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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]
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Following in second place is Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, celebrates his win Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, affixes the winner’s decal to his car in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, and Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, lead the field prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Daniel Suarez, driver of the #18 ARRIS Toyota, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Bobby Gerhart, driver of the #85 Lucas Oil Chevrolet, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Brennan Poole, driver of the #42 DC Solar Chevrolet, Aric Almirola, driver of the #98 Fresh from Florida Ford, Blake Koch, driver of the #8 Celsius Healthy Energy Cola Toyota, Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Bit-O-Honey Ford, Dakoda Armstrong, driver of the #43 WinField Ford, and Regan Smith, driver of the #7 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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