NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Who Wins The Chase In ’07? Your Favorite Frontstretch Writers Tell All

Come Sunday, it’s playoff time in the world of NASCAR… and what would playoffs be without predictions? All of us here at Frontstretch got together this week, stared into the crystal ball, and each came up with our own special theory as to how this year’s Chase for the Championship is going to play out. Each writer has picked the finishing order of first through 12th, their “darkhorse” championship pick, and the best driver not in the Chase who’s threatening to spoil the party altogether – diverting the most attention away from the battle for this year’s title.

Of course, with so many predictions to choose from, how do you know which one to trust? Well, we’ve given you some stats to give you the inside track on just which members of our staff have hit the jackpot so far this season. In case you’ve forgotten, each one of us picked Chase participants back in February… and underneath each writer is a listing of just how good they were in prognosticating this year’s field.

So, without further ado…

2007 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Tom Bowles Ren Jonsin Toni Montgomery
Title Managing Editor Publisher Senior Editor
1st Tony Stewart Jeff Gordon Denny Hamlin
2nd Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson Carl Edwards
3rd Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart Martin Truex Jr.
4th Carl Edwards Kurt Busch Jeff Burton
5th Kurt Busch Carl Edwards Clint Bowyer
6th Denny Hamlin Denny Hamlin Matt Kenseth
7th Jeff Burton Kyle Busch Jimmie Johnson
8th Martin Truex Jr. Matt Kenseth Jeff Gordon
9th Matt Kenseth Jeff Burton Kevin Harvick
10th Kyle Busch Martin Truex Jr. Tony Stewart
11th Kevin Harvick Clint Bowyer Kyle Busch
12th Clint Bowyer Kevin Harvick Kurt Busch
Darkhorse Title Pick Carl Edwards Kyle Busch Jeff Burton
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bobby Labonte Casey Mears
Why They Picked How They Did To me, the title race is really a toss-up between the Big Three: Stewart, Johnson and Gordon, with Hamlin, Edwards and Busch each having an outside shot. With that being said… it’s hard to see Stewart coming up short this year. After the way he’s performed this summer – three wins in eight weeks – he has both the momentum and consistency that give him the edge. Look for Gordon to return to his winning ways. The last few races were pretty much just for fun for most of the Chase guys, but now that it means something, look for all three of the Hendrick teams to bring their “A” game. That’s the reason I choose Kyle Busch as my darkhorse for the Chase this year. Even though his tenure as a Hendrick driver is down to the final few races, I don’t expect arguably the most raw-talented driver in the Chase to coast when there’s a chance to match his brother in Cups. Why? Because that’s how Amy Henderson picked them out of my hat. What? You mean NASCAR doesn’t do it that way?

 

2007 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Kim DeHaven Amy Henderson Cami Starr
Title PR Coordinator Driver Interview Coordinator Fantasy Racing Editor
1st Tony Stewart Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart
2nd Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart Jeff Gordon
3rd Kurt Busch Jeff Gordon Denny Hamlin
4th Carl Edwards Denny Hamlin Jimmie Johnson
5th Matt Kenseth Jeff Burton Carl Edwards
6th Denny Hamlin Kurt Busch Kurt Busch
7th Jeff Gordon Martin Truex Jr. Matt Kenseth
8th Kyle Busch Matt Kenseth Jeff Burton
9th Clint Bowyer Carl Edwards Kevin Harvick
10th Martin Truex Jr. Kyle Busch Clint Bowyer
11th Jeff Burton Clint Bowyer Kyle Busch
12th Kevin Harvick Kevin Harvick Martin Truex Jr.
Darkhorse Title Pick Kyle Busch Jeff Burton Denny Hamlin
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Casey Mears
Why They Picked How They Did Why not Stewart? He was the dominant driver over the final 10 last year, winning three events despite not making the Chase field. History tends to repeat itself, and I look for Stewart to win it all for the second time in three years. Johnson has begun his other Chases in a slump, snapping out of it to contend – and win – late in the playoffs. This year, he snapped out of it early – and that’s bad news for the competition, because he runs strong at almost every track in the final 10. He’ll have to fight for it with a streaky Stewart, who, if he gets hot again this fall, could improve his own home with another Cup. Watch out for Gordon, too; he’s been so solid, running in the top 10 week in and week out, that the other two better be looking over their shoulders… just in case. Gordon’s Drive For Five will come up short this year. Just like when the Hendrick teams benefitted from early JGR misfortunes to earn wins earlier in the season, Stewart will be there in position to earn his next title when Gordon stumbles.

