Scouting Reports

Five former Cup champions make this the deepest field yet for NASCAR's postseason
September 16, 2007

HOW THEY'LL FINISH

1) JIMMIE JOHNSON

2) TONY STEWART

3) JEFF GORDON

4) KURT BUSCH

5) CARL EDWARDS

6) DENNY HAMLIN

7) MATT KENSETH

8) KYLE BUSCH

9) KEVIN HARVICK

10) MARTIN TRUEX JR.

11) JEFF BURTON

12) CLINT BOWYER

JIMMIE JOHNSON

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 4
WINS 6
TOP 5s 14
TOP 10s 16

THE DEFENDING CUP CHAMP had a rough summer marked by horrible racing luck, including three blown tires, and fell from second to seventh in points. But after the August return of crew chief Chad Knaus from a six-race suspension, Johnson had three top fives in four starts, including a series-high sixth victory. Hey, he started last year's Chase with a 39th at Loudon but ended with six straight top 10s.

RUNS WELL AT Charlotte, Martinsville
STRUGGLES AT Kansas, Talladega

TONY STEWART

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 2
WINS 3
TOP 5s 9
TOP 10s 18

OFF TO A SLOW START, the two-time champ hit bottom at Daytona on July 7, when he blamed teammate Denny Hamlin for the accident that knocked their cars out of the race. Fueled by his fury, Stewart ended a 20-race winless streak the next week at Chicago, then ran off five straight top 10s, including victories at the Brickyard and the Glen. A year after missing the Chase, Stewart is back as a favorite.

RUNS WELL AT Atlanta, Martinsville
STRUGGLES AT Charlotte, Dover

JEFF GORDON

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 1
WINS 4
TOP 5s 15
TOP 10s 21

HE BUILT A BIG LEAD with four wins in the first 14 races but started coming back to the pack after crew chief Steve Letarte was suspended for six races on June 26 and other teams cut into Hendrick Motorsports' CoT edge. Also, his confidence seemed shaken after he spun while leading with two laps to go at the Glen on Aug. 12. But Gordon didn't win four Cups without being resilient.

RUNS WELL AT Kansas, Martinsville
STRUGGLES AT Charlotte, Texas

KURT BUSCH

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 10
WINS 2
TOP 5s 5
TOP 10s 10

IF GORDON WAS THE TOP DRIVER of the first half of the season, then Busch owned the second half. Entering the Chase, he and crew chief Pat Tryson, who joined Busch in June after being fired as Greg Biffle's pit boss, are the hottest team in NASCAR: five top 10 finishes (including two wins) in their last seven races. And Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, knows how to close the show.

RUNS WELL AT Loudon, Phoenix
STRUGGLES AT Charlotte, Dover

CARL EDWARDS

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 6
WINS 2
TOP 5s 7
TOP 10s 11

IN JUNE HE WON FOR THE FIRST time in 53 starts, at Michigan, and as the summer wore on Edwards remained hot, displacing Kenseth as No. 1 at Roush Fenway Racing. NASCAR's backflipping cover boy is peaking at the right time, with six top 10s in the last nine races, including a win at Bristol. Edwards likes to run for the win but, like Kenseth, his Cup chances are tied to Roush's CoT program.

RUNS WELL AT Atlanta, Charlotte, Dover
STRUGGLES AT Loudon, Texas

DENNY HAMLIN

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 3
WINS 1
TOP 5s 10
TOP 10s 15

FOR MUCH OF THE YEAR Hamlin, not Stewart, was top dog at Joe Gibbs Racing. And when he won at New Hampshire on July 1, he looked ready to challenge Gordon for the points lead. Since then, however, Hamlin has been reluctant to tear up equipment he'll need in the Chase and has stopped gambling for wins. Now, with several Chase races run on Hamlin's favorite tracks, you have to like his chances.

