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Thursday, October 30, 2008
SCC Preview: Dickies 500 at Texas

By Kevin Rounce
ESPN.com

With the championship pretty much wrapped up, NASCAR writers are left looking around for something else to write about. In his Monday wrap, David Newton discussed the possibility of a mulligan during the Chase. It's probably not going to happen, and it probably shouldn't happen, but with the lack of true excitement (there are scenarios in which Jimmie Johnson could capture the championship as early as next week at Phoenix), I still found it interesting to break down how the points would look if each driver could "drop" his lowest score. Here it is:

Jimmie Johnson 5962
Carl Edwards 5937
Greg Biffle 5871
Jeff Gordon 5828
Jeff Burton 5812
Tony Stewart 5761
Matt Kenseth 5749
Clint Bowyer 5728
Kevin Harvick 5725
Denny Hamlin 5725
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5719
Kyle Busch 5715

A little more interesting, eh? Jimmie Johnson's point lead is all of a sudden whittled down to 25 points over Edwards and 91 points over Biffle. No driver is more than 247 points out. The race for the championships gets a little more interesting. Does that make it right? No. You think the Rays would like to get a mulligan in the World Series, or Phil Mickelson on the 18th hole at Winged Foot in 2006?

Of course, a mulligan isn't going to be introduced into NASCAR … well, at least not unless Jimmie Johnson wins the next few championships by 200 points. But they will take a look at ways in which the championship could be more competitive. This year will be something of a lost year -- especially considering how good Johnson has been at the next three tracks -- unless, of course, fellow drivers decide to punt Johnson into the wall.

The favorites

Jimmie Johnson (Market value: 25.0) is probably beyond the point of adding him now, but he is the favorite again this weekend. His comeback at Atlanta last week was quite amazing. Finishing second after being a lap down through the first part of the race, and not doing it with a two-tire stop, showed how strong he was. At Texas, Johnson has the best average finish, and he won this race last year. It would be a colossal upset if he didn't at least finish in the top 10.

Carl Edwards (23.8) is coming off a pretty convincing win at Atlanta, and he knows that he must win the next three races, in all likelihood, to have a shot at the championship. Edwards won the spring race at Texas and is excellent at these 1.5-mile tracks. Expect him to run up front most of the day.

The next tier

Kyle Busch (22.2) has not had the best effort for the Chase title, but he finished fourth at Charlotte and fifth at Atlanta. He has been strong at the "cookie-cutter" tracks all season long and was third in the first race at Texas. He has a victory at Atlanta, which is a sister track to Texas' quad oval. Busch should finish in the top 10 this weekend.

Matt Kenseth (20.7) has been the best driver at Texas the past three years and has been second or third in four of the past six races at the site. Kenseth finished fourth at Atlanta, and that momentum should help overcome the inconsistency he has had during the Chase. I expect Kenseth to add another top-10 to the seven top-10s that he already holds at Texas.

Sleepers

It's time to go back to the AJ Allmendinger (14.7) well again. He finished ninth at Kansas and 14th at Atlanta in two of the most recent cookie-cutter track races. He is very strong on this style of track, and he's already up 0.5 after last week. He'll get more expensive again and make it more difficult to use him as a sleeper next week.

Jamie McMurray (17.7) might not be a truly deep sleeper, but I foresee a top-10 effort from him, and for this price, that is a great bargain. Jamie Mac has five top-10s in nine Texas starts, and he was fifth at Charlotte and seventh at Atlanta. Being a Roush driver -- that team loves this track style -- gives him even more value this week. Will he win the race? That seems unlikely, but I'll throw him on my squad and see what happens.

Avoidance

My lowest-ranked Chaser this week is Jeff Burton (22.5) and his value takes a real hit if you consider that he's currently the third-costliest driver in SCC. Burton won Charlotte and was strong doing so, but since then he has really struggled. He was 17th at Martinsville and 18th last week at Atlanta. Right now I don't see him doing much better than challenging for a top-10 finish, and that's not good enough for his price.

Rounce's roster

Jimmie Johnson (Locked at 22.8): Your soon-to-be 2008 Sprint Cup champion.
Carl Edwards (Locked at 23.4): He needs to win and lead the most laps to have even a shot at the title.
Greg Biffle (Locked at 21.5): Too much to lose if I cut him, but Texas is not his favorite.
Jamie McMurray (17.7): I actually think he'll finish ahead of his teammate Biffle.
AJ Allmendinger (Locked at 14.2): With Allmendinger rounding things out, I really like how this team looks on paper.