 

2007 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Becca Gladden Mike Neff Jeff Meyer
Title Senior Writer Senior Writer Senior Writer
1st Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart Jeff Gordon
2nd Denny Hamlin Jeff Gordon Tony Stewart
3rd Matt Kenseth Matt Kenseth Carl Edwards
4th Martin Truex Jr. Martin Truex Jr. Jimmie Johnson
5th Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson Denny Hamlin
6th Jeff Burton Denny Hamlin Kevin Harvick
7th Tony Stewart Jeff Burton Clint Bowyer
8th Carl Edwards Carl Edwards Jeff Burton
9th Kevin Harvick Kevin Harvick Martin Truex Jr.
10th Clint Bowyer Kurt Busch Matt Kenseth
11th Kurt Busch Clint Bowyer Kurt Busch
12th Kyle Busch Kyle Busch Kyle Busch
Darkhorse Title Pick Kevin Harvick Jeff Gordon Jeff Burton
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Why They Picked How They Did My friend Dave created a little computer program to help predict the winner of the Chase, taking into account driver/car past performances at the upcoming tracks, momentum, and performances this year. Stewart not only excels when the weather is hot, but he’s proved time and again in the Chase that he can run well when the weather gets cold, too. Add to that the fact that Gibbs runs well in CoT races, and you have a recipe for success here. Don’t count out Truex, though; he was very strong in the final 10 races last year. Although I would love to see Edwards or Burton win the title, I think this is finally the year Gordon gets number five. Tony will fall just short, and the Busch brothers will bring up the rear.

 

2007 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Matt McLaughlin Beth Lunkenheimer Tommy Thompson
Title Contributing Writer Contributing Writer Contributing Writer
1st Tony Stewart Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson
2nd Jeff Gordon Tony Stewart Tony Stewart
3rd Jimmie Johnson Kurt Busch Jeff Gordon
4th Denny Hamlin Jimmie Johnson Matt Kenseth
5th Carl Edwards Kyle Busch Kurt Busch
6th Matt Kenseth Carl Edwards Denny Hamlin
7th Martin Truex Jr. Denny Hamlin Kyle Busch
8th Kyle Busch Martin Truex Jr. Carl Edwards
9th Kurt Busch Matt Kenseth Jeff Burton
10th Kevin Harvick Jeff Burton Clint Bowyer
11th Jeff Burton Clint Bowyer Kevin Harvick
12th Clint Bowyer Kevin Harvick Martin Truex Jr.
Darkhorse Title Pick Denny Hamlin Kurt Busch Denny Hamlin
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Ryan Newman Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Why They Picked How They Did If you think anyone not at the wheel of a Chevy is going to win the title this year, you’ve been drinking too much doctored Kool-Aid with Ken Kesey. Johnson and Gordon have had real strong seasons but have also revealed feet of clay at times. Stewart, since he has hit his stride, is running on all eight, and last year, he won three of the Chase races despite being a non-combatant. Watch out for his teammate, though; Hamlin has had a good season and just hasn’t been able to close the deal too many times… but that could mean he’s overdue. Frankly, I don’t care who gets the big trophy in New York this year; it is Gordon’s championship and he’s earned it. It might be stolen from him in an attempt to boost TV ratings, but the Chase system to decide a champion makes about as much sense as using a talent, bathing suit, and interview format to decide the next president of the United States. Gordon will bring a whole new mindset to New Hampshire as the Chase begins, as both he and crew chief Steve Letarte have shown they can work very well together in high pressure situations. But watch out for Kurt Busch. Just nine weeks prior to the end of the “regular season,” Busch was 14th in points and 236 out of the Chase, but two wins and seven top-10 finishes later, Busch finds himself fifth going into New Hampshire. With the experience of Pat Tryson by his side, Busch could surprise even himself in the last 10 races of this season. Johnson seems to be hitting his stride. However, the same could be said for Smoke, as well. Feel certain that it will be one of these top three Chevy chauffeurs, though.

 

