NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup opens Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway. Forget everything that has happened to date.
Tony Stewart entered last season's Chase seeded ninth and gave himself zero chance of winning. He had gone winless in 26 races during the "regular season."
Stewart won five Chase races and the title, in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards.
"You can have guys that have been running well, and they fall on their face in the Chase," Stewart said during a recent visit to Texas Motor Speedway. "We proved last year that you can be flat on your face for 26 weeks and look like a show dog at the end of the deal."
With Stewart's warning in mind, here is a look at the seeded field for the 10-race title run:
1 Denny Hamlin (2,012 points): The key for Hamlin is avoiding disaster in the early races. Hamlin buried himself last season by finishing 31-20-18-16 in the first four races.
2 Jimmie Johnson (2,009): The Chase favors Johnson, a five-time champion, and Hendrick Motorsports. Both excel on 1 1/2-mile tracks, and there are five on the schedule.
3 Tony Stewart (2,009): Has an average finish of 12.5 on Chase tracks. Only Jimmie Johnson (10.1) and Jeff Gordon (12.2) are better. Stewart is the only racer to have won at all 10 Chase tracks.
4 Brad Keselowski (2,009): To take the title, Keselowski likely will need a substantial lead going into the final three races. He has a career average finish outside the top 20 at those tracks.
5 Greg Biffle (2,006): The regular season included races on eight Chase tracks. Biffle had the best performance among the Chase field in those races. He had five top-5s and a worst finish of 13th.
6 Clint Bowyer (2,006): If there is momentum in the Chase, Bowyer must be considered a leading contender. He finished eighth or better in five of the last six regular-season races.
7 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2,003): NASCAR's most popular driver is in the Chase for only the third time in the past eight years. He was not a factor last season, finishing 14th or worse in six races.
8 Matt Kenseth (2,003): In the past two Chases, the usually consistent Kenseth has been undermined by a few bad races. He has had five finishes out of the top 20.
9 Kevin Harvick (2,000): Suffered along with entire Richard Childress Racing operation, which went winless in 84 Cup starts. He and Martin Truex Jr. are the only racers in the field without a victory.
10 Martin Truex Jr. (2,000): In the Chase for the first time, Truex is the longest of long shots. He is winless in his past 194 starts overall. He did, however, perform well late in the season.
11 Kasey Kahne (2,000): Six races into the season, Kahne was 31st in the standings and looking like a huge mistake by Hendrick Motorsports. Flopped in previous two Chase appearances.
12 Jeff Gordon (2,000): After a season full of bad racing luck, Gordon needed a strong finish -- two seconds and a third in the final three regular-season races -- to sneak into the Chase.