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Friday, October 14, 2011
NASCAR expert picks: Charlotte

By NASCAR Staff
ESPN

Who will own the night at Charlotte Motor Speedway? Points leader Carl Edwards dominated the All-Star Race back in May, but fellow Chasers Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are coming on strong. NASCAR personalities Ricky Craven, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Jamie Little and Brad Daugherty share their podium picks for Charlotte.

Ricky Craven's analysis

The guy I'm most intrigued by this week is Matt Kenseth. In the past three weeks, he has finished sixth, fifth and fourth, respectively. If someone asked a trivia question about Kenseth's position in last year's standings, I doubt many people would know that he finished fifth. In typical Matt Kenseth fashion, he did it without bringing a lot of attention to himself. And he's doing the same thing this year, quietly climbing to the top five in points. He's really good on these mile-and-a-half tracks; he won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in his rookie year; and I think he'll find Victory Lane on Saturday night and help legitimize his championship run.

But I also see Jimmie Johnson continuing his streak of first- or second-place finishes. Obviously, there's no better Chase driver than JJ, but his winning percentages in races 5, 6, and 7 are higher than in the other Chase races. In other words, we're entering his sweet spot, so drivers be warned.

My third-place finisher is a driver who really left an impression with me at Charlotte back in May: Carl Edwards. Spending time with him there, it was clear how comfortable he is inside the car and at that track. He led the standings for a good stretch of 2011, and now he's back in the points lead. Edwards is the only driver with all top-10 finishes in the Chase, and I think he'll retain that title after Saturday night's race.

Dale Jarrett's analysis

Matt Kenseth will win this weekend's race because his team has performed as well and as consistently as anyone on these mile-and-a-half tracks, especially in the Chase. His one poor finish at Chicagoland was misleading because he ran in the top five all day until he ran out of fuel. But he performed really well this past week at Kansas -- the only thing that hurt his team was a slicker racetrack. A night race at Charlotte will give the track a lot of grip, and Kenseth has proved his ability to succeed there. He also has shown that he's a real contender in this Chase battle.

I had a hard time putting someone who's not in the Chase as a potential winner, but there's no ignoring Kasey Kahne. He has shown that he's ready to mix it up with these Chase drivers. He finished second this past week and had an opportunity to win that race. I think he'll give himself that opportunity again, but I don't know that his team is strong enough to win a race. I would like to see him do it -- and he would like to get a win for Red Bull before moving over to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 -- but, either way, I expect him to be very strong this weekend.

I'd be crazy to think that Jimmie Johnson isn't going to be in the mix this weekend, but I'm actually going to put Jeff Gordon down as my third-place finisher. I see Gordon rebounding from a tough weekend that more than likely took him out of the championship scenario. I think he'd have to win three of these last six races to even give himself a chance. That said, Charlotte is a place Gordon has had a lot of success at over the years, and I expect him to bounce back with a strong finish.

Rusty Wallace's analysis

I'm going to have to go with Jimmie Johnson to win this weekend's race. He finished third in this race last year, and he has a ton of momentum right now. He's back. He's not quite as strong as he has been in the past, but he just smoked everybody this past weekend.

The other guy I expect to run well at Charlotte is Carl Edwards. This guy came back from a lap down this past week to finish fifth. That's not easy to do. And he has the points lead right now, so there's no reason to expect him not to maintain his consistency.

In third, I'm going with Kasey Kahne. He's been on fire the past few races, and he loves this track. To be successful at Charlotte, you have to run right up against the wall at Turns 3 and 4. And Kahne is the type of driver who really loves running high on the racetrack. I see his Red Bull Toyota turning in a great weekend at Charlotte.

Jamie Little's analysis

This past week's Kansas race was one of the only weeks I didn't pick Jimmie Johnson to win, so of course he goes out and dominates. This week, I'm back to my JJ pick. Based on his recent numbers, and his successful history Charlotte Motor Speedway, he's going to be the man to beat. With six wins, he's tied for the most ever at that track. And after his performance this past week at Kansas, it's safe to say his pit crew and crew chief have officially hit their Chase stride.

I'm going with Kasey Kahne to bring home second this week. He has been on a roll lately. I wouldn't be surprised if he snookered a win Saturday night, as a non-Chaser. He has finished fourth and second the past two races, and he's due in Victory Lane. He is back at a track he's won at three times, and he always proves he's a threat in Charlotte.

My final pick has to be Carl Edwards. His team is proving it is championship caliber. This past week at Kansas, Edwards and his crew overcame what could have been a championship-ending day and brought home a top-10 finish. And if you look back at the past eight 1.5-mile races, Edwards has an average finish of 5.5 -- the best among all drivers! Although he could really use a win, (has only one this year), I think he will finish where he is starting -- third.

Brad Daugherty's analysis

It's difficult to try to pin down three drivers this year because there's so much parity, but I like Jimmie Johnson to take this race for obvious reasons. He's a proven winner with a good history at Charlotte. And he's rolling.

Kurt Busch finished fourth at Charlotte earlier this year and will be looking to bounce back after finishing 13th at Kansas. He proved he has the speed by taking the checkered flag at Dover two weeks ago, and I see him running well Saturday night.

But I like Matt Kenseth's chances every week. The consistency he has had the past 20 races is really impressive. He'll take a car that's not great and have it figured out by the end of the day. He'll get the best finish out of it. And he doesn't tear up his equipment. If he has a fast race car, he goes to the front, but if the car isn't great, they'll work on it and get the best possible finish. That's what makes him a threat every time he takes the track. We don't talk about him a lot, but I think he's dangerous.