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Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Driver Pick 'Em Preview: Texas

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

Here are my picks -- and the logic behind them -- for the 10 Driver Pick 'Em matchups for the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, a race that will begin around 3:45 p.m. ET on Nov. 4.

Jimmie Johnson vs. Tony Stewart
Atlanta, Texas and Charlotte share configuration and banking characteristics, which makes them good research equivalents for each other. Johnson at the A-C-T triumvirate this year: first, 38th, 10th, 14th, first. Stewart: second, 25th, sixth, seventh, 30th. Advantage: the guy who's looking for his second straight points title. Pick: Johnson.

Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth was a threat to win most of the day in Atlanta, while Gordon was rather lame, nearly falling a lap down a couple times, before finding something in his setup that got him moving forward. By race's end, Kenseth was fourth while Gordon was seventh. Texas is one of the tracks where Gordon's never won, and I don't think he wins Sunday, either, but I'm betting whatever he and crew chief Steve Letarte found in Atlanta will be at least partly applicable in the Dickies 500. Pick: Gordon.

Kevin Harvick vs. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
I have no hesitation going Junior's way in this one. He didn't have the best car of the day in Atlanta, but by race's end (among the drivers who hadn't been punted into the wall or had their crews mess up a late pit stop) he was probably fastest, and might've won the event if Denny Hamlin hadn't run out of fuel on the race's second-to-last restart, causing Junior to plow directly into his rear bumper. Harvick finished a stiff-upper-lip 15th in Atlanta, but didn't contend. Pick: Earnhardt Jr.

Kasey Kahne vs. Carl Edwards
Edwards had a heck of a week after his Martinsville YouTube experience, and probably had only a top-10 car in Atlanta, but he survived the late carnage and somehow found himself finishing second, ahead of some better cars. He's very good on this track style, though, as is Kahne, who's recaptured some of his A-C-T magic here at the end of '07 (he finished eighth at Charlotte a few weeks ago and ninth in Atlanta last Sunday). Still, I'm predicting Edwards' mission to prove his respectability continues in Texas. Pick: Edwards.

Kyle Busch vs. Greg Biffle
Kyle probably deserved to win last Sunday; he was at or near the lead all day, and only a crummy late pit stop booted him backward, where he wound up getting tangled in some slower cars' late mess (he finished 20th). Biffle was 22nd, and didn't have such excuses, despite having qualified on the pole. I have to go Hendrick here. Pick: Busch.

Denny Hamlin vs. Kurt Busch
Hamlin isn't a favorite driver in the garage just now, as he stayed out while everyone else pitted on a very late Atlanta caution. You see, everyone else knew they were going to run out of gas before race's end. Did Hamlin? Probably, but evidently he didn't care. After he hesitated and stalled on the restart and sent several contending cars smashing into the infield, No. 11 fans were few. Meanwhile Busch led the most laps in Atlanta, but like his brother, had a bad pit stop cost him late. As snakebitten as the elder Busch appears to be in these faster events (he's led laps in all five races on this track configuration this year, and has won none), I have to go with him again. Pick: Busch.

Ryan Newman vs. Jeff Burton
Newman probably would've won at Charlotte a few weeks back had he not blown a tire while leading the race. That's what made him a sneaky pick for me in Atlanta; alas, that didn't work out, as he popped an engine and made an early afternoon of it. In the meantime, Burton was smoothing his way around the track, staying off TV and posting a ho-hum fifth place. Also remember he won his only 2007 event at Texas back in April. Pick: Burton.

Clint Bowyer vs. Dale Jarrett
This one screams "mismatch!" However, Jarrett was a shocking third-place qualifier last week in Atlanta, and hung around for much of the day before relenting and finishing 19th. Of course, Bowyer is back to his ways as Mr. Consistency, and wasn't heard from much all day before surviving the big late wreck and finishing sixth. Jarrett is nearing the end of a brilliant career, but I don't see any way you can take him in this one. Pick: Bowyer.

Elliott Sadler vs. Casey Mears
Mears was 12th and Sadler was 14th in Atlanta Sunday. Texas Motor Speedway is special to both of these drivers. Sadler won a race here holding off Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth in the spring of '04, while Mears has posted four finishes of seventh or better here in his last six TMS events. I like how Evernham Motorsports has apparently shaken things up and gotten its cars competitive on the downforce tracks again, but Mears' history at this place speaks to me. Pick: Mears.

Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Brian Vickers
The big variable here is whether Vickers qualifies for the race. He definitely has run really well at the big, wide-open speedways lately. He has eighth-place finishes recently at both Fontana and Michigan, and he was 10th in Atlanta, but he failed to qualify at similarly configured Charlotte three weeks ago. If Vickers doesn't qualify, well, I think you know whom to pick here. But if he does, I think I'm done taking Montoya. Sure, he was fifth and eighth on his first go-round at Atlanta and Texas, respectively, but he's a crash waiting to happen, and has basically wrecked out of Charlotte and Atlanta in two of the last three races. So I'm making the leap that Vickers qualifies, and then tops his rookie friend. Pick: Vickers.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.