2007 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Vito Pugliese Tony Lumbis Mike Lovecchio
Title Contributing Writer Contributing Writer Contributing Writer
1st Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart Carl Edwards
2nd Kurt Busch Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson
3rd Jeff Gordon Jeff Gordon Kurt Busch
4th Carl Edwards Matt Kenseth Tony Stewart
5th Tony Stewart Carl Edwards Jeff Gordon
6th Matt Kenseth Denny Hamlin Denny Hamlin
7th Denny Hamlin Kurt Busch Matt Kenseth
8th Kyle Busch Jeff Burton Kevin Harvick
9th Kevin Harvick Martin Truex Jr. Jeff Burton
10th Martin Truex Jr. Kyle Busch Clint Bowyer
11th Jeff Burton Clint Bowyer Martin Truex Jr.
12th Clint Bowyer Kevin Harvick Kyle Busch
Darkhorse Title Pick Kurt Busch Carl Edwards Kurt Busch
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ryan Newman Ryan Newman
Why They Picked How They Did Johnson’s back-to-back wins at Fontana and Richmond were evidence that this team hasn’t missed a beat from last season… or the beginning of this one. In the last six races, he has just one finish worse than fifth. Truth be told, the No. 48 is simply in another league compared to everyone else right now… save for maybe the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge of Kurt Busch. I think the “mini-streak” that Smoke went on early this summer – winning three out of four races, starting at Chicagoland – was just a glimpse of what we’ll see from the two-time Nextel Cup champ in the Chase. Look for Roush Fenway to come close to their third championship, but fall short of the promised land, while Harvick’s team will continue to struggle and bring up the rear. Finally, Edwards could be dangerous if he catches fire like he did in the month of August… while Newman will soon match the recent improved performance of his teammate, becoming a solid spoiler over the final 10. Edwards has been very quick as of late, and could the steal a win in New Hampshire, providing momentum for the Chase he won’t let go of. These tracks fit Edwards’ style, and the last time in the Chase, he finished in a tie for second place.

 

2007 Chase For The Championship Picks
Expert Matt Taliaferro Nikki Krone S.D. Grady
Title Contributing Writer Driver Diary Coordinator Newsletter Contributor
1st Jeff Gordon Tony Stewart Tony Stewart
2nd Tony Stewart Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson
3rd Jimmie Johnson Carl Edwards Jeff Gordon
4th Kurt Busch Jeff Gordon Denny Hamlin
5th Carl Edwards Kyle Busch Matt Kenseth
6th Matt Kenseth Kevin Harvick Carl Edwards
7th Jeff Burton Jeff Burton Kurt Busch
8th Kyle Busch Matt Kenseth Kyle Busch
9th Clint Bowyer Kurt Busch Jeff Burton
10th Martin Truex Jr. Martin Truex Jr. Clint Bowyer
11th Denny Hamlin Clint Bowyer Kevin Harvick
12th Kevin Harvick Denny Hamlin Martin Truex Jr.
Darkhorse Title Pick Kurt Busch Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jamie McMurray Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Why They Picked How They Did Gordon has been the best, week-in and week-out, and you have to figure that team has the confidence and know-how to see this thing through. While Stewart and Johnson should keep the pressure on, Gordon’s biggest threat may come from the Busch-Tryson pairing, which combines an obvious chemistry with all-important Chase experience. Stewart sits just 30 points out of the lead, and we all know how well Tony runs at the end of the season. Even last year, with no hopes at all of winning the title, he kicked butt and took names in the final races – and that’s Tony’s M.O. While I’d like to believe that one of the RCR cars could be a serious challenger for the championship, they are starting from the final three spots and haven’t been terribly impressive coming into the Chase. They
will have better luck then a couple of other guys, but in the end, it won’t be enough – this title is Stewart’s to win.
Stewart just gets meaner and more stubborn under pressure… but that’s what makes him good. Johnson has momentum taking him into the Chase; yet, I’m just not believing two Cups in a row for him. And Gordon is lacking the good fortune going into the Chase that a champion needs.
2007 Chase For The Championship Picks
Frontstretch Top 12 (Based On Averages Of All Staff Predictions)
1st Tony Stewart
2nd Jimmie Johnson
3rd Jeff Gordon
4th Carl Edwards
5th Denny Hamlin
6th Kurt Busch
7th Matt Kenseth
8th Jeff Burton
9th Martin Truex Jr.
10th Kyle Busch
11th Kevin Harvick
12th Clint Bowyer
Darkhorse Title Pick Kurt Busch
Spoiler (Best Non-Chaser) Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Final Analysis The staff has clearly separated three drivers from the rest of the pack: Stewart, Johnson, and Gordon. Those combined to equal 16 of the 18 champions picked, a strong showcase of just how much these three have stood out over the course of the Cup season. Behind them, it’s a bit of a crapshoot as to who can emerge as a wild card to compete with them for the title. Edwards and Kurt Busch appear the strongest possibilities, but our staff was pretty split on Busch especially, with nearly as many members picking him to finish 11th or worse (three) as there were staff picking him to finish in the top three (four). It’s obvious that the Penske Dodge appears to be the biggest enigma heading into the final 10. There also wasn’t much confidence given to either Hamlin or RCR. Hamlin was looked at to be a big threat for the title as little as a month ago, but after a series of hard-knock finishes in August and September, he only garnered one first-place vote, and was picked for a top-three finish by just three of 16 writers. As for RCR, none of the three cars were picked to win the title, and no one picked either Burton, Harvick or Bowyer to finish higher than fourth.

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