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Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans : Homestead Edition

The fat lady is warming up, the sun is beginning to set, and the curtain is about to close on the 2007 Nextel Cup season. After 35 races, it all comes down to two drivers - Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon - who'll battle for the rights to the title. The rest of the field is racing for pride, 13th place in the standings, or to secure a starting spot in 2008 by finishing in the Top 35 in owner points. With the clock ticking and the end close at hand, expect the action to be wide open everywhere on the track. Many drivers will be going all out; some will be in their last ride for their organization, while others will be auditioning for new jobs.Of course, if you're reading this now, your team is likely among the Johnsons and Gordons of the world, racing into the weekend with a chance at championship glory. This is your last opportunity to put your best foot forward; are you ready to take home the league trophy? You will be - after reading the expert advice contained in this week's edition of Picks 'N' Pans.

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Mirror Driving : Gordon No Longer Number One? Is Parity In NASCAR Done? And Truck Series Fun…

*Jimmie Johnson's remarkable achievement of four wins in a row gave him double-digit victories for the first time since 1998, when teammate Jeff Gordon dominated the sport. Should Johnson continue on and win his second straight title, is it fair to say the No. 1 driver in the Hendrick stable is now him - not Gordon?*Mike: No. Gordon has done it for years, and has earned that distinction. When Johnson gets to 80 wins, if Gordon is still around, then you can have that debate. Amy: Jeff will be number one as long as he wants to be. That said, I think that of all the organizations, HMS operates the least around that theory, anyway. Tony: I think it's just like Mark Martin with Roush; he was always their number one driver, even when he wasn't bringing in the most wins. The same can be said for Gordon.

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Hendrick Motorsports: A Decade of Dominance … And Then Some

This weekend in Homestead, one thing is for certain: Hendrick Motorsports will be the team that captures the 2007 Nextel Cup. It will be the organization's sixth championship, tying the Charlotte car dealer with Junior Johnson and Richard Childress for second all-time on the NASCAR owner's title list.Who the driver is that actually _wins_ the title remains to be seen; but in the case of Hendrick, does it really make a difference? No matter which driver comes out ahead, he'll still remain the owner clearly positioned at or near the top of the stock car racing world.It's hard to believe that Hendrick Motorsports has reached the pinnacle of motorsports in North America after coming from such humble beginnings in the early 1980's. Back then, All-Star Racing was a fledgling yet burgeoning race team, coming of age right about the same time that NASCAR began to emerge from the Southeast and gain national exposure. Chemung, New York native Geoff Bodine was the team's first driver, and he wasted no time in getting the team some much wanted attention. In fact, he helped All-Star racing win in only its eighth start in 1984; it was a harbinger of things to come, as the groundwork was being laid for the largest and most successful racing operation in the modern era - and potentially the history of - the sport.

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Johnny Benson Didn’t Get The Memo

I learned something about Johnny Benson this week. It seems the guy is quickly becoming a dinosaur, obsolete within a sport that is evolving in a direction he is neither able or willing to keep up with.Thank goodness he's still here.Apparently, the veteran Truck Series driver is not up to speed with what can only be titled the "new" NASCAR. That is, a NASCAR that endorses "team racing" as a legitimate and increasingly integral part of its sanctioned racing events. This became evident last Friday night during the running of the Craftsman Truck Series Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, when Benson passed his Bill Davis Racing teammate Mike Skinner to better his finishing position. The supposed problem with that? Skinner is a championship contender, running neck-and-neck with Ron Hornaday, Jr. for a title in which every point will make a difference. That Benson would have the audacity to pass a competitor in such a race stirred astonishment within the SPEED TV broadcasting booth, as well as obvious displeasure from his teammate.And that, in turn, stirred displeasure from me.

