At this point, it borders on foolish to pick anyone for the championship except for Jimmie Johnson. After all, what kind of dimwit would you have to be to go against a guy who has won five Sprint Cup titles in a row?
Until last year, I was that dimwit. If you can believe it, I picked against Johnson for all four of his first championships.
But finally, after title No. 4, I figured it out: Jimmie Johnson = championships. Having learned my lesson, I picked Johnson to win the 2010 Cup title, and look what happened:
Previous championship picks:
2005 – Jeff Gordon (Wrong)
2006 – Carl Edwards (Wrong)
2007 – Kasey Kahne (Wrong)
2008 – Jeff Gordon (Wrong)
2009 – Carl Edwards (Wrong)
2010 – Jimmie Johnson (Right!)
Finally! And let me tell you – it felt good to be right (for once).
It turns out going out on a limb in the Jimmie Johnson Era does not pay! So I'll be picking Johnson until he stops winning – and I might not even stop then.
As for the rest of the picks, I'm not terrible. Last season, I got nine of the 12 Chase drivers correct but left out all three Richard Childress Racing drivers.
Anyway, 2011 is the year when I'm going to turn it all around and get every Chase driver correct.
Here are my picks for how things will look after Homestead:
1. JIMMIE JOHNSON – He wins the "six-pack," causing half of all NASCAR fans to chuck their TV sets out the window after Homestead.
2. CARL EDWARDS – I'd like to pick Edwards for the title based on how he finished last year, but he went winless both times I picked him to win the championship before. Lesson learned.
3. GREG BIFFLE – The Biff is underrated and will ride the Roush Fenway resurgence all the way to a top-five points finish.
4. JEFF GORDON – Alan Gustafson is a great crew chief. Gordon, who will win three races this season, is about to find out how good.
5. CLINT BOWYER – Bowyer is a very consistent, capable driver. That's the right formula to win a championship one of these days.
6. TONY STEWART – 'Smoke' gets into the Chase again, but still isn't as strong as in his Joe Gibbs Racing days.
7. KURT BUSCH – Despite a disappointing regular season, Busch's three wins allow him to earn a wild-card Chase spot and salvage the year.
8. DENNY HAMLIN – Traditionally a slow starter, Hamlin will struggle out of the gate before a summer resurgence. He won't match last year's Chase run, though (runnerups rarely do).
9. KEVIN HARVICK – Harvick will experience a Chase hangover from 2010, along with Hamlin.
10. JOEY LOGANO – Logano makes his first Chase this year, and may never miss it again.
11. KYLE BUSCH – Busch has an up-and-down regular season, but his four wins allow him to clinch a wild card spot. Unfortunately, his boom-or-bust mentality ruins his Chase hopes again.
12. AJ ALLMENDINGER – The leader of Richard Petty Motorsports establishes himself as a more consistent driver this season, allowing him to have a breakout year.
Newcomers: Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger
Falling out: Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth
Next five (in no particular order): Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kenseth, Burton