NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Who’s Going To Win It All? Our 2009 Chase Predictions

The sixth edition of NASCAR’s Chase is upon us, and with it comes the most talented 12-car field we’ve ever seen. Four former champions, 282 career race wins, and eight different teams represented make the 10-race run for the title a wide-open affair with no clear favorite as of yet.

Or is there? Our experts have pored over all the data and have their yearly picks in order, hoping their crystal ball will help you find some answers. Read below for the inside scoop from the writer you trust on who’s finishing where!

2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Tom Bowles Matt Taliaferro Toni Montgomery
Title Editor-In-Chief Assistant Editor Senior Editor
1st Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart
2nd Mark Martin Mark Martin Jimmie Johnson
3rd Carl Edwards Denny Hamlin Mark Martin
4th Juan Pablo Montoya Tony Stewart Kurt Busch
5th Jeff Gordon Jeff Gordon Brian Vickers
6th Denny Hamlin Carl Edwards Jeff Gordon
7th Kurt Busch Ryan Newman Denny Hamlin
8th Tony Stewart Juan Pablo Montoya Juan Pablo Montoya
9th Brian Vickers Kurt Busch Carl Edwards
10th Kasey Kahne Kasey Kahne Ryan Newman
11th Greg Biffle Greg Biffle Kasey Kahne
12th Ryan Newman Brian Vickers Greg Biffle
Darkhorse Title Pick Mark Martin Ryan Newman Brian Vickers
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Kyle Busch Kevin Harvick Kyle Busch
Why They Picked How They Did Yes, I flip-flopped from my call back in February. But after three straight titles, I feel like Johnson has to do something drastically different to lose his fourth. And despite this being the deepest Chase field in years, I don’t see the things wrong I thought I’d see with the No. 48 that could take them down. 1,252 laps led in 21 races leads the series, the real numbers to focus on from an awful August where going for broke in the win column never paid off. But don’t you worry about that roller-coaster ending to the regular season: Johnson knows where his bread is buttered. He’s got an average finish of 9.9 at the seven Chase tracks we’ve been to already this season. P.S.: Expect the winningest driver in the playoffs to be Kyle Busch. Predicting this thing is an exercise in futility/frustration/humiliation; therefore, stick with the proven commodity. Seriously, is there anyone that doesn’t think the No. 48 team is the one to beat come Chase time? Martin, Hamlin, Stewart and Gordon will give him all he can handle throughout – and if anyone knocks JJ off, it’ll be one of them – but I’ll take the No. 48 until they give me good reason not to. As for the dark horse pick, like I explained in Fanning the Flames this week, there’s always one in the back half of the 12-car field that surprises. Also expect Kyle to throw in the towel, while Harvick’s headed back in the right direction already. I’m eating crow. I was way off-base about how Stewart and his new team would do in their first year… so I may as well go all in on that deal. Pass the salt.
Correctly Picked How Many Chasers? 5 of 12 6 of 12 6 of 12
2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Cami Starr Amy Henderson Tony Lumbis
Title Fantasy Racing Editor Senior Editor Senior Writer/Marketing Director
1st Tony Stewart Mark Martin Tony Stewart
2nd Mark Martin Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson
3rd Denny Hamlin Tony Stewart Mark Martin
4th Jimmie Johnson Denny Hamlin Denny Hamlin
5th Brian Vickers Jeff Gordon Jeff Gordon
6th Jeff Gordon Kurt Busch Kurt Busch
7th Kurt Busch Brian Vickers Brian Vickers
8th Juan Pablo Montoya Carl Edwards Carl Edwards
9th Ryan Newman Greg Biffle Juan Pablo Montoya
10th Kasey Kahne Kasey Kahne Kasey Kahne
11th Carl Edwards Juan Pablo Montoya Ryan Newman
12th Greg Biffle Ryan Newman Greg Biffle
Darkhorse Title Pick Brian Vickers Brian Vickers Mark Martin
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Kyle Busch Kyle Busch Kyle Busch
Why They Picked How They Did Everyone’s sentimental favorite will be Martin, but I see the heartbreak continuing and he’ll fall just shy of Stewart, who has proven everyone wrong with an outstanding first year as driver/owner. The Johnson/Knaus juggernaut will finally hit the wall, outplayed at the game they have mastered for the last three years. Any of these dozen can get it done, but Martin goes in with momentum and a whole organization throwing everything including the kitchen sink at his team. Teammate Johnson is the reigning champion and has by far the best Chase numbers of any driver, which makes him Martin’s biggest threat, but his team hasn’t shown championship form in 2009. Stewart, possibly the most talented driver in the series, is dangerous as well – but in my book, the rest are likely to be fighting for fourth and below. If there’s a darkhorse, it’s Vickers, who’s very, very good on the intermediate tracks which make up the lion’s share of the Chase. And as for Kyle? He’ll be busy gunning for wins – and not particularly caring who ends up ruined in his wake. Johnson will not win it all this year because the odds are against him. In fact, history tells us that four in a row is impossible, as it has never happened. Stewart has busted all of the “new team” myths this year, and I believe he will continue to do so all the way to the championship. And while he enters the point leader, four-time 2009 winner Martin is still considered a darkhorse in my mind because of the one championship component he lacks: luck.