RUNS WELL AT Dover, Loudon, Texas
STRUGGLES AT Kansas, Talladega

MATT KENSETH

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 5
WINS 1
TOP 5s 8
TOP 10s 16

WITH A RUN OF STRONG FINISHES early, including a win at California in February, the '03 champ seemed primed for a second title. But he has yet to win again and has struggled lately, largely because of the lag in Roush Fenway Racing's CoT program, but also because he and crew chief Robbie Reiser have been missing on their setups. With the Chase's win premium, Kenseth needs to rev up his conservative style.

RUNS WELL AT Dover, Loudon, Texas
STRUGGLES AT Homestead, Kansas

KYLE BUSCH

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 8
WINS 1
TOP 5s 6
TOP 10s 14

LOST IN THE SQUABBLES with Hendrick teammates and the speculation over which team he would drive for in 2008 was Busch's remarkable consistency. Out to prove to Hendrick that it was a mistake to let him go, Busch missed the top 15 only once in more than three months. With his great talent, Busch is a threat to win in every race and is on the brink of fulfilling his vast potential.

RUNS WELL AT Loudon, Phoenix
STRUGGLES AT Homestead, Talladega

KEVIN HARVICK

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 12
WINS 1
TOP 5s 4
TOP 10s 11

HOW UNDERWHELMING has Harvick been since his Daytona 500 win in February? His only victory since came in the All-Star race at Charlotte in May, a nonpoints event. Two solid runs in August were spoiled by accidents, notably at Watkins Glen, where his run-in with Juan Pablo Montoya cost him a top 10. Still, he has a chance for a strong Chase start: He won the September 2006 Loudon race.

RUNS WELL AT: Loudon, Talladega
STRUGGLES AT: Charlotte, Kansas

MARTIN TRUEX JR.

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 11
WINS 1
TOP 5s 5
TOP 10s 10

THE BREAKOUT STAR OF 2007, he has been terrific since getting his first Cup win, at Dover on June 4, adding six top 10s in 13 races to jump Dale Earnhardt Jr. and become DEI's flag bearer. The Chase schedule sets up well for Truex, beginning at Loudon and Dover (two of his favorite tracks) and ending at Homestead, where he ran second last November. He's the dark horse in the Chase.

RUNS WELL AT Dover, Loudon
STRUGGLES AT Atlanta, Charlotte

JEFF BURTON

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 7
WINS 1
TOP 5s 7
TOP 10s 12

IT'S BEEN ANOTHER FRUSTRATING campaign for Burton. Coming off a win at Texas in April, he appeared capable of taking the Cup. But as happened last year after taking the lead in the Chase, Burton has faded into the second tier of contenders. It isn't bad driving or bad luck. It's just that his car isn't as fast as it needs to be. Still, the steady veteran is unlikely to beat himself in the Chase.

RUNS WELL AT Loudon, Phoenix
STRUGGLES AT Dover, Talladega

CLINT BOWYER

REGULAR-SEASON FINISH 9
WINS 0
TOP 5s 2
TOP 10s 12

WITH NO VICTORIES, his greatest accomplishment this season has been finishing every race on the schedule. He is second to teammate Kevin Harvick in most Nextel laps (7,282) completed in 2007, but he has to do more than merely finish races to win the Cup. For now, at 28, it's enough that he improved greatly on his 17th-place finish as a rookie last year.

RUNS WELL AT Dover, Homestead
STRUGGLES AT Charlotte, Talladega

PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGESFRONT MEN Johnson (right) and Gordon, leading at the start in Richmond last Saturday, give Hendrick a tough combination to beat. PHOTOROBERT BECK (JOHNSON CAR) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (JOHNSON) PHOTOSIMON BRUTY (STEWART CAR) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (STEWART) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (GORDON CARS) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (GORDON) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (BUSCH CAR) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (BUSCH) PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (EDWARDS CAR) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (EDWARDS) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (HAMLIN CARS) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (HAMLIN) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE (KENSETH) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (KENSETH) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (BUSCH) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (BUSCH) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (HARVICK) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (HARVICK) PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANN/GT IMAGES (TRUEX CAR) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (TRUEX) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (BURTON CAR) PHOTORUSTY JARRETT/GETTY IMAGES (BURTON) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (BOWYER CARS) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (BOWYER)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)