Chase for the Championship Predictions
Racing writers Tom Bowles, Cory McCartney, Lars Anderson, Bruce Martin, Brant James and Tim Tuttle make their predictions for this year's Sprint Cup Chase for the Championships. (Send comments to siwriters@simail.com)
 
Race you're most looking forward to?
 
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Bowles
Martinsville - Talladega's the wild card, but Martinsville's a close second as driving talent, not aerodynamics, rules the day at this half-mile oval. Nothing better than seeing drivers slug it out instead of tiptoeing around each other single-file.

McCartney
Martinsville - I'm a sucker for short tracks, and when you add in that some drivers will be pressing as the Chase enters its second half, it should make for plenty of action on the Paperclip's close quarters.

Anderson
Talladega - The key moment of the Chase usually happens when the Big One erupts at 'Dega. If you can't avoid it, your title hopes will go up in the smoke of that crash.

Martin
Talladega - This is about the only Chase event that can greatly scramble the standings. Drivers who enter this race can make up tremendous ground if they finish high, while drivers near the top of the field can tumble quickly if caught in the "Big One."

James
New Hampshire - The mental and mechanic mood-setter of the Chase. A win, middling finish, or a wreck all set drivers on divergent paths with nine weeks left in the season.

Tuttle
Homestead - I expect Johnson, Hamlin, Harvick and Kyle Busch to fight it out for the championship.
 
Race you're least excited about?
 
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Bowles
Fontana - There's a reason the track's dropping from two dates to one in 2011. 'Nuff said.

McCartney
Homestead - Unless we've got an actual battle for the title on our hands, it could be just another 400-mile victory parade.

Anderson
Fontana - This track is so wide that it produces little fender banging -- and even less drama.

Martin
Fontana - The drivers may love the wide track surface that gives them plenty of room, but the 2-mile oval often becomes a fuel mileage run more than an edge-of-your-seat race.

James
Homestead - It's become a 267-lap formality before the championship ceremony since 2004, when Kurt Busch's wayward wheel nearly decided a championship. And it didn't even then.

Tuttle
Talladega - Too much riding and too much luck in determining the outcome.
 
Most heated feud among Chase competitors?
 
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Bowles
Jimmie Johnson vs. Kurt Busch - These two have traded paint multiple times, knocking heads at both New Hampshire (Jimmie won) and Pocono (Kurt wrecked). The latter caused Busch to label Hendrick drivers a "bunch of pretty boys," vowing revenge at the right time. As for Jimmie? "Kurt doesn't care for me" seems to be the politically correct vibe; in private, he swears up and down he's had enough. If these two are 1-2 in the closing laps on Sunday -- the circuit returns to New Hampshire again -- watch out.

McCartney
Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmie Johnson - Things have cooled off publicly since their run-ins at Texas and Talladega, but nothing's changed: Gordon knows his days to win a fifth title are numbered and the Chase is J.J.'s playground until someone proves otherwise. They may not trade paint again, but don't expect them to lend a helping hand, either.

Anderson
Jimmie Johnson vs. Kurt Busch - This one hasn't heated up yet, but it will. Who was the last driver to beat Johnson when the points were close heading into Homestead? Busch. Johnson knows that; Busch knows that.

Martin
Carl Edwards vs. Denny Hamlin - They simply don't take any crap off anyone. And with two strong, competitive personalities racing together, it's likely these two will make sparks fly in the Chase.

James
Jimmie Johnson v. Jeff Gordon - Not a heated, physical feud, of course. But the in-house battle between Hendrick's two "Four-Times" to become the first "Five-Time" will be spirited, professional and personal.

Tuttle
Kurt Busch vs. Jimmie Johnson - They have a history ... to say the least.
 
Who is your dark horse title favorite?
 
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Bowles
Jeff Burton- The sentimental choice with Mark Martin on the outside looking in, this 43-year-old has been a contender all season long for Richard Childress Racing. But while teammate Harvick wins, Burton top-10s you to death. The fastest car at Loudon in June until a poor pit call ruined his chances, Burton could notch a top finish there Sunday and jump start his Chase season.

McCartney
Carl Edwards - Is there a hotter driver in the series? He has just one finish outside the top-10 in the last nine races, so consistency has certainly been in his corner. He still hasn't won since Homestead in '08, but given the way he's run, he could easily break through with a victory or two in the Chase.

Anderson
Carl Edwards - Though he's been quiet this season and has failed to win a race, Edwards could capitalize on the Chase schedule. No driver in NASCAR is better at the intermediate-length tracks, and there are five of them in the Chase.

Martin
Denny Hamlin - It's hard to call the driver who enters the Chase seeded No. 1 as the dark horse, but Hamlin has not been much of a factor in his previous attempts in the Chase. Hamlin's car, team, maturity and experience will all work to his advantage in the 10-race playoff.

James
Carl Edwards - He might capture that first championship a year after many observers predicted. He's winless since claiming nine victories in 2008, but looks like contender material recently with an average finish of 5.5 the last nine weeks. He's suited to the schedule, too.

Tuttle
Tony Stewart - He closed out the season strong and he's capable of rising to the occasion to win his third Sprint Cup championship.
Who is your title favorite?
 
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
Bowles
Jimmie Johnson - The reigning four-time champ leads the circuit with 1,083 laps led, has five victories in 26 races and charges into the postseason with back-to-back top-5 finishes. Tell me again how he's lost his mojo?

McCartney
Denny Hamlin - We counted him out because of his knee and impending surgery. We counted him out when he seemingly lost his mojo. But the odds-on preseason favorite has the No. 1 seed and 60 bonus points. Plus, he has six career wins on Chase tracks, including two (Loudon, Texas) this season.

Anderson
Kurt Busch - Busch will win the Chase by taking one checkered flag and ripping off nine top-10 finishes.

Martin
Jimmie Johnson - No driver understands this format better than Johnson. Crew chief Chad Knaus is a master at getting the team to excel over the final 10 races of the season and Hendrick Motorsports has all the resources to make it happen. Johnson is the champion and until someone knocks him off, he remains the favorite in 2010.

James
Jimmie Johnson - He is the master and greatest beneficiary of the Chase format with 18 wins and four titles in six seasons under the system. He's the only driver to qualify for every Chase. And no matter what he did in the regular season -- five wins and considered 'vulnerable' -- he changes the game as soon as he wins in the Chase.

Tuttle
Jimmie Johnson - He and crew chief Chad Knaus have proven they know how to manage the Chase races better than the competition by limiting mistakes and running consistently fast.
 
Chase Predictions Part 1: SI experts weigh in onthis year's Chase for the Championship

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