1 JIMMIE JOHNSON
2009 SEASON 1st place, 7 wins, 24 top 10s
At this point what's left to say? Until somebody beats Johnson, there seems little sense in picking against him. As usual he and crew chief Chad Knaus fine-tuned their way through the first 26 races (three wins, 15 top 10s) before dropping the hammer in the season's final 10 (four and nine). Until NASCAR acts to Jimmie-proof its postseason by adding a road course or a race at Bristol (where Johnson has yet to win), we're likely to see more of the same next season.
2 TONY STEWART
2009 SEASON 6th place, 4 wins, 23 top 10s
After his boffo debut as an owner-driver, it's time for Stewart to get down to the business of winning his third championship. There's no denying that Stewart-Haas Racing's close relationship with Hendrick Motorsports—Johnson referred to Stewart at times last season as a "teammate"—gives Stewart the power and resources to pursue a Cup title. But it will be interesting to see if that intramural comity extends into 2010 for Stewart, who is famously one of NASCAR's orneriest competitors.
3 DENNY HAMLIN
2009 SEASON 5th place, 4 wins, 20 top 10s