NASCAR on FOX 2006 preview: Nextel Cup champion

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Jeff Hammond: Carl Edwards. I know a lot of people are going to say it's going to be tough because of the sophomore jinx, but if the Ford Fusion doesn't let him down, you'd better watch out for Carl Edwards.

Larry McReynolds: Greg Biffle. We've got the variable of the new Ford Fusion and the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The only car that's staying the same is the Dodge Charger. But Greg Biffle made some great gains from last year to this year. And I hate to keep bringing it up, but I'll bet it's hounding the No. 16 team to know that loose lugs at Texas Motor Speedway probably what cost the the championship. They learned from the mistakes they made from last year to this year, and I'll just bet you they've learned from this year headed to next year. I wouldn't count out some of the old players, like Jeff Gordon and the consistency of the No. 24 team. Obviously, you know how bad he wants that fifth championship so I wouldn't count him out. But if you made me name one driver, I believe I would have to go with Biffle.

Steve Byrnes: Tony Stewart. I know how hard it is to defend a title, but if you're going to win the championship, you're going to have to go through Tony Stewart. He is mentally capable of doing it, and you know he's a capable driver, too. But the most impressive thing about the No. 20 race team is they just don't have any turnover. In this salary cap era in the NFL, you're retooling parts of your team from year to year.

2006 Nextel Cup champ
An NFL team can go from 7-9 one season to 11-5 the next and be in playoff contention. In Charlotte, I've watched the Carolina Panthers rebuild their offensive line two of the last three years. It's just hard to keep teams together. The same goes for Nextel Cup racing. But with the No. 20 team, you see the same guys in that garage every single weekend, and you have for years. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli and certainly J.D. and Joe Gibbs have kept not just the nucleus but most of the team intact from from shock specialist Ronny Crooks to car chief Scott Diehl to brake specialist Jason Shapiro. They are the same faces, and it's impressive that they've stayed together.

Krista Voda: Mark Martin. Greg Biffle seems the obvious choice, but I said that about Jimmie Johnson last year. If Dodge can get some things figured out, don't be surprised to see Ryan Newman at the top of the list. Even so, it would be tough to bet against Roush. Mark Martin is a hollywood story waiting to happen!

Ryan McGee: Jeff Gordon. In case you hadn't noticed, the four-time champ was sending a bit of a message at the end of the season — "You boys better be ready for me come February."

Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images. He can be reached at his e-mail address:
Tagged: Jeff Gordon

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