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Top Ten NASCAR Headlines You Won’t Be Seeing Anytime Soon

10. *Jeff Gordon Rethinking Hiring Practices* _Wait - on second thought, that one isn't so farfetched ..._9. *Kenseth, Edwards To Open Boxing School*8. *Dale Junior On 2008: Just Because There Won't Be Bud ON The Car, Doesn't Mean There Won't Be Bud IN The Car!*7. *Johnson to Sit Out Homestead: Says After All Jeff Has Done For Him, He Deserves It More*6. *Brian France Leaves NASCAR To Open Driving School*

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Did You Notice? The Best Sophomore Class In History? Thoughts From Phoenix … And Beyond

*Did You Notice?* … That *Ken Schrader* popped up over in the Gillett Evernham camp this weekend? Patrick Carpentier mentioned him as one of the drivers most responsible for allowing the rookie to adapt to the track so quickly. That could only mean good things for the veteran; Schrader currently is without a ride in any of NASCAR's top three series, and could benefit immensely from developing a relationship with Evernham and Dodge. Even though the 52-year-old struggled throughout the course of the season with the Wood Brothers - he hasn't won a race since 1991 - you'd like to think he'd have a few more NASCAR starts left in him, given the right opportunity and a limited schedule.*Did You Notice?* … Brian France tried to justify NASCAR's declining TV Ratings by saying that TV ratings are down for "almost everything?" Um, last I heard, ratings weren't down for the NFL, nor were they for the Oscars this year … and a double-digit percentage drop in audience for the Chase doesn't exactly fall in line with other declines. Even in this age of 1,000,000 options, the basic principles of sports and entertainment still apply; if you put a quality product out there, people will watch. Right now, the sport we all love isn't doing that on a consistent basis, and how someone could be so blinded as to not acknowledge that is beyond me.

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Bye-Bye, Busch Series : Paying Tribute To One Of NASCAR’s Loyal Sponsors

As the curtain closes on the 2007 NASCAR season, there's many drivers and teams that will say goodbye to the glare of the public spotlight - and hello to the greener pastures of other dreams, retirement beckoning them elsewhere.But in particular, there's one sponsor whose departure may affect the future of the sport for several years to come, its legacy left ingrained every Sunday afternoon ... a company who half of the current Nextel Cup field can thank for giving them the chance to succeed in stock car racing.25 years ago, Anheuser-Busch decided to take a chance and put their backing behind a newly branded series that NASCAR was debuting. At the time, the Late Model Sportsman Division was undergoing major changes - changes that would ultimately turn the series into the second most popular brand of NASCAR product. After much negotiation, the Busch Series was formed; and over time, the division was shaped to become the number one minor league feeder system for Nextel Cup veterans. However, there is no underestimating its place in history, especially the longterm contribution that Anheuser-Busch made by being the name on the series throughout the last 25 years.

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Running Their Mouth : Checker Auto Parts 500K

"I am shaking my head too, with [crew chief] Chad [Knaus]. I don't know what to think about the success we have had this year. Great race. Great pit work. I cannot believe ... 10 wins in one year. It is unbelievable." _Jimmie Johnson_"Whatever they've [Jimmie Johnson's team] got, we're missing; we know everything they've got, but man, we're just not hitting on it. And it's unfortunate. I thought this was our year to get another one [championship] but we're just coming up short here at the crucial time." _Jeff Gordon, finished 10th_

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Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in the Chase: Phoenix Edition

As the song by Herman's Hermits says, "second verse, same as the first." Well, in this case, the third and fourth verse are the same, too. Jimmie Johnson continued to make the Chase a bore by scoring his fourth straight win in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500K, extending his lead to 86 over Jeff Gordon with just one race remaining on the schedule. But even with this second championship seemingly in hand, Johnson still has to survive at Homestead before he gets his hands on the big check. And while all eyes will firmly be on Johnson and Gordon, there are other drivers in the Chase peaking late in the season who are looking to end the year with a win.So which drivers are actually looking forward to racing 400 miles on Sunday and which ones simply see it as 267 laps to run before taking off for vacation? Read this week's Who's Hot and Who's Not in the Chase to find out.

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Numbers Game : Checker Auto Parts 500K

*0.870* Jimmie Johnson's margin of victory over Greg Biffle in the Checker Auto Parts 500K. (in seconds)*1* Car dropped to the rear of the field before the start of racing at Phoenix. (No. 83 - Brian Vickers for an engine change)*1st* Bud Pole of 2007 for Carl Edwards after taking the top starting spot in Phoenix, with a speed of 132.773 mph.*2* Number of times Jimmie Johnson led the Checker Auto Parts 500K.

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