The 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup has been set. The laps have been posted, the pit stops have been completed and the regular season is over.
Now the 12 best drivers of the season are ready to do battle.
This year's field is filled with every contender possible. You have two drivers who have never had the experience of competing for a championship. You have three former champions with a thirst for another championship on their mantelpiece.
Two men have competed in the Chase before, one who nearly won the title last year. There's a driver who is having a phenomenal year and is in strong contention to get his first title.
Then finally, you have the defending champion. A man who is capable of putting himself back on stage and accepting a fourth title.
This year's field is one of the tightest seen since the Chase's inception. How will they fair over the next 10 races? Will someone falter early?
Can someone at the back make a charge and surprise everyone? Who will win the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship?
No-one can say how it will turn out, but everyone has a chance to predict where they will end up.
Here is a look at my countdown to show where I think the Chase contenders will finish.
Considering all the things that happened this year with Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing, it was really nice to see Juan Pablo Montoya get into the Chase.
Over the summer, he was one of the hottest drivers on the track, nearly winning both Indy and Pocono.
However, this is his first year going for the Sprint Cup title. I think the jitters of going for his first championship could catch up to him.
Yes, his oval track statistics have improved and he has been running consistently. Consistency puts him in contention, but wins will get him a title. I just don't see that happening his first time in the Chase.
He could make a strong run at some of the tracks, like Charlotte and Texas, and get himself in the top five for a bit. But I cannot see him making a strong run for the championship.
It has been quite a year for Carl Edwards. Competing for both the Nationwide and Cup championships have certainly been quite a task to take on.
Now, he finds himself in the Chase, but is entering at a time where he is deep in the points and not 100 percent healthy.
His freak frisbee accident has left him with a broken right foot. With a good portion of the final 10 races being high-speed, high-banked tracks, this could create havoc for the driver.
Last year, Edwards was in the thick of the championship hunt with Jimmie Johnson, nearly taking the title. This year, he's in the uncomfortable position of being behind in the standings and has yet to taste a Cup victory.
As much as I like Edwards as a driver and ambassador for the sport with his calm demeanor, I just don't see him doing well this year. I have him just outside the top 10. At best, I think he will finish eighth.
Yes, Kurt Busch won the first Chase to the Cup in 2004 and he has been running fairly decent this season. But, being decent will not get the championship.
I think that Busch will end up in a position similar to that of his start, near the middle or at the back. There will be tracks where he will do very well, such as New Hampshire this weekend.
But I think he could find some struggles at some of the intermediate tracks. Places such as Dover, Phoenix and Homestead could throw him off.
A former champion? Indeed. Championship caliber? Absolutely. Will he get his second title? Probably not.
Greg Biffle is the driver I'm most surprised with this season. Of the five current Roush drivers, Biffle has possibly been the most consistent. However, he has not made it to victory lane.
It is not because of lack of effort. This team has raced well. Eight top-five and 12 top-10 finishes are excellent statistics for this group. The entire Number 16 team worked hard to get themselves into the Chase.
The Chase certainly will be a help for this group as a majority of the races are on intermediate tracks. On tracks between one and two miles in length, Biffle has 13 wins.
That is not where I see Biffle having the issues.
What I think will cost him is the unpredictability of Talladega and the short track at Martinsville.
Short tracks have not been a strong point for the Number 16 team and, obviously, no-one can predict how Talladega will change the Chase.
I have Biffle finishing ninth in the standings, but I could see him finishing sixth or seventh with a few good runs.
After getting wins at Pocono and Richmond, both filled with emotions, Hamlin has put himself in the hunt for the title.
Hamlin now must also now realize he is the driver carrying the helm for Joe Gibbs Racing, as teammate Kyle Busch missed the Chase by a mere eight points.
I don't believe the pressure will be a problem for Hamlin. He has proved that he can win in adverse conditions. Hamlin won Pocono just after his grandmother passed away.
What will hurt him the most in my eyes will be the struggles of the Gibbs teams at shorter tracks such as Dover, Martinsville and Phoenix.
Hamlin has won at four tracks in the Chase, but this year the entire Gibbs team has had to regroup their short-track program.
Wins by Busch at Bristol and Logano at New Hampshire are the only wins the Gibbs team has on short tracks since Martinsville last year. This could be their downfall in this year's Chase.
I have Hamlin finishing eighth this year, with his highest predicted finish being sixth.
It's incredible that Ryan Newman has not equaled the success of his teammate and boss, Tony Stewart.
After starting out the year low in the standings and struggling to mesh with his new team, the Number 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet has moved up the standings and made it to the Chase.
