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NASCAR Panel: Richmond

Now that Tony Stewart has got the monkey off his back, how big of a threat is he to win the Cup?

Ken Mays: I don’t see him as much of a threat. I think he has bloomed a little too late. But things in the Chase can change quickly and I hope I am wrong. I would love to see him win another title.

Jason Cannon: I’ve got him second to Harvick in winning the Championship. Both of those guys run consistently week in and week out. Harvick gets the nod because he’s got three wins, but one of those two gets the Cup this year.

Mark Trest: Tony is very much a threat to seriously compete for the Championship. It just so happens that he is running the best he has run all season right now. I wouldnt bet against him thats for sure.

What do you attribute Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson’s struggles to?

Ken Mays: I kind of look at it like this: Nobody wins all the time. Even though Johnson has won four times in a row, it’s now time to pass the torch to another team. I think that even NASCAR doesn’t want Johnson to win another race because they think his winning the last three has hurt the sport in a way.

Jason Cannon: Their position in the Chase is pretty much set. I think they’re tinkering a little bit with the cars and setup, trying to find a little edge in the

playoff. At this point, wins are great, but if you can experiment now and

find some wins in the Chase, you’re in better shape.

Mark Trest: Bad luck and bad breaks, but to me, it almost looks like some of the other drivers are seeing to it that Johnson for sure doesn’t win another championship. Some of those wrecks he’s been looking a little on the “bumped on purpose” side of things. Also, upper-tier teams tend to experiment with setups prior to the Chase just to see if they can find something that will help them later on, but sometimes it backfires. But at least it’s now, not in the Chase.

Do you think there will be a change in the Dale Junior-Lance McGrew combination during the off-season?

Ken Mays: I really think so. I think that Junior and Rick Hendrick are like oil and water. They just do not seem to mix well. Junior has been so used to making his own decisions when he was on DEI’s team and I think he wants that power back.

Jason Cannon: I think you’ll see Alan Gustafson from the 5 team moved to the 88. Mark Martin is in his last year and Kasey Kahne may bring his own crew chief in

2012. Gustafson is an excellent crew chief. If Dale Junior can’t win with him, I think you’ll see a driver change next.

Mark Trest: I really don’t know what to think or expect with the 88 team. Try this Rick Hendrick. Switch drivers of the 48 and 88 cars. If Junior can’t win in the fabled 48, and Johnson blows them away in the 88, then it’s time to show Junior the door. But if Junior wins and Johnson loses, then the problem lies elsewhere.

Which surprises you more: A winless Carl Edwards or a winless Jeff Gordon?

Ken Mays: Jeff Gordon not winning this year for sure. He is a great driver and has come so close a few times. Cousin Carl has struggled all year long for some strange reason.

Jason Cannon: Carl Edwards. Gordon’s win totals have been sliding for the past few seasons but when Edwards burst onto the scene, he looked like he would be

around for a while. He’s not had a bad year but I am beyond surprised he’s not won a race.

Mark Trest: A winless Jeff Gordon because he was in contention in many races this year only to finish second or third. You would think he’d have won a time or two after running so well. Edwards, on the other hand, never really competed except for a few times, and that was just recently.

Who is your pick to win this week?

Ken Mays: I am still sticking with Kyle Busch. I believe he has a few more wins left in him.

Jason Cannon: Give me Denny Hamlin. He was strong last weekend before his motor blew up and he won this race last year.

Mark Trest: Kyle Busch really seems to excel at these short tracks, and just coming off the Bristol whitewash of the competition, you have to think that he’d be strong again at Richmond.