Anyone who's familiar with this column knows predictions aren't my strong suit (you should see my fantasy team), but we all have to do it at this time of year. And, hey, they can be fun at times, like the year I picked Elliott Sadler, or was it Jeremy Mayfield? I forget.
Nevertheless, I usually stray from the obvious path in this column (see above), often the result of over-analysis.
Not this time. Jimmie Johnson will win the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
There, I said it, and though I hate myself for taking this path, it feels good to go with the proven winner this time. And what's not to like? Naysayers point out that no one has won four consecutive NASCAR Cup championships, and they say Johnson's luck is due to run out and he has been far from dominant in recent weeks.
I say, remember last year when it was said the pressure of tying Cale Yarborough would get to the 48 and his poor second half of the regular season showed the team wasn't ready to win it all. Of course, Johnson and his team dominated in record-breaking fashion.
Then there's this: Johnson has won 14 of the 50 races run in the Chase in its first five seasons. Whatever struggles he and the 48 team have in July and August, they seem to be able to put them out of their minds and switch into championship gear. Crew chief Chad Knaus has a big bag of tricks and a hauler-full of confidence.
* Four who could crash the Johnson party
Start with racing's bottest team, Denny Hamlin and the Joe Gibbs Racing FedEx bunch. Based on momentum, Hamlin is a threat. He went from being on the Chase bubble a few weeks ago to getting two wins and easily securing a berth.
Many thought Tony Stewart was the easy favorite to win his third Cup title a few weeks ago, but for some reason -- maybe boredom -- the points leader faded into mediocrity. He hasn't had a top-10 finish in over a month. Still, this team has been too good to roll over now. We'll know in two weeks if he's a real threat or not, since he's always strong at Loudon and Dover.
If consistency ends up being the key to winning the title this year, Jeff Gordon has to be in the conversation. If it takes winning multiple races, his chances go down considerably. He and crew chief Steve Letarte still are not on the same page, for some reason. Too often this team is better earlier in a race.
Mark Martin is easily the sentimental favorite in this Chase, and the veteran driver isn't just happy to be in it. Remember, he's the top seed after winning four races in the regular season, and his team is strongest on the intermediate tracks that make up most of the Chase.
* The best of the rest
Two stick out here, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch. Edwards has done nothing entering the Chase to suggest he's a threat, but you get the feeling there's another level this team can get to. The basic fact is the Roush Fenway cars have been slow this year, and that's a tough thing to figure out this time of season. Still, if they do find some horesepower, watch out.
Busch is a strong underdog candidate, especially considering he has Chase championship experience. He's strong at Loudon and Dover, so a quick start is a must. However, the imminent departure of crew chief Pat Tryson has to have a negative effect at some point.
There could be other surprises, but you get the feeling Juan Pablo Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers are just happy to get there, while Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman just haven't had the kind of cars capable of winning it all.
But what do I know?
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...