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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]
Brian Scott. (Picture Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Team battled back from a bad re-start after the first caution of the race to finish 17th in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo Credit: Campbell Marketing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
A general view as cars pit during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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