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Chase looks like defending champ Johnson's to lose

RICHMOND, Va. -- The easiest way to look foolish in this profession is to boldly predict the future.

So here I am, pecking away at the laptop and setting myself up for comparisons to a 25-cent palm reader at the county fair.

Hey, I have a 1-in-12 shot of getting this right. Odds like that in Las Vegas will quickly earn you a seat in bankruptcy court.

But what the heck. I'll be your Huckleberry and offer my opinion on how the 2007 version of the Chase for the Nextel Cup will play out.

So here goes. When the playoff is complete 10 weeks from now in South Florida, the man holding the Cup will be … Jimmie Johnson.

Yes, it is the easy pick and the safe pick. It's also the smart pick.

He's won the past two races and has a season-high six victories to earn a 20-point cushion at the start of the playoff. He has the best team and the best crew chief.

Johnson is better than he was a year ago, and that was good enough to win his first title. A second championship is 10 races away.

Here's my fearless prediction for how they'll rank after Nov. 18:

1. Jimmie Johnson

Car: No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Crew chief: Chad Knaus

Points: 5,060

Blount's odds: 2-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 16

He will win it if: He does what he did last year in the Chase, stepping up his game when it really matters. Three of Johnson's wins came in COT races, which is the car for five of the playoff events. He has the best crew chief in the business in Knaus.

He has no shot because: No one has repeated as champion since Jeff Gordon in 1997-98.

2. Jeff Gordon

Car: No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Crew chief: Steve Letarte

Points: 5,040

Blount's odds: 4-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 29

He will win it if: He races the way he did in the first half of this season. He's a four-time champ who knows how to get it done, and he's No. 1 this year in COT points.

He has no shot because:
Gordon hasn't raced like a title contender the past month.

3. Kurt Busch

Car: No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge

Team: Penske Racing

Crew chief: Pat Tryson

Points: 5,020

Blount's odds: 5-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 6

He will win it if: He races the way he has the past two months, with nine consecutive finishes in the top 11.

He has no shot because:
It would be quite a feat to win it as the only Dodge in the Chase.

4. Tony Stewart

Car: No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Crew chief: Greg Zipadelli

Points: 5,030

Blount's odds: 6-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 14

He will win it if: He stays calm, plays well with others and lets his amazing driving skills take over.

He has no shot because:
Chevy doesn't like his team anymore.

5. Carl Edwards

Car: No. 99 Office Depot Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Crew chief: Bob Osborne

Points: 5,020

Blount's odds: 10-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 3

He will win it if: He stays on the hot streak that started five weeks ago. He's racing the way he did when he fell 35 points short of the title in 2005.

He has no shot because:
You can't get it done in a Ford. The Ford drivers have only four wins in 26 races this season.

6. Matt Kenseth

Car: No. 17 DeWalt Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Crew chief: Robbie Reiser

Points: 5,010

Blount's odds: 18-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 4

He will win it if: He remains the most consistent driver in the business, and consistent is how you win this playoff.

He has no shot because:
He just doesn't have the equipment to beat the top Chevrolets.

7. Kyle Busch

Car: No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Crew chief: Alan Gustafson

Points: 5,010

Blount's odds: 20-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 2

He will win it if: His burning desire for an "I told you so" ending at Hendrick can overcome his impetuous nature.

He has no shot because:
He's a lame duck at Hendrick competing against two Hendrick stars.

8. Denny Hamlin

Car: No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Crew chief: Mike Ford

Points: 5,010

Blount's odds: 30-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 1

He will win it if: He shows more consistency and his crew avoids mistakes at key moments and he takes advantage of the five COT races. He's No. 3 this season in COT points.

He has no shot because: He's not quite there yet. There are too many other Chevy drivers above him on the food chain.

9. Jeff Burton

Car: No. 31 AT&T Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Crew chief: Scott Miller

Points: 5,010

Blount's odds: 40-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 12

He will win it if: He races the whole way the same way he did in the first half of the Chase last year when he led the standings.

He has no shot because: He hasn't had more than two consecutive top-10s since April.

10. Kevin Harvick

Car: No. 29 Pennzoil/Shell Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Crew chief: Todd Berrier

Points: 5,010

Blount's odds: 50-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 4

He will win it if: He shows major improvement on intermediate ovals and races well where he's usually good, at New Hampshire and Phoenix.

He has no shot because: He has too many mediocre finishes this season. Richmond was his only top-10 in the last six races.

11. Martin Truex Jr.

Car: No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet

Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Crew chief: Kevin Manion

Points: 5,010

Blount's odds: 80-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 1

He will win it if: He continues to prove he's a star in the making and takes advantage of having Mark Martin as a tutor.

He has no shot because:
DEI has yet to prove it has the personnel capable of winning a championship.

12. Clint Bowyer

Car: No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Crew chief: Gil Martin

Points: 5,000

Blount's odds: 100-1

Victories at Chase tracks: 0

He will win it if: The other 11 playoff drivers have a DNF; the others don't win a race; and Bowyer finally wins a race or two.

He has no shot because:
The first two parts of the above equation won't happen.

Breaking Down the Field
Drivers per team

Hendrick Motorsports -- 3
Richard Childress Racing -- 3
Joe Gibbs Racing -- 2
Roush Fenway Racing -- 2
Dale Earnhardt Inc. -- 1
Penske Racing -- 1

Drivers per manufacturer
Chevrolet -- 9
Ford -- 2
Dodge -- 1
Toyota -- 0

Championships
Gordon -- 4
Stewart -- 2
Kurt Busch -- 1
Johnson -- 1
Kenseth -- 1

Ages
40 and over -- Burton (40)
35 to 39 -- Gordon (36), Stewart (36), Kenseth (35)
30 to 34 -- Harvick (31), Johnson (30)
25 to 29 -- Kurt Busch (29), Bowyer (28), Edwards (28), Truex (27), Hamlin (26)
Under 25 -- Kyle Busch (22)

Car of Tomorrow races in the Chase

New Hampshire, Dover, Talladega, Martinsville and Phoenix

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.