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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hamlin will outduel Jimmie to win first title

The Chase has arrived. Here's how I say it's going to go down.

1. Denny Hamlin: Has put on a gutsy performance in 2010, battling back from injury, and can usually be seen running up front. He was anointed the favorite in preseason, and seems determined to live up to that prediction. I predict a see-saw battle with Jimmie, with Hamlin squeaking out the title and winning three races.

2. Jimmie Johnson: You have to put him up high. The chemistry between Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus will get them several wins in the Chase, as usual, and all talk of any “slumps” they had during the year can be forgotten: The #48 team shines at Chase time and wants to win a fifth straight title and annoy fans even more.

3. Kyle Busch: He may be a brat, but he can race really well. While his teammate Hamlin is considered a favorite, many dismiss him as too erratic and unpredictable to win a title. But anything is possible with a guy like Busch, who is focused on winning. If he can maintain his mental focus (and not let bad days spiral into a bad stretch, like he did in 2008), he will likely stay in the title hunt until the final few weeks.

4. Kevin Harvick: He’s run so well this year, anything less than a title will be disappointing, but I don’t see his amazing numbers continuing into the Chase. Everyone else will step up their game, and leave him slightly behind.

5. Tony Stewart: One of the best drivers in NASCAR history, so you can never count him out of anything. I don’t see him winning the title, but I won’t be shocked if he pulls off the upset. Champions know how to win.

6. Carl Edwards: Three months ago, I would have been surprised if he made the Chase. With the runs he’s had the past two months, he could pull out a couple wins and finish pretty decent, setting up a return to form in 2011.

7. Jeff Gordon: The original Drive for Five continues, but if you don’t win races during the regular season I don’t see how you can win a championship.

8. Greg Biffle: Cars too inconsistent to make a serious run, but he should have a few shining moments.

9. Kurt Busch: Only Dodge in the Chase, and there have been reliability issues on the Blue Deuce.

10. Jeff Burton: Everyone would love to see Burton as champ, but #31 team is not up to the level of teammate Harvick or the other favorites.

11. Clint Bowyer: Usually the people who squeak into the Chase don’t do so hot (see: Brian Vickers, Jeremy Mayfield, etc.)

12. Matt Kenseth: Didn’t sound too excited about his chances; I agree.

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