Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Looking back, Carl Edwards was the favorite to top Jimmie Johnson

Before the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season started, the members of the media were asked to predict the top 12 drivers in 2009. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Jimmie Johnson was not the media’s choice to repeat again as champion.
Until someone beats him, he has to be the favorite.
What’s more telling is that Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin did not receive more support. If anything, those two drivers seemed to be the most motivated to knock Johnson off the top.
The media picked Carl Edwards to win the championship. That was a pretty bold prediction considering he didn’t win a single race in 2009 and only finished in the top three three times. The whole Roush Fenway Racing stable needs improvement. Matt Kenseth’s two wins to start the year at Daytona and Fontana and Jamie McMurray’s fluke win at Talledega were the only victories for Roush Fenway in the Sprint Cup Series.
Here’s a look at the top 12 as voted on by the media:

  1. Carl Edwards: 0-for-36 in 2009. His best finish came at Pocono Raceway in June. He was second. He wasn’t particularly impressive in the Chase either and finished 11th.
  2. Jimmie Johnson: He won an unprecedented fourth straight Sprint Cup Series championship. Chase or not, he is becoming one of the greats in NASCAR.
  3. Kyle Busch: Really? He had four Cup wins. Perhaps more telling, he had five Cup finishes of 30th or worse. Incredibly inconsistent.
  4. Jeff Gordon: Think Gordon wanted to see Johnson tie him with four Cup Series championships?
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It’s easy to see why he is the most popular driver among fans, but there is no excuse for the media to be infatuated with him too.
  6. Greg Biffle: Another underachieving Roush Fenway driver. No wins and 10 top 10s in 2009. How did he make the Chase?
  7. Kevin Harvick: None of the Richard Childress Racing drivers made the Chase. Harvick not only missed the Chase, he might be missing his seat with RCR in the near future.
  8. Mark Martin: Well, at least the media didn’t pick him to finish second, again.
  9. Jeff Burton: This is the perfect spot for Burton. He makes the Chase, but doesn’t push the envelope quite enough to make a run at the championship. Typical Burton.
  10. Matt Kenseth: Roush Fenway Racing got a lot of respect, even though it ended up the team was going in reverse since February at Fontana.
  11. Denny Hamlin: The way he was racing at the end of the Chase this year, it seems like a fire is under him now. This is a bit low and he should have finished better in the poll than Busch.
  12. Tony Stewart: Stewart starting his own team probably made everyone a bit nervous. Everyone, that is, except Stewart.

Brian Vickers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch proved the media experts wrong by making the Chase. For Vickers and Montoya, it was their first time. For Busch, it’s becoming a right of fall for him to make the Chase.
It will be interesting to see if Vickers and Montoya fall into favor this year.
What might be more interesting to see is if Dale Jr. falls out of favor.

Photo: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet battles for position with Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Penn., in June. Edwards ended up with a second-place finish, his best showing of the year, while Johnson was seventh. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

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