The Sprint Cup series is off this weekend, and it’s the final time drivers will get a break before the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the final time to rest before what’s shaping up to be an intense seven-race dash to make the cut for NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.

Several drivers have already locked themselves into the Chase, and others are scrambling to stay in the conversation. Let’s take a look at which drivers have the most momentum heading into the final half of the season.

1. Jimmie Johnson

Current Points Position: 1st

2013 Wins: 4

It’s always hard to count out the five-time champion, and with seven races to go until the Chase officially starts, Johnson has more than a full race lead in the points. On top of that, he’s tied for the most wins in 2013, meaning if the Chase were to start today, he’d still be tied for first. The #48 has showed speed every week, and after an inspection failure caused him to start from dead last in last week’s race at New Hampshire, he still drove to a top-10 finish. Johnson has also embraced the hatred thrown at him by many fans unhappy to see him at the top, starting the #BlameJJ hashtag on Twitter and often sarcastically responding to to user tweets. Johnson is happy, healthy, and fast.

2. Clint Bowyer

Current Points Position: 2nd

2013 Wins: 0

Bowyer doesn’t have any wins this season, but top 10 finishes in four of the last five races (top 15 in all five) have moved him to second in the standings. He nearly won the championship last year, battling with Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson until his infamous run in with Jeff Gordon at Phoenix took him out of the conversation for good, and there seems to be none of the hangover that often plagues runner-up finishers in the year after their championship near-miss. Bowyer remains one of the most animated drivers on the circuit and is always fun to watch, and that seeming lack of stress will serve him well in the pressure-filled weeks leading up to and during the Chase.

3. Kevin Harvick

Current Points Position: 4th

2013 Wins: 1

Harvick hasn’t made much noise during races since his win in the Coca-Cola 600, but he’s quietly rattled off top 10s in his last nine races, climbing all the way to fourth in the standings. His storyline is particularly interesting, considering he’s in a lame duck year with Richard Childress Racing before he leaves to join Stewart Haas Racing in 2014. He doesn’t seem to be suffering from any ill effects from the transition year, and in fact appears to be at ease knowing his future is secure. He’d love to end on a high note and bring home the championship to RCR.

4. Kyle Busch

Current Points Position: 7th

2013 Wins: 2

Busch suffered a string of misfortunes in May and June, be he’s righted the ship and, aside from an abysmal performance at the road course in Sonoma, notched top 15 finishes the last 8 weeks, including a runner-up finish in New Hampshire. Speed and talent-wise, Busch remains a contender, but his mouth and terrible attitude continues to follow him, most recently when he referred to Ryan Newman as an “ogre” after the race in New Hampshire, also tossing out the zinger “glad he’s out of a job.” As long as he fails to show maturity and focus on things that actually matter, rather than running his mouth, he’ll be at the bottom of the championship discussion, but he’s extremely talented, and a couple of minor corrections will have him in the hunt.

5. Matt Kenseth

Current Points Positon: 5th

2013 Wins: 4

Kenseth has struggled in recent weeks, but finally had something to smile about after posting a ninth-place finish at New Hampshire, a track he hasn’t been very good at in past years. He’s dropped to fifth in the standings, but is still tied with Jimmie Johnson with four wins on the season, meaning as long as he stays in the top 10, he’ll start the Chase near the top. There’s only one 1.5-mile track on the schedule before the Chase starts, and that’s where Kenseth has been strongest. But he’s also shown speeds at tracks that traditionally aren’t his strong suit, so if he can re-capture the magic he had early in the season, he’ll be fine.

6. Carl Edwards

Current Points Position: 3rd

2013 Wins: 1

Edwards has been very hit or miss the last few weeks, but when he’s on, he’s on, including an eighth-place finish at New Hampshire. He also still has his one win on the season to keep him safe, and I think he’ll be back to the consistent finishes we saw early in the year in the coming weeks.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Current Points Position: 5th

2013 Wins: 0

Earnhardt’s situation is similar to Edwards’, but slightly worse, as Junior’s only finished in the top 10 once in the past five races. Nevertheless, he has shown speed this season, and Steve Letarte is a brilliant crew chief that should get the team headed in the right direction again, but his lack of a win, and really a lack of even showing speed close to good enough to win, is troubling. Earnhardt fans hear it every year, but it’s still true. Until he can start winning, or at the very least compete for wins, he won’t win the title.

8. Brad Keselowski

Current Points Position: 9th

2013 Wins: 0

Keselowski’s in a very precarious position, sitting ninth in the standings with no wins, but the 2013 champion has shown the resilience he used to win the title last year. After wrecks at Daytona and Kentucky took him out the top 10, he clawed his way back in with a fourth place showing at New Hampshire. Odds are he’ll get a victory before the Chase starts, and even if he doesn’t, I think he’ll still make it in.

9. Kasey Kahne 

Current Points Position: 10th

2013 Wins: 1

Kahne has had problems the last few weeks as well, but has a victory to help his Chase chances. Kahne has been burned by bad luck, including several crashes that weren’t his fault, so if he gets a break, he’ll easily climb back to a higher spot in the standings. He’s by no means a lock for the Chase, but chances are good he’ll claim a spot.

10. Jeff Gordon

Current Points Position: 12th

2013 Wins: 0

No championship is won without adversity, and Gordon has battled it all year to even stay in the top 15. He’s had fast cars every week and terrible luck when it comes to finishes. He crashed at Daytona, but the other three races in the last four weeks have been showcases of sheer determination. After a poor pit decision put him at the back at Sonoma, he came back to finish second. After falling back because he got held up on restarts at Kentucky, he came back to eighth. And last week, after running up front most of the race, he got mired in traffic and then spun by Paul Menard, but rebounded to finish tenth. Gordon certainly isn’t giving up, and we saw last year he’s still got the passion to win. If he continues to show the speed and resilience he has the past few weeks, he’ll get into the top 10 and maybe even grab a win before the Chase starts.