Busch is widely regarded by his peers in the Cup garage as perhaps the most talented driver in NASCAR. He can control a loose car better than anyone else because he's able to make his car behave as if it's an extension of his body. He already has 23 Cup victories. If he can harness his emotions throughout this season and consistently give clear, focused feedback to Rogers in both practice and races, then the driver who always elicits a thunderclap of boos in prerace introductions could be hoisting the Cup at Homestead this November.
"With Kyle, it's never been a question of talent," says Johnson. "He wants to do the right thing, but then something will happen and the trigger goes off. His mistakes have limited his potential. But you can be sure I'll be watching him closely, because he's capable of winning it all."
Of course, Johnson himself is eminently capable of winning it all too (for a, ahem, sixth time), as is the rejuvenated Stewart. Certainly neither J.J. nor Smoke is going to lie down without a fight, and both multichampions will once again be in top machinery and spearheading rich and talented teams. But their era will not continue forever—and it is Kahne, Edwards or Kyle Busch who is most likely to bring it to an end. That trio will now have nine months and 36 races—the most grueling schedule in sports—to prove that they can pull away from the two future Hall of Fame drivers and become something NASCAR hasn't had since Johnson won his initial Cup in 2006: a first-time champion.