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The Big 3
LARS ANDERSON
July 03, 2006
There's a lot of racing left, but it'll be hard to get past Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, a trio that defines excellence at the Cup level
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July 03, 2006

The Big 3

There's a lot of racing left, but it'll be hard to get past Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, a trio that defines excellence at the Cup level

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That's another interesting aspect to this year's three-way battle royal: The drivers' diverse personalities attract three sets of fans who are as radically different as the paint schemes on the race cars. The strong-willed and opinionated Stewart enjoys nothing more than shooting pool in his Columbus, Ind., house with 9-to-5 guys who get their fingers greasy for a living, all the while talking about women and fast cars. He appeals to the blue-collar masses. Happily unmarried and able to joke about his expanding waistline, Stewart sees himself merely as one of the boys--albeit one who just so happens to have been blessed with freakish abilities behind the wheel of a fast car. "I barely graduated high school," he says. "If I wasn't driving a race car, I'd probably be driving a cab."

Johnson, on the other hand, is straight out of central casting: good looking, telegenic and quick to flash a smile that can turn female fans into puddles. A native of El Cajon, Calif., Johnson, whose wife, Chandra, is a fashion model, keeps an apartment in the Chelsea district of New York City. Young NASCAR fans are especially fascinated by Johnson, who in only five full seasons on the Nextel circuit has come to represent all that is glamorous about being an American race car driver.

Kenseth is at the opposite end of the Q rating spectrum. The native of Cambridge, Wis., has the friendly face of a neighbor who will loan you his snowblower. Though he has displayed more spunk at the track than in past seasons, Kenseth still maintains a low profile away from racing. He likes to hang out with his wife, Katie, at their house in north Charlotte or at their cabin in the woods of central Wisconsin. (Matt calls it his favorite place on earth.) The consummate professional, Kenseth appeals to no-nonsense fans who appreciate hard work more than big talk. Not surprisingly, whenever the series stops in the Midwest, Kenseth is greeted during driver introductions like a native son returning home.

"We're all a little different, but the three of us are friendly away from racing," says Stewart. "People try to stir things up between me and Matt and Jimmie, and sometimes they succeed, but we all get along. Honestly. We do have one thing in common: We all love racing."

So which one of them should be favored to win it all? "I think you'd have to go with Tony; until proven otherwise, he's the defending champ," Kenseth says. "But there's a long way to go to get to Homestead."

Indeed, the Nextel Cup marathon is only at the halfway mark. But with the Big 3 roaring along in top gear side-by-side-by-side, it should be a race for the ages.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

Racing Threewide

For the past three-plus seasons Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart have been the dominant trio on the Nextel Cup circuit, combining to lead the points standings in 93 out of 123 weeks (through June 18's 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway). Here's a statistical comparison since the start of the 2003 season.


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