After winning nearly half of last season's events, including Jimmie Johnson's two-race sweep at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Hendrick Motorsports stable of drivers (Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears) will be among the favorites to win this season's Sprint Cup championship.

Butwith 43 of the world's best stock car drivers taking the green flag in the March 9 Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a host of teams are now confident their programs are comparable to Hendrick's effort.

Stellar efforts last season at Dover, Bristol, Richmond and Phoenix have Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards optimistic about his new campaign in the newly configured NASCAR Sprint Cup race car.

"I'm excited about going into 2008 because of how well our COT program was running at the end of last year," said Edwards, a two-time Atlanta race winner. "That's what makes me feel good about it.

"What Ford Motor Company and Roush Fenway is doing trying to pool our engineering resources, I think it's going to make for a great season."

After posting six wins in 2006, including the spring race at AMS, Kasey Kahne was unable to reach victory lane last season.

Kahne, whose strength has historically been on the circuit's 1.5 and 2-mile tracks, has circled the Sunday March 9 Kobalt Tools 500 at AMS on his calendar.

"Tracks like Atlanta are the ones that we are going to excel at with the new car before we do at other race tracks," Kahne said. "The 1.5-miles like AMS are going to be our best tracks, then the 2-miles and then the short tracks."

Travis Kvapil and J.J. Yeley will roll into Atlanta still working out the kinks associated with moving to new rides in 2008.

Both drivers are confident that Atlanta's multiple grooves and seasoned asphalt give them a chance to be a contender.

"Atlanta is one of my favorite race tracks just for that reason," said Kvapil, who now drives for Yates Racing. "If your car is not working on the bottom, you can always move up top or run the middle. You have options as a driver. It always makes it a lot of fun."

Following two seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, Yeley is now the pilot of the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing Toyota.

"It definitely helps," Yeley said of Atlanta's wide racing surface. "Most of these places that you go to, the car has to be on the bottom, like California as an example.

"But when you go to a place like Atlanta, you can walk around on the race track and find something that's going to help your race car out."

Jamie McMurray, the driver of the No. 26 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, lists AMS as one his favorite tracks. He believes the 1.54-mile track's penchant for final lap passes will remain intact when the new car makes its Atlanta debut on March 9.

"I don't know if there is anybody that doesn't like coming to Atlanta," McMurray said. "That's what every driver lives for: a race track where, if your car's not working on the bottom, you can move right to the top and you have a different option to run on.

"I hope it's a great race. I don't expect to see anything different than that."

Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman is confident tests at AMS in October and California and Las Vegas earlier this month will make his No. 12 Dodge a contender on the circuit's intermediate-size tracks.

"The good thing is I think we have a good baseline," Newman said. "We've tested all three of those race tracks with the new car. Atlanta, I thought was pretty good for us at Penske Racing.

But Gillett Evernham Motorsports driver Elliott Sadler, who finished sixth in the season-opening Daytona 500, admits that his No. 19 team is still trying to play catch up to the sport's premier organizations.

"We've just got a little work to do to catch up to Hendrick, [Joe] Gibbs [Racing] and Roush," Sadler said. "That's the only way I can really put it. We've made some great strides this winter. My guys have worked their butts off. I feel like we've closed the gap. But we've still got some work to do."

Just when it seemed one organization has worked its way to the pinnacle of NASCAR racing, rule changes and a newly designed race car have provided a multitude of teams with ammunition for their slingshots to try and dethrone the Goliath of the sport, Hendrick Motorsports when the checkered flag drops on the March 9 Kobalt Tools 500.

The highly anticipated debut of the newly designed stock car on NASCAR's fastest track will take place during the Kobalt Tools 500 on March 9 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Tickets are still available by calling 877-9-AMS-TIX (877-926-7849), 770-946-4211