|ESPN.com: 2007||[Print without images]|
Carl Edwards versus Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has won two of the last three Fontana events, including the second race of the '07 season. What makes this matchup tough to pick, however, is the fact that Edwards won at Michigan earlier this season, and just won last week at Bristol. Oh, and Edwards also happens to have the best finishing average (better than eighth place) at the two-mile track style over the past three seasons. Recent Fontana success, though, leads me to Kenseth. Pick: Kenseth.
Jimmie Johnson versus Kurt Busch
In my mind, these are two of the four leading contenders to win this year's points title, along with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Busch is steaming-hot, having won two of the past four events and having finished 11th or better in seven straight races. Johnson was in trouble all night at Bristol, and he's rarely good in Michigan but something about Fontana suits him. His average finish is best in the series here over the last five seasons. Pick: Johnson.
Denny Hamlin versus Tony Stewart
Stewart probably had the best car here in February, but sped in the pits late and couldn't make up lost ground, finishing eighth. Hamlin was 11th in that race, but he did outpace Smoke in Michigan just a couple of weeks back (fifth to 10th). I'm going with the upset here, based on the fact that Hamlin was better so recently on the Michigan two-miler. Pick: Hamlin.
Kevin Harvick versus Greg Biffle
Biffle was 15th and Harvick was 17th at Fontana earlier this season, but those numbers don't tell the whole story. Harvick made a huge late charge at Matt Kenseth and almost caught him, but then ran out of fuel in the event's final laps. Biffle qualified second at Michigan a couple of weeks ago, and while the two-mile track style has suited him historically, he quickly faded in that race. My faith in him is shaken, for now. Pick: Harvick.
Kyle Busch versus Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The big question in this matchup is: How well will the younger Busch run while playing it conservatively? Busch has nothing to gain by going for broke in this race; he's eighth in points, a full 303 ahead of Junior. Two simple top-15s in the next two events will get the lame duck Busch into the Chase, and help keep his replacement, Earnhardt, out. Meanwhile, Earnhardt will have to take risks and get to the front. When he's had to do that this year, he's been pretty successful getting near the front (though he's often subsequently been bitten by bad luck). I think Junior makes things interesting for Richmond. Pick: Earnhardt Jr.
Clint Bowyer versus Casey Mears
Mears finished fourth and 11th at Michigan this year, which should bode well for an improvement of his 31st-place finish at Fontana earlier this season. Meanwhile, Bowyer was just 16th and 17th at Michigan, but drives quite well in California: He was sixth here in February, and finished third and 14th here in his rookie season. Bowyer registered just his second top-5 of the season Saturday in Bristol, but we don't need him to win outright. Pick: Bowyer.
Kasey Kahne versus Elliott Sadler
The No. 9 Evernham Dodge had some glory time Saturday night in Bristol, leading a race-high 305 laps before finishing second to Edwards. Sadler, meanwhile, got jostled all night and finished 29th. Of course, Bristol is the least aero-sensitive track in the biz, which is why it makes sense Kahne's clunky Dodge didn't stink. These guys should go back to struggling in traffic on Sunday; I'd wager neither will finish in the top 20. Pick: Kahne.
Jeff Burton versus Martin Truex Jr.
Burton has two top-5s here in the last three Fontana events; Truex hasn't ever finished better than 15th here in a Cup car. So why am I leaning toward the No. 1? Truex and his team seem to have found something at the cookie-cutter tracks; he was 12th at Vegas, eighth at Atlanta, seventh at Texas, and second twice at Michigan. Hey, it's not like Burton's been a slouch (in those same events he was 15th, fourth, first, 24th and 14th). But I think Truex keeps rolling. Pick: Truex.
Juan Pablo Montoya versus Ryan Newman
If Montoya can keep it wheels-down on a cookie cutter, he should be pretty good. But therein lies the rub. He's only finished on the lead lap in 11 of 24 races so far this year, which is how you wind up 18th in points. Newman has been steadier of late, and was a respectable 16th at Michigan. Pick: Newman.
Ricky Rudd versus David Gilliland
Boy, is Yates fading or what? Rudd doesn't have a top-10 since late May in Charlotte, and Gilliland doesn't have one since Talladega in late April. In fact, the young No. 38 driver doesn't seem to have been competitive in any non-plate track race all season. That sends me Rudd's way, though neither of these guys is particularly likely to finish on the lead lap. Pick: Rudd.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.