination and win a few races off the bat, it may be time to say "Cheerio" to the rest of the competition, with the No. 33 pulling away in the points standings...either for the best or worst.

Chances of Winning the Cup: 60-65%