May 09, 2008
Experts' Picks: Dodge Challenger 500
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: Darlington is one of Johnson's best tracks on the circuit. In nine Cup starts at the short track Johnson has completed 99.9 percent of the laps, won twice, and recorded five top-five finishes. On Saturday night Johnson will be driving chassis No. 433 -- the same car that captured poles at Bristol earlier this season and Dover last fall.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Gordon -- Gordon should be in the hunt to take his first checkered flag of the year on Saturday night. He's the reigning race winner here and no in the series has a better record of success on short tracks than Gordon.
Don't expect much from: Juan Pablo Montoya -- Because of its odd characteristics, Darlington is a place that favors experienced drivers who have turned a lot of laps at the track. This doesn't bode well for Montoya. Last year, in his only start at Darlington, he finished 23rd. Expect him to finish about in the same place on Saturday night.
  My Pick: Denny Hamlin
Why he'll win: Hamlin is on a roll right now, and Darlington seems to be a likely place for him to break through with another victory. He's got two top-10 finishes there in two starts and was so dominant last week that I can't imagine he will drop off much on Saturday.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Burton -- You know he'll be running up front at the end, and he knows Darlington well enough that he just might be able to squeeze out the win. In 25 starts, he's got two wins and 14 top-10 finishes.
Don't expect much from: Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- I'm not saying he'll finish outside of the top 20, or even the top 10, but I don't think he's a threat to win this one. Darlington doesn't seem to be Junior's favorite track-he's got six top-10 finishes there in 13 starts, with no wins and just two top fives.
  My Pick: Greg Biffle
Why he'll win: Quick, who's the highest ranking Roush driver in the point standings? Yep, that's right; Biffle's had a solid season, and has won two of the last three Cup races at Darlington. What'll put him over the top this time? Simple: a little extra oomph. Whenever a new track is repaved, extra track time is critical, and Biffle was one of three men tabbed for the Goodyear tire tests this spring.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Gordon -- The Lady In Black has played bridesmaid to Gordon's success the last few seasons. With four consecutive top-3 finishes, this is clearly a track which suits the Rainbow Warrior. The bigger question is whether the team can overcome their struggles over the past month in order to push them back into top 5-contention.
Don't expect much from: Kyle Busch -- Not surprisingly, The Track Too Tough To Tame has never played into Busch's aggressive style. With an average finish of 22nd in three starts at Darlington, he's led just one lap throughout his Cup career at the track.
  My Pick: Jeff Gordon
Why he'll win: Yes, he required a disastrous pit stop from Denny Hamlin's crew to derail his chief competition and steal away his seventh win at Darlington, even though his No. 24 Chevrolet was boiling off water like a teapot. And he did it in the "Car of Tomorrow that is now the Car of Today," so if Hendrick Motorsports' jots and scribbles still apply a year later, watch out.
Keep an eye on: Jimmie Johnson -- Has two wins and just one finish worse than ninth in nine starts at Darlington, including a season sweep in 2004. This will be a 24-48 dash for the finish.
Don't expect much from: Denny Hamlin -- One part of you wants to say that the racing god owes him one. He should have won Darlington last year after leading 179 of 367 laps. He had Richmond in his pocket last week until a tire problem stole a win in his hometown race. But we all know that the racing god is a nasty, sardonic little punk and he's not going to make things right this weekend.
  My Pick: Ryan Newman
Why he'll win: A newly paved Darlington Raceway will mean increased speed. So going on a hunch, I'm taking this year's Daytona 500 winner if for no other reason, a win by Newman would get him back on the radar screen.
Keep an eye on: Kyle Busch -- Win or lose, it's worth keeping an eye on this guy mostly because of his intimidating race style and his no fear attitude. And Busch should probably keep his eye on empty beers cans that may be tossed his way by disgruntled Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans in Saturday's pre-race introductions.
Don't expect much from: Jeff Gordon -- One of Darlington Raceway's most successful drivers, Gordon continues to struggle this season trying to find a path to victory lane. Saturday night should be no different.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have been a formidable combination at tricky and treacherous Darlington with two wins, five top-fives and a 6.7 finishing average in nine starts. Johnson was third last year and has led at least 17 laps in six straight events at the unique 1.3-mile track. He was on a roll with consecutive finishes of fourth, second and first before involvement in two crashes in the past two races halted his momentum. The No. 48's performance is there for a trip to Victory Lane Saturday night.
Keep an eye on: Denny Hamlin -- He led 179 laps in finishing second last year in his second Sprint Cup start at Darlington and he's running very well at all types of tracks. Hamlin had five straight finishes of sixth or better before last week's race at Richmond, where he led 381 laps before a flat tire dropped him to 24th. Darlington could be his second win of the season and he'll certainly be in the top five.
Don't expect much from: Kevin Harvick -- He's struggled in the past four races at Darlington, including 17th last year, and has two top-fives and a 19.1 finishing average in 11 starts. Harvick is fifth in the points, but has only one top-10 in the last five races.
  My Pick: Jeff Burton
Why he'll win: Burton is hot and enjoys racing at Darlington, with eight top-five finishes and two wins at the track in his career. It would be tempting to pick a Hendrick Motorsports driver as the team has won five of the last eight races at the track. But go with the hot hand -- Richard Childress Racing has three drivers ranked in the top five of the point standings.
Keep an eye on: Greg Biffle -- Biffle is hit or miss at Darlington. He's won two of the last three races at the track, with two career victories in just seven starts. His other five finishes have all been 10th or worse.
Don't expect much from: Kyle Busch -- The points leader hasn't exactly struggled at Darlington, but he hasn't shined either. In three career starts, he's finished 23rd, seventh and 37th.

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