After the Coca-Cola 340.5 threw our Bleacher Report writers a curveball two weeks ago, things returned to normal in the Creature vs. Creature picks, as nine of our 13 writers correctly picked a driver to finish inside the top 10 last weekend at Dover International Speedway.
Surprisingly, nobody picked race-winner Jimmie Johnson to win his fourth at the one-mile track known as the Monster Mile.
Several writers (James Broomhead, M.J. Buchanan, Mason Dunn, and Kyle Ocker) were at the top of the list with Carl Edwards, who finished seventh on Sunday.
Four other writers (Kelly Crandall, Danielle Henderson, Kara Martin, and S.M. Napier) weren't far behind, however, with Ryan Newman, who finished eighth.
The bad news for the day was Adam Heasley, who entered the weekend 32 points behind points leader Buchanan.
Heasley's pick of Jeff Gordon struggled all day, eventually finishing 26th.
The poor finish dropped Heasley to third in the Creature vs. Creature standings, and allowed Crandall to move into the runner-up spot.
Heasley does, however, maintain one of only two writers (the other being Napier) to have two wins so far this season, which will earn each 20 bonus points when the Chase starts.
Ben Bomberger—Carl Edwards
I was kind of surprised that nobody took Cousin Carl for the race this weekend. Sure, he's not had the kind of season that everyone expected of him, but eventually (let's hope it's Sunday), this guy is going to get hot and rip off some wins.
Though many had Edwards pegged to be the one to de-throne three-time defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, Edwards has yet to visit Victory Lane in 2009 and currently sits 11th in the point standings, only 46 points ahead of 13th-place David Reutimann.
At Pocono: In eight trips to the Pennsylvania Mountains, Edwards has two wins, three top fives, four top 10s, and an average finish of 14.3.
His Driver Rating of 95.7 is seventh-best, he has 94 Fastest Laps Run (fourth-most), and his Average Green Flag Speed of 158.568 MPH is 13th-fastest.
Look for Edwards to back-flip on Pocono's front stretch this Sunday.
Dark Horse: Brian Vickers
James Broomhead—Denny Hamlin
OK, so I'm still waiting for Hamlin to repeat his rookie wonder at Pocono, and I need to start embracing the long shot to get a leg up on these other guys. If it doesn't pay off, then who cares, if it does and Hamlin romps away again, I look like a genius.
M.J. Buchanan—Brian Vickers
Sometimes you just have to go out on a limb. Some of the "usual" suspects are often good at Pocono, including Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart (our new points leader), Jimmie Johnson, and you can even throw in Hamlin, especially at this particular track.
But I'm going out on that proverbial limb to pick Vickers this week. He finishes well at Pocono and he has been oh so close this season. That Red Bull team is hungry, and I think that he may just be able to seal the deal in Long Pond.
If I see him in Victory Lane at my home track on Sunday, I'll tell him I owe him one!
Kelly Crandall—Jimmie Johnson
This weekend for Pocono I'm picking the man that I didn't pick last week and went to Victory Lane...Johnson.
Coming off the win at Dover and being a two-time winner at Pocono, I'm hoping that the three-time Champion can keep on rolling and give me another win.
Johnson has 14 starts at the Triangle and has two wins, two poles, five top fives, and nine top 10s. He's second on the active drivers list with the best statistics at this track and has an average finish of 9.8 and has led 368 laps.
The man who leads all drivers is Hamlin.
I honestly am afraid of picking Hamlin. I just have not seen this team live up to their (and everyone else's) expectations this year. I expected this team to run a lot stronger and be winning by now and they haven't. Plus, they only won one race last year.
To me, it seems Hamlin and Edwards are in the same boat, and are just not running like everyone expected them to be and it seems they have some pieces missing.
That's what's keeping me away from Hamlin this week and going with the Champ.
Mason Dunn—Mark Martin
Martin will look to bring more security to his current spot inside the top 12 with a solid top five finish this weekend at Pocono. Pocono is a track that requires a lot of patience and no one knows more about patience than Mark "The Kid" Martin.
Over the past four races at Pocono, Martin has an average finish of 8.5, with top 10s in all four races and has lead about 8 percent of the laps run.
His career at Pocono in a Chevy consists of seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th place finishes. Martin has run 44 races at Pocono with only five DNF's in that span—not to mention his three career wins at Pocono including the June race in 1991.
