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Tony Stewart vs. Jeff Gordon
Both men have won at Kansas, but Smoke's win came here last season, and he's got four top-10s here in his last five tries. Gordon won the first two times the Smokeless Set came to the heartland, but finished 39th here last year. Also, Stewart won at Chicagoland this summer, while Gordon came in eighth, and there are some similarities between those two newish cookie-cutters. Pick: Stewart.
Jimmie Johnson vs. Denny Hamlin
Neither guy could stay clean at Dover, and so neither is atop the points. In fact, while JJ is just four points out of the top spot, Hamlin has fallen all the way to 12th, and finds himself in desperation mode early. The thing is that Hamlin hasn't been all that good on high-banked intermediate speedways this season; most of his success has come in the Car of Tomorrow. Johnson is still a cookie-cutter king, so I think you have to be relatively uncreative and lean in his direction here. Pick: Johnson.
Matt Kenseth vs. Kurt Busch
Neither of these guys has topped fifth at this track, and both have more finishes worse than 15th here than better. This is tough, because Busch was awesome just last month at Michigan, while Kenseth's strong "old car" program showed itself best with a win very early at Fontana and a second place at Chicagoland. I have a gut feeling that Kenseth is coming on strong, last week's blown engine notwithstanding, so I'll take him here. Pick: Kenseth.
Kevin Harvick vs. Jeff Burton
Both of these guys are regularly strong at Chicagoland, and each guy needs a big effort this week to stay within hailing distance in the Chase. For me, Harvick's cookie-cutter efforts simply haven't been consistent enough to warrant me taking him in this pairing. He's been much better on flatter tracks lately for a couple of seasons, and his last finish better than 15th here came in 2003. Burton won at Texas, which doesn't count for too much comparison-wise, but oh well. Pick: Burton.
Clint Bowyer vs. Martin Truex Jr.
Does the local boy make good in this one? Kansas Speedway is Bowyer's home track, and he'd love to better his ninth-place showing here last fall. And while he's been as steady as they come in the Car of Tomorrow, Bowyer's had a few rough outings in the "old car." Truex Jr. posted twin second-place finishes at Michigan, and got wrecked at Chicagoland before he could ever show if he had anything. Close battle of the super-sophs, but I'm going DEI. Pick: Truex Jr.
Kyle Busch vs. Carl Edwards
Busch has the natural Hendrick cookie-cutter confidence going for him for at least a few more races, but Edwards is driving out of this world lately. He finished sixth at Kansas last fall (Busch was seventh), and was stronger at Chicagoland in July. The momentum, track history and team loyalty factors all point to the Roushketeer here. Pick: Edwards.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. vs. Greg Biffle
Both guys can drive free and easy without any care for points, as evidenced by last week's second (Biffle) and third (Junior) at Dover. Normally, Biffle is a tiger at this place, having posted a second and third. But his aero-sensitive program simply hasn't been as good as it was just a couple of years ago, while Earnhardt just needs to find motors that won't blow up at places like this to be very competitive. I think the No. 8 keeps it going here. Pick: Earnhardt
Ryan Newman vs. Casey Mears
Newman has won at this track and was very good finishing eighth at Chicagoland this summer. Mears finished second here last year for Ganassi, and was fifth at Chicagoland. Newman has actually impressed me more in the Car of Tomorrow lately than out of it, while Mears' specialty has always been the big, wide-open venues like this. Two years ago, you'd have taken Newman, but now I'm riding with Hendrick. Pick: Mears.
Reed Sorenson vs. David Stremme
When it comes to these Ganassi drivers, the best question is: Which one won't wreck? I don't know. Sorenson has a better overall career record in Cup races on cookie-cutters, but every time I say that this season, he seems to get balled up in some ridiculous crash. If he stays clean, I think Sorenson would be the guy to watch here, based on his good Chicagoland effort (12th) and his past successes at Michigan. Just don't tell Sorenson I picked him. Pick: Sorenson.
Bobby Labonte vs. Kasey Kahne
It would be easy to put Kahne down for his awful season, but the truth is the last couple of times the circuit has come to an aero-sensitive track, Kahne seemed to have found something. At Fontana, in particular, he was stout all day, and finished 10th (after running higher than that much of the day). But honestly, for as good as Kahne has looked on occasion lately, Labonte has been just as good, and comes without the big downside. Labonte was 11th in that same Fontana race, and was ninth in the Michigan race a couple of weeks before that (Kahne was 31st). Less upside, less risk. I'll go with Bobby. Pick: Labonte.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.