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Bass Pro Shops 500: The Final Four

california pardon
by mrjoro

Article by Christopher Harris

And then there were four. Four races left in the 2006 Nextel Cup season, and the way things have shaped up, it’s all going to come down to Homestead three weeks from Sunday.

Which is pretty cool, and was pretty much the point of changing to the Chase format, so bully for NASCAR.

Things never worked this well in ’04 or ’05, the first two Chase years. The first year, Kurt Busch basically had things locked up by the time the boys went to Homestead; all he needed to do was finish the race. Last year, Tony Stewart was similarly safe: only a big wreck could’ve undone his second title. This year, though, as we head into the second Atlanta race, get this: Matt Kenseth is in first place, and Jeff Gordon is in ninth place. It is mathematically possible (though not likely) that after Sunday’s race is over, Gordon could be in first, and Kenseth could be in ninth. That, friends, is close.

The next two events will take place on nearly identical 1.5-mile, high-banked, unrestricted intermediate superspeedways, in Atlanta and Texas, and as regular readers know (because I harp on it incessantly), Charlotte (where the Smokeless Set was two weeks ago) is the third identical piece of this triumvirate. The surfaces vary a bit from track to track, but the configurations and setups are darned close, meaning the guys who have been good in the first four races of 2006 on this track style are likely to be good again, provided mechanical problems don’t intervene. So expect to see this week’s picks and next week’s picks to look mighty similar.

Let’s take a look at the three drivers I like best this week, and a head-to-head selection, to boot.

Last Week: Denny Hamlin was very close to overtaking Jimmie Johnson, and winning me a 12-1 bet at Martinsville. Unfortunately, J.J. held off the rookie, so I had to accept winning a lopsided head-to-head bet, which basically turned the weekend into a wash. Hamlin easily topped Greg Biffle, though at -197, you’d certainly hope so. Anyway, with 1.5 units wagered, we profited by, ahem, 0.01 units. Buy yourself something pretty. For the year, we’ve netted a positive 21.45 units, and have given you winning weeks in 22 out of 31 events.

Kasey Kahne (6-1), 1/6th unit. Duh. Kahne has swept the first four events on this track type: he swept Charlotte, won here in Atlanta on a Monday (that week, Sunday’s race was rained out, which hopefully won’t be the case this weekend, though Friday’s qualifying did have to be scrubbed due to bad weather), and also in Texas. Without question, he’s currently the king of downforce (he also won Michigan earlier in the year, and California this Labor Day). His win here in the spring was a thing of beauty: he hung back, bided his time, and then absolutely dominated the event’s second half. There’ll be no surprises this week, but I expect Kahne to win again.

Jimmie Johnson (6-1), 1/6th unit. Yup, and if it’s not Kahne, it’ll be his closest rival from Charlotte two weeks ago, Johnson. J.J. has posted two seconds, a 6th and an 11th at this track type so far this year, and actually has the best two-year finishing average (4.9th place) at the A-C-T triumvirate. It also helps that Johnson is red hot, having climbed from ninth to third in the points in a mere month, and he sits just 41 back from leader Matt Kenseth (12-1). Johnson has five wins to Kahne’s six, but is obviously far more consistent. He’s the co-favorite here for a reason, and will give Kahne all he can handle.

Carl Edwards (18-1), 1/6th unit. I know, I know, what do I think this is, 2005? Other than Kenseth, the Roush cars have been an unmitigated disaster this year. Of course, just a single year ago, Edwards and Greg Biffle (10-1) were the talk of NASCAR, coming from nowhere to threaten Tony Stewart (8-1) for the points title. This year, neither made the Chase, and Edwards, who won four times last season (twice at this Atlanta track) hasn’t taken the checkers once this year. Part of that is inferior horsepower, and part of it is buzzard luck; I can remember races in Atlanta, Pocono and California that Edwards could’ve won with better luck. Anyway, fortune may favor Smilin’ Carl this week. He ran very well at Charlotte for a time last week (he wound up eighth), and never got a chance to defend his back-to-back wins at Atlanta this spring, as he collided with a non-contending car in Pit Lane early in the race. At three times the price of the favorites, this bet is a pretty good investment.

In the head-to-head matchup of the week, take Kahne over Tony Stewart (-140), 1 unit. By any measure, Smoke has had a disappointing season, but this is particularly glum: he’s averaged a 15.75th place at these unrestricted high-banked tracks, thanks to a couple of mediocre Charlotte efforts. Stewart did finish fifth here in the spring, so there’s a chance he finds some downforce magic and makes a serious run, but at this point I think it’s pretty crazy not to go with Kahne’s ’06 track record (if you’ll pardon the pun). Rare has been the car that could take down the #9 at this kind of venue, and I don’t think it’ll happen this week. I’m taking Kahne.

About the Author

Christopher Harris is a featured writer for the Professional Handicappers League. Read all of his articles at www.procappers.com

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