Charting The Chase

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The Sprint Cup season is about to begin with the 2010 running of the Daytona 500 this weekend.

Twenty-five races after the checkered flag flies Sunday afternoon, we'll know who will be in the field of 12 and ready to battle for this year's Sprint Cup title.

Let's look into the crystal ball and predict who will find their way into the Chase line-up:

1. Jimmie Johnson - There's no reason to believe the 48 team won't be any less of a powerhouse than it has over the last four seasons. The "Drive for Five" is definitely alive and well.

2. Mark Martin - The storybook season of a year ago came up just short of an elusive championship but Martin will again be in the hunt for this season's title which by the way may include a Daytona 500 victory.

3. Jeff Gordon - Hendrick Motorsports' other "Drive for Five" will also be in play and it will be interesting to watch which of its two four-time champions reaches that milestone first.

4. Kurt Busch - New crew chief Steve Addington will keep the Blue Deuce humming and Busch will have another strong season despite being one of only three Dodge entries in the Sprint Cup garage.

5. Denny Hamlin - He called his championship shot after winning the season finale at Homestead last year and Hamlin should be right in the mix to unseat Johnson this season,

6. Tony Stewart - He ran away with the "regular season" last year but couldn't muster a run for the title once the Chase began. Stewart will try to make it two straight years for his own team to secure a Chase berth.

7. Greg Biffle - Roush Fenway Racing is looking for a resurgence and Biffle may lead that effort this year with multiple victories and a returns to the championship field.

8. Juan Pablo Montoya - Played the regular season to perfection in his quest to make the Chase last season and that experience will put the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing No. 42 back into the playoffs this year.

9. Kevin Harvick - Richard Childress Racing was shut out of the Chase last year but improved its performance in the season's second half. There's lots of confidence in the RCR camp these days and Harvick is driving for his future, all good signs for a return to the Chase in 2010.

10. Kyle Busch - He just missed the playoffs last year but Busch learned some lessons that will pay dividends in 2010. New crew chief Dave Rogers will be a guiding force for the 18 team.

11. Matt Kenseth - Came up short of a Chase berth for the first time since the format's inception last season, There won't be two straight years without the 2003 champion as Kenseth returns to the playoff field fold.

12. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - The most critical year of Earnhardt's Cup career since his rookie season of 2000 will result in a Chase berth as well as a trip or two to victory lane. That should make Junior Nation feel much better.

For the record those who were in the Chase in 2009 who won't return this season include Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards.

Of course I reserve the right o amend my predictions come oh, mid-season.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2010

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