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3M Performance 400

With just four races left until the Chase for the Championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in trouble.

It's the nightmare scenario for NASCAR once again; Junior didn't make the Chase two years ago, either.

In fact, so anxious was the sport about having its most popular drivers miss the Chase (Tony Stewart failed to make the cut in '06), it actually changed the rules, allowing the 11th- and 12th-place drivers to get into Nextel Cup's version of the playoffs. Yeah, and that might not work, either. Little-E currently sits in 14th place, 100 points behind 12th-place man Kurt Busch.

It's not good. In each of the last three seasons, at least one of the sport's absolute mega-stars has had nothing to race for in the season's final 10 events. In '05, it was Junior and Jeff Gordon, while Jeremy Mayfield made it. In '06 it was Stewart and Carl Edwards, while upstarts Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch got in. In '07 it's looking pretty bad for Earnhardt Jr. again, while the likes of Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are safely ensconced in velvet, Costanza-style.

Hey, it's not like I mind all that much. But legions of red-clad fans are already traumatized by the fact that Junior's headed to Hendrick, rendering their "#8" jewelry, tattoos and novelty pork-rind sculptures meaningless. The idea that Earnhardt Jr.'s final season driving under the DEI name would end in 14th place? Why, it's more than a grown man with the number eight carved into his eyeball should have to bear.

Last Week: Jeff Gordon's self-inflicted spinout on Watkins Glen's final lap was sweet music to our ears last week, as we had Tony Stewart winning the race (at +280) and topping Gordon in a head-to-head wager (at -175). So a frustrating afternoon turned happy pretty quickly, and we netted a positive 0.71 units on 1.5 units wagered (a 47.3% return) for the week. On the season, we're at a net positive 6.14 units on 33 units wagered (an 18.6% return). (Note that if you eschewed the conservative betting pattern we outline below, and simply wagered one unit on every recommendation we give, you'd have won 1.37 units last week on four units wagered (a 34.3% return), and for the season you'd be up 31.78 units on 88 units wagered (a 36.1% return). Of course, such a betting pattern is riskier on a week-to-week basis.)

Take Carl Edwards (+616), 1/6th unit. Edwards was my #1 selection the first time the Smokeless Set came to the Irish Hills of Michigan, back in June, and he rewarded me with a great performance and his only win of the season. It's not surprising to see King Carl run well here. First off, Jack Roush dearly loves having his cars win close to Detroit, so all the boys from Ford can see a return on their investment up close and personal. Also, Edwards is just great on this track, and on this track style. He's only finished worse than 10th here one time, and he holds the best two-year and five-year finishing averages at this joint. He'll only start 13th on Sunday, but he'll be in the mix.

Take Martin Truex Jr. (+1584), 1/6th unit. Truex will be right alongside Edwards in the starting grid on Sunday; he'll go off 14th. He also only practiced 25th in Happy Hour on Saturday. But I remember how he ran the last time the boys came to this track, and it was good. Truex probably had the best car that day, but he got spun out in the middle of the race, and it hurt the handling of his car just enough to force him to finish second. These odds are way too enticing to avoid.

Take Jimmie Johnson (+668), 1/6th unit. The truth is that this hasn't ever been one of Jimmie Johnson's good tracks. He's a lot more consistent at Fontana, the sister track to Michigan. But don't let his 19th place here in June fool you; he had a top-five car, but ran out of gas late. With Chad Knaus returning for the #48 after his five-race suspension, Johnson will go back to being the best driver at getting the mid-race adjustment he needs. He's never won in the Irish Hills before, but there's a first time for everything. He'll start the race seventh.

by Michael Cash - thespread.com - Email Us

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