Picking someone to beat Jimmie Johnson or anyone on the Hendrick Motorsports team is dicey at best.
But if there is one organization that could turn the trick in 2010, it very well might be Joe Gibbs Racing.
|Hamlin, the only JGR driver to have made the Chase, says he's focused and confident. (Getty Images)|
Though only Hamlin made the Chase, the confidence level at JGR is high as the dawn of the new season nears.
"We might not go out there the first six months and win six races, eight races before the Chase, but I guarantee you when we get to the Chase, we're going to be set up and prepared to make a run similar to what we did this past year," said Hamlin, who ended 2009 with a victory in the season finale at Homestead.
"We learned a lot by just easing our way into the season and peaking at the right time. We were most competitive the last 10 races, and that's what counts. The driver didn't have his head on his shoulders for one race and we didn't have the reliability for the other two. Other than that, where were we going to be? I don't know. We'll find out."
Many pundits are choosing Hamlin as this year's title winner but he is quick to point out Carl Edwards was last season's consensus preseason pick.
But Hamlin also believes there are many differences between the two drivers, starting with the name on the front of the door where he works.
"A lot of people try to say that it was a similar situation with Carl," said Hamlin. "I'm not Carl. I'm with Joe Gibbs Racing. I'm not with Roush. I'm really confident in where our team's heading going into this upcoming year. I feel I'm as focused as I've ever been when I get to a race track and as confident as I've ever been."
Confidence is also plentiful with Hamlin's teammate Busch, who begins the new year with crew chief Dave Rogers, who took over late last season from Steve Addington.
Busch is still smarting from missing the playoffs by a mere handful of points and seems determined to right things in 2010, and win a championship.
"That's everybody's goal," Busch said. "That's all everybody's going to be saying over the next few weeks, that they want to win a championship. But how many championships can we hand out at the end of a season? There's only one so you've got to earn it. "And there is no one more determined than I am."
|'There is no one more determined than I am,' says Kyle Busch approaching this year. (Getty Images)|
Consistency is king in winning a Sprint Cup trophy and a top-five or top-10 finish on some days may be all a driver can do in order to keep focused on the big picture.
"I want to win. I'll always want to win -- but that's something I've got to work on this year and build upon," Busch said. "I'm not going to be happy with those types of finishes, but it's going to be something as a team that we're going to have to accept. We're going to have to work harder to get those finishes more consistently, along with the firsts, seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths."
Understanding the consistency game will also be part of sophomore driver Logano's 2010 curriculum. The 19-year-old phenom won the Rookie of the Year title with an impressive second-half improvement.
Logano is looking to build on that surge and carry momentum into Sprint Cup season No. 2.
"Hopefully, we keep improving," Logano said. "That's our No. 1 priority right now. In the second half of the season, we really picked it up a lot. We've got a lot to go, obviously, but as long as we keep working hard and keep going, I think we're going to keep getting better.
"I think this year if we can make the Chase, that would be really cool."
Logano literally grew up as a driver as last season wore on and displayed nuances and ability of others with twice his experience.
He believes it's a natural progression that will only continue this year.
"I'm twice the driver that I was at the beginning of the season," Logano said. "I'm excited about that. I feel like me and the team are working better together. I'm also excited about that.
"Between all that, we should be a better race team in general. That gives me confidence going into the season, trying to make our race team better and getting better finishes out there."