Jimmie Johnson on the inside track
My eyes are bloodshot. My head is pounding. My yellow highlighter is out of ink.
Just for you, I have slaved over Chase driver statistics like a Harvard nerd cramming for his quantum physics final.
What else was I going to do waiting through long flight delays at two airports on Sunday? So my results are in for handicapping the 2010 Chase.
These are not the Las Vegas odds. They're my odds, but there was some painstaking research involved.
That doesn't guarantee any more accuracy than an avid fan spouting predictions while drinking longnecks in the Talladega infield, but I tried.
Here's what the numbers tell me:
Odds of winning the Chase: 4-to-1
What's his strength: Do you have to ask? The man has won four in a row. He is the Chase master.
What's his weakness: As Clint Bowyer said at Richmond, "Superman's cape is a little shorter now." JJ has looked vulnerable at times. He has six finishes this season of 31st or worse and has the most DNFs of any Chaser with four.
Key statistic: Of the eight Chase tracks that had Cup races earlier this season, Johnson won twice (Fontana and Loudon) and finished in the top three at two others (Phoenix and Texas). But he also finished 31st at Talladega and 37th at Charlotte.
Odds of winning the Chase: 6-to-1
What's his strength: Winning. His six victories this season are a career high and give him the top spot to start the playoff.
What's his weakness: Inconsistency. Hamlin has been a streaky performer this season, and streaky won't win the Chase.
Key statistic: Five of his six wins came during a 10-race span at midseason. In the past five races, he has a victory and a runner-up, but the other three races were 34th or worse.
Odds of winning the Chase: 7-to-1
What's his strength: Aggressiveness. As we've seen this season, Edwards will get after it when he has to, and he isn't afraid to take a driver out to prove it.
What's his weakness: He hasn't won this season, which is true for five of the playoff drivers. But Carl has come close to winning in recent weeks.
Key statistic: Edwards has the best average finish (5.5) among Chase drivers in the past nine races. He has eight top-10s, including five top-5s, over that span.
Odds of winning the Chase: 8-to-1
What's his strength: Consistency, which is the key to winning the Chase. He ranked No. 1 in the standings for 21 of 26 weeks in the regular season, including the last 17. He has a series-best 17 top-10s.
What's his weakness: Harvick never has finished better than fourth in the Chase, and Richard Childress Racing hasn't won a Cup title in 16 years.
Key statistic: Harvick hasn't qualified well this season, which could bite him in the playoff. He has started 20th or worse in 15 races.
Odds of winning the Chase: 10-to-1
What's his strength: His overwhelming confidence (some might say cockiness) that he can get it done this year. And he loves crew chief Dave Rogers. For a volatile guy like Rowdy, that's half the battle.
What's his weakness: The dark side of his volatile nature. Kyle has to keep his composure when things go wrong, show his increasing maturity and make the most of a tough day.
Key statistic: His victory at Bristol on Aug. 21 was the only time he has led a lap in the past eight races.
Odds of winning the Chase: 12-to-1
What's his strength: The guy almost everyone is overlooking. If you are looking for a sleeper pick, this is your driver. The addition of crew chief Steve Addington has made Kurt better this season. Kurt is the thinking man's Busch brother, the one who will sneak up on you and win when you least expect it.
What's his weakness: He's driving the only Dodge in the Chase, so research and development data is limited. But they seem to do more with less.
Key statistic: Kurt is one of only three men who have won a Chase playoff, along with Johnson and Tony Stewart.
Odds of winning the Chase: 20-to-1
What's his strength: He is a four-time champion and one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. You never count out a man with his résumé.
What's his weakness: Gordon hasn't won a championship in the playoff format and his last Cup title was nine years ago. His last victory was the spring Texas race in 2009.
Key statistic: He doesn't have a top-5 finish in the past seven races. You can't win the Chase without posting top-5s.
Odds of winning the Chase: 20-to-1
What's his strength: Stewart is picking up the pace at the right time. He has 10 top-10s in the past 13 races, including six top-5s and his victory at Atlanta.
What's his weakness: He didn't run well at most of the Chase tracks earlier this season, with an average finish of 16.25 in those eight events. But he was second at Loudon in June, which looms well for starting the playoff.
Key statistic: Stewart is the only driver to win a championship in the Chase format (2005) and the old season points-total format (2002).
Odds of winning the Chase: 25-to-1
What's his strength: He is part of the Roush Fenway Racing resurgence in the second half of the season, posting six top-10s since the June race at Michigan, including a win at Pocono last month.
What's his weakness: He didn't post a top-5 at any of the eight Chase tracks earlier this season. He finished 32nd or worse in the last two races.
Key statistic: Biffle is the only Ford driver with a victory this season.
Odds of winning the Chase: 30-to-1
What's his strength: He's part of the amazing turnaround this season at RCR, which placed all three drivers in the Chase after failing to get anyone in last season. Burton has finished ninth or better in six of the past nine races.
What's his weakness: Burton finished outside the top 10 in six of the eight races at Chase tracks earlier this year.
Key statistic: The old man of the Chase this season at 43. Bobby Allison is the only man to win his first (and only) Cup title at 43 or older. He was 45 when he won it in 1983. Dale Jarrett was five days short of his 43rd birthday when he won his championship in 1999. The oldest Chase champ was Stewart at 34 years and six months.
Odds of winning the Chase: 40-to-1
What's his strength: He's an excellent points racer, having made the Chase three of the past four years despite winning only two races.
What's his weakness: Bowyer has the fewest top-5s (four) of any Chase driver.
Key statistic: Bowyer finished ninth or better at six of the eight Chase tracks earlier this season. He also has finished seventh or better in the past three races.
Odds of winning the Chase: 50-to-1
What's his strength: The absolute best in the business at getting the most out of his equipment when it isn't up to par. Kenseth can make a 20th-place car finish 12th and a 10th-place car finish fifth. But he hasn't had a top-10 car often this year.
What's his weakness: He's on his third crew chief this season, and his No. 17 team hasn't been the same since Robbie Reiser stepped off the pit box.
Key statistic: Kenseth has the fewest top-10s (10) of any Chase driver, and only two top-10s in the past 13 races, but he has finished 11th or better in three of the past four.
So there you have it. I've run the numbers and laboriously studied the 2010 regular-season stats.
Now excuse me while I take two aspirin with a cocktail and join that guy on the Dega infield.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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