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Predicting the chase

Since the Chase format began in 2004, only Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have made every Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

That won't change in 2009, but Sporting News doesn't see all twelve drivers who made the Chase in 2008 returning in 2009. Out are Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin, with Mark Martin and Kurt Busch returning to the Chase and David Ragan, who just missed the 2008 Chase, breaking through for the first time.

Who will win it all? We'll let you know 13 September, the day after the Chase field is set at Richmond.

In the meantime, watch these twelve drivers excel…


1. Jimmie Johnson
#48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

He's in if: He, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the #48 team continue to do the things that won them the past three Sprint Cup championships. No team is better at staying cool under pressure and shrugging off adversity - and Johnson has the speed to complement his tenacity.

He's out if: Hell freezes over, the sky falls and plagues of frogs and locusts invade the #48 garage stall. Barring a succession of epic calamities and uncharacteristic mechanical issues, Johnson will maintain his perfect record when it comes to making the Chase.

He wins at: Lowe's, Dover, Texas, Martinsville, Phoenix (and any track in the Chase).

Now hear this: “How can you bet against the #48 team?” asks team-mate Jeff Gordon, who owns a piece of Johnson's car. “(Last year), they didn't start out as the best car and the best team, and the way that they stepped up when it came time for the Chase was to me something that's scary for every other competitor out there. There's no doubt that they've got an excellent shot at doing four in a row, and they've got a lot of pressure on them, as well.”


2. Carl Edwards
#99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

He's in if: He continues to race with the aggressiveness that got him a series-high nine victories and a runner-up finish in the Chase last year. Edwards has a handle on NASCAR's new racecar, and he and crew chief Bob Osborne continue to grow as a team.

He's out if: A remarkable combination of wrecks and mechanical failures derails him. That's not likely to happen, though. Edwards had a career-high four DNFs in 2007 (three for engine failures) and a 100-point penalty in 2008 and still made the Chase both years. The only thing that can keep him out this year is catastrophic misfortune.

He wins at: California, Las Vegas, Bristol, Kansas, Chicago.

Now hear this: “I think on the mile-and-a-half, two-mile stuff, those guys not only are fast, but they're able to get the fuel mileage,” Jimmie Johnson says of Edwards. “What makes Carl even more of a threat this coming year is the fact that he's done a good job of understanding Martinsville, Phoenix, tracks that have been tough for him.”


3. Jeff Gordon
#24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

He's in if: He continues to turn in the consistent performances that carried him to the Chase the past three seasons. Despite early-season wrecks at Las Vegas and Texas and four DNFs in the first 26 races last season, Gordon ran well enough in the other 22 events to qualify comfortably.

He's out if: He and crew chief Steve Letarte can't improve the speed and handling of the #24 car and competitive drivers who missed the Chase last year - Kurt Busch, David Ragan and Kasey Kahne, for example - make gains that carry them past the four-time champion.

He wins at: Infineon, Phoenix, Martinsville



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Tony Stewart at Daytona [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Jeff Burton at Daytona [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Denny Hamlin at Daytona [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, poses with the trophy in Victory Lane with wife Samantha and son Brexton Locke after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, places the winner`s decal in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates with the chequered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates by kissing the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to a ninth place finish Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, races to an eighth place finish with third place finisher Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, finishes in fourth place Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, races to a third place finish Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A detailed view of the Brickyard 400 trophy prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Stanley Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, take the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

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