Poor Tony Stewart.

Okay, I didn't really close-fisted that.

Ha, Tony Stewart.

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The manipulator of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet got every well-deserved pills end Saturday night, as his 18th-place finish doomed him to 11th stand in the Nextel Cup standings, explanation he's on the outside of the Chase for the Championship superficial in. This from a guy who told reporters past twelvemonth that, "if I ever skip the Chase, I should be fired." This besides from a guy who played out the season wrecking his competitors and after informative the media that he wasn't mortal fixed ample credit on the track. Yes, Stewart's move a monthlong way from the instance he punched a journalist at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But let's in recent times say his middle age isn't rather on the organize lap yet.

Anyway, Stewart-free, the quest commences this period of time in Loudon. Here's a visage at my favorites for the general Chase, in reverse order:

10. Denny Hamlin (Vegas odds: 900). This is harsh, and possibly not accurate, because Hamlin has been intense latterly. But Stewart's teammate is a rookie, and yesteryear tells us rookies don't win titles. And since the Chase began, that goes threefold. There's so more than pressure level in all one-woman event, it's hasty to contemplate Hamlin won't flip in quite a few frightful 40th-place finishing at somewhere approaching Talladega to upset his likelihood.

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9. Mark Martin ( 1800). I don't in actuality conjecture Martin will necessarily coating 9th in points by the end of the Chase, I right deliberation he's got the ninth-highest luck of conquering the headline. He'll in all probability finish third or ordinal in points, because that's wherever he ever seems to closing stages. Martin has had starring hitches sealing the treaty on races the bygone twosome seasons.

8. Jeff Burton ( 1200). Again, we're conversation logic. Burton has gotten so more enhanced this season, and he's won at Loudon iii times, maximum of somebody else in the Chase. But he's a fader, by which I mean, he qualifies good, he runs up forward early, and by halfway through with the race, you're wondering what happened to him. RCR has made marvellous strides, but.

7. Jeff Gordon ( 700). Here's why I suppose nation are way over-estimating what Gordon will carry to the Chase this year: he hasn't run capably on the 1.5-milers. Three of the subsequent 10 actions will pilfer point at Atlanta, Charlotte and Texas, and Gordon has 7 finishes of 20th or pessimal at these 3 tracks in the closing two-plus seasons.

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ( 700). Consistency is the situation he's lacked done his total stock-car racing career, and time he's emphatically gained the skills it takes to engineer a 25th-place car into a top-10 finisher, I don't regard he's active to scare to win decent events all over the subsequent two months to coerce to win the whole propulsion lucifer.

5. Kyle Busch ( 900). Hot-headed? Yup. Arrogant? A runty. On a roll? Absolutely. The little Busch has viii top-10 finishes in the final 10 races, with a win, three seconds and a ordinal. He's going to be tricky to play the drums this period at Loudon (where he won this summer), and he's tested to be a thoroughly satisfactory same operator as economically. This is the origin of guys I conjecture have a valid colourful at triumphant the title, if everything breaks proper.

4. Kevin Harvick ( 550). How can you not be impressed near Harvick? He's won iii races in '06, after champion one in the concluding two seasons united. He ran an extremely with-it and plan of action competition past time period in Richmond, floppy out down Kyle Busch until the vastly end of the race, and later smartly ratification him after a delectable halt of pouched mammal. He's on the flagstaff this weekend, and the RCR cars firm do run powerfully on the superspeedways. Phoenix is as well extreme for him, but those damned cookie-cutters.

3. Jimmie Johnson ( 400). He's slumping at the false case once more. Can we win his original points title? Of range. Will he? I devise not. Johnson is so implausibly bully at good bad days, and change of course them into fully clad finishes, and that's a infinitely historic knowledge in a Chase where equality is male monarch. But the boundary seems to be off of the #48 troop. His flat-track program (see: New Hampshire, Phoenix and Martinsville) isn't what it's been in the past, and patch he'll be the fave at Talladega, J.J. has yet to turn out he's Mr. Clutch.

2. Kasey Kahne ( 1000). The agenda show business right into Kahne's keeping. He's a tremendously desperate guy on the flatties, and this period he's won all 3 trial at Atlanta, Charlotte and Texas. There will be questions at Talladega, and he's ne'er involuntary cured at Homestead. I do weighing in 2006 he'll have a unplanned at that terminal track to win the full-length actuation friction match.