Correctly Picked How Many Chasers? 6 of 12 7 of 12 7 of 12
2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Bryan Davis Keith Mike Lovecchio Phil Allaway
Title Assistant Editor Assistant Editor Assistant Editor
1st Jimmie Johnson Denny Hamlin Jeff Gordon
2nd Mark Martin Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson
3rd Denny Hamlin Jeff Gordon Tony Stewart
4th Tony Stewart Tony Stewart Denny Hamlin
5th Brian Vickers Carl Edwards Mark Martin
6th Carl Edwards Mark Martin Brian Vickers
7th Jeff Gordon Kasey Kahne Kasey Kahne
8th Kasey Kahne Ryan Newman Juan Pablo Montoya
9th Ryan Newman Kurt Busch Kurt Busch
10th Greg Biffle Juan Pablo Montoya Carl Edwards
11th Juan Pablo Montoya Greg Biffle Greg Biffle
12th Kurt Busch Brian Vickers Ryan Newman
Darkhorse Title Pick Brian Vickers Carl Edwards Brian Vickers
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Kyle Busch Kyle Busch Kyle Busch
Why They Picked How They Did Martin is the sentimental pick here, and he will make noise in the Chase (I wouldn’t be surprised to see the No. 5 car win three or four races). But the only thing the No. 5 team has been consistent at in 2009 is being inconsistent. They haven’t been able to string it together for 10 races all year long, and they’ve also got perhaps the unluckiest driver ever at Talladega. Across the way, JJ and the No. 48 are on cruise control, just like they were in 2007 and ’08… and we all know how that turned out. The ONLY reason I didn’t pick Johnson is… well… it’s too easy of a pick. It’s going to take consistency and a little bit of luck to beat the No. 48 team, but Hamlin is riding a wave of momentum right now that could carry him through the Chase. Of the winless drivers, I think the experience of the No. 99 team and success at a number of the Chase tracks gives Edwards a legitimate shot at the title as well. My general thoughts here is that Hendrick Motorsports is currently supreme. However, I don’t think Johnson’s No. 48 team has shown the same type of results coming into the Chase as they have in the past three years. That is why I think Gordon will overrun Johnson. Stewart-Haas has leveled off in recent weeks, so while Stewart will run well, something will likely crop up and keep him from winning the title. As for a darkhorse, watch out for Vickers. The victory at Michigan was a long time coming, and the axle change on pit road under caution at Atlanta without losing a lap just showed how much the team wanted to get into the Chase. Vickers has earned the most points of anyone over the past two months in order to get into the Chase, and that makes him dangerous moving forward.
Correctly Picked How Many Chasers? 7 of 12 7 of 12 6 of 12
2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Beth Lunkenheimer Vito Pugliese Mike Ravesi
Title Truck Series Expert Senior Writer Senior Writer
1st Tony Stewart Mark Martin Tony Stewart
2nd Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson
3rd Jeff Gordon Tony Stewart Mark Martin
4th Mark Martin Brian Vickers Jeff Gordon
5th Kurt Busch Jeff Gordon Kurt Busch
6th Carl Edwards Denny Hamlin Carl Edwards
7th Denny Hamlin Carl Edwards Juan Pablo Montoya
8th Brian Vickers Kurt Busch Greg Biffle
9th Ryan Newman Juan Pablo Montoya Ryan Newman
10th Kasey Kahne Greg Biffle Kasey Kahne
11th Greg Biffle Kasey Kahne Denny Hamlin
12th Juan Pablo Montoya Ryan Newman Brian Vickers
Darkhorse Title Pick Mark Martin Brian Vickers Kurt Busch
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Kyle Busch Kevin Harvick Kyle Busch