This is going to be interesting because Newman has won at the first three tracks in the Chase and is a consistent threat at all the others.
I just can't see this first-year team making a run to the championship although I do see them having a chance to make the top-five.
No matter what, it will be a successful first year for the Stewart-Haas driver.
Seeing Kasey Kahne in the Chase is no surprise, and it's great that he has brought a familiar face back into the championship hunt.
The Number Nine Budweiser Dodge has run extremely well since its win at Sonoma and, with a very definitive win in Atlanta two weeks ago, the entire Richard Petty Motorsports organization has put themselves legitimately in the championship hunt.
What bothers me in the Chase with Kahne is his lack of success at all but one track on the schedule.
Right away, the track that he is going to do extremely well at will be Lowe's Motor Speedway. He has changed the idea that it is "Jimmie Johnson's House" and has become the driver to beat at the home track of NASCAR.
But, being a contender at one track will not bring him a title. I see Kahne finishing a very respectable sixth with the possibility of him finishing near the top.
That will certainly make The King smile.
No question, Brian Vickers was the hottest driver over the summer months.
Finally getting his first win with the Red Bull team, winning pole after pole and running near the front made him a major contender for the Chase.
His battle to get in was just as exciting as he barely beat out Kyle Busch for the final transfer position. It has been quite a turnaround for this team since it started in 2007.
I see Vickers carrying that momentum right into the Chase and being a real threat to steal a title away from the likes of Stewart, Martin and Johnson.
Vickers can definitely win at least three pole positions during the Chase. Wins will definitely be the determination of where he will end up.
I have Vickers finishing just inside the top-five. No matter what, this is the team that has made the biggest turnaround in the last few years.
If Vickers does not win the title this year, look out in 2010. He could surprise us all.
If you look at the statistics this year for Jeff Gordon, he's having a way better season than the one he had in 2008. But it has not been as successful as his championship run in 2007.
Combine that with his back problems and you have a driver that is getting worn down every time he drives. Gordon can win the title, but I just don't see the "Drive for Five" coming to a conclusion this year.
Gordon has won at every track in the Chase with the exception of Homestead, so every week he will be a threat to run up front.
I think what will hold him back is his back problems, if they start up again. A lot of these tracks are physically demanding.
It was back at Dover where Gordon's back problems really became evident after his crash in qualifying.
Despite him not speaking about his health, the fans and drivers knew it was a problem. His hard wreck at Watkins Glen only furthered those problems.
I can see him making a run at the title, but I don't see him winning. It hurts me to say it, but the "Drive for Five" will have to wait another year.
I'm sorry. Jimmie Johnson will not win his fourth straight title.
The Number 48 team has not made the strong run leading into the Chase that it has the last few years. And the way the series has gone the last two years, momentum is key to getting the title.
Johnson has not found that momentum this year. A mistake on a pit stop at Bristol and a broken axle in Atlanta really set him back.
There are more consistent teams this season. That has put Johnson in a position where he must run hard right out of the gate to get the lead.
It was Darrell Waltrip who said that to win the title, you had to beat Jimmie Johnson. This season, I believe someone will.
This has certainly been a dream season for Tony Stewart. He took a risk to start his own team and, in its first year, the team has three wins and is competing for a championship.
No one, not even Stewart himself, could have predicted this type of success.
As much as I want to say he can complete the dream, I do not think he will. Of the last three races, the Number 14 car has struggled in two of them. That tells me that this team is mortal and can have an off-day at the track.
Heading into the Chase, Stewart finds himself in second place, the first time he has not had the lead for a few months. His team certainly has the talent and he certainly has the drive.
I predict that if he doesn't win the title, he's only going to barely miss it.
No pun intended, but mark it down. My prediction for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion is Mark Martin.
When Martin announced he will be going back to full-time driving, the entire Cup garage took notice. When he said he would be behind the wheel of a Hendrick car, the garage became nervous.
They had a right to be, as it has been nothing short of phenomenal for Martin this season. Four wins, nine top-fives and 14 top-10s have put Martin at the top of the standings heading into New Hampshire.
I cannot see Martin moving very far from that spot. I can see Martin continuing his incredible year in these last 10 races, and finally getting that elusive championship.
Everyone in the garage and the stands have respect for Martin and his accomplishments. Although not seeing him have a championship is unfortunate, Martin will tell you that he doesn't need a title to be considered a great driver.
But we all know, deep down, he wants one. I think this will be the year that Martin finally makes his name as a champion in NASCAR. It could not go to a more deserving individual.