Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch: Who Has Best Shot to Win Sprint Cup?

Todd JacobsCorrespondent IMay 11, 2011

Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch: Who Has Best Shot to Win Sprint Cup?

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    Kyle Busch has the best car control of the three potential 2011 Champs.
    Kyle Busch has the best car control of the three potential 2011 Champs.Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup could very well come down to Homestead once again this year, and the three favorites that figure to be in contention in late November are Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

    Edwards and Busch are no strangers to the winner's circle, and Johnson is no stranger to holding the NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy above his head in November. This season could be different for Busch if he can stay away from trouble during the summer months.

    All three drivers are capable of going on a run and winning five races before the end of the 2011 season. If one of them does go on one of those magical runs, it is also conceivable it will not be enough to win the title. 

    Edwards and Busch are both very similar in one way: They hang it all out in an effort to be the first to the checkered flag. Checker or wrecker best describes these two. Johnson is more like a golfer that lays up to take the easy win.

10. Carl Edwards Has the Edge with Engine Power

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    Engine problems are rare for the Roush Fenway FR9 Ford engines.
    Engine problems are rare for the Roush Fenway FR9 Ford engines.Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

    Carl Edwards is a great driver, but a reliable engine is essential for any great driver. Edwards' Ford FR9 Roush Fenway motor under the hood gives him a distinct advantage over the competition.

    Edwards may not feel it was worth struggling in 2010 as the team developed the new engine, but now that the engine is working and outrunning the competition, he may have a different opinion. The development of this new Ford engine was several years in the making and has Doug Yates and Jack Roush's fingerprints all over it.

9. Jimmie Johnson Has the Edge by Being Part of Super Team

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    Jimmie Johnson crew is one of beat on pit road.
    Jimmie Johnson crew is one of beat on pit road.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Jimmie Johnson is part of the Hendrick Motorsports team. The Hendrick Motorsports team has won the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup titles with Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus teamed up on the No. 48 Lowe's team.

    That is not the only superstar in the Hendrick camp. Jeff Gordon is a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ and has one win this season. The other two members of the team are winless this season, but they are valuable to the team as well. 

    Mark Martin will be leaving at the end of the season, but his veteran leadership has helped Johnson. Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be without a win in more than 100 races, but he is also a key member of the team with valuable input. Earnhardt Jr. also pushed Johnson to his first victory of the season.

8. Kyle Busch Has the Guts to Drive Where No Man Will

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    Kyle Busch loves to take chances and he is successful more times than not.
    Kyle Busch loves to take chances and he is successful more times than not.Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Don't tell Kyle Busch he can't put his car anywhere he wants on any track. Busch is a master of car control dating back to his legend car days on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring. 

    Busch knows how to split lapped traffic, and he also is not afraid to split traffic to advance his position. Busch is also strong when it comes to driving a car in deeper than any other driver will to test his equipment.

    Many think Busch is only good for being aggressive, but he is also a smart driver that knows how to save his stuff on certain tracks. Not many drivers can make it through a race at Bristol without a dent, but Busch has pulled off the feat more than once.

7. Carl Edwards Crew Chief Bob Osborne Is a Tactician on Par with Knaus

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    Bob Osborne was the man behind Carl Edwards successful nine win season.
    Bob Osborne was the man behind Carl Edwards successful nine win season.Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Jack Roush appreciates the relationship between Bob Osborne and Carl Edwards, and he has resisted tinkering with this tandem. Osborne is the brains of the operation.

    Osborne is one of the best when it comes to counting a race down backwards, and he is also strong when it comes to adjusting air pressures as a race goes from day to night.

    Carl Edwards and Osborne have one of the better relationships over the radio. They communicate well, and when they do disagree, it usually ends with Edwards agreeing that Osborne knows best.

6. Kyle Busch Is the Best Road Racer of the Bunch

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    Kyle busch runs well on the road courses.
    Kyle busch runs well on the road courses.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Kyle Busch owns the most wins of the three drivers on road courses, and there will be 90-plus points available on these two courses. Busch has two wins and is comfortable turning right. He owns one win at Watkins Glen and one at Infineon Raceway.

    Busch also has seven top-10s in 12 career starts on the road courses. The Toyota engine power has diminished this season, and this may make Busch have to win one of these races on strategy. 

    His car control comes in handy on this course, and he is capable of not only taking down two top-fives in these races but actually sweeping these road course races. A sweep could sweep Busch into the points lead following the Watkins Glen race in August.

