6. Kyle Busch (Chase Seed: 1 /My pre-season pick: 5)
We have been here before. Kyle Busch is lights out during the regular season, then disappears during the chase. While I don't expect the collapse of a few years ago, I'm still not sure that Busch is mature enough to make a push to the championship. Though I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he proved me wrong. The 18 team can win, they can win in bunches. To me, it's all about young Busch keeping his head on straight.
"It's been a good 26 weeks and certainly built off some pretty good consistency," said Busch. "But we've got to make sure that we can relish in that and be able to do it in the next ten weeks. There's a lot of guys out here that have a lot of great things going for them, including us, that can certainly make it a big challenge"
5. Denny Hamlin (Chase Seed: 12/ My pre-season pick: 1)
This is an interesting team for me. I saw something out of the 11 team Saturday night at Richmond. It was almost like the demons of Miami a year ago where lifted. After the early accident Hamlin and his team could have crumbled, they could have collapsed. But they didn't they battled. I think they team is probably too far off its game this season to be a threat to the crown, but who knows, they have clawed and scrapped and found their way in to the chase and no one is pointing at them right now to be contenders. No pressure this time around.
"We're very fortunate to be here, obviously, with the tough season that we've had and the ups and downs and the DNFs and whatnot," said Hamlin. "It's kind of a second lease on life for us and our season. Obviously we're coming into the Chase now with three consecutive top 10s which I'm not sure we've done that all year long. We've got some momentum. Who knows what's going to happen next week"
4. Carl Edwards (Chase Seed: 5/ My pre-season pick: 2)
I thought I was going to have to put the 99 team on a milk cartoon. Carl Edwards got off to a red hot start this season. But his summer has been less then spectacular. That being said, everyone knows that Edwards can string together wins in the chase and is a threat to make some noise in the Championship race. He can be a player this season, if the 99 can capture that early season swagger it had.
"These guys know how it feels. When you're running really well, everything is easy, and when you're struggling a little bit, you get nervous like when are we going to get back on track," said Edwards." We made one strategy tonight but we're a team and we're in this together and if that's the worst mistake we make in the Chase, we're going to be okay. I'm pretty excited about all the races we're going to after tonight."
3. Kevin Harvick (Chase Seed: 2/ My pre-season pick 6)
Honestly for me you could take the top 4, throw their names in tha air and I would be just as happy with the order they came down in as the way I ended up picking them. For me though, I put Harvick third because, even though he won Saturday in Richmond, the 29 team hasn't been them most consistent team heading into the chase. That being said, Harvick showed us all last season that they can mix it up in the Championship pool.
"I think the momentum is just as important," said Harvick." Most of the meetings haven't been pretty the last month or so, but we went back and found a lot of things that we felt like we had done a little bit different. We went back and looked at the races that we felt like we were the fastest at the beginning of the year and we put that stuff in at Atlanta and we ran in the top 5 all day and come here and did the things we traditionally do and had a solid weekend from the time the car unloaded off the lift gate. It's been stressful the last month, but I think as you see the last two weeks it's paid off"
2. Jeff Gordon (Chase Seed: 3/ My pre-season pick 7)
Most of my apprehension about Gordon in the pre-season was about the pairing with crew chief Alan Gustafson. Obviously, it seems to be the golden ticket. Four time seems as primed as ever to knock off five time (Jimmie Johnson). The 24 is winning, running consistently and looking like he has found his championship form.
"I'm really excited about our race team right now," said Gordon. "I look back at our season, all the changes that were made with basically me going to a whole different team and getting to know these guys, getting an opportunity to work with them and learning how to communicate and how to get more competitive week in and week out. So look forward to the next ten weeks."
1. Jimmie Johnson (Chase Seed: 6/ My pre-season pick 3)
One of these years I'm going to learn my lesson and pick Johnson in the pre-season. But where's the fun in that? All joking aside, the be the champ, you have to beat the champ. And Johnson looks the same as he does every year at this time, cool, confident and ready to make a charge to his sixth title. It's hard to comprehend. And yet I see know reason not to think it won't happen.
" I think it's going to be a great Chase for the fans, exciting ones for the drivers this year," said Johnson. "I think it's real difficult to pick a clear favorite. You look at the momentum that each driver really -- there's probably seven or eight drivers that have had momentum at some point that are getting warm at the right time."