Don’t forget that Newman

Feb 22, 2005 8:51 AM

What a kickoff to the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup season. Congratulations to Jeff Gordon on his third Daytona 500 victory.

It’s possible that main drivers involved in the chase down the stretch in the Daytona 500 will be the ones competing for the 2005 Nextel Cup points title. They are Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson.

The Nextel Cup has evolved into somewhat of a cookie cutter series where so many of the tracks are similar. With the exception of the Superspeedways, short tracks, and road courses, that leaves about half the 36 races available to gain points based on similarity. One of those is this Sunday’s race at California on the relatively flat 2 mile D-Shaped oval.

To win at California, or many of the other similar tracks, it takes a well financed team with all kinds of test results from the early February preseason test sessions at Las Vegas and California. You can basically narrow it down to a few drivers and not expect much of an upset. Chances are that the race will have plenty of long runs, few cautions, and the dominant car will win quite handily.

Jimmie Johnson (8-1): Won during his rookie season at California. Finished second last May. Has two runnerup finishes in four previous starts.

Kurt Busch (9-1): A former winner. Very good on the flat tracks. Comes from the Roush stable of successful cookie cutter track drivers.

Jeff Gordon (8-1): The favorite and for good reason. Does very well in all California races, including the road course at Sonoma. Born in Vallejo, his fan base is definitely in California. Was last May’s winner on this track and a 3 time champ. Finished in top five two other times.

Tony Stewart (9-1): Two top four finishes in seven starts. His better performances have come at the California sister track at Michigan. Could be a forgotten man in the mix of things in the championship chase.

Ryan Newman (8-1): Our pick to win. Has enjoyed most of his success on these types of tracks. Had five second place finishes in a remarkable rookie campaign, including one at California last fall. Sat on the pole for the May race. Had a ton pressure placed upon him coming into the season. Now, he’s somewhat of a forgotten man. Despite all his troubles, was the only driver last year to finish in the top five of both Cal races.

Kasey Kahne (9-1): Was second at Rockingham, the second race on the 2004 Nextel Series. Followed that with another second at Las Vegas, a similar track to California.

Jamie McMurray (18-1): Everyone’s darling longshot to win the championship this season. Finished fourth in the fall Cal race and was 15th in May.

Travis Kvapil (45-1): Takes over Brendan Gaughan’s ride. The team is claiming to have more Penske involvement, but we heard that last year. Nevertheless, this team, even with antiquated parts, did very well on this track. Good driver to bet on in matchups.

Kudos to Jeff Sherman (Las Vegas Hilton) and Jeff Stonebeck (Excalibur) for picking Gordon to win the Daytona 500. Thanks to all the fine sports book directors for their opinions.