Is it too early to start looking at next year's favorites? Naah. So let's get to it.
Going for him: Momentum and the best crew chief in the business.
Going against him: History. Only one driver (Cale Yarborough) has ever won back-to-back-to-back championships. Johnson will be trying to do something Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon couldn't even do.
2. Jeff Gordon: Gordon didn't just prove that he's still a championship contender in 2007. He showed that he still has the fire. Couple that with another year under crew chief Steve Letarte's belt and Gordon will be in the hunt.
Going for him: Maturity of his team and an entire offseason to think about how his teammate swiped away a championship that in any other year would have been his.
Going against him: Knowing that at very near his best he couldn't beat Johnson.
3. Kurt Busch: In the final 19 races of the season, Busch posted 15 finishes of 12th or better. That shows he and his team are finally starting to get each other.
Going for him: Year One at Penske was all about introducing one another; Year Two was about figuring out what works; Year Three will be about taking both of those things, putting them together and going for the championship.
Going against him: Sam Hornish Jr. could prove to be more of a distraction than anything, expecially if Busch has to give up his top-35 status.
4. Matt Kenseth: Only one driver was better than Kenseth in the final five races of '07 and he took home the Nextel Cup. If Roush Fenway Racing can catch up in its Car of Tomorrow program, Kenseth will be an all-around threat.
Going for him: Knowing that he challenged for the title despite his team spending very little time testing the CoT.
Going against him: Who knows how far behind Roush is with its CoT program? While they're trying to catch up to Hendrick, Hendrick will keep moving forward. Also, Kenseth will be without Robbie Reiser, the only crew chief he's ever known.
5. Martin Truex Jr.: By the end of the season, Truex started showing a consistency that had been lacking through most of the season. If not for some bad luck – like running into the back of Denny Hamlin's sputtering car – Truex would have finished much higher.
Going for him: No more Dale Earnhadt Jr., meaning Truex will be the primary focus at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Going against him: Dale Earnhardt Inc. Can they be a top-notch team on the same level as Hendrick? They haven't proven it yet.
Others to look for: Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch – everyone knows what they're capable of, but what everyone doesn't know is how those capabilities will be impacted by a switch to Toyota. &hellip Dale Earnhardt Jr.– Will definitely get back to victory lane, but it’s too much of a leap to think Junior will walk into the Hendrick garage and immediately challenge Johnson and Gordon. &hellip Carl Edwards – Getting back to victory lane made all the difference in the world. &hellip Clint Bowyer – The ultimate wild card because we don't know which Bowyer will show up. Will it be the Bowyer we saw during the first part of the Chase or the second? &hellip Ryan Newman – Started to show glimpses of his old form toward the end of the season, but it will take more than glimpses to challenge for a championship.
- Jeff Gordon
- Dale Earnhardt