Well, another year is gone, now its time to look back, and guess.... what will happen next year? Here is my predictions for the upcoming year. (The numbers in parenthesis, in order, are wins projected, top 5s projected, and top 10s projected.)
1.) Jimmie Johnson
Can he be stopped... who knows? This man has won four championships in a row, and the question isn't "Who can stop him?" but "Can anyone stop him?" He has just shown dominance throughout the chase since it started, losing the first one by only 8 points to Kurt Busch. So he is that close to having 5 of the 6 chase championships. Right now, its too hard to predict anyone that can get in his way, and who will it be? (7 - 16 - 25)
2.) Tony Stewart After a dissapointing chase from what he did before the chase, you have to wonder if he will do it again, or can he rebound. Tony Stewart did exceptionally well during the pre-chase season, and remember, it was his first year in the car. From what people were saying about Stewart, about him might not even making the chase, one just has to up their projections for this year, and who knows what he will really do? (5 - 14 - 24)
3.) Jeff Gordon Well if it isn't Mr. Bad luck in the chase Gordon. He is always a good competitor for the money, but never seems to pull it off. This year, its hard to project him to win the championship after a one win season, but a top 5 is almost a sure thing. Jeff Gordon will likely get more wins than he did last year, but the true question is, what track will throw away Jeff Gordon's hopes of winning the championship? (3 - 15 - 23)
4.) Carl Edwards This guy was deviled up in 2009, to say the least, yet its hard to not project somewhat of a turnaround for Roush-Fenway, they are just too talented of a team to be down too long, and look at RCR, they started to work things out before the end of the season. RFR will likely start to come alive in 2010, its just the question of, "When does that happen?" Even if RFR comes back though, you can't expect Carl Edwards to immediately have a 9 win season like in 2008 though. (3 - 12 - 21)
5.) Kurt Busch Kurt Busch had very similar stats compared to his winning year, except he had 1 win less and about 50 less points in 2009. During 2010, there are two questions about Kurt, 1.) "How will Kesolowski affect him as a team member?" and 2.) "How will Kurt do without Pat Tryson." These two questions make it really hard to put a pinpoint on how good Kurt will do, yet after this year, there just has to be some optimism for Kurt Busch to finish good this year as long as Penske doesn't focus too much on Kesolowski. (2 - 12- 22)
6.) Denny Hamlin How many times will this guy get bad luck in the chase, who knows!? All that can be said is that this guy is probably going to have bad luck in the chase somewhere, taking him out of the championship. This guy is really good in the car, its just that he has some huge hiccup somewhere in his chase, and throughout the whole year for that matter. Even at his best tracks, short tracks, he always seems to have some sort of problem with 20 or so laps to go. If this guy can snap his bad luck, he might stand a chance, but its all but a lock at least that he will make the chase. (4 - 13 - 19)
7.) Mark Martin So this old timer proved he can still race. The problem with Mark Martin, is how much longer can he make the magic last, and can he really keep it going into next year. Mark Martin fans are likely already putting him in for his first championship in 2010, yet its hard to say that. He had his best chance in 2009, and didn't make it. Although he may do better than 7th, there are so many teams that have the chance to redeem themselves, and its hard to project Mark Martin for another year like he just had. (2 - 12 - 20)
8.) Jeff Burton This guy, during the last 4 races of the chase, had all top 10s, the last two both being runner-up positions. Mr. Consistency might be coming back into business, so do not underestimate this guy by any means. He still might not put up a lot of wins, but expect his top 5s and especially 10s to go up next season. (1 - 8 - 18)
9.) Matt Kenseth This guy started hot, getting his two races as wins, but its hard to project that he will start that hot again. Kenseth, however, never missed a chase before next year, and if RFR does get back on hits feet, its hard to say that Kenseth won't make the chase at least. (2 - 8 - 17)
10.) Juan Pablo Montoya This guy proved that he does deserve to be in NASCAR, and with such a mediocre team! Things right now look pretty good for the guy, and he should make the chase yet again, but like 2009, he likely will be out of the running early in 2010. (1 - 6 - 17)
11.) Kyle Busch He will win races, there is no doubt about that, but how many will he win? And will it be enough to overcome his inconsistency? Or could he possibly overcome his inconsistency? Kyle Busch is hard to spot, yet he will get his wins, and he will likely try hard to make it in the chase this year, just how good will he do once he gets there is the question? (3 - 10 - 15)
