The Chase is set to begin this weekend in Chicago, so it's time to set the betting lines – Who is the most likely, and the least likely, to win the Cup in Homestead?
Tony Stewart – 300 to 1
Going for him: He's won two championships before, so he certainly won't feel overwhelmed coming down the stretch.
Working against him: He has zero wins and only three top 5's this year. He has not felt comfortable at all this season.
Overall outlook: Extremely slim. As an owner, Stewart feels lucky to even have his car in the Chase. He's not running anywhere near as well as some of the other guys here.
Denny Hamlin – 200 to 1
Going for him: Hamlin saw huge success in the Chase last year, and was one race away from winning the Cup.
Working against him: Hamlin hasn't seen nearly any of that success this season. He's had just one victory, and if he didn't have that lone win, he wouldn't have made the Chase.
Overall outlook: Hamlin has been waiting all year to turn things around and be near the front like he was almost all of last year. Is there any reason to believe it will start this week?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 175 to 1
Going for him: The tracks in the Chase are some of his favorites.
Working against him: Guys like Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson make winning look easy. For the better part of a decade, Junior has made botching races up look easy.
Overall outlook: Junior fans believe that one of these days, he'll wake up and magically return to the success he had early in his career. He seems like the type of guy who races better when he has confidence and his spirits are up. Because he likes some of these tracks, maybe he'll go on a run. But I'm not putting my money on it.
Ryan Newman – 150 to 1
Going for him: He's Mr. Steady. He won't beat himself and make major mistakes that can kill your chances in the Chase.
Working against him: He's Mr. Steady. He has never put a type of run together you need to win a Chase.
Overall outlook: Usually the driver that gets hot winds up winning this thing. It's hard to believe that he will be the guy to do it this year.
Brad Keselowski – 125 to 1
Going for him: No one has run better than him over the past few months.
Working against him: He is the Chase rookie here. There's no way of knowing how he'll handle the pressure.
Overall outlook: Keselowski said after the race at RIR that he's playing with house money. I don't think that he feels a lot of pressure – and that could really help him. I see him having a roller coaster Chase – winning a couple of races, but also finishing at the back of the pack a few times – keeping him out of real contention.
Matt Kenseth & Kurt Busch – 50 to 1
Going for them: They are former Cup champions that have performed solidly this season.
Working against them: Others have been running more consistently well.
Overall outlook: Does anyone actually believe that either one of these guys will win the title? Honestly?
Carl Edwards – 12 to 1
Going for him: No one has had more top 10's (17 in 26 races) than he has this season, and Kyle Busch is the only one who has more top 5's than him (12).
Working against him: Historically, Edwards has not had good Chases, even after having great regular seasons.
Overall outlook: I think Edwards has a great chance to win this year. The only thing keeping him back is that he hasn't really finished strong in his career. Roush Fenway hasn't had a great year either. But Edwards said today that he "feels better about this Chase than any other Chase" and there's no question that he has a chance.
Kevin Harvick – 10 to 1
Going for him: He's had four wins this year, and he was alive in last year's Chase all the way to the end.
Working against him: Harvick had gotten cold toward the end of the regular season. Is his win in Richmond the end of that cold streak, or an anomaly?
Overall outlook: Because he's not terribly popular, Harvick's name isn't brought up when you talk about the best of the best in Cup. So, I think he's underrated, and maybe a better driver than some of the guys who have Cup victories (Kurt Busch & Matt Kenseth, for example). A win this year would certainly change that.
Jeff Gordon – 8 to 1
Going for him: Gordon feels more confident going into the Chase than he has in a long time. He's running very well, and has all season.
Working against him: It's been a decade since he won a championship. That is a long time.
Overall outlook: He all ready has four championships, but you almost get the feeling like he wants one this year more than anyone else out there. Only two drivers have more wins than he does in the history of the sport, but even he has been overshadowed by what his teammate has done. That hunger that seemed to disappear when he started building his family has come back. I would be surprised if he didn't go down without a fight.
Kyle Busch – 5 to 1
Going for him: He's been the best driver this year, and maybe the best regular season driver over a 3-4 year span.
Working against him: Jimmie has had his number in the Chase.
Overall outlook: It would be fitting for Busch to be the guy who unseats Jimmie. Some of the best drivers ever in the sport (Waltrip, Earnhardt, Gordon) – were hated until they won a title, or multiple titles. Then the next guy becomes the hated guy. Busch has been the sport's perfect nemesis for years, and sometimes, the bad guy needs to win.
Jimmie Johnson – 3 to 1
Going for him: Do I even need to write something here?
Working against him: He can't win forever.
Overall outlook: I thought Jimmie was primed to be beat last year, and he became five-time. This has been one of his best regular seasons ever, so there's no reason to doubt him in the Chase. He's been saying over the past month, that this season has been very competitive, and that there's no real favorite. But of course there is. It is Johnson until someone proves they can beat him.