Editor’s Note: Miss out on any of the season preview articles from last week? No worries… just click on the links below to get to the prediction you want to see…
After an anxious two months of anticipation, the offseason is finally nearing an end! With Daytona testing a distant memory, it’s less than two short weeks before the engines come to life and the 2007 Nextel Cup season hits the ground running.
Before the cars take off, though, it’s time to take a look at the issues that’ll make a difference in what’s bound to be one of the most important years for the sport in recent history. With anything from talented rookies to Toyota’s entrance in the sport making headlines, there’s plenty of topics for the Frontstretch faithful to weigh in on. Be sure to check out this space all this week to get our writers’ predictions on what’s bound to be NASCAR’s biggest season yet!
Today’s Season Preview Topic: What driver enters the season under the most pressure to make the Chase, and why? Will they succeed or fail?
Tom Bowles, Managing Editor: No question about it, Jamie McMurray has more pressure heading into this system than half the other full-time drivers combined. After finishing a dismal 25th in a Roush Ford last season, McMurray’s team was completely revamped for 2007. McMurray will have to return to top-10 form, displaying the type of consistency he showed in Chip Ganassi’s No. 42 to have any chance of fulfilling the rest of his contract with a team that won the Nextel Cup championship just a little over two years ago.
Nikki Krone, Assistant Editor: There are several drivers are going to feel the pressure this year, but I believe the Penske contingent may be under the most pressure. Kurt Busch did not make the Chase just two years after being crowned champ, and Ryan Newman missed the Chase last season and hasn’t won a race in, forever. If Busch and Newman can’t make this a successful season, I can see Roger Penske making some major changes for 2008.
Toni Heffelfinger, Assistant Editor: Is there just one? Because I can come up with a long list of drivers under immense pressure to make the Chase. Any driver with a multimillion-dollar sponsorship on his car that wants that sponsor to be seen after September needs to make the Chase. Any number of drivers who want to stay in the nice rides they currently enjoy are under immense pressure to make the Chase. Any driver behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge or Toyota with a manufacturer trying to take as many spots as they can is under immense pressure to make the Chase. 12 of them will succeed… and the rest will fail.
Kim DeHaven, Public Relations Coordinator: Jeff Gordon… because he needs the diaper money. Dale Earnhardt Jr.… because the entire success of the television network’s ratings falls on his shoulders. But on a serious note, Tony Stewart has the most pressure on his shoulders after missing the Chase last year; however, he will undoubtedly make the Chase in 2007.
Amy Henderson, Driver Interview Coordinator: I think the defending champion always enters the new season with the pressure to repeat, and 2007 is no different. It’s an uphill battle – no champion has repeated yet this decade. But if anyone can do it, it’s Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus – their team thrives under pressure. They’re the real deal – while either Stewart or Matt Kenseth could rain on Johnson’s parade, as of now, Johnson is just singin’ in the rain.
Becca Gladden, Senior Writer: Stewart will make the Chase this season, but he faces the most pressure because of missing it last year as the defending series champ.
Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: This question is a shining example of what is wrong with the ‘Chase’ in the first place! There are 26 races until that thing begins! ANYONE WITH A CURRENT FULL-TIME RIDE IS UNDER THE MOST PRESSURE! None more so than another.
Mike Neff, Senior Writer: McMurray is under the most pressure to perform in the upcoming season. He may not need to make the Chase, but if he isn’t in contention coming down to Richmond, look for him to be looking for another ride in 2008.
Cami Starr, Senior Writer: I think Earnhardt Jr. will be under a lot of pressure to make the Chase, especially if he decides to resign with DEI. He’s NASCAR’s most popular driver, and you know his sponsor wants to make sure he’s in the big show at the end of the year. If he opts to stay with DEI, the pressure is on to get into the Chase and make a serious run at the title to prove staying with the team was the right move.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Contributor: This one is a toss-up for me. Kurt Busch was the first driver to come to mind, but right up there with him, though, was Stewart. Love him or hate him, I don’t know a single NASCAR fan who wasn’t shocked to see the defending champion miss the Chase, and that shock was only made worse by Stewart’s performance during the final 10 races of the season. After missing the playoffs last year, Stewart is going to come out ready to prove something, and he won’t have any trouble making the chase in 2007.
Vito Pugliese, Contributor: Two-time champion Stewart and Carl Edwards both missed the Chase last year, as did Greg Biffle. These three drivers HAVE to make the Chase this year to break out of their slumps… but most likely all of them will. Kasey Kahne will be under pressure as well. He almost missed the Chase again last year, even after having posted the most wins. When he did sneak into the playoffs, he was involved in a number of wrecks, leaving him with an eighth-place finish. Kasey will need to make the Chase again and step it up a notch. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch and Newman both struggled all year long, and neither one came even remotely close to making the Chase. Busch looked to be a hand grenade without the pin, and Newman wrecked with JJ Yeley-type consistency. Mix in regular mediocre runs, and their seasons were written off by the second race at Michigan. Penske needs to get at least one of those cars back in the Chase this year.
Tommy Thompson, Contributor: McMurray would seem to be the driver whose career would take a serious downturn if he doesn’t have a Chase eligible year. How patient owner Jack Roush would continue to be with his well financed No. 26 racecar again finishing mid-pack in the point standings is not difficult to predict… McMurray would no doubt be forced to continue his career elsewhere.
There is every reason to be optimistic, though, that McMurray will, in essence, save his career. His team has now had time to “gel,” and Jamie has demonstrated in the past, with lesser equipment, an ability to run near the front.
Who do YOU think is the driver under pressure this season? Feel free to offer your personal previews below in the comments section.