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NASCAR's Kenseth: Johnson top pick in Chase

September 24, 2009 |  4:39 pm

Mark Martin is off to a fast start in this year's NASCAR championship playoff, but former champion Matt Kenseth said he wouldn't bet against Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Chevrolet winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive title.

"Jimmie Johnson is the favorite," Kenseth said Wednesday during a visit to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to promote the Pepsi 500 there Oct. 11, the fourth race in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff that determines the champion in stock-car racing's premier series.

Kenseth, who won the title in 2003 -- the year before the Chase format was implemented -- did note that Martin (Johnson's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports) holds the early points lead after winning the first Chase race at New Hampshire last Sunday.

Martin has a 35-point edge over Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who are tied for second, and a 55-point lead over fourth-place Juan Pablo Montoya.

"If Mark doesn't have any major mistakes or problems ... his performance is certainly as good, or maybe better at times, than the 48 has been," Kenseth said.

As for two-time champion Tony Stewart, who led the standings entering the Chase and is now 74 points behind, "If he gets everything rolling, he has a good shot at it," Kenseth said.

But "until somebody proves that they can beat those guys" on Johnson's team, "I think that they're the favorites to win every year until they finally lose it," Kenseth said.

The next Chase race is Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

Kenseth, who drives the No. 17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, won the first two races of the season at Daytona and Fontana but then slumped for much of the year. He's now 14th in points and this was the first year that he missed the Chase.

Two of Kenseth's teammates, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, are among the 12 drivers in this year's Chase. Biffle is ninth in the standings after New Hampshire and Edwards is 11th.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, left, and Matt Kenseth during qualifying earlier this month at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images