5. Jimmie Johnson Owns the Intermediate Tracks

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    Jimmie Johnson has won the majority of his races on the intermediate tracks.
    Jimmie Johnson has won the majority of his races on the intermediate tracks.Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Intermediate or mile-and-a-half cookie-cutter tracks, as they are known, have been the main reason Jimmie Johnson dominates the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. His crew chief Chad Knaus knows the secret to managing a race on these tracks and bringing home the hardware.

    What is the secret? Don't ever expect a straight answer from Knaus. The main thing they do well on these tracks is adjust and stay ahead of the car. Even when they are leading, Knaus is tweaking the car so it will be set up for the long haul.

    The No. 48 team has been at its best in night races. Knaus is an expert at prepping a car for the transition from day to night. The trick with day to night setup is a loose car during the day so it will not tighten up as the track gains more grip with nightfall.

4. Carl Edwards Will Dominate on the Big Tracks: Michigan and Pocono

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    Carl Edwards is strong on Pocono and his engine package makes him a lock.
    Carl Edwards is strong on Pocono and his engine package makes him a lock.Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Carl Edwards has four wins in 25 starts on the Michigan International Speedway and Pocono Raceway. His Ford FR9 Roush Fenway motor is stout on these two tracks, and he will be able to run the engine at full RPM in both races.

    Edwards has also finished in the top five at a better than 50 percent rate. He owns 13 top fives in his 25 career starts. Edwards is also one of the smartest drivers when it comes to driving both of these two mile-long flat tracks.

    Driving these long sweeping turns and the longest straightaways in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series requires a soft pedal on and off the gas. It is important to coast at times and know when and where to pick up the throttle for optimum engine performance and fuel mileage. Edwards has proven he is the best driver on the circuit when it comes to these skills.

3. Chad Knaus Is Jimmie Johnson's Best Asset

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    Chad Knaus may only have one win but there are more to follow.
    Chad Knaus may only have one win but there are more to follow.Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Chad Knaus is the best crew chief in the business and the man responsible for the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. Without him Jimmie Johnson may be back on the dirt racing trophy trucks.

    That may be an overstatement, but Knaus, despite his tremendous ego, has become a measuring stick for all other NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chiefs. He is not only an expert on the intermediate tracks but a master strategist on the big tracks as well.

    Knaus is also not afraid to make changes when things do not go well. Last season, with the title on the line, Knaus took advantage of Jeff Gordon's misfortune in the Texas race at the end of the year and inserted them on his team when the No. 48 pit crew faltered.

2. Joe Gibbs as a Steady Influence on Kyle Busch Is Key

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    Joe Gibbs is the man that can kepp the lid on  Rowdy Busch.
    Joe Gibbs is the man that can kepp the lid on Rowdy Busch.Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Joe Gibbs is accustomed to handling fiery players from his days as a Super Bowl-winning head coach in the NFL. Now Gibbs has to handle his hotheaded NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

    Gibbs has been forced to intervene and bail out Busch in the past, and he knows he will have to do it in the future. It makes it tough on Gibbs that when Busch is not in trouble, he is usually winning races.

    Gibbs has a way to mold young men into solid citizens, but it may take longer to shape Kyle Busch. This may be the year he can pull the transformation. Busch is now a married man and owns his own NASCAR Camping World truck. Now he understands what goes into repairing his damaged cars. Maybe that will help Gibbs take his young talent to his first title.

1. Carl Edwards Has the Best Chance to Win His First NASCAR Sprint Cup

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    Edwards fell just short at Darlington last weekend.
    Edwards fell just short at Darlington last weekend.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Carl Edwards has been the dominant driver this season, and although he only owns two wins, he has plenty of potential wins on the table during the summer months. Edwards is solid on intermediate tracks, and he is especially tough to beat on the Michigan and Pocono big tracks.

    There are also two restrictor plate races remaining on the schedule, and Edwards is a threat to win in every Daytona and Talladega race. He has never won one of these races, but it is inevitable he will do the deed soon.

    Edwards has also improved on his road race record. He owns seven top 10s in 12 races, and it is a matter of time before Carl Edwards makes it to victory lane at Watkins Glen or Infineon. Edwards' best finish was third in 2009 at Watkins Glen, and he grabbed the pole in 2010.

    Bob Osborne will be the No. 1 reason Carl Edwards wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Osborne is one of the smartest crew chiefs in the garage, and he knows the subtle changes that will make Edwards comfortable and fast—not an easy task.

    Look for Carl Edwards to holding the NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy over his head in November.