12.) Ryan Newman In his first year with NHR, he made the chase, yet he wasn't extremely hot once he got there, and he can't seem to win. Still, Newman has a decent chance of making the chase again now that the team has a year of experience, its just, will there be more competition this year to stand in his way? (0 - 4 - 14)
13.) Kevin Harvick After a year where he got 19th, its hard to project that he will make the chase. But hey! Kurt Busch did it, so why not Harvick? After a year like that though, Harvick's chances don't seem too great, and Jeff Burton was the only guy who truly started to shine from RCR at the end of the season, still, he should make his mark, just will it be enough to make the chase? (1 - 5 - 12)
14.) Greg Biffle Even with RFR struggling, eh still got a 7th place, and apart from losing two wins, he really didn't do that much worse this season. Greg Biffle has been known to miss chases though, both in 2006 and 2007, and if RCR and the other drivers of RFR get back on their feet, it begs the question, "Will Biffle be able to make the chase in 2010?" He also is known for getting 5 or even 6 DNFs in one season, so watch out for that. (1 - 7 - 14)
15.) Kasey Kahne The main reason why Kasey Kahne made the chase, he avoided DNFs this season. From 2004-2007, he has had 6 or more DNFs in all of them, even a huge 9 in 2005! Although during the past two years he has pulled down his DNF totals, even with the 4 he had last year he didn't make the chase, and with Kahne, its hard to project another season where he has 2 or less DNFs. (0 - 6 - 13)
16.) Clint Bowyer What an awful year he had... and unless he has a major turnaround, he likely won't make the chase. This guys killed others with his consistency, and he didn't have it in 2009. Even with a turnaround of RCR, Clint Bowyer doesn't seem great in this setup, and if they keep on doing the switching of part/crew they have done over the past year, they will likely send most of the goods to Harvick's and Burton's way. (0 - 5 - 15)
17.) Joey Logano Throughout this whole year, he never really showed any true domination, so its hard to say he will become chase potential this year, but he is hard to predict, for he is a rookie who was amazing in the Nationwide series in 2008. They did rush this guy up to Sprint too soon though, and he might need another year before he is in full gear. He will likely improve a bit off last season though. (1 - 5 - 12)
18.) Dale Earnhardt Jr. The toughest guy to project for me, he was 3rd before entering the chase in 2008, and in 2009, he didn't even make the top 20. While he should make the top 20 this year, HMS seems to care too much about the duo of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and Jr. might just not fit in that greatly here. He could make the chase, but I would need to see the first few races before believing that he can. (0 - 4 - 11)
19.) David Reutimann He was so close to making the chase, once he got to the chase, he got 2 top 10s only though, and although he did get a lot of top 20s, he fell down to 16th in the standings. Michael Waltrip is supposively retiring, and he may put all his focus on Reutimann, so he could do better, but if RCR kicks up its gears, then Reutimann will likely fit right in around this area in the standings. (0 - 3 - 9)
19.) Brian Vickers He made the chase!... then what...if you guessed not a single top 10 nor lap led in the chase, then you are correct! That chase was just pitiful compared to what he was doing, his consistency just left, and I don't see it coming back again for the start of this season. (0 - 3 - 6)
Other people of note:
David Ragan- After a 27th, Ragan's status that he gained from last year came down to the ground, and it left people wondering if last year was a one time thing. While its hard to project if he will make it into the top 20 if RFR comes back, things don't look too good right now for Ragan.
Martin Truex Jr.- He made the chase in 2007, but that's it, fact is that he can't get top 5s, apart from 2007, the most he has is three, and 2009 wasn't very kind to him. He won't be much of a factor this year.
Brad Kesolowski- He, like Logano, seems to be getting rushed into Sprint Cup racing, and although he did show he can hang with the big boys from time to time in 2009, he never ended on a high note, except for at Talladega. Assuming he doesn't pull on another Talladega win, which rarely comes twice, he might not be a huge factor this year, but could be a top 20 competitor, its hard to project these rookies.
A.J. Allmendinger- He seemed like he had some good moments, yet in the whole scheme of things he didn't do much in 2009. This guy has proven that he is an underdog at times, but you can't project him for that good coming off of a 1 top 5 season.
Marcos Ambrose- He had his good times as well, but they came at road courses and superspeedways for the most part. He may get in the top 20, but he doesn't seem like he will do much better from last season unless more road courses are added to the schedule.