Pepsi Max 400 Preview and Pick to Win

Race: Pepsi Max 400
Date: Sunday October 10, 2010
Track: Auto Club Speedway
Time: 3 pm ET
Channel: ESPN
by Virginia Vroom of

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Kansas is certainly a track that I am glad to see add an extra date next year. Kansas helped change the atmosphere of the Chase. While everyone expected some of these guys to solidify their spots and for the top spot to be semi-out of reach to everyone else, Kansas helped make the race even tighter. With Greg Biffle taking the win and Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and several other Chase drivers having solid days, the points are still up for grabs and that top spot is still very much undecided.

This weekend, we are headed to a favorite track of many drivers. Auto Club Speedway is a Jeff Gordon specialty. He consistently does well here, as proved at Kansas that he is still a force to be reckoned with. This 2 mile D-shaped oval is a favorite of teammate Jimmie Johnson as well. It seems that where Jeff is good, Jimmie follows. Last week was a bit odd because even though these 2 guys are so strong on the same tracks, they rarely drive the same setup. They run very different setups usually, but Jimmie ran Jeff’s setup last week and was pretty happy with it. We’ll have to wait and see if they have a similar situation this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson has won this track 5 times while Gordon has 3 wins here. Another interesting note is that besides these 2 Hendrick drivers, The Roush guys are very strong here as well. Greg Biffle has the potential to carry over some momentum from Kansas. He’s won on this track before along with multiple wins for teammate Matt Kenseth. Although Kenseth hasn’t been very strong, he could potentially redeem himself here. Other than those drivers mentioned, the only other winners here include the Busch brothers, Carl Edwards, Jeremy Mayfield, Mark Martin, Elliot Sadler, and Rust Wallace. Kasey Kahne also has a win here, but his ability to stay away from wrecks will almost certainly rule out that possibility this weekend.

This 2 mile track is a fun one because these guys reach some crazy speeds. More than that, the guy who can get out front in clean air will check out seconds from the rest of the field. What was interesting at Kansas is that even though it’s a pretty big track, lap traffic played a big role in the leaders being able to get away from everyone else. The front 5 cars were constantly competing for that top spot.

This weekend, I am going with Jimmie Johnson. Having won the past 2 races here and also simply carrying the consistency that he and Chad Knaus do, I think that we’re going to see a lot more of Jimmie in victory lane in this late part of the season. This is the time for wins, and if any team knows that, it’s the 48 team. I wouldn’t count out Gordon or either one of the Busch brothers, but Jimmie has that ability to creep to the front and take that win. Look for Biffle and Kenseth to run well also. Some other non-Chase notables include A.J. Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr. Those guys are not getting the credit they deserve. They are consistently in that top 15, and quickly getting to those top 10 positions in almost every race. They have the potential to be wildcards if they play the game right.

Here are your current top 12 in the points after Kansas:

1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Carl Edwards
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Kurt Busch
7. Kyle Busch
8. Greg Biffle
9. Jeff Burton
10. Tony Stewart
11. Matt Kenseth
12. Clint Bowyer

Anyone from the 8th position up still has the opportunity to take this championship. Mathematically, Bowyer is really the only driver who has no shot. This is shaping up to be a great Chase. Don’t look for Kyle to be the winner though. After last week’s race and incident with Reutimann, we see that Kyle still lacks the maturity to win. Wrecking other drivers is his Achilles heel. He will not win until he realizes that he has to driver fairly. If you spin them, Kyle, they will spin you. It’s not a one-way street.

Stay tuned for this weekend’s race. It’s sure not to disappoint as this Chase heats up even more with only 7 races left.