PHOENIX - APRIL 09: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, looks on from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 9, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Aftermath, Dover: Our Revised Chase Picks, One-Third Through The Season

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Aftermath, Dover: Our Revised Chase Picks, One-Third Through The Season

Thanks to an unlimited amount of space on the Internet, we can predict and re-predict as often as we want.

In this case, one-third of the way through the 36-race Sprint Cup Series schedule and almost halfway to the Chase, I am choosing the "re-predict" philosophy.

In my preseason Chase picks, I predicted Jimmie Johnson would win the title. I'll stick with that for now. But I'm changing two of my picks for the top 12, as you can see below.

In the spirit of being one-third through the season, let's divide the top 18 drivers into thirds and see how they stack up:

TOP TIER (Championship contenders)

  • Jeff Gordon: Has led by far the most laps of anyone in the series, and will be in winning form by the time the Chase rolls around. Despite success of Joe Gibbs Racing cars, the No. 24 team looks to be Johnson's top threat for the championship right now.
  • Denny Hamlin: Toughed out the knee injury and showed he can win and run up front if he puts his full mental strength to competing every lap. More consistent than teammate Kyle Busch, which makes him the most dangerous JGR driver.
  • Kyle Busch: As JGR rises, Busch soars. If the "new Kyle" inside the car doesn't give up or get too frustrated on bad days (like when he's in the top 15 instead of the top five), Busch has a shot at his first title.
  • Kevin Harvick: Consistent top-10 finishes have given him a comfortable points lead. But his cars still have to improve to win the championship: He ranks only ninth in laps led.
  • Kurt Busch: Six top-10 finishes, but four of them have been top-fives. That shows that when the No. 2 team is on, it can be championship-caliber. Steve Addington is a smart crew chief and Busch is an elite talent. This team could do it.
  • Jimmie Johnson: No explanation needed.

SECOND TIER (Chase, but nothing else)

  • Roush Fenway Racing: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are all about the same right now, except Kenseth had a better start to the season. They'll all make the Chase, but none of them are running up front often enough to contend for a title -eight drivers have led more laps this season than the Roush trio combined (153). Roush is just a little behind Hendrick and JGR.
  • Mark Martin: There's something off about this team in 2010. It doesn't seem as strong as it was last year. Until the 5 car starts competing for more wins, it's hard to picture a championship season unfolding.
  • Jeff Burton: Team has made too many mistakes to win a championship. While it's tempting to think they can get it straightened out, the teams at this point are pretty much reflective of what the season holds.
  • Tony Stewart: Had gone six races without a top-15 finish until Dover, but you've got to think Stewart and his team will get things straightened out in time for the Chase. Plus, the guy always heats up in the summer.

THIRD TIER (Close, but no cigar)

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The 88 team looked so solid in the early part of the season and was quietly moving up in points. But there's been nothing quiet about it lately, as the differences between Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Lance McGrew have been apparent as the team backslides in the standings.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya: Yes, he's actually 19th in points. But he's only 112 points out of the top 12 and in the nine races he's finished, Montoya has six top-10s and four top-fives. He can still overcome his bad luck, especially with two road courses and Indy on the schedule. Teammate Jamie McMurray (17th) is less likely to mount a Chase run.
  • Martin Truex Jr.: Nice story, but won't quite make the Chase in his first year with Michael Waltrip Racing. It's hard for one driver to ultimately finish far ahead of his teammates, and Truex's teammates are 20th and 28th in the standings.
  • Clint Bowyer: Very capable of making the Chase, especially if his RCR teammates continue to post solid results. But the number that concerns us is this: Though he has six top-10 finishes this year, he's only finished in the top five once.
  • Ryan Newman: Only four top-10s so far this season. That's the same number as Stewart, but I have a gut feeling that Stewart makes it in and Newman doesn't.
  • Joey Logano: One year away from making it in the Chase and having a breakout season where he could compete for the championship, along with his teammates. But not quite there yet.

PRESEASON

  • I had Montoya and Kasey Kahne in my preseason Chase picks and didn't include Harvick or Burton. Those picks have changed, but the rest are the same.
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