This one was pretty well decided when the green flag flew. After resuming the lead on lap 185, Clint Bowyer drove away at will.
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.
Jimmie Johnson – The top seed in the Chase with six wins, Johnson won both NHIS Cup races in 2003 and is averaging an 11th-place finish here after 11 starts.
And then… there were 12. Now that the field for the Chase has been decided, all the questions of who will make it in and who will fall out have been answered. But plenty of questions still remain ahead, especially for fantasy team owners. Normally, there are a few drivers who make the Chase that fall on hard times early, while other drivers left behind realize they have nothing to lose… laying it all on the line. Well, to take your Fantasy team to the next level in the next 10 races, you need to be able to separate the contenders from the pretenders… luckily for you, that’s what we’re here for!
This Sunday, just 12 men will take the green flag at New Hampshire with their dream of a 2007 Cup title intact. It’s been a remarkable season for them to get this far, as both consistency and talent have put them in position to achieve the ultimate goal. But of course, from the 12 only one can emerge to watch their dream turn into reality. Who will that person be? We’ll try and figure that out over the next two days, handicapping the Chase field to dissect what drivers stand a chance at the trophy, and which ones are better off walking away.
Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. watch is over, the focus over the last 10 races of the year will be on the 12 drivers making a run for the Nextel Cup championship. With his second straight victory, Jimmie Johnson put the competition on notice that they will have to take on the No. 48 team in order to take the trophy that they earned last season. But with six of the Chase drivers finishing in the top 10 at Richmond, many others are proving to be up to the challenge of trying to take down the top seed. So, who left Richmond riding high and ready for battle, and which drivers walked away wishing they had a little more time to prepare? Read this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in the Chase for the Championship to find out.
Jimmie Johnson left the pits in the lead during the final caution period and was never headed.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon has won here twice, and has top-10 finishes in 17 of 29 starts… but his track record lately at RIR is worrisome. His fourth-place finish in the spring arrested a streak of four straight finishes of 30th or worse, including a disastrous performance in 2005 that locked him out of NASCAR’s “playoff.” Some would argue since Gordon is solidly in the Chase, he has little incentive to finish on top this weekend; however, that also gives him the option to go for the win, something he hasn’t hesitated to do over the past month or so.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon won the inaugural race at Fontana in 1997, and has won two additional Cup races here. He finished second at the track this spring, and has top-five finishes in half of his 14 Cup starts.
After the bullring that was Bristol, the series heads out to the west coast for another race on the wide open California Speedway. Your fantasy team could be taxed, as the race to the Chase winds down to its inevitable conclusion. No question about it, the pressure’s on. Drivers on the bubble will be running conservatively but intelligently, while the drivers on the outside looking in will simply be going for broke. Then, there’s that strange category of drivers already locked in – they’ll be going for the win to try and garner those extra bonus points for the Chase. As the racing community heads straight for the desert heat, can Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards continue their own current hot streaks? Will Kevin Harvick be able to finish solidly enough to ensure a place in the Chase? This week’s edition of Picks ‘n’ Pans offers our insights into which drivers offer the best and worst for your fantasy team this weekend.