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We expected Jeff and Jimmie -- but not Clint and Tony

11/10/2007 - NASCAR

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- People love surprises. Sports fans want to see the unexpected.

Within reason, we want something to shock us. It's the wow factor. Give us a little extra, that rare occurrence that catches us a little off guard but makes us keep watching.

The 2007 Chase has provided plenty of surprises, excluding the two guys at the top. The virtual finalist for the championship surprises no one.

The Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon has dominated the 2007 season, so the right guys are competing for the Nextel Cup in the final two events.

Having only two drivers still in the center ring is unusual, but some other things have gone down the past eight weeks that few people predicted. Here are four we didn't see coming:

Bowyer as a contender
Tell me you predicted this one and I tell you you're a member of the Bowyer family, his girlfriend or some guy who plays 100-1 odds at the Vegas betting windows.

Clint Bowyer earned his first career victory in the Chase opener at New Hampshire. Some people wondered whether it was a fluke. It wasn't.

He hasn't won since, but Bowyer has continued to race up front at most Chase events. And he's still mathematically eligible to win this thing, something nine other Chase drivers can't say.

Bowyer is the real deal. He has the most important quality to contend for future titles -- consistency. Consider this stat: Since race No. 4 at Atlanta in March, he never fell below 12th in the standings.

Not bad for a guy who started the season upside down and on fire.

Stewart wasn't a contender at the end
He's the man many people consider the most talented driver in the sport. Obviously, talent wasn't enough.

Tony Stewart entered the Chase on a roll. In the eight races before the playoffs started, Stewart had seven top-10s, including three victories in the No. 20 Chevy.

That trend continued when the Chase started. Stewart finished third and ninth in the first two Chase events. He was tied for second with Johnson, only two points behind Gordon.

Then came Kansas, no yellow brick road for Stewart. He thought he outsmarted everyone by playing weatherman and staying on the track. The downpour came, and Stewart was in front.

Restarting the event looked doubtful, and possibly unwise to even consider. But restart it did, the moment of truth and consequences (bad ones) for Stewart.

He was involved in a multicar crash on the restart and another accident later when he cut a tire.

Stewart went from leading the Chase during the rain delay to 117 points behind after the restart. He never recovered. Stewart hasn't posted a top-10 in the past three races.

Better luck next year, Tony, in that Toyota Camry.

Non-Chasers, where are you?
Drivers outside the Chase sometimes complain about not getting enough attention during the 10 playoff races.

It might help if you guys could win a few of these things. Chase drivers have won seven of the eight races.

Greg Biffle is the only non-Chaser to reach Victory Lane, and that one was as controversial as they come.

Biffle won under caution without crossing the finish line first. He said he was saving fuel for a burnout. Whatever.

Bowyer thought he won when he crossed the line first after Biffle slowed down on the apron. Johnson and Gordon also said Bowyer should have been declared the winner.

NASCAR officials disagreed, but the point is it took a questionable call at the end for a non-Chaser to win.

The Chase drivers have dominated the up-front racing. Chasers finished in the first five spots in three of the eight playoff events, plus four of the top five positions in two other Chase races.

Hey, there's a reason these guys made the Chase.

So many bad outings
When the Chasers weren't running up front, they were bringing up the rear.

Eight of the playoff drivers have posted at least two finishes of 25th or worse, including four guys with three or more results in the back half of the field.

Usually a driver gets one mulligan in the Chase, but getting two or three bad results is too much to overcome.

Jeff Burton has four Chase finishes in the top seven, but he also finished last at Talladega and 36th at Kansas. Kurt Busch was 11th or better four times, but 25th or worse in the other four playoff events.

Little brother Kyle Busch has five top-5s in the Chase, but a 41st at Kansas and a 36th at Talladega ruined his title hopes. Matt Kenseth has four showings of seventh or better and four of 26th or worse.

That won't get it done in this points system. It takes consistency. Consequently, we're left with the first two-man show for the championship in Chase history.

Surprising that only two are left, but not surprising that it's Jimmie and Jeff.

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