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Spoiler Alert: RT Staff Reveals Chase Results

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 18 2011

Will the reigning champions reign on this year? Will Five-Time become Six-Time? The answers are... (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Erik J. Perel)

(Editor’s Note: The Geico 500 scheduled for Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway has been postponed until noon Eastern on Monday. Persistent rain forced the postponement.)

JOLIET, Ill. – This year’s edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship starts today in Chicago-ish. Though the field was determined with a new wild card format, it still features 12 drivers who will have 10 races in which to show they are worthy of bringing home a big, chrome trophy of dubious esthetic character.

The following are some predictions by RacinToday.com senior staff writers on how they think the eighth addition of the Sprint Cup playoffs will shake out:

Rick Minter

Winner – Jeff Gordon. When he and Alan Gustafson beat Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in a head-to-head battle for the win at Atlanta Motor Speedway it showed a crack in the 48 team’s armor. There likely will be another five-time champ by the end of Sunday afternoon at Homestead.

Dark Horse – Ryan Newman and Tony Gibson. The two veterans aren’t the most flashy players in the garage, but they work hard at it and make smart decisions. Gibson’s experience could prove to be the difference in this year’s Chase.

No Shot – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Until Earnhardt starts contending for race wins on a regular basis, he won’t be a threat to unseat powerhouse teams like the one that races out of the same shop he does at Hendrick Motorsports.

Mike Harris

Winner – Jimmie Johnson. How can you pick against Five-Time until somebody beats

Jeff Gordon is a popular pick to win his fifth Sprint Cup championship. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

him? Johnson is my favorite to make it six in a row because he knows how to do it better than anybody else and because he and his team believe he can.

Dark Horse – Brad Keselowski. Despite the old saying that you have to lose a championship before you can win one, Keselowski could do it because he doesn’t know he can’t.

No Shot – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Plenty of fans would love to see Junior get the job done, but I don’t believe he has done enough this season to prove that he is a legitimate contender. It would take inspiration and consistency that he has not shown in several seasons for Earnhardt to win his first Cup title.

Jeff Hood

Winner – Jeff Gordon. Gordon is carrying plenty of momentum heading into this year’s Chase. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has claimed a Sprint Cup title. That will all change in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway when he clinches his fifth Cup championship.

Dark Horse – Matt Kenseth. Kenseth is doing what he does best: flying under the radar. The 2003 Sprint Cup champion has picked up the pace in qualifying, won earlier this season on two tracks in the Chase (Dover and Texas) and has veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig on the pit box. If he survives Martinsville and Talladega, the Wisconsin native will be a factor in this year’s Chase.

No Shot – Dale Earnhardt Jr. After flirting with going to victory lane early in the season,

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte. Not much respect for them in Chase. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Earnhardt now appears to be in survival mode. Running out of fuel while leading the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May seemed to let the air out of his balloon. He won’t contend for the title, but he could manage to finally break his three-year winless drought during the 10-race Chase.

Larry Woody

Winner – Jeff Gordon. Gordon will win the championship because he’s the best driver in NASCAR not to win one for awhile. He’s overdue and he’s on a roll.

Dark Horse – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt might be a dark horse – although I’m not sure they make horses that dark any more. But a million fingers will be crossed in the Junior Nation, if that helps.

No Shot – Jimmie Johnson. Who might as well stay home and save gas? Jimmie Johnson. Win six straight championships in this day and time? No way. It’s simply not possible – just as I’ve said for the past five years.

Deb Williams

Winner – Jeff Gordon. He will snare his fifth NASCAR Cup championship this year. Collecting his 85th career victory in an intense battle with teammate Jimmie Johnson has sparked his solid, consistent team. It showed Johnson could be beaten and that perhaps he no longer possessed that golden horseshoe that’s going to give him a victory no matter what the situation. There’s also a very quite, secure, confidence in Gordon this year that I’ve never seen in him before. It’s a manly confidence that I’ve only seen in one other driver in the last 20 years and that was Dale Earnhardt in the 1990s. Gordon seems to be the leader of his team this year, not the crew chief as it was in the Ray Evernham years. At age 40, he’s a man who is comfortable with his life and himself, and he knows what it takes to win a championship. The pressure won’t bother him. His worst finish since the June Infineon race has been 13th at Watkins Glen in August.

Dark Horse – Brad Keselowski. With three victories, he’s made the Chase in only his

Brad Keselowski will heat up the Chase. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

second full season in the Sprint Cup Series. There is no pressure on him. He’s having fun and just enjoying the experience. He won last year’s Nationwide Series title, so at this point in his career, he doesn’t have anything to prove.

No Shot – Denny Hamlin. His performance this year hasn’t even come close to that he exhibited last year. His ninth-place finish at Richmond gave him his third straight top-10 for the first time this season. Consistency is non-existent. He’s had only four top-5s and 10 top-10s in 26 races.

John Sturbin

Winner – Kevin Harvick. NASCAR’s investigation into the contrived finish charges against Paul Menard and Richard Childress Racing at Richmond International Raceway figures to be enough motivation for Kevin Harvick to separate Jimmie Johnson from the infamous golden horseshoe up his butt.

Dark Horse – Brad Keselowski. Competing in his first Chase, hard-headed Keselowski is capable of putting together a stretch of victories and top-five/top-10 finishes that might shock-and-awe even team-owner Roger Penske. Besides, “Bad Brad” has emerged as my mom’s new favorite Cup driver.

No Shot – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Allow me to pile-on Earnhardt. His remarks and body language after barely qualifying for the Chase at Richmond International Raceway were of a driver trying convince himself he really belonged in the playoffs, hardly those of a guy with much hope of winning it.

Jim Pedley

Winner – Kyle Busch. He’s the best wheelman in NASCAR. He’s wrapped in good

Carl Edwards not a popular pick among RT staffers. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

equipment that he has learned to take care of. He appears to have wonderful chemistry with his crew chief and team. And he showed Richard Childress how tough he is by repeatedly punching the much-older team owner in the fist with his head at Kansas. Busch is going to win multiple Cup championships, the first of which will be this November.

Dark Horse – Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Chase schedule shapes up as a beauty for Earnhardt. The Cuppers have raced at eight of the 10 tracks in the Chase already this year and in those races, Earnhardt finished in the top 10 in six of them. Included are second-place runs at Martinsville and Kansas. His average finish in those eight races is 7.6. Earnhardt is back on the horse which he rode to third place in points in the first half of the year.

No Shot – Denny Hamlin. After his wonderful 2010 season, Hamlin has suffered Post Traumatic Letdown Syndrome in 2011. Something is missing. He has just one victory and he had to squeeze into the Chase as a wild carder. PTLS is a horrible thing for a driver and there is simply not enough time to discover a cure before Homestead.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 18 2011
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