Adam Heasley—Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Well, I'm really going out on a limb, but wow. I'm going with Earnhardt Jr. He's got Hendrick Motorsports' top guys on his team to turn it around.
Wow I just picked Jr. Well, go get 'em, Junior.
Danielle Henderson—Dale Earnhardt Jr.
He ran in the top 10 and top five most of the day at Dover. Although he ended up finishing 12th, he still gets some mometum—after all, its not 40th.
He's got a new interim crew chief who he did very well with last weekend and a new perspective on things. He has good stats at Pocono; he's ranked second only to Jeff Gordon!
He's never won there, but he just might be able to get himself and me that win. So I'm going to go out on a limb and pick Earnhardt Jr. to win this week at Pocono.
Kara Martin—Tony Stewart
After winning the All-Star two weeks ago and finishing a very strong second in Dover, he is poised for a win!
Pocono has always been one of Stewart's stronger tracks. Last August, he finished second behind Carl Edwards and this spring, I predict a win.
That's it, nothing profound, Stewart will win, enough said!
S.M. Napier—Denny Hamlin
This week I'm going to pick Joe Gibbs Racing's Hamlin. I think he'll get it done and his luck should turn around.
In six races, Hamlin has two wins, four top fives, five top-10 finishes, two poles, and led 300 laps. That speaks volumes, and I'm sticking with my first choice.
Kyle Ocker—Denny Hamlin
I am going to pick Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx Racing team for the victory this weekend at Pocono.
Hamlin's team has posted the best average start (6.7), best average mid-race position (3.5), best average finish (6.2), best average position (6.5), highest percentage of quality passes (73.7), highest percentage of laps in the top-15 (90.6), highest percentage of laps led (27.1) and the best driver rating (123.6) in the field over the last eight races at Pocono, according to NASCAR's Loop Data statistics.
This team will be hungry after losing two positions in the points after last weekend's race at Dover, leading me to believe that Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team will visit Victory Lane for the first time this season, this weekend at Pocono.
To me, it's a no-brainer.
David Phillips—Brian Vickers
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Jen Preston—Denny Hamlin
He's sitting quietly in seventh-place in the points, is looking to rebound from his 36th-place finish in Dover, and has an average finish of 6.2 at Pocono.
Rob Tiongson—Tony Stewart
He's taken over the points lead recently and what season is coming up?
That's right, summer! And which driver do we usually think of winning a bunch of races when the heat is on? Tony Stewart.
He's won here before in Pocono, most recently in 2003. After coming so close last Sunday to winning his first race as a driver/owner in Dover, this Sunday, Stewart will close the deal.
SUMMARY OF PICKS:
Denny Hamlin — (4)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. — (2)
Tony Stewart — (2)
Brian Vickers — (2)
Carl Edwards — (1)
Jimmie Johnson — (1)
Mark Martin — (1)
Here is a look at each writer's pick from Dover, where they finished, and the point standings (wins are in parenthesis):
M.J. Buchanan, (1940) Edwards finished seventh. (0)
Kelly Crandall, (1851) Newman finished eighth. (1)
Adam Heasley, (1832) Gordon finished 26th. (2)
Ben Bomberger, (1791) Mark Martin finished 10th. (0)
S.M. Napier, (1726) Newman finished eighth. (2)
David Phillips, (1569) Scott Speed finished 37th. (1)
James Broomhead, (326) Edwards finished seventh. (0)
Mason Dunn, (326) Edwards finished seventh. (0)
Kyle Ocker, (280) Edwards finished seventh. (0)
Danielle Henderson, (248) Newman finished eighth. (0)
Kara Martin, (248) Newman finished eighth. (0)
Rob Tiongson, (215) Kyle Busch finished 23rd. (0)
Jen Preston, (140) Martin Truex Jr. finished 21st. (0)
Remember, during the regular season, our writers are trying to collect as many wins as possible.
After Richmond, points will be reset with each writer receiving 10 points for correctly picking a winner during the season.
For the final 10 races, the points will matter, and a Creature vs. Creature Champion will be crowned following the season finale in Homestead.
Check back on Monday for this weekend's results and the updated point standings.
Also, welcome us in wishing good luck to our very own M.J. Buchanan, who will be covering the race this weekend in Pennsylvania for Bleacher Report.
Good luck, M.J.!