Best- and worst-case scenarios for NASCAR’s top 20 drivers

US PRESSWIRE

With offseason testing completed and the NASCAR season set to take the green flag Saturday, here is a revised look at how the top 20 drivers stack up heading into the 2013 season, along with a best- and worst-case scenario for each driver:

1) Denny Hamlin

Best-case Scenario: More of what we saw last year, except the engine woes that plagued Joe Gibbs Racing disappear, allowing Hamlin to take the next step and win his first Cup title.

Worst-case Scenario: Those pesky mechanical gremlins remain, and Hamlin fails to come anywhere close to matching his results from 2012. And although he will make the Chase, Hamlin's a non-factor throughout.

2) Jimmie Johnson

Best-case Scenario: From Daytona to Homestead, Johnson is dominant and posts double-digits in the win column. Most importantly, after a two-year absence he reclaims his perch atop the standings, winning his sixth championship.

Worst-case Scenario: Due to the loss of two key engineers, the 48 team fails to figure out the Gen-6 car and Johnson has the worst season of his career. In addition, after 12 years atop the 48 pit box, Chad Knaus steps aside after the season citing burnout.

3) Kyle Busch

Best-case Scenario: Because the JGR engines are now bulletproof, Busch wins more races than anyone else and in the process leads more than 1,000 laps for the sixth straight year. And when the Chase begins, Busch is lights-out and steamrolls the competition.

Worst-case Scenario: Inconsistency continues to bog down the No. 18 team, and Busch, inexplicably, misses the playoffs once again. Furthermore, the temperamental driver has another outburst on the track and gets parked for a race by NASCAR.

4) Brad Keselowski

Best-case Scenario: Even with a new manufacturer, Keselowski proves to be unstoppable and shows that 2012 was just the opening salvo in his march to greatness. Along the way he doubles his win total from five to 10 en route to winning back-to-back titles.

Worst-case Scenario: Penske Racing struggles with the switchover from Dodge to Ford and, while Keselowski is still competitive at times, he comes nowhere close to matching last year's performance.

5) Kasey Kahne

Best-case Scenario: In his second year with Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne visits Victory Lane four to five times and is in contention for the championship until the very end of the year. While he narrowly loses the title, it does set the stage for a very big 2014.

Worst-case Scenario: The expectations prove to be too much, as Kahne fails to come close to meeting them and misses the Chase altogether.

6) Matt Kenseth

Best-case Scenario: Kenseth instantly makes himself at home with his new team and becomes the first driver since Darrell Waltrip in 1981 to win the title in his first season with a new team.

Worst-case Scenario: The veteran driver's first season with JGR is a disaster, as he fails to mesh with crew chief Jason Ratcliff, goes winless and doesn't qualify for the Chase. By the end of the year, Kenseth is wondering why he ever left the comfy confines of Roush Fenway Racing.

7) Carl Edwards

Best-case Scenario: Last year's disappointment becomes nothing but a distant memory with Edwards snapping his lengthy winless streak with early-season victories at Phoenix and Las Vegas. From there, Edwards continues to roll and asserts himself as a title contender.

Worst-case Scenario: Edwards never gels with new crew chief Jimmy Fennig and, in turn, 2013 becomes a carbon copy of 2012 with the 99 team an afterthought more weeks than not.

8) Jeff Gordon

Best-case Scenario: Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet turns into a time machine, which allows him to win eight races and secure his fifth title with relative ease.

Worst-case Scenario: The bad luck that hampered him a year ago returns in spades and, unlike last season, Gordon isn't able to snag a wildcard berth and is the only Hendrick driver to miss the playoffs.

9) Tony Stewart

Best-case Scenario: Due to better chemistry with crew chief Steve Addington, it's a bounce-back season for Tony Stewart. Although that doesn't necessarily translate to another series title, it does mean multiple victories and being in championship contention until the latter part of the year.

Worst-case Scenario: The malaise that hung over this team for the second part of '12 remains and ultimately it costs Addington his job. Though there is improvement as Stewart is reunited with Greg Zipadelli, it still isn't enough with him missing the Chase for the first time as a team owner.

10) Clint Bowyer

Best-case Scenario: Just about everything that happened last year occurs again in 2013 with a few exceptions. First, Bowyer avoids the calamity at the fall Talladega race; and of course doesn't get intentionally wrecked by Jeff Gordon at Phoenix. Thusly, Bowyer is in position to win the championship at Homestead and put an end to the second-place curse.

