The chase will start at the Magic Mile, New Hampshire motor speedway next Sunday. Here is what I predict the top 12 will look like come season's end at Homestead.
12th place: Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle hasn't had a spectacular 2009 season. No wins, 8 top fives, 12 top tens, and an average finish of 14.50, Biffle has been up and down this year. Expect strong performance out of the 16 team at Dover, Auto Club, Texas and Homestead. Otherwise they will be a 13th to 20th place car at most tracks.
11th place:Brian Vickers
Brian Vickers amazed the nation when he finished 7th at Richmond got himself into his first ever chase appearance. His goals this season were to win a pole:he has 6 poles. Another goal was to win a race: notched that at Michigan. And to make the chase. Complete. With a win, a pole, 4 top fives, 13 top tens and an average finish of 14.88 everything from here is icing on the cake. But this team in only their 3rd year of existence is not ready to be a true contender for a championship. Expect strong runs out of the 83 team at tracks like Kansas, Auto Club, Lowes, Texas and Homestead but the lack of consistency at tracks like Loudon, Martinsvillie, Phoenix, and Dover.
10th:Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya is having a breakout cup season. Despite no wins and only 2 top fives he has 12 top tens and an average finish of 13.81. The driver of the 42 used a points racing mentality to make the chase and it paid off big time. But does the 42 have what it takes to win a championship? The driver does but perhaps not the team. Expect more top tens and even top fives from Montoya at places like Lowes, Texas, Martinsvillie, Kansas,Homestead or Talladega. But overall lacking the consistency of a championship team.
Kasey has had perhaps the best finish of cup career consistency wise. With 2 wins, 5 top tens, 10 top tens, and average finish of 13.92, Kahne has been very consistent. But how long will this last? The 9 Kasey admits struggles at the short tracks so don't expect much from then at Loudon, Martinsvillie and Phoenix. But do expect good runs at Texas, Lowes, Kansas, Homestead and Auto Club. But like Montoya lacking the consistency of a championship team.
Many people expect Ryan Newman to struggle in his first year at Stewart Haas. I am proud to say I wasn't one of those many. With 5 top fives, 12 top tens, an an average finish of 14.02, Newman is having his best season since the 2005 season. This 39 team has been up and down however. From Talladega to Pocono thy never finished lower than 10th and had 5 top fives. They went to a little drought in the summer from Michigan to the 2nd Michigan race having only 1 top ten. But since Bristol has finished 6th, 9th and 10th. Newman's team is hard to read but expect strong runs at Dover, Loudon, Phoenix, Martinsvillie, Talladega and maybe even a win. But not strong enough runs to be a serious championship contender in 2009.
Yes I said it. Jimmie Johnson the 3 time in a row defending series champion will finish 7th in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup series points standings. He has 3 wins, 9 top fives, 15 top tens, an average finish of 12.73, and has led 1,252 laps. But they haven't shown the consistency to win a 4th championship. In the last 6 races he has only 1 top ten and that is an 8th, no top fives and 2 finishes of 30th or worse. Of course expect them to be strong at Martinsvillie, Phoenix, Loudon, Lowes, Dover, and Auto Club, but the consistency and dominance factor that is usually here for this team isn't there this year.
Jeff Gordon has had a comeback 2009 season. With a win, 12 top fives, 18 top tens, and an average finish of 10.92, Gordon has been very strong and will be a threat for the championship. Expect strong runs pretty much everywhere. But places that he might not do well is Dover where s he finished in the 20s there this year, Talladega where he hasn't finished better than 21st since he won there in the fall of 2007 sweeping the 2007 races, and Phoenix where his last 2 starts there are finishes outside the top 20.
Kurt Busch is the 2009 comeback driver. After a dismal 2008 season he is back to being a championshop contender. With a dominant win at Atlanta, 7 top fives, 14 top tens, and an average finish of 13.96 Kurt Busch will be a big threat for the championship. There is however 2 tracks where I see weaknesses for this 2 team. Martinsvillie where Kurt Busch has pronounced has his worst track, and Homestead where the team finished 43rd in the first ever COT race there. And with Pat Tryson leaving the team after 2009, that could cause a distraction.
Mark Martin has had such a roller coaster season. 4 wins, 9 top top fives, 14 top ten, and an average finish of 15.58. But he has 7 finishes of 30th or worse. If the team and get rid of the inconsistency they will be a contender for the championship. There seems to be no weakness for this team performance wise. However Talladega is a wild card and a place Mark Martin doesn't like. As he finished 43rd there in the spring.
Denny Hamlin is NASCAR's hottest driver. This season he has 2 wins, 9 top fives, 14 top fives, and an average finish of 12.35 In the last 6 races races he has 2 wins, 3 top fives, and 6 top tens. No driver goes into the next 10 races with more momentum than this driver. Denny's 11 team has ran well everywhere, which makes them such a huge contender for the championship. Expect them to put up a big fight.
Carl Edwards has had a good yet quiet 2009 season. He finished 5th in the regular season. With 7 top fives, 11 top ten, and an average finish of 13.96 Edwards has been up and down yet consistent enough. Expect the 99 to make a full court press in the chase. Though short track performances must improve. But tracks like Auto Club, Kansas, Lowes, Texas, and Homestead. This 99 team is more focused on just winning the championship more than ever and will be a huge factor.
Tony Stewart has had a great season. 3 wins, 13 top fives, 18 top tens, and an average finish of 9.12. Smoke has been impressive this seas in his first season as a driver/owner. This ws expected from me. When you have a driver like Tony Stewart with resources from Hendrick motorsports, and the people, it is a recipe for success. He's hasn't had a top ten since his win at Watkins Glen but from Dover to his win at Watkins Glen he had 3 wins, 8 top fives, and 10 top tens. If he can duplicate that he will be the champion. And I believe he will duplicate it. Look for at least 3 more wins by this team , while they are on their way to a championship.