Ranking the top NASCAR teams from this season

Well, we did get a few things right.

Before the 2007 Nextel Cup season began, we had Jimmie Johnson ranked No. 1 in That's Racin's rankings of the top 40 teams in the sport.

That's where Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet team wound up, of course, and we'll just go ahead and tell you right now that the team will be No. 1 in the 2008 preseason rankings, too.

We also said that somebody ranked outside the top 20 in the preseason rankings would likely make the Chase. Martin Truex Jr. did that. And we said that while we didn't have Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer in the preseason top 12, we almost did.

We had Dale Earnhardt Jr. eighth in the preseason, and the only thing that doesn't make that look too bad is that we had Kasey Kahne third. In fact, our preseason opinion on the teams owned by Ray Evernham were all wrong.

We had a little too much faith in Tony Stewart and not enough in Jeff Gordon, but were pretty much on the money with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Here are That's Racin's rankings of the top teams in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series, based on the teams' performances in 2007:

1 Jimmie Johnson (car No. 48): His 77-point Chase margin over Jeff Gordon came from 20 more points from regular-season wins, two more Chase wins and bonuses from leading in nine of 10 Chase races. Preseason ranking: 1.

2 Jeff Gordon (car No. 24): Maybe him losing the title with an average Chase finish of 5.1 will change contenders' mindsets going into the playoffs in future seasons. If so, some good will come from it. Preseason ranking: 7.

3 Matt Kenseth (car No. 17): His Homestead victory capped a remarkable rush over the season's final five races. Preseason ranking: 5.

4 Clint Bowyer (car No. 07): Had a breakout season with a first Cup win and an impressive persistence through most of the Chase. Preseason ranking: 14.

5 Kyle Busch (car No. 5): Universally considered to be a budding superstar. Will he flower in Gibbs-owned Toyotas? Preseason ranking: 9.

6 Tony Stewart (car No. 20): After tough break at Kansas it seemed like this team sort of came apart at the seams. Preseason ranking: 2.

7 Kevin Harvick (car No. 29): Picks up an extra spot or two for his big wins in the Daytona 500 and the all-star race. Preseason ranking: 4.

8 Carl Edwards (car No. 99): Back in the mix after enduring a sophomore setback. Is he Roush's best '08 title hope? Preseason ranking: 11.

9 Kurt Busch (car No. 2): Clearly the most competitive Dodge team, especially after Pat Tryson became crew chief. Preseason ranking: 13.

10 Jeff Burton (car No. 31): Give Richard Childress Racing credit for getting all three of its teams into Chase. Preseason ranking: 10.

11 Martin Truex Jr. (car No. 1): Expectations will jump several levels now that this is Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s flagship team. Preseason ranking: 25.

12 Denny Hamlin (car No. 11): A bit like Kurt Busch in that both need to start converting more good runs into wins. Preseason ranking: 6.

13 Ryan Newman (car No. 12): Ran well enough to be "best of rest" outside the Chase. But that's not the proper goal. Preseason ranking: 16.

14 Greg Biffle (car No. 16): Still could be the first to win the top three NASCAR series titles, no matter what they're called. Preseason ranking: 12.

15 Casey Mears (car No. 25): Moves to Kyle Busch's former team at Hendrick in 2008, which is a good opportunity. Preseason ranking: 18.

16 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (car No. 8): Officially on the clock to see if he can fulfill his promise with his move to Hendrick. Preseason ranking: 8.

17 Juan Pablo Montoya (car No. 42): Now it gets interesting. Can Montoya keep improving enough to get into the sport's elite? Preseason ranking: 19.

18 Bobby Labonte (car No. 43): Earned the first top-20 points finish for Petty Enterprises since John Andretti finished 17th in 1999. Preseason ranking: 21.

19 Jamie McMurray (car No. 26): Earned a victory in July at Daytona, but this team needs to take a step forward in '08. Preseason ranking: 20.

20 Mark Martin/Regan Smith/Aric Almirola (car No. 01): One concern about this team is that it didn't get better after the switch to DEI. Preseason ranking: 29.


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