CUP: Predictions - Hamlin, Johnson Up Front At Phoenix

It’s only appropriate that Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson head the list of our predicted winners heading into Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

After what transpired at Texas – Hamlin winning and crew chief Mike Ford questioning the four-time defending championship team’s mettle – we’ve got an old-school tussle on our hands.

The same really can’t be said in’s championship chase as Kris Johnson holds a commanding lead over Jeff Owens.

Meanwhile, Bob Pockrass notched his panel-best fourth victory of the season last week when he rode with Hamlin at Texas. Veteran scribe Kenny Bruce has two more opportunities to register his first win of the season. Bruce, who has favored a contrarian approach in making his selections this year, could very well do so in picking Kurt Busch to win Sunday’s slugfest in the desert.

Here are the full slate of selections for Phoenix:

Kris JohnsonWins: 3Top-5s: 56Last week’s pick: Kurt BuschLast week’s points: 91Total points: 4,630

THIS WEEK’S WINNER: Denny Hamlin - Nice to see Owens has finally come to his senses by choosing the favorite at Phoenix. Unfortunately, for him, it’s too late. With a 156-point cushion in the standings, it will take a calamity of epic proportions to fritter away such a sizable lead. It’s not happening. Go ahead and hand me the crown now. Whoa, who am I...Mike Ford? Hamlin’s crew chief threw down the gauntlet with his tough talk for the No. 48 bunch after a big victory at Texas. Now he and Hamlin need to back it up. Full disclosure: I think there are better choices here, but like any writer hoping for the best story, it behooves me to pick Hamlin and hope that he and Johnson will be battling for the win tomorrow. As in golf, sometimes you just have to hit it and hope. Here’s hoping Hamlin wins tomorrow and puts this contest completely out of reach heading into Homestead.

Top Five:1. Denny Hamlin2. Jimmie Johnson3. Carl Edwards4. Kevin Harvick5. Mark Martin

Jeff OwensWins: 3Top-5s: 61Last week’s pick: Jeff GordonLast week’s points: 52Total points: 4,474

THIS WEEK’S WINNER: Jimmie Johnson - Told ya. I pick Jeff Gordon at Texas and he not only wrecks, but gets in a fight. Just my luck. Such picks are why I’m in second. I am sooooo done with him. With just two races left, I’m going with the safe – and smart – bet. After Denny Hamlin’s dramatic victory at Texas, I’m betting we’ll see a role reversal at Phoenix. With Gordon’s pit crew, Johnson will win the Chase race there for the fourth straight year to close in on Hamlin and make it a tight points race heading into the season finale. Take that Gordon.

Top Five:1. Jimmie Johnson2. Kevin Harvick3. Kyle Busch4. Ryan Newman5. Denny Hamlin

Bob PockrassWins: 4Top-5s: 49Last week’s pick: Denny HamlinLast week’s points: 190Total points: 4,197

THIS WEEK’S WINNER: Kyle Busch - Kyle Busch is going to win. He’s No. 1 after all. That’s what he told everyone last week. I think that’s what he meant. The dude is good at Phoenix and he obviously has nothing to lose. He knows he needs to redeem himself after last week, and winning will go a long way to appeasing those upset with him after he lost his cool at Texas. Busch qualified seventh and he was a contender at Phoenix in April until a late pit call ended up going the wrong way. He led 113 laps here in the spring and ended up eighth. He might not lead 113 laps Sunday, but he’ll end up first.

Top Five:1. Kyle Busch2. Kevin Harvick3. Kurt Busch4. David Reutimann5. Denny Hamlin

Kenny BruceWins: 0Top-5s: 46Last week’s pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.Last week’s points: 88Total points: 3,809

THIS WEEK’S WINNER: Kurt Busch - This team is too good, and the driver too talented, to continue to struggle. Seven races removed from his last top-10, Kurt Busch, who will start third, would like nothing better than to get back on track as the season winds down. One of 11 active winners in Sunday’s field, Busch has four top-five and eight top-10 finishes at PIR. Prior to a 35th-place finish here in the spring, he had finished sixth or better in three consecutive races and led 60 or more laps in each.

Top Five:1. Kurt Busch2. Carl Edwards3. Kevin Harvick4. Jamie McMurray5. Clint Bowyer • FEUD OF THE WEEK: Jeff Gordon vs. Jeff Burton