Why They Picked How They Did Though Johnson and Chad Knaus have the Chase game figured out, Stewart and the No. 14 team have had a better season than anyone imagined, and they could be just the team to break up Johnson’s string of consecutive championships. But Martin has shown the young guys that he can still get the job done. If the No. 5 team can string together a few great races to start the Chase and open up enough of a lead, they’ll be hard to catch, and Martin will finally get the title that has eluded him for so long. I know what you’re thinking – after drinking the Kool-Aid all year, I’m now filling the punch bowl for everybody to take a glass from. Well, whatever – no sense in apologizing for being right. I picked Martin to win the title this year before the season even started, and here we are, 10 races to go, and he’s leading the points for the first time since leaving New Hampshire in 2002. Looking at the tracks coming up, Martin has wins at all but two of them – New Hampshire and Homestead-Miami (which just so happen to bookend the Chase) – the latter of which he lost by a foot to Biffle in 2005. His two best tracks (and favorites) are Dover and Lowe’s Motor Speedway, sites of some of his most recent triumphs prior to rejoining the fold full-time this season. NASCAR seems to welcome a Cinderella story and Hollywood screenplay-type finish. Couple this with the fact that Hendrick Motorsports and their satellite teams have been nothing but dominant this season, and the sentimental favorite looks more logical and likely as the chemistry between he and Alan Gustafson continues to translate into poles, top fives and wins. I’m not going to ask the same stupid question Mark gets asked every weekend, I’m just going to go ahead and make this simple statement: Mark Martin – 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. It’s easy for Stewart to be an owner when the “driver” is this good. But watch out for the Busch brothers. Kurt’s won a championship before, has had a great comeback season, and has a multi-car team with other drivers not in the Chase willing to help. And as for Kyle, he has nothing to lose; with only winning races the object for the last 10 races, look for him to drive aggressively and take advantage of the Chase cars running up front – who will be hesitant to mix it up and cost themselves a shot at the title.
Correctly Picked How Many Chasers? 7 of 12 7 of 12 6 of 12
2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert S.D. Grady Mike Neff Tommy Thompson
Title Senior Writer Senior Writer Senior Writer
1st Mark Martin Jimmie Johnson Mark Martin
2nd Tony Stewart Jeff Gordon Jeff Gordon
3rd Jimmie Johnson Denny Hamlin Tony Stewart
4th Denny Hamlin Tony Stewart Jimmie Johnson
5th Kurt Busch Juan Pablo Montoya Brian Vickers
6th Jeff Gordon Mark Martin Denny Hamlin
7th Juan Pablo Montoya Carl Edwards Carl Edwards
8th Kasey Kahne Ryan Newman Juan Pablo Montoya
9th Brian Vickers Greg Biffle Ryan Newman
10th Carl Edwards Kurt Busch Kurt Busch
11th Ryan Newman Brian Vickers Greg Biffle
12th Greg Biffle Kasey Kahne Kasey Kahne
Darkhorse Title Pick Jeff Gordon Juan Pablo Montoya Denny Hamlin
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Kyle Busch Kyle Busch Kyle Busch
Why They Picked How They Did It’s a sentimental year, I hope. I’m pulling for Mark, so, I’ll put my vote where my heart is. Tony winning a Cup in his rookie year as an owner wouldn’t be bad, either. My darkhorse pick… I don’t believe Jeff has it in him, but I won’t be upset if he pulls it out, either ;) My spoiler… what else would you call him and his little boy attitude this year? Besides, I’m sure Kyle’ll be kicking for those wins. The Chasers need to watch their mirrors! Johnson has the belt. He also still has Chad Knaus on the box. Until the are proven to be fallible, he has to be the pick to win the title. But watch out for Montoya; he has figured out points racing, and the team has been running better overall. If the Colombian driver can win a race or two, he could sneak up and steal this thing. As for the spoiler, Kyle Busch has already won four races this year; it is hard to argue that anyone is better, and he could very well could win half of the races left on the schedule and outscore anyone in the Chase. It’s possibly somewhat of a sentimental choice, but Martin is doing everything he needs to do to pen a storybook ending as his career winds down. His four wins has him seeded No. 1 as the Chase starts, and he’s been running up front consistently the last three months. Sometimes, you just have to believe!
Correctly Picked How Many Chasers? 6 of 12 7 of 12 0 of 12 (Didn’t Pick)
2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Doug Turnbull Danny Peters Jeff Meyer
Title Senior Writer Senior Writer Senior Writer
1st Jimmie Johnson Mark Martin Mark Martin
2nd Tony Stewart Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson
3rd Denny Hamlin Tony Stewart Tony Stewart
4th Mark Martin Denny Hamlin Carl Edwards
5th Jeff Gordon Jeff Gordon Jeff Gordon
6th Kasey Kahne Kasey Kahne Kasey Kahne
7th Kurt Busch Carl Edwards Kurt Busch
8th Carl Edwards Brian Vickers Ryan Newman
9th Ryan Newman Juan Pablo Montoya Brian Vickers
10th Brian Vickers Kurt Busch Denny Hamlin
11th Juan Pablo Montoya Ryan Newman Juan Pablo Montoya
12th Greg Biffle Greg Biffle Greg Biffle
Darkhorse Title Pick Denny Hamlin Denny Hamlin Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Kyle Busch Kyle Busch Kyle Busch
