I'm going to start off with a prediction that will make a lot of people very happy: Jimmie Johnson is NOT going to win the next five Sprint Cup championships.
In fact, his unprecedented streak will end at five consecutive titles, as 2011 is the year he will lose his iron grip on the Chase.
There are many drivers waiting in the wings for a chance to become Sprint Cup champion. Previous champions such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are hoping to prove they've still got what it takes to win a title, while young drivers like Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards are eager to prove they can be the best over an entire season.
So who will win the next five Sprint Cup titles? Read on to find out.
This will be the year "Wild Thing" finally figures out the consistency needed to win a championship at NASCAR's highest level. When the checkered flag waves at Homestead Miami Speedway, he'll be able to celebrate the title with his new wife.
Jimmie Johnson won't go down without a fight, however. After a slow start to the Chase, Five-Time will put on the heat with a couple of wins in October. Jeff Gordon will also hang tough, and the championship battle will be a dead heat as the season enters November.
But Busch will pull away with a couple of emphatic victories in the final races of the Chase, and NASCAR fans will ignore their dislike for Busch in their relief at seeing anyone but Johnson holding the championship trophy.
2011 Top Five:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Jimmie Johnson
3. Jeff Gordon
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Carl Edwards
After the 2012 season finale, Carl Edwards will be hoisting a much better trophy than the wrench he won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this year.
Edwards has come close before, notably with a third-place finish in his rookie year of 2003, and a runner-up campaign in 2008, during which he led the series with nine victories.
He'll finally get his due in 2012, defeating Kyle Busch's bid for back-to-back titles. He'll also have to hold off a resurgent Jeff Gordon, who will win a couple of races down the stretch in a furious attempt to finally make the Drive for Five a reality 11 years after it began.
2012 Top Five:
1. Carl Edwards
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Kyle Busch
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Denny Hamlin
Miffed at losing the title to Carl Edwards in 2012, Shrub will be a man on a mission in 2013. He'll win 10 times and make a snoozer out of the Chase, while Edwards follows his pattern of having a down year after a great one.
The only excitement in the latter stages of the year will be Mark Martin scoring an underdog win at Martinsville.
After Busch's second Cup Series title, he will be a virtual lock for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The only thing to wonder about Busch's career—other than how many titles he will win—will be predicting when he'll surpass Richard Petty's record of 200 career wins.
2013 Top Five:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Clint Bowyer
5. Tony Stewart
Jimmie Johnson will need to find room for a sixth championship trophy on the mantle in 2014.
After two years spent watching other drivers celebrate in Miami, Johnson will recapture the magic he had at his disposal from 2006-2010. He and Carl Edwards dominate the Chase with three wins apiece. In the end Johnson prevails, just as he did in their title bout eight years earlier.
2014 Top Five:
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards
3. Kyle Busch
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Jeff Gordon
That's right, Brad Keselowski will be a Sprint Cup champion before his current rivals Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick, or even his friend Joey Logano for that matter. Putting him over the top is his strength of character and maturity (both of which Hamlin and Harvick lack) and the experience and hard work ethic he gained prior to making it to NASCAR's top level (giving him the edge over Logano).
To win the championship, Keselowski will have to do battle with Hamlin and Logano down the stretch. By 2015, Logano has been dropped by Joe Gibbs Racing, but he's experiencing a career resurgence with RCR. Keselowski will get the best of Hamlin and Logano by winning the final two races of the year in a come-from-behind effort to take the title.
The 2015 season is also notable in that it's the first time in Jimmie Johnson's career that he fails to win multiple races or finish in the Top Five in the standings. Petty and Earnhardt fans breathe a sigh of relief as they sense that Johnson might not win a seventh championship after all.
2015 Top Five:
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Joey Logano
4. Kyle Busch
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.