Carl Edwards believes Jimmie Johnson is the favorite to claim the NASCAR Sprint Cup title this year heading into the start of the Chase at Loudon on Sunday.
The Roush Fenway driver was Johnson's main competitor last year, winning nine races, but he finished runner-up in the championship in the end. Despite not counting out any of the 12 drivers in the Chase, Edwards believes the current champion will be the driver to beat once again.
"I think Jimmie is the favorite," said Edwards. "He has to be. He's shown that he can do it, but the last couple of days we've spent a little time up in New York with all the guys and when you really look at the group this year, I think that this is wide open. Anyone can win this thing.
"I think Juan Montoya has just as good a chance as Jimmie Johnson with the way he's been running. Brian [Vickers] has scored more points than anyone the last 10 races and there's nothing saying he couldn't do that again. And then you look at Greg [Biffle] and myself.
"Last year, we put together a really strong chase and nobody expected Greg to come out and win the first two and be that fast. Yeah, [Johnson] is the favourite but I think this is going to be a real interesting one. It has that feeling to me."
Although Edwards has not won a race this year, he feels that may well change during the play-off. He believes the last 10 races will provide him a chance of turning his season around and putting up a strong challenge for the title for the second year in a row.
"It doesn't matter what you did the last 26 weeks," he said. "This is a second chance here. This is a new beginning. For the same reason you can't look at last season and say who is going to be in the Chase this year, you can't look at the first part of the season and say who is going to be strong in the last 10.
"Really, this isn't lip service. It really has the feel that any one of these 12 guys can win this thing. That's good for me. I want to be that guy. It seems like the peaks and valleys are a shorter frequency and higher amplitude right."
Edwards will start Sunday's race from fifth on the grid as the best placed Ford in the field. Last year his team-mate Biffle won the first race of the play-off while he finished third, a start he hopes to be able to repeat this season.
He is also taking advantage of a unique chance of focusing solely on his Sprint Cup duties, as there is no Nationwide Series event scheduled this weekend at New Hampshire.
"It's a nice easy weekend for us - one race," said Edwards. "It's a fun race track. I've run well here and I've run poorly here, so I'm hoping this is one of the good ones. A year ago, we came here and Greg won and I finished third. That was a great start to the chase, so that's what we're hoping for."