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With just two events left before the Chase for the Championship begins, NASCAR seems to have completely outfoxed itself.

By adding two extra drivers to the Chase, NASCAR officials believed they'd increase the drama both of the Chase itself (creating a higher likelihood that the sport's biggest stars would actually make the Nextel Cup playoffs) and the races that led to the Chase, as more quasi-mediocre drivers would have legit shots to get into the top 12 at Fontana this weekend and Richmond next weekend.

Well, it hasn't worked out that way, at least not in '07. Had the Chase format stayed at 10 drivers this season, you'd have one heck of a drama over the next two races. Clint Bowyer is currently ninth in points. Kevin Harvick is 10th, 56 points behind Bowyer. Martin Truex Jr. is 11th, just one point behind Harvick. And Kurt Busch is 12th, just eight points in back of Truex Jr. Wow. Think about it: 65 points would separate the four guys contending for the final two Chase sports, and nine measly points would separate the final three contenders for the last spot. But NASCAR had to mess with a good thing, and now 12th-place Busch is a full 158 points ahead of 13th-place Dale Earrnhardt Jr., who's another 17 points ahead of Ryan Newman. In other words: the Chase is all but set. You'll need Harvick, Truex Jr. or Busch to finish very poorly in each of the next two weeks to even give the No. 8 a sniff of the Chase. It's probably not going to happen.

The Chase itself will be dramatic. But the next couple races? Not so much.

Let's take a look at Fontana.

Last Week: Carl Edwards surprised me and most of the rest of the Nextel Cup world, taking his first-ever victory at Bristol. Unfortunately, that didn't jibe with our predictions. But Kurt Busch toppled Jimmie Johnson rather easily, giving us a head-to-head win. On the week, we netted a positive 0.41 units on 1.5 units wagered (a 27.3% return). On the season, we're at a net positive 6.88 units on 36 units wagered (a 19.1% 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 lost 2.09 units last week on four units wagered, though for the season you'd be up 27.53 units on 96 units wagered (a 28.7% return). Of course, such a betting pattern is riskier on a week-to-week basis.)

Take Jimmie Johnson (+611), 1/6th unit. Johnson has the best Fontana finishing average over the last three seasons and the last five seasons. He's won here, and he's got a first-, second- or third-place finish in the five of the last nine Fontana events. The place just seems to suit him. J.J. hasn't shown a whole lot since Chad Knaus came back from suspension, but he was uncharacteristically strong at Fontana's sister track in Michigan just a couple weeks ago (finishing a career-best third at that track), and I still love the way Johnson and Knaus can adjust a car mid-race, especially at the big wide-open cookie-cutters. Watch out for J.J. on Sunday night; he'll start the race second. Click here to bet this pick

Take Kurt Busch (+617), 1/6th unit. Busