October 03, 2008
Experts' Picks: Amp Energy 500
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: Johnson is on another one of his fall roles. He's won three of the last four races, and as long as he can avoid getting caught up in a wreck on Sunday, he should be in the lead pack in the final laps at Talladega, where he has one career victory in 13 starts.
Keep an eye on: Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- No one in the series has a better track record at Talladega than Little E. In 17 career starts at the superspeedway, Junior has five victories.
Don't expect much from: Matt Kenseth -- Though Kenseth has improved on plate tracks in recent years, he still struggles on the big tracks. He finished 41st at Talladega in the spring.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: He's the hottest driver in NASCAR at the moment, and if he can avoid trouble -- a big "if" at Talladega -- he's very likely to win for a second straight time.
Keep an eye on: Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- This is a make-or-break weekend for Junior. If he doesn't perform well now, his chances for a championship are almost completely gone. Luckily, he loves driving at Talladega, where he's won five Cup races in his career.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- As good as he's been recently (and he's been very, very good), history is against him at Talladega. In 11 career starts at the track, the Biff has never cracked the top 10.
  My Pick: David Ragan
Why he'll win: Talladega has a habit of producing first-time winners, and this sizzling sophomore is due to cash in on Victory Circle. Ragan's already got a knack for restrictor plate racing, notching three top-five finishes in seven career starts at Daytona and Talladega. With Chasers more worried about finishing -- not winning -- it's the perfect time for him to pull the upset.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Gordon -- Driving all weekend with a serious stomach virus, Gordon came home fourth at Kansas for his first top five since Bristol in August. Just goes to show you can never count out the four-time champ; and with 12 career restrictor plate victories for Gordon, Talladega may be coming at just the right time to end his winless streak.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- This is the week where we find out if Biffle is a title contender ... or pretender. In 11 career starts at Talladega, he has yet to come home with a Top 10 finish, encountering a season's worth of bad luck at one track. If the Big One strikes The Biff once more, he can kiss this year's championship hopes goodbye.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: The points leader isn't an automatic at Talladega, but he's pretty close. Look for him to continue to pad his lead with a win on Sunday. .
Keep an eye on: Carl Edwards -- Although his past performance at this track isn't much to brag about, he said at Kansas that he will glue his car to the bumper of Johnson's Chevrolet. So if that is true and I'm picking Johnson to win, common sense would dictate Edwards will be near the front.
Don't expect much from: Jeff Burton -- Another long-time driver who has never won at Talladega. That won't change on Sunday.
  My Pick: Jeff Gordon
Why he'll win: Visions of his 2009 race car will rekindle thoughts of the old days, when he was a phenomenal restrictor-plate racer. He has six wins at Talladega and swept the 2007 slate.
Keep an eye on: Matt Kenseth -- He's better on plate tracks than you think, despite his recent run of ill performances at Talladega.
Don't expect much from: Jamie McMurray -- He always seems to be in the hunt at some point, and you remember this because you say out loud, "Hey, Jamie McMurray's in the hunt!" But he hasn't been able to finish the deal.
  My Pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Why he'll win: He has a stretch of five wins and two seconds from 2001 to 2004 at Talladega when DEI was on top of its restrictor-plate game, but had only one top-10 in the next six races. Junior was 10th and led 46 laps -- his most since 2004 -- in April in his first race at Talladega with Hendrick. Undoubtedly, the team has been devoting more of its considerable resources to the Chase race. Earnhardt will have a better car and better horsepower this time around and he'll do the rest.
Keep an eye on: Brian Vickers -- He's very good at Talladega, finishing sixth or better in four of his last five starts -- including a win in this race two years ago. Vickers was fifth in April and he and his team have made big strides together since then. He's also got that Toyota horsepower, which figures to be the best in the restrictor-plate field.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- He doesn't have a top 10 in 11 starts and was 18th in April at Talladega. Some of it is bad luck. Biffle had four straight DNFs in the races there before that, the result of getting caught up in the Big One, but he was never better than 13th in the six races before that.
  My Pick: Jimmie Johnson
Why he'll win: He is on top of the standings and shines at Talladega. He's led during 12 of his last 13 starts at the track, won the spring 2006 race and finished second in both Talladega races in 2007. It's all about missing the Big One.
Keep an eye on: Jeff Gordon -- The odds are great that Gordon will run up front this weekend. He's made 31 career starts at Talladega, leading laps in 25 of them. Gordon won both Alabama races in 2007. He was sick last weekend and still finished fourth. He's been a little off all season, challenging in almost every race but winning none.
Don't expect much from: Greg Biffle -- Biffle got the Chase off to a great start with a couple of wins, but Talladega usually has been a detour for the Ford driver. He finished 18th at Talladega in the spring and was excited about the results. Before that, Biffle had four consecutive DNFs in Alabama.

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