The only five things that could derail Jimmie Johnson
1. Kitchen cutlery.
2. Too many visits by Marcus or Brian Giles. Crystal River's Mike Hampton could be a factor, but he seems to be a little less deadly, even in golf tournaments.
3. Too much banter about former Jeff Gordon crew chief/former team owner Ray Evernham returning to Hendrick. Could the thought of more than one genius under the team umbrella be irritating to crew chief Chad Knaus?
4. Carl Edwards making his final kick one week earlier.
5. Somali pirates. Yes, it's unlikely. That's why it's fifth.
Five more bold predictions
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, will win the Daytona 500.
2. Scott Speed will have a statistically better rookie season than Joey Logano.
3. Mark Martin will lead Hendrick Motorsports in wins.
4. Michael Waltrip will retire after the season.
5. One driver is going to wreck another, and there's going to be a scuffle in the NASCAR hauler no one sees.
|The final five Not the missing Cylons on Battlestar Galactica, the predicted top five in the final 2009 Sprint Cup standings.|
|1. Jimmie Johnson
The three-time defending champion makes it a historic fourth. NASCAR's ultimate tournament team excels in the Chase for the Championship again, and Johnson joins Sebastien Bourdais (formerly of Champ Car) as the only driver to win four straight titles in a major North American series.
|2. Carl Edwards
It'll be even more frustrating to live in the Jimmie Johnson Era as he finishes second in consecutive seasons.
|3. Kyle Busch
He won a third of his races last season but evaporated like radiator steam in the Chase. He'll be better for the experience this season.
|4. Greg Biffle
Third last season, he produces another high-quality season but can't get a foot on the podium.
|5. Jeff Gordon
He has to win a race this year, right? He finished seventh in points without doing so last season so he figures to improve a few rungs.
Five storylines that will compel you
1. Startup teams formed by driver/owner Jeremy Mayfield and former crew chief Tommy Baldwin could change the gluttonous NASCAR model if they're successful.
2. At 18, Joey Logano will be the youngest starter ever in the Daytona 500. "Sliced Bread" begins the most hyped NASCAR debut since Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s in 1999.
3. Can Tony Stewart pull off being a driver/owner, or will one of them explode at some point this season?
4. A 50-year-old (Mark Martin) is going to give the kids fits.
5. With a season of acclimation at Hendrick Motorsports complete, Earnhardt Jr. has all of the tools and none of the excuses.
Five changes that will matter
1. Sure, it's called Richard Petty Motorsports, but it's really Gillett Evernham rebranded. The iconic No. 43 Dodge is in the stable, but it just doesn't feel the same.
2. The Wood Brothers might not be around very much. One of NASCAR's bedrock teams — with the defunct Petty Enterprises — has only partial sponsorship after years of decline.
3. Bobby Labonte injects some life into Hall of Fame Racing.
4. Mark Martin's maniacal work ethic will stoke the internal competition even hotter at Hendrick.
5. Juan Pablo Montoya is driving Chevrolets now. Let's see what he can do with a better engine package.
Five astounding numbers
12.3 Average finish by Clint Bowyer, above, in six Sprint Cup races at Daytona, the best in the series; Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second at 13.6
43 Consecutive years that at least one Petty drove full time in Sprint Cup — with Kyle out after Petty Enterprises' merger, that streak will end
1,959 Laps led by Jimmie Johnson last season, the most in one year since 2001, when Jeff Gordon led 2,320
6 Consecutive years that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been voted the most popular driver in the series
14 Tony Stewart's new car number. No. 14 has 26 wins in 840 races at NASCAR's top level but none since Bobby Allison at Montgomery, Ala., in 1969; since then the number has been run irregularly and gone winless in 450 attempts
Five in a hot seat Opportunity + resume + job market = pressure.
1. Casey Mears: Didn't win at Ganassi, gets a pass. Won once at Hendrick, gets questioned. Takes over a No. 07 Chevrolet program that Clint Bowyer drove to third and fifth place in points at Richard Childress Racing the past two seasons.
2. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing: In the past two years the former Dale Earnhardt Inc. has lost its star (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), veteran (Mark Martin), top executive (Max Siegel) and several key sponsorships and is teetering on the brink of irrelevancy.
3. Race promoters: "Come drive 300 miles for a four-day event where tickets and souvenirs and hotel will cost you a couple thousand."
4. Sam Hornish: The former three-time IRL champion missed two races and never finished better than 13th as a rookie. He's locked into the field for the first five weeks only.
5. Reed Sorenson: No, the No. 43 Dodge hasn't been competitive in years, but is he worthy of a car Richard Petty drove to glory?
Movers/shakers Five who could make quantum leaps
Five things you'd like to see
1. The fastest 43 cars in qualifying make the race field. If a $20 million budget can't yield one lap that's better than Kirk Shelmerdine's, then you deserve to have to go explain it to the sponsor.
2. Hell-raisers in alcohol-sponsored cars. Kasey Kahne (Budweiser), Jamie McMurray (Crown Royal) and Kurt Busch (Miller Lite) are fine guys, but do they conjure "party"?
3. The 43 in Victory Lane.
4. The 21 in Victory Lane.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. either win a title or contest it to the end. Like him or not, he, like the Yankees, makes the sport more compelling when he's successful.
|1. Bobby Labonte
The former series champion, above, made sometimes sub-par Petty equipment better the past three seasons, finishing 21st in points last season, and should excel in the Hall of Fame-Yates-Roush matrix.
|2. Brian Vickers
There were spikes (second at Pocono, fourth at Michigan, fifth at Talladega) and sputters (six finishes of 30th or worse in the last 11 weeks) in 2008, so consistency is crucial.
|3. David Reutimann
The Zephyrhills native appeared to finally find some footing at Michael Waltrip Racing and must adjust to new crew chief Rodney Childers after Ryan Pemberton's defection.
|4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Openly disappointed with his performance in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, he has a lot to prove and all the tools to do some provin' with … or something.
|5. Mark Martin
He's 50 and looks 70 from the neck up, but he's built like a 125-pound state wrestling champion and is motivated and poised to make a dash for an elusive first title after coming out of semi-retirement to join powerful Hendrick.