The time has arrived. The regular season has come to a close, and 12 drivers have secured their spot in an attempt to win a championship.
Some have momentum, others want it back, and a few had to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to make it in. Now, these 12 drivers are using the next 10 races to make their case to win a championship, and that title hunt starts this weekend.
For the second straight year, the Chicagoland Speedway will host the opening weekend of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and if last year's kickoff is any indication, this could be one of the most exciting starts to a title run, and also provide some of the most unexpected moments ever seen in a Chase event.
This also means that the 12 writers in the Fan Vs. Fan Victory Pool have their own Chase for a championship to battle for. Their standings are also reset, but now they are under a critical rule for the final 10 races.
Each week, all the writers must choose a different driver to win; no double takes. For 10 races, it will be 10 different drivers.
Who will play the strategy right, and get off on the right food on the openingn weekend of the title run?
The title hunt begins Sunday. Take a look at the round one picks from the writers to win the GEICO 400:
Misan Akuya: Tony Stewart
Once again I am picking Tony Stewart early in the chase to win again. Last year it worked out really well to say the least as he won the first of his five races on a way to his third championship. Smokeloves Chicagloand, he has three wins there.
He ended the regular season on a pretty high note finishing fourth at Richmond after havinga few issues be that race. Stewart knows ow to win championships. And if he wins on Sunday that would be a nice start of his quest to win a fourth championship.
James Broomhead: Tony Stewart
Not to brag (OK, so to brag a little) I, like Tony, start The Chase as the defending champion. We’re not the best placed in the seedings, but we’re the one with everything to lose (though his trophy was a lot bigger than mine last year).
The man in #14 quite simply has the best average finish in Chicagoland, and I’m not going argue with that. Bring it on
Kelly Crandall: Matt Kenseth
Key to the starting the Chase isn't always about winning but getting off on the right foot. Kenseth is a solid pick in that regard, he's steady and consistent.
He hasn't won at Chicagoland yet, but he was up front last year when it came down to fuel mileage. This year he's been strong on all the big tracks like Michigan and Kansas, and Chicago is right up that ally.
Billy Fellin: Jeff Gordon
Watching what Jeff Gordon did at Richmond from the media center was quite magical. Post race, he was incredibly excited coming in for his post-race interview, saying to Mark Martin "old man, you made me work for it!" and having a great, down to earth, old school racer conversation with Martin and Tony Stewart for about 10 minutes. That was cool to see.
So, at Chicago I'll go with Gordon. He's got so much momentum and confidence coming into the Chase. He's solid at Chicago with a win and five Top-10's.
Michael Hirshbein: Kasey Kahne
Christopher Leone: Brad Keselowski
I don't know if this is going to be his year, but he's going to start strong.
Kara Martin: Brad Keselowski
Ryan O'Hara: Kevin Harvick
Dustin Parks: Tony Stewart
I had a hard time figuring out who to go with right off the bat, but then I got to thinking about last year in the Chase, and how strong Smoke was. Winner of the first two Chase races, then three of the last four, how can you not go with him?
He found a little slump right before the Chase, but the man is hungry to defend his title. Maybe it will bite me in the butt later, but gotta start out strong, and with how my picks will go as the Chase progresses, it could work out in the end.
Patti Rodisch: Kyle Busch
No, Busch didn't make the Chase but he is still a threat to win every week. Busch is going to be ticked off at missing the Chase and that makes him even more dangerous as he tries to steal attention from the Chasers.
He has a decent history at Chicagoland Speedway. With zero wins here and only one win this weekend way to steal the spotlight this weekend as a non-chaser is to win. Busch will do just that.
Sal Sigala Jr: Kyle Busch
Im hoping Kyle has a huge chip on his shoulder and drives the wheels off his No. 18 Toyota. My only worry is history will repeat itself, and he will once again melt now that the chase has started even though he is racing only for wins.
Rob Tiongson: Clint Bowyer
Gotta go with Jeff Burton's twin here - just try not to get him near Wendy Venturini and champagne, because we were so close to a Joe Namath moment last weekend at Richmond. That said, it'd be neat to recapture my championship after last year's close battle with James.
I like Clint for this race because of how strong and stout he's been all season long and save for his somewhat middling performance at Atlanta, he's been stout all year long and a big "W" seems happening at Chicagoland.
Standings following Richmond:
Rob Tiongson (2012) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th (4)
Billy Fellin (2012) Kyle Busch finished 16th (4)
Sal Sigala Jr. (2009) Kyle Busch finished 16th (3)
James Broomhead (2009) Denny Hamlin finished 18th (3)
Kelly Crandall (2009) Denny Hamlin finished 18th (3)
Patti Rodisch (2006) Tony Stewart finished 4th (2)
Christopher Leone (2006) Joey Logano finished 30th (2)
Ryan O'Hara (2006) NO PICK SENT (2)
Dustin Parks (2003) Tony Stewart finished 4th (1)
Misan Akuya (2003) Kevin Harvick finished 10th (1)
Kara Martin (2000) Kyle Busch finished 16th (2)
Michael Hirshbein (2000) Kyle Busch finished 16th (1)
Final Thoughts: The next 10 races are what will determine a champion, but the opening race is the one that will determine who has the momentum. There's always the possibility that someone outside the top-12 will play spoiler and take the spotlight away, and with two of last year's Chase drivers on the outside looking in, it could very well happen.
It all starts Sunday with coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN, as Chase races on the east coast are moved an hour ahead of the kickoff to the early NFL games. The green flag will wave shortly after 2 p.m.
Summary of Picks: