October 17, 2008
Experts' Picks: TUMS QuikPak 500
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: Johnson will take a big step toward winning his third-straight championship on Sunday. He's won three of the last four races at Martinsville and has emerged as one of the best short track racers on the circuit.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Burton -- Burton hasn't won at Martinsville in 11 years, but he did have a strong run here earlier this spring, finishing third. It's imperative that he rip off a top-five run on Sunday to keep his title hopes alive.
Don't expect much from: Carl Edwards -- Edwards shot at the championship, which appeared so promising just three weeks ago, has quickly evaporated with back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse. Expect the slide to continue at Martinsville, where he only has one top-10 finish in eight career starts.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: You think I'm crazy? Four wins and 12 top-10 finishes in his last 13 races at Martinsville ... the leader in the Chase and a guy who's average finish over the last five races is 4.6 ... do the math.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Gordon -- He's the only one who's nearly as good at Martinsville as J.J. is. If he doesn't win here, he's probably not going to get it done in the next four races either.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- Even the Biff sounded skeptical of his chances this weekend when I talked to him after the race at Charlotte. Yes, he ran here well last fall, but he didn't seem to think that result was going to be predictive.
  My Pick: Jeff Gordon
Why he'll win: It's now been officially one year since Jeff Gordon last won a Cup race. Who woulda thunk it? But after hitting the wall at Lowe's early, the Rainbow Warrior staged a remarkable comeback to run up front and bring the team added momentum this week. Martinsville is one of Gordon's best tracks -- he hasn't finished lower than fifth here since '04 -- and it's the last best chance to derail what would be his first winless season since '93.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Burton -- 69 points behind Johnson with five races to go, Burton needs to make a serious move at this track. There's certainly hope for success: the last two times out at the half-mile, he's led 88 laps and posted an average finish of 7.5. Those numbers need to be better, though, for the No. 31 team to actually put some pressure on Johnson's No. 48.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- The '08 Chase Cinderella is likely to have his title dreams officially end at Martinsville. In 11 career starts, he's got just one Top 10 and an average finish of 23.6.
  My Pick: Kyle Busch
Why he'll win: Busch may be out of contention to win the title, but this year's star driver hasn't forgotten how to handle a car. He has at least one more win left in him this season and that will come on Sunday at Martinsville.
Keep an eye on: Jimmie Johnson -- This is one of his better tracks and the Cup points leader will be in the running for the victory on Sunday, keeping a Hendrick influence on this track.
Don't expect much from: Carl Edwards -- Already reeling from his woes at Lowe's, where he got down a lap early and then had double-ignition failure, Edwards will continue to struggle at Martinsville, where he's struggled before.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: He's won three of the last four there and has not finished outside of the top 10 since his first race there in 2002. It's also Jimmie season and the two-time defending series champion and points leader is in the march to Homestead.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Burton -- Interesting not only because he's second in driver points, but also because he's a Virginian and has been successful at Martinsville. He was third there in the spring.
Don't expect much from: Juan Pablo Montoya -- He's finished 16th, 8th and 13th in three starts, but Martinsville should be about ready to take a bite out of him.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: Johnson has been strongest this season on flat tracks and he's almost always been on top of his game at Martinsville, where he has four wins, a second (this spring) and two thirds in his last eight starts. Johnson also has victories at Phoenix and Richmond II and was second in the Chase race at New Hampshire this season. Johnson will want to build his points lead and has the confidence to drive aggressively.
Keep an eye on: Denny Hamlin -- Martinsville represents a prime opportunity for Hamlin to turn his Chase fortunes around. He won this spring, leading the last 74 laps, and also has finishes of second, third and sixth in his last four starts. Hamlin has been best on flat tracks in his Cup career, with two wins at Pocono and one at New Hampshire, and he was third at Phoenix and Richmond II this season. He's 12th in the points, where he finished last year, and if he can't put together a productive performance Sunday, he's probably destined for 12th again.
Don't expect much from: Kevin Harvick -- He was 12th at Martinsville in the spring, a typical run at a track where he has no top-fives and five top-10s in 14 starts. Harvick hasn't led a lap at Martinsville since the fall race in 2004. He's sixth in the Chase and it will be difficult for him to leave Martinsville any higher than that.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: Johnson will take a big step toward locking up his third title in a row with a strong showing at Martinsville, a track where he does nothing but excel. Since a poor debut at the track, Johnson has reeled off 12 consecutive top-10s. He's won three of the last four races at Martinsville, finishing fourth in the spring.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Gordon -- Gordon bears watching even if he is just eighth in the points and hasn't won a race in a season for the first time since 1994. He owns Martinsville, with seven career victories and seven consecutive top-five finishes.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- Biffle has just one top-10 in 11 career starts at Martinsville, but he's not the only top Chase contender that struggles at the track. Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer have never led a lap at Martinsville or finished better than ninth.

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