Wheeler Picks Johnson to Win NEXTEL All-Star Race
Gregory made Johnson's No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet appear in spectacular fashion during Wheeler's annual pick-the-winner press conference today at Charlotte Bobcats Arena.
"This race is Jimmie Johnson's to lose," Wheeler said in picking the California native to record his second straight All-Star victory. "The Hendrick cars are simply coming off the corner better as they have a tad more torque right now."
Known for his promotional flair and Karnac-type ability, Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway, has correctly picked the winner of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge 10 times in the past 18 races. He correctly selected Johnson to win the race in 2003.
"Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton will give Jimmie all he wants, and one of them may get him. But right now Jimmie is the man I'm going with," said Wheeler, who made his selection after carefully studying two days of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup testing last week at the 1.5-mile superspeedway. "There were a lot of games being played during the testing sessions, but the only speeds I paid attention to were down the backstretch and Jimmie had them covered.
"Plus, he's right at home on these harder tires and with a loose car," Wheeler concluded.
"Wow, that's cool," Johnson said about being Wheeler's selection. "We'd love to prove 'Humpy' right this weekend. He's been right more than half the time he has picked the winner, so we like our odds. If it works out Saturday, I might talk to him about picking us for the 600 and maybe a few other races." If Johnson can fulfill Wheeler's prediction, he'll join Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon as three-time winners of NASCAR's annual All-Star event. His $1 million first-place prize would also push his career All-Star earnings to nearly $3.4 million in just six races.
Wheeler is going with another two-time winner of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge as his dark horse selection.
"This year's All-Star race is like four 20-lap trophy dashes and that's the perfect format for a veteran short-track racer like Mark Martin," Wheeler said. "Plus, he's in a Chevrolet with one of those potent Hendrick engines under the hood. That combination could result in him becoming a three-time winner of this race."
Running only a partial schedule in Ginn Racing's No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet, Martin has four top-five finishes in eight starts and led the series point standings early in the season. He's been in the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge every year since 1990 and went to victory lane in 1998 and 2005.
In an extremely unusual move, Wheeler believes a rookie will win the NEXTEL Open, the 40-lap preliminary race that will send the top two finishers to the All-Star race.
"This will surprise a lot of people, but I'm going with Juan Pablo Montoya to win the NEXTEL Open," Wheeler said. "He has been very impressive this year and has adjusted to these stock cars faster than any open-wheel driver except maybe Mario Andretti or A.J. Foyt.
"His best finishes have been at Atlanta and Texas where he was able to use the high groove like a veteran, and I think he'll do the same thing here," Wheeler added.
Montoya, winner of the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix, is in his first season behind the wheel of the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge and the NEXTEL Open will be his first start at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge Week activities start Wednesday with the Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman at Charlotte Bobcats Arena. The finishing order of the Pit Crew Challenge will determine the order in which teams will select their pit stalls for the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge. On-track activities kick off Friday evening with qualifying for the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the NEXTEL Open. In addition to qualifying, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will compete in the Quaker Steak & Lube 200 presented by Circle K. Tickets start at $20.
Good seats, in various price ranges, are still available for Saturday's NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge. Tickets start at $29 and may be obtained by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online here.
Year Selection (Finish) Dark Horse Winner
1989 Rusty Wallace (1)
1990 Dale Earnhardt (1) Dale
1991 Davey Allison (1)
1992 Davey Allison (1) Alan Kulwicki Davey
1993 Dale Earnhardt (1) Dale
1994 Ernie Irvan (15) Geoff Bodine Geoff Bodine
1995 Jeff Gordon (1) Dale Earnhardt Jeff Gordon
1996 Rusty Wallace (2) Jeff Gordon
1997 Dale Earnhardt (4) Dale Jarrett Jeff Gordon
1998 Rusty Wallace (5) Jeff Gordon Mark
1999 Jeff Gordon (3) Jeremy Mayfield Terry Labonte
2000 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1) Terry Labonte Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2001 Dale Jarrett (2) Steve Park Jeff
2002 Jeff Gordon (11) Jimmie Johnson Ryan Newman
2003 Jimmie Johnson (1) D. Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie
2004 Jeff Gordon (6) Jimmie Johnson Matt Kenseth
2005 Jeff Gordon (4) M. Martin/R. Wallace Mark Martin
2006 Carl Edwards (4) Kasey Kahne
2007 Jimmie Johnson Mark Martin