Why They Picked How They Did Johnson and Knaus always haul the mail in the playoffs, and they will have a winning dogfight with Stewart for the title. Hamlin and Martin are the only drivers that will be able to run with them, though Gordon’s consistency will keep him in the hunt until the end. The rest of the drivers and teams don’t have enough going for them to make a real title run. Kyle Busch will embarrass the non-Chasers and even many of the Chasers in his end-of-the-year dominance. I expect the Chase to be very closely contested, perhaps more so than ever, but I’ve got a funny feeling it’s all going to finally fall into place for Martin in 2009. This might be because it would be the single best story in any form of motorsports, but it’s also because without a clear favorite the consummate pro might just do enough to get it done at long last. This is Brian France’s ultimate chance to script his legacy in NASCAR. After letting Johnson tie the record for three in a row, this year’s episode will feature a down-to-the-wire battle between teammates Johnson and Martin, with nice guy and fan favorite, Martin, finally winning a Cup. After all, NASCAR isn’t ready to give Jimmie the status of Gordon with four Cups just yet. Co-star Stewart isn’t all that upset about not ending up in the spotlight, for in his mind, he’s already won his Oscar for leading BOTH his teams into the Chase. If for some reason, one of the actors, most notably Martin, should forget his lines and begin floundering, my darkhorse pick of Gordon will be there to save the show and grab his fifth championship, clearing the way for Johnson to win number four next year. An altered ending script is on standby that crowns Vickers as the victor simply for the comic relief of the reaction of the evil Kyle Busch.
Correctly Picked How Many Chasers? 0 of 12 (Didn’t Pick) 6 of 12 0 of 12 (Didn’t Pick)
2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Matt McLaughlin
Title Senior Writer
1st Tony Stewart
2nd Jeff Gordon
3rd Jimmie Johnson
4th Carl Edwards
5th Denny Hamlin
6th Mark Martin
7th Kurt Busch
8th Kasey Kahne
9th Juan Pablo Montoya
10th Ryan Newman
11th Brian Vickers
12th Greg Biffle
Darkhorse Title Pick Carl Edwards
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Robby Gordon
Why They Picked How They Did Well, I was so wrong about Stewart’s chances of making the Chase prior to the season I figure I ought to pick him to be the Cup titlist… so I can be wrong all over again. Watch for Robby Gordon to “spoil” several Chaser’s chances early with his stupidity.
Correctly Picked How Many Chasers? 6 of 12
2009 Chase For The Championship Picks
Frontstretch Top 12 (Based On Averages Of All Staff Predictions)
1st Jimmie Johnson
2nd Tony Stewart
3rd Mark Martin
4th Jeff Gordon
5th Denny Hamlin
6th Carl Edwards
7th Kurt Busch
8th Brian Vickers
9th Juan Pablo Montoya
10th Kasey Kahne
11th Ryan Newman
12th Greg Biffle
Darkhorse Title Pick Brian Vickers
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Kyle Busch
Final Analysis For a Chase that appears to be wide open, we have to admit our picks tended to run on the conservative side. Only five men were picked for the title – Johnson, Martin, Stewart, Hamlin, and Gordon – with Martin and Stewart tying with six first-place votes apiece. But the No. 48 team took the top spot amongst our writers once we averaged up the totals, as no expert picked them to finish lower than fourth. Is that a sign that title No. 4 is on the horizon? Only time will tell… in the meantime, Vickers was a popular pick for Chase Cinderella while Biffle’s slipper seems to have cracked and broken. Not only did he finish dead last in the voting, but no expert had him finishing higher than eighth. There goes our Christmas Card from the No. 16 this year… and as for the spoiler, no surprise there. The question isn’t whether Kyle Busch will finish 13th in the standings, but how many wins he’ll go out and collect in the process.

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Bryan Davis Keith

I’M CONFUSED!

I thought these were the “START OF THE PLAYOFFS”?

BUT! I looked at the starting line up this morning for Sunday’s race, expecting only 12 cars/drivers to be listed!

BUT HOLY COW!

THERE ARE STILL 43 CARS COMPETING?

Again, I thought this was the playoffs to crown a NA$CRAP CHUMPION!

If it is the “playoffs”, for the top 12 cars/drivers, how come everyone else gets to keep playing?

Gee, I didn’t see the DETROIT LIONS in the NFL playoffs last year, or even in the SUPER BOWL!

When all other sports have “playoffs”, the teams that didn’t make the “playoffs” are all at home, done for the season!

I guess King Brian thinks we ALL fell off the turnip truck! (again, thanks to Sonny Crockett of Miami Vice for such a wonderfull line!)

Call me a TURNIP!

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