November 07, 2008
Experts' Picks: Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: Johnson has won the last two races at Phoenix and there's little reason to believe he'll struggle on Sunday. Johnson, who has a 106-point lead over Carl Edwards in the standings, won't wrap up the championship at PIR, but he'll have such a commanding lead heading into Homestead, Fla., that there will be zero drama at the season finale.
Keep an eye on: Carl Edwards -- Edwards knows he has to go for broke, so expect him to be very, very aggressive In eight career starts at PIR, Edwards' average finish is a not-so-great 14.5.
Don't expect much from: Casey Mears -- In nine starts at PIR, Mears has never finished in the top 10. He's leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season, and he seems more focused on 2009 than '08.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: After missing their setup last week at Texas, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are sure to be dialed in on Sunday. Expect a front-running ride from>
Keep an eye on: Carl Edwards -- He's driving like a man with nothing to lose right now, and sooner or later, it has to catch up with him ... or does it? Edwards has been nothing short of brilliant since he won at Atlanta two weeks ago. A victory would give him a better than fighting chance to overtake Johnson at Homestead next week.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- The Biff has been very consistent -- and very strong -- all year. But Phoenix just isn't his favorite place to drive. He's got just three top-10 finishes there in nine starts ... though one of them came last April.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: As usual, the two-time defending champion arrives at a track in the Chase where he's thrived before. Leading the standings by 106 points, Johnson has won two straight races at Phoenix.
Keep an eye on: Carl Edwards -- In need of another hiccup from Johnson, Edwards has three top-five finishes in eight starts at Phoenix and was fourth there this spring. He has to keep pressure on Johnson to have a chance in the final race at Homestead.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- Third in the standings at 143 points out, he'll have to attack Phoenix guns-a-blazin' and that's a risky strategy. He's finished ninth and second in his last two starts at Phoenix, but that was under different circumstances.
  My Pick: Mark Martin
Why he'll win: I'm going sentimental here, gambling Martin wins in his final start with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. The 49-year-old has yet to win in 2008, but had the fastest car this spring until Jimmie Johnson used fuel mileage to pass him heading to the checkered flag. With non-Chasers zero-for-eight so far in these playoffs, it's about time someone ranked 13th on back comes through with a trip to Victory Lane.
Keep an eye on: Kevin Harvick -- Still winless in 2008, Harvick faces his last best chance to cash in. Sweeping both races here in 2006, the No. 29 team has a feel for the flat tracks and is looking to make a final push to finish in the top five in points.
Don't expect much from: David Ragan -- Roush's second-year driver is looking for his first career win, but he shouldn't expect to get it in the Arizona desert. In three career starts here, he's yet to finish in the Top 25.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: After an unexpected mediocre finish at Texas, look for Johnson to rebound with a victory as he attempts to close out The Chase with his third-straight title. Although his poor Texas finish (15th) made it difficult to clinch at Phoenix, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus want to return to the top of their game to build a huge cushion heading into next week's season-finale at Homestead.
Keep an eye on: Carl Edwards -- Edwards realizes the only way to keep the pressure on Johnson is by contending for victory. So Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing will do whatever is necessary to keep their Ford at or near the front.
Don't expect much from: Denny Hamlin -- He has fallen off the radar lately and a strong finish in the desert at this late stage of the season would be nothing more than a mirage.
  My Pick: Denny Hamlin
Why he'll win: He has three third-place finishes in six starts at Phoenix, including this April, and my gut feeling is he's going to break through to victory lane. Hamlin's best tracks in his Cup career have been flat. His sole win this season was at Martinsville in March. Hamlin is also in position to gamble on fuel or two tires because a victory would mean more than an improved position in the top 12.
Keep an eye on: Jimmie Johnson -- He's won back-to-back at Phoenix and has been in the top-seven in eight of 10 starts. He finished second at New Hampshire, the other one-mile flat track in the Chase, in September and ran away to victory on the flat half-mile at Martinsville. With a 106-point lead in the Chase, all Johnson needs is a top-five run to be in a commanding position going to the finale at Homestead-Miami, and he certainly will have the car to do it.
Don't expect much from: Kyle Busch -- He finished 10th this spring when he was dominating the series;his win at Phoenix in 2006 is his only top-five in seven starts there. The No. 18 hasn't been strong at New Hampshire (25th, 34th in 2008), either, pointing to a struggle finding a solid setup.

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