|ESPN.com: 2007||[Print without images]|
Jimmie Johnson vs. Tony Stewart
Johnson has won two straight races and is obviously heating up at exactly the right moment to win a second consecutive points championship. Then again, Smoke ain't so bad himself. The Hendrick Car of Tomorrow program still has its advantages, and having really good drivers and crew chiefs is a good thing, too. Johnson has the best finishing average at the flat tracks so far this year (Stewart is fourth), so I'll look his way. Pick: Johnson.
Jeff Gordon vs. Denny Hamlin
This one is almost impossible to pick. At the flat tracks this year, Gordon has finished first (Phoenix), second (New Hampshire and Martinsville) and fourth (Richmond twice). Hamlin has finished first (New Hampshire), third (Richmond, Phoenix and Martinsville) and sixth (Richmond). Ridiculous. Hamlin's win at Loudon was the result of a two-tire strategy late in the race, and Gordon was actually a bit better that day. So I'll go with Jeffy Jeff. Pick: Gordon.
Kevin Harvick vs. Kurt Busch
Busch actually has a slightly better finishing average on the flat tracks so far this season: 13th to 15th. But Harvick's number is doomed by a 41st at Martinsville; otherwise, he's still one of the current dominators on flatties, and if he hadn't been points racing on Saturday, he might've had something for the six cars who finished in front of him. Harvick won the first race of the Chase last year, and he could do it again in '07. Pick: Harvick.
Jeff Burton vs. Matt Kenseth
This is a match of Mr. Consistency against Mr. Reliability. The only difference between their records at this track configuration in the COT this year was Burton's engine explosion in the first Richmond race, which caused him to finish dead last. Otherwise, they've been equals: perennial contenders unable to close the deal. Burton has finished seventh here in three straight events, while Kenseth has 10 straight finishes of 14th or better. Kenseth was just slightly better at Richmond last week, so I'll look his way. Pick: Kenseth.
Carl Edwards vs. Kyle Busch
The numbers say Busch: He's got a better COT average and a far better flat-track average so far this season. He's also won here, while Edwards has just one finish better than 13th at Loudon. But all this belies the fact that Edwards had the best car at New Hampshire this summer, yet was doomed by a jack mishap in the pits. He also was really strong at Richmond last week, but his engine blew up while he was leading. Pick: Edwards.
Clint Bowyer vs. Martin Truex Jr.
Bowyer is more consistent; Truex Jr. seems like a better threat to win a race. In the COT this year, Bowyer was better on average, and he was better on flat-tracked COT events, too. Yeah, and that doesn't stop me from picking Truex. I'm remembering the Loudon event in July, when Truex was a contender for much of the race (he finished third). I don't hold Bowyer's wreck-induced 37th against him, though. Pick: Truex Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. vs. Ryan Newman
Both of these guys ran really well at Richmond, though only Newman had a decent finish to show for it, as Junior blew up late (after he'd already been eliminated from Chase contention). If DEI can get some engines in the No. 8 that'll hold up, he can be the kind of force Tony Stewart was after failing to make the Chase last summer. Even though Newman has won twice at this track, I have to look at Little E. Pick: Earnhardt Jr.
Greg Biffle vs. Casey Mears
Biffle is usually a tremendous flat-track driver, but evidently not in the COT. In this car, on this track style, he's finished 31st (New Hampshire), 19th (Richmond), 39th (Richmond), 17th (Phoenix) and 32nd (Martinsville). And Mears, a guy trained on high-banked tracks, hasn't really been any better. Driver-wise, you'd expect Biffle to dominate this matchup because of his dirt-track background. Team-wise, though, it's all Hendrick. It's a toughie. I'm going to say Biffle finally gets it together for a weekend in New England. Pick: Biffle.
Bobby Labonte vs. Jamie McMurray
There shouldn't be any question in this matchup. McMurray has so many more resources than Labonte's Petty Dodge, it's not even funny. But I'm through picking Jamie Mac for the moment. He hasn't been better than 16th since his win at Daytona the first week in July, and even when he runs well, he gets wrecked. Labonte has done a terrific job of keeping his nose clean in races for a month. Pick: Labonte.
J.J. Yeley vs. Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya hasn't been very good on flat tracks, which isn't a huge surprise; in his first season driving around these behemoth stock cars, it's logical that he'd have kind of a tough learning curve on the kinds of banking he was used to gliding around in the Formula One series. Yeley was very good at Richmond last week, while Montoya was last seen on fire. Pick: Yeley.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.