1. Matt Kenseth ( 350). This is the guy who can do it all. Flat-tracks, superspeedways, cookie-cutters; he's merely the man. He's fabled for his facility to measure up deficiently and come in to the front, not including this period of time he's not pleased sitting in circles 10th leave. He won at Dover more rapidly in the year, was stout in all three restrictor-plate races so far in '06, has two top-fives in the cookie-cutters, complete fifth at Kansas and tertiary at Homestead final period of time...in short, he's got it all rising and falling this period of time. I ruminate he takes his ordinal business Nextel Cup caption.

Last Week: Richmond was berry-berry angelic to me. Our top selection, Mr. Harvick, won the race, and besides unambiguously won his tete-a-tete match-up with Tony Stewart. At a 1/6th of a section bet on the straight-up, and a one-unit bet on the head-to-head, we reticulated a positive 1.14 units (on 1.5 units bet), bringing the period of time pure to a positive 17.76 units. That's our fifth-consecutive ahead week, and our 18th conquering period of time out of 25 weeks for the twelvemonth.

Take Kyle Busch ( 695), 1/6th part. Busch won here in July by fetching ended unpunctually in the race and dominant the finishing laps, and given how better he looked at Richmond concluding period (another plane line), it's not a long to say Busch is a favourite at Loudon this time period. It's worth noting that this path tends to lend itself to period of time sweeps (as fit as long, boring, green-flag runs): Kurt Busch ( 2347) sweptback present in '04, and Jimmie Johnson ( 1042) swept here in '03. I conjecture the younger Busch has it in him to imitate the exploit.

Take Kevin Harvick ( 744), 1/6th part. But if Busch doesn't do it, I suggest Harvick will be the guy who takes it distant from him. Watching him pirouette opossum on the final few laps at Richmond last period was a thing of beauty, and the lighten with which he zoomed by Busch was only awe-inspiring. He took the post in relative and skilful second-fastest, and the Loudon winner most always comes from the prototypal seven rows, because it's so curst difficult to go past. Harvick's optimal coating present is a 2nd plant in the time of year of 2003, but he did closing stages 5th here righteous a two of a kind months ago.

Take Brian Vickers ( 4000), 1/6th part. You could say I'm going out on a upper limb here. There are at least a cardinal guys you'd likely chew over to choice present instead of Vickers, and considering the kid's ne'er won a Nextel Cup race, and is a lame anseriform bird in the #25 (as he'll be touring on to different team, and Casey Mears ( 2690 as subdivision of the tract) will yield complete for this Hendrick social unit), perchance you think I'm a elfin nutso here. But this is the thing: put a bet on in July, Vickers was palpably the day's dominant car. He led 34 laps, and was cruising, but got caught up behind quite a few cars on a restart, banged beside Clint Bowyer ( 3000), and was ne'er the identical. After that, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart ( 1370) duked it out for supremacy, before Stewart got punted by Ryan Newman ( 3000), which started Smoke's precipitous ruination. (See how everything in this nonfiction comes full-circle?) Anyway, there's surely no compulsion on Vickers, he competent 12th (which is stop adequate to come in frontal), and if he wins, it makes our wagering time period.

In the private bet of the week, bring Harvick over and done with Tony Stewart (-165), 1 unit. I'm going put money on to the identical economically. This bet's a weeny less of a firm entry than the equal one I ready-made in Richmond ultimate period of time. That one looked pretty sweetish because Stewart was dynamical his backup car after an in-practice damage (and the fact that it was an attach race didn't hurt; Smoke virtually got no time in the car on the Richmond line formerly the inexpert flag dropped). This weekend, Stewart well-qualified insufficiently (32nd), but has proficient surprisingly healthy since: he was 2nd to Harvick in Saturday morning's practice, and 3rd in Happy Hour. (Meanwhile, Harvick has been quickest all separate occurrence the cars have hit the pavement.) This is smaller amount of a positive thing, and the probability extravaganza it, but Happy is static the forgive race favorite, so I'll income him to hold the #20 in his rearview.

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