Counting Denny Hamlin, only a half-dozen drivers have a realistic shot at keeping Jimmie Johnson from winning his fifth straight Sprint Cup title. Here are the five other primary threats to JJ's reign
1. TONY STEWART, Stewart Haas Racing
2009: 4 wins, 23 top 10s, 6th in standings
Why he can beat JJ: Coming off an impressive debut season, the Stewart Haas team—from the chassis department to the engine specialists to the pit crew—will be more in sync in its second go-round.
Why he can't beat JJ: No driver-owner has won a Cup since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Even the peripatetic Stewart will be stretched thin by his dual roles.
Key to the season: The last three years Stewart has not finished strong over the final two months. To win his third points title, he'll need to heat up when the temperatures cool down—just as he did in 2005, when he was the last driver to beat Johnson in the Chase.
2. KYLE BUSCH, Joe Gibbs Racing
2009: 4 wins, 13 top 10s, 13th in standings
Why he can beat JJ: No other driver in the series possesses as much car control and natural ability as Busch, who can get hot at any time and win three or four races in a row.
Why he can't beat JJ: Busch's all-or-nothing approach often puts his car in harm's way, resulting in wrecks that lead to far too many 20th-place-and-worse finishes.