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Saturday, February 17, 2007

2007 Cup Predictions (bookmark this for crow-eating purposes)

I realize that my top ten driver and rookie previews will go unfinished. While I'm disappointed with myself, it was fun to run through over 30 drivers leading up to the top ten. It was a combination of other commitments, the feeling that I was writing the same thing for every driver, and also the fact that most NASCAR fans know plenty about the top ten drivers.

I've managed to wait until the very last minute before making my 2007 predictions prior to Daytona. I got five out of ten last year and expect about the same this year.

Predictions for the 12 Chasers:
#1 Martin Truex Jr.-The more I think about him, the more I'm convinced he is going to have a big year. Truex is strong at most types of tracks and the team now has a better handle on setups and in-race adjustments.

#2 Kurt Busch-
Last year was a transition year for both Busch and Penske Racing. Busch is one of the five best drivers in the sport. If he can finish races as well as he starts them, watch out.

#5 Kyle Busch-Some people, including Kurt, believe Kyle is the most talented Busch boy. One question for the #5 team is how they interact with the new team behind the #25 car, including Casey Mears and new crew chief Darian Grubb. He will contend for the Cup, but fall just short.

#07 Clint Bowyer-It's a safe bet that he will win a race in 2007. He took full advantage of RCR's improved equipment, especially on the intermediate tracks. The biggest key for Bowyer is the short tracks, where he will need more patience.

#8 Dale Earnhardt Jr-Look past the contract squabble. Earnhardt and Eury got the job done last year. If they stay on top of the Car of Tomorrow it could be a title contending team.

#9 Kasey Kahne-A new nose for the Charger might help neutralize the cars on speedways. Kahne still needs to hold up his end of the consistency stick by reducing the number of late-race crashes.

#16 Greg Biffle-New crew chief Pat Tryson rebuilt the crew for the 16 car. Things aren't perfect at Roush, but they're still good enough to send drivers to the Chase.

#20 Tony Stewart-Smoke is the trendy pick to win everything this year. There is no reason to think he won't dominate, but it's not guaranteed either.

#24 Jeff Gordon-Gordon and Steve Letarte have the best resources in Cup. The problem is there are too many small holes in their program that take him down a notch compared to Stewart, Johnson or Harvick.

#29 Kevin Harvick-Harvick proved in 2006 that he is an elite driver. Not only did he finally have consistent equipment from RCR, but he also didn't lose his emotions like he had in previous years. Their diligence on the Car of Tomorrow gives Harvick an edge at the mile and less tracks.

#48 Jimmie Johnson-Like Stewart, there is no reason why Johnson can't win the Cup. He should win several races and be extremely consistent, but it is just too hard to repeat.

#99 Carl Edwards-Will there be a backflip this year? Missing the Chase and reuniting with Bob Osborne should allow Edwards to return to form.

On the outside looking in (otherwise known as the drivers that make the Chase when France expands to 15 in 2008):
#17 Matt Kenseth- Things were not right on the #17 car at the end of the season. It might be time for a makeover for the team.
#11 Denny Hamlin- Hamlin's 2006 season was divine. Even when he spun in the grass he could still recover to win the race. Despite top-notch Gibbs equipment, Hamlin will eventually run into a slump this season.
#42-Juan-Pablo Montoya- He'll crash and struggle some in Ganassi equipment, but he may also be this year's Denny Hamlin. While other rookies struggle to qualify, he's busy racing for top tens right off the bat.

And the winner is...
The biggest unknown is the Car of Tomorrow. Five of the Chase races will feature the new ride. The team that figures out how to get the car to turn well is going to win the Chase. RCR has spent a lot of energy and money to ensure they are prepared for the new car. The #29 team was the best at flat 1-mile tracks where getting the car to roll through the corners is vital. That is why Kevin Harvick will have an edge on other teams. It will make the difference for him to capture his first championship at the Cup level.

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