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The Backstretch Blog: Countdown to the Season- The Best of the Rest

The NASCAR season gets underway this weekend with the Sprint Unlimited (formerly the Bud Shootout) and officially next weekend with the Daytona 500. With that in mind it is time the annual countdown if my predicted finish for the season. Take this with a grain of salt, and don't get too mad if you don't like with where I have your driver. It might be a good thing. After all, I picked Carl Edwards to win it all last season. Yes Carl Edwards.

We will start today with a look at the drivers I think will be on the outside looking in on the chase this year.

30. David Gilliland

Gilliland is a good plate racer so there is always the chance that he could steal a race on one of those tracks. He did after all finish third at last season's Daytona 500. But more likely than not, Gilliland and his Front Row Motorsports team will be over matched with the Gen 6 car.

29. Casey Mears

The Geico racing team has gradually improved with Mears behind the wheel and the switch to Ford last season really seemed to help. He made every race on 2012 after he missed the Daytona 500. But his best finish all season was 12th.

28. David Ragan

Ragan is in the same boat as his teammate David Gilliland, though Ragan has actually won a race (the Daytona summer race in 2011). He did have a top 5 and two top 10s last season.

27. Bobby Labonte

The 2000 series champ started 2012 with a bang, finishing forth at Daytona. But he didn't really do much after that. The break from Michael Waltrip Racing hasn't really helped the 47 team.

26. Danica Patrick

The first woman it run full time in the Sprint Cup series in almost 10 years has one big advantage her predecessors did not, she is in the best equipment. But Patrick still has a long was to go in a stock car.

25. Aric Almirola

Almirola showed some promise in 2012, grabbing his first career pole along with three top 10s. But Richard Petty Motorsports still has great strides to make when it comes to on track performance and consistency.

24. Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch is still one of the top drivers in the garage area, but his off track antics talked him right out of the tops rides in the garage area. Furniture Row racing is a step up from where Busch was in 2012, but probably not enough to make him a serious chase contender.

23. Juan Pablo Montoya

It seems like such a long time since Montoya made the chase, but it was just 2009. That being said Ganassi Racing has not made any large changes that would lead you to believe that much will change for them on the track in 2013.

22. Jamie McMurray

See Juan Pablo Montoya

21. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

The two time Nationwide series champion will likely show flashes of brilliance and then struggle. That is what rookies do. It is possible that he could win a race in 2013 and maybe even sneak into the wild card discussion. But the competition is fierce.

20. Paul Menard

Menard had a career year in 2012 when it comes to points finish, and his nine top 10s and only one DNF shows he has developed consistency. But that may be the ceiling for Menard. After six full time seasons, he likely is what he is.

19. Jeff Burton

The ups and downs at Richard Childress Racing most vividly manifest themselves in Burton. When the team is on top of things he is a serious chase contender. Not quite sure that this will be one of those years.

18. Marcos Ambrose

With two road course races on the schedule, Ambrose is always a threat to be a Chase wild card contender. And Ambrose is showing great improvement of the ovals with each year in a stock car.

17. Joey Logano

The move to Penske will be a fresh start for the still just 22 year old Logano. But it's a new team, new car, new manufacturer, new crew chief. That's a lot of new in one season. It will likely take this team a while to gel.

16. Martin Truex, Jr.

Truex made the chase last season, but he had to pretty much needed to run the perfect season to do it. To be a serious Chase contender, Truex needs to find a way to finish races and produce wins.

15. Kyle Busch

One of the most talented drivers on the track, Busch always seems to fall apart starting in late August. Until he can conquer those demons, it's hard for me to take a flier on him as a Chaser.

14. Mark Martin/Brian Vickers

It really is incredible that no matter who jumped into the 55 car, it seemed to run up front. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see either Martin or Vickers find victory lane in 2013.

13. Kevin Harvick

As tough as the competition is, it's just hard to believe that Harvick's pending exit from RCR will not be a distraction. But Harvick is a perennial chase, so him making the chase wouldn't be a surprise either.

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