Things are heating up as we head into the final stretch before the cut-off of the 2009 Chase.
Points leader Tony Stewart and follower Jeff Gordon were among the popular picks this weekend, but a few of our writers went out on limbs with picks of Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Reed Sorenson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If either of the two top picks have bad runs this weekend, it could be a solid chance for another writer to move up the ranks.
Picks for this weekend:
Ben Bomberger—Jeff Gordon
Gordon is quietly lurking behind points leader Stewart, and heads to a track where he has found great success.
At Indy: Gordon has competed in all 15 events at The Brickyard, and has captured four wins, nine top-fives, 12 top-10s, three poles and an average finish of 8.6.
According to NASCAR's Loop Data, Gordon has an Average Running Position of 14.7 (12th-best), a Driver Rating of 97.5 (eighth-best), 19 Fastest Laps Run (ninth-most), 195 Green Flag Passes (second-most), an Average Green Flag Speed of 169.454 m.p.h. (fifth-fastest) and 111 Quality Passes (third-most).
James Broomhead—Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart at the Brickyard. It just sounds right! And given the season Smoke is having his return to what is already a favourite stomping ground is one of the races he's more likely to win.
M.J. Buchanan—Jeff Gordon
The Brickyard is all about handling, finesse, and yes some driving maturity. So, I'm going with a driver who has all that and more, including a bit of a hometown advantage.
I believe that we will see Jeff, Ingrid, and Ella kissing the bricks this Sunday.
Kelly Crandall—Tony Stewart
NO COMMENTS SENT
Mason Dunn—Mark Martin
Mark has had five top five finishes at the Brickyard and a win this weekend would be the best thing for his campaign for his first ever Sprint Cup championship, something that has eluded him for his entire career.
With only one DNF on his record back in 2000 Mark is definitely a secure pick and is definitely the experienced pick.
Adam Heasley—Kasey Kahne
I'm going with an underdog who has a chance to shine again this weekend and has showed me more then I expected from him.
This driver is Kasey Kahne. I have a really good feeling about him this year and for this race, I also contemplated on picking Denny Hamlin because of how well he runs at tracks like this.
Danielle Henderson—Juan Pablo Montoya
NASCAR to prove that he could handle stock cars to, I personally think that he has shown that he has the ability to win in NASCAR.
This is all why I am picking Juan Pablo Montoya to win the Brickyard 400...That and I have a gut feeling about him this week.
Kara Martin—Tony Stewart
I am sure that it will come as no surprise that I am going with Stewart. What I'd be surprised with this week are those who are NOT going with him as a favorite to win in Indy!
While Jeff Gordon has more wins and top five finishes under his belt at the Brickyard, Stewart's track record this season and the fact that he will be racing at "home" will be a major factor in propelling him to the front of the pack and taking the checkered flag!
S.M. Napier—Tony Stewart
Going with Tony Stewart, he's on a role has momentum on his side and poised for his third win in his backyard.
Kyle Ocker—Dale Earnhardt Jr.
I am going to go out a limb here and say Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to earn an upset victory this weekend at Indianapolis. The team is going to be using a brand-new chassis, built by interim crew chief Lance McGrew specifically for Earnhardt.
That should help because McGrew will know exactly everything and maybe that will help them adjust to the car more. Plus, every new car has more research.
Also, among active drivers, Earnhardt is sixth overall as far as wins go at tracks over two miles. HMS as an organization has more wins at Indy then any other team. Hopefully, if everything adds up correctly on Sunday, I can get my first win in this thing!
David Phillips—Jimmie Johnson
NO COMMENTS SENT
Jen Preston—Reed Sorenson
Does he have the best average at Indy? No. Is he a shoe in to win? No. Is ANYONE else going to pick him? No.
But his team is looking for a rebound, RPM is slowly but surely improving AND I'm continuing to avoid Knausing. And I'm really hoping he gets a top 10 and I look really smart :)
Rob Tiongson—Jeff Gordon
It'd be easy to pick Tony Stewart, and I might be regretting the fact that I won't pick him as I'll choose Jeff Gordon for the win at the Brickyard this Sunday.
While Smoke has conquered Indy twice, Gordon has been the man to beat at Indy since '94 (except in '96, 2000, and 2006), winning four of these events.
Otherwise, he's been in the thick of things, battling from something as low as a top 10 spot to as high as a victory. Indy shares some characteristics of the flat tracks that will be visited on the Chase like Phoenix and California, and has a bit of an intermediate track feel.
That said, if the 24 team wants to indeed gain those bonus points to catch the likes of Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Stewart, Gordon and company can aid their cause with a "W" at Four-Time's second home away from home in California.
Here is a look at each writers' pick from Chicago last weekend, where they finished, and the updated point standings (wins are in parenthesis):
Ben Bomberger, (2765) Brian Vickers finished seventh. (1)
Adam Heasley, (2628) Mark Martin won. (3)
Kelly Crandall, (2611) Jimmie Johnson finished eighth. (1)
M.J. Buchanan, (2593) Juan Pablo Montoya finished 10th. (0)
S.M. Napier, (2525) Tony Stewart finished fourth. (2)
David Phillips, (2060) Scott Speed finished 36th. (1)
James Broomhead, (1172) Carl Edwards finished 14th. (1)
Kara Martin, (1128) Tony Stewart finished fourth. (1)
Mason Dunn, (1068) Brian Vickers finished seventh. (0)
Rob Tiongson, (1053) Tony Stewart finished fourth. (1)
Danielle Henderson, (986) Denny Hamlin finished fifth. (0)
Kyle Ocker, (843) Matt Kenseth finished 23rd. (0)
Jen Preston, (824) Kevin Harvick finished 19th. (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.
SIDE NOTE: When the Chase starts, our writer's will really have to put on their creative hats, as they will only be able to select a driver one time during the final 10 races.
In other words, each writer will have to be careful with the likes of Johnson, Gordon, Stewart and Busch, because they only get to use each once.