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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

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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]
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 17, 2014 in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS finished second. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
With General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, holds the Michigan Heritage Trophy after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. In 2013, MIS began awarding the Michigan Heritage Trophy as a recognition and celebration of the automobile and it`s importance to the race track and the manufacturers competing in NASCAR. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with his crew after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, Justin Allgaier, driver of the #51 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet, and Michael Annett, driver of the #7 Allstate Peterbilt/Pilot Chevrolet, are involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford takes the chequered flag to win the Nationwide Children`s 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, drives the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford during the Nationwide Children`s 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Nationwide Children`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Nationwide Children`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, leads the field at the start of the Nationwide Childrens`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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