Commentary

Chase looks like defending champ Johnson's to lose

Fools rush in? When it comes to handicapping the Chase, Terry Blount is ready to make the hard choices look easy. Take Jimmie Johnson.

Updated: September 9, 2007, 9:59 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- The easiest way to look foolish in this profession is to boldly predict the future.

So here I am, pecking away at the laptop and setting myself up for comparisons to a 25-cent palm reader at the county fair.

Hey, I have a 1-in-12 shot of getting this right. Odds like that in Las Vegas will quickly earn you a seat in bankruptcy court.

But what the heck. I'll be your Huckleberry and offer my opinion on how the 2007 version of the Chase for the Nextel Cup will play out.

So here goes. When the playoff is complete 10 weeks from now in South Florida, the man holding the Cup will be … Jimmie Johnson.

Yes, it is the easy pick and the safe pick. It's also the smart pick.

He's won the past two races and has a season-high six victories to earn a 20-point cushion at the start of the playoff. He has the best team and the best crew chief.

Johnson is better than he was a year ago, and that was good enough to win his first title. A second championship is 10 races away.

Here's my fearless prediction for how they'll rank after Nov. 18:

Jimmie Johnson

1. Jimmie Johnson
Car: No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew chief: Chad Knaus
Points: 5,060
Blount's odds: 2-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 16
He will win it if: He does what he did last year in the Chase, stepping up his game when it really matters. Three of Johnson's wins came in COT races, which is the car for five of the playoff events. He has the best crew chief in the business in Knaus.
He has no shot because: No one has repeated as champion since Jeff Gordon in 1997-98.

Jeff Gordon

2. Jeff Gordon
Car: No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew chief: Steve Letarte
Points: 5,040
Blount's odds: 4-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 29
He will win it if: He races the way he did in the first half of this season. He's a four-time champ who knows how to get it done, and he's No. 1 this year in COT points.
He has no shot because: Gordon hasn't raced like a title contender the past month.

Chase Standings

With the win at Dover, Carl Edwards climbed five spots in the Chase standings. Jeff Gordon grabbed the top spot while Jimmie Johnson, who led entering Sunday, fell to fourth.

Driver Points Behind
1. Jeff Gordon 5340 --
2. Tony Stewart 5338 2
3. Carl Edwards* 5337 3
4. Jimmie Johnson 5336 4
5. Kyle Busch 5330 10
6. Clint Bowyer 5322 18
7. Martin Truex Jr. 5294 46
8. Jeff Burton 5265 75
9. Kevin Harvick 5225 115
10. Matt Kenseth 5224 116
11. Kurt Busch 5189 151
12. Denny Hamlin 5182 158
* Failed postrace inspection. NASCAR likely to dock points.

Kurt Busch

3. Kurt Busch
Car: No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge
Team: Penske Racing
Crew chief: Pat Tryson
Points: 5,020
Blount's odds: 5-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 6
He will win it if: He races the way he has the past two months, with nine consecutive finishes in the top 11.
He has no shot because: It would be quite a feat to win it as the only Dodge in the Chase.

Tony Stewart

4. Tony Stewart
Car: No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew chief: Greg Zipadelli
Points: 5,030
Blount's odds: 6-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 14
He will win it if: He stays calm, plays well with others and lets his amazing driving skills take over.
He has no shot because: Chevy doesn't like his team anymore.

Carl Edwards

5. Carl Edwards
Car: No. 99 Office Depot Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Crew chief: Bob Osborne
Points: 5,020
Blount's odds: 10-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 3
He will win it if: He stays on the hot streak that started five weeks ago. He's racing the way he did when he fell 35 points short of the title in 2005.
He has no shot because: You can't get it done in a Ford. The Ford drivers have only four wins in 26 races this season.

Matt Kenseth

6. Matt Kenseth
Car: No. 17 DeWalt Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
Crew chief: Robbie Reiser
Points: 5,010
Blount's odds: 18-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 4
He will win it if: He remains the most consistent driver in the business, and consistent is how you win this playoff.
He has no shot because: He just doesn't have the equipment to beat the top Chevrolets.

Kyle Busch

7. Kyle Busch
Car: No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew chief: Alan Gustafson
Points: 5,010
Blount's odds: 20-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 2
He will win it if: His burning desire for an "I told you so" ending at Hendrick can overcome his impetuous nature.
He has no shot because: He's a lame duck at Hendrick competing against two Hendrick stars.

Denny Hamlin

8. Denny Hamlin
Car: No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew chief: Mike Ford
Points: 5,010
Blount's odds: 30-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 1
He will win it if: He shows more consistency and his crew avoids mistakes at key moments and he takes advantage of the five COT races. He's No. 3 this season in COT points.
He has no shot because: He's not quite there yet. There are too many other Chevy drivers above him on the food chain.

Jeff Burton

9. Jeff Burton
Car: No. 31 AT&T Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Crew chief: Scott Miller
Points: 5,010
Blount's odds: 40-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 12
He will win it if: He races the whole way the same way he did in the first half of the Chase last year when he led the standings.
He has no shot because: He hasn't had more than two consecutive top-10s since April.

Kevin Harvick

10. Kevin Harvick
Car: No. 29 Pennzoil/Shell Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Crew chief: Todd Berrier
Points: 5,010
Blount's odds: 50-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 4
He will win it if: He shows major improvement on intermediate ovals and races well where he's usually good, at New Hampshire and Phoenix.
He has no shot because: He has too many mediocre finishes this season. Richmond was his only top-10 in the last six races.

Martin Truex Jr.

11. Martin Truex Jr.
Car: No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet
Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Crew chief: Kevin Manion
Points: 5,010
Blount's odds: 80-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 1
He will win it if: He continues to prove he's a star in the making and takes advantage of having Mark Martin as a tutor.
He has no shot because: DEI has yet to prove it has the personnel capable of winning a championship.

Clint Bowyer

12. Clint Bowyer
Car: No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Crew chief: Gil Martin
Points: 5,000
Blount's odds: 100-1
Victories at Chase tracks: 0
He will win it if: The other 11 playoff drivers have a DNF; the others don't win a race; and Bowyer finally wins a race or two.
He has no shot because: The first two parts of the above equation won't happen.

Breaking Down the Field
Drivers per team
Hendrick Motorsports -- 3
Richard Childress Racing -- 3
Joe Gibbs Racing -- 2
Roush Fenway Racing -- 2
Dale Earnhardt Inc. -- 1
Penske Racing -- 1

Drivers per manufacturer
Chevrolet -- 9
Ford -- 2
Dodge -- 1
Toyota -- 0

Championships
Gordon -- 4
Stewart -- 2
Kurt Busch -- 1
Johnson -- 1
Kenseth -- 1

Ages
40 and over -- Burton (40)
35 to 39 -- Gordon (36), Stewart (36), Kenseth (35)
30 to 34 -- Harvick (31), Johnson (30)
25 to 29 -- Kurt Busch (29), Bowyer (28), Edwards (28), Truex (27), Hamlin (26)
Under 25 -- Kyle Busch (22)

Car of Tomorrow races in the Chase
New Hampshire, Dover, Talladega, Martinsville and Phoenix

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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