Worst-case Scenario: Similar to Mark Martin and Carl Edwards, Bowyer goes from finishing second in points to missing the Chase and gets completely shutout of Victory Lane..

11) Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Best-case Scenario: The steady consistency Earnhardt Jr. flashed last season is accompanied with multiple trips to the winner's circle -- something Earnhardt Jr. hasn't done since 2004. The end result has NASCAR's most popular driver entering Homestead with a legitimate shot to finally win the Cup championship.

Worst-case Scenario: The consistency vanishes, Earnhardt Jr. runs mid-pack most weeks and a series of hard crashes takes him out of the car due to another concussion -- putting his long-term future in doubt.

12) Greg Biffle

Best-case Scenario: A similarly strong regular season to last year is followed up with an equally strong Chase, which allows Biffle to become the first driver to win a championship in all three of NASCAR's top series.

Worst-case Scenario: The new car throws Roush for a loop and by the time the team gets a hold of it it's too late, as Biffle is buried in points and can't race his way into the Chase.

13) Joey Logano

Best-case Scenario: Finally out of the shadow of Tony Stewart, Logano prospers at Penske by winning a handful of races and earning his first berth in the Chase.

Worst-case Scenario: Despite the fresh start, Logano continues being consistently inconsistent. Some weeks he looks great, other weeks he looks lost and it adds up to a points finish somewhere in the teens.

14) Martin Truex Jr.

Best-case Scenario: Truex builds off of 2012 and becomes a consistent force. More so, he does what he didn't do last season and finds his way to Victory Lane.

Worst-case Scenario: After a magical '12 season, Michael Waltrip Racing takes a step back and it costs Truex a spot in the Chase. Also, career victory No. 2 continues to elude Truex, who sees his winless drought stretch to six full seasons.

15) Kevin Harvick

Best-case Scenario: Being a lame-duck doesn't matter to Harvick, who in his swan song with Richard Childress Racing wins a couple of races, makes the Chase and has no conflict with his soon-to-be former team.

Worst-case Scenario: Tensions mount between Harvick and Richard Childress, culminating with Harvick being shown the door before the season comes to a close.

16) Jeff Burton

Best-case Scenario: New crew chief Luke Lambert lives up to his billing and is the missing piece Burton needs to revitalize his career. In the process, Burton ends his 149-race winless streak, squeaks into the Chase and earns a new contract from RCR.

Worst-case Scenario: With neither the speed nor the results there for the No. 31 team, Burton finds himself out of a ride at the end of the year.

17) Marcos Ambrose

Best-case Scenario: Not only does Ambrose sweep the road courses, but he also gets that long-sought win on an oval, all of which comfortably gives him a wildcard berth into the Chase.

Worst-case Scenario: Continued behind-the-scenes turmoil at RPM takes its toll, as Ambrose decides to abandon NASCAR and head home to Australia to race touring cars.

18) Jamie McMurray

Best-case Scenario: The numerous changes undertaken by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing these last couple of years finally take hold, and just as he did in 2010, McMurray shocks the garage by winning three races. Unlike '10, McMurray actually makes the Chase this time around via the wildcard.

Worst-case Scenario: EGR continues to underachieve with McMurray failing to post a top-five finish for the second consecutive season. This leaves Chip Ganassi little choice but to go in a different direction and let the veteran driver go.

19) Ryan Newman

Best-case Scenario: Who says you can't get the band back together, as Newman, reunited with former crew chief Matt Borland, resumes his winning ways. As a byproduct of his success, a big-dollar sponsor comes aboard allowing him to sign a long-term extension with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Worst-case Scenario: Because Newman and Borland can't recapture the magic, sponsorship continues to be hard to find. Consequently, SHR doesn't retain Newman's services past this season and he is forced to look for a ride elsewhere.

20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Best-case Scenario: The two-time defending Nationwide champ bursts onto the scene and becomes the first rookie driver since Kyle Busch in 2005 to win multiple races in a season. Moreover, his on-track success cause fans to forget who Stenhouse is dating.

Worst-case Scenario: Just as he did during his first year in Nationwide, Stenhouse drives over his head and tears up equipment at an alarming rate. And because of his struggles, there are questions about his personal life and whether that has become a distraction.

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