After 26 races, it's time to the determine NASCAR's 2009 champion through the Chase for the Championship... 

This year's Chase could be the most compelling edition since the format's inception.

You have to first start with three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. He'll be going for his fourth championship in a row. Johnson is kind of like one of those wild card teams in the NFL or Major League Baseball playoffs. They may not have had the best record throughout the season, but you sure as heck don't want to face them in the postseason, because they know what to do when the pressure is on at the most important moments.

Then you've got Tony Stewart. He's been the class of the Sprint Cup Series this season, leading the points standings most of the way. Now he has the challenge of replicating that performance for the final 10 races. History has shown that at times, a dominant first 26 races doesn't always translate to a championship. Stewart, starts the Chase in second place, 10 points out of the lead.

The sentimental favorite is, by far, Mark Martin. He'll enter the Chase as the points leader and this year could be his best shot at a title. Sure, he has qualified for the Chase in the past, but he's much more than a contender to have a shot at the championship - he's one of the drivers that will have to be beaten in order to win the 2009 title. 

And then there's Brian Vickers, who got into the Chase by the skin of a toothbrush. If anyone is riding a strong burst of momentum into the Chase right now, it has to be Vickers. Vickers had to scratch and claw just to get into the Chase. If he can keep up that performance, the fight for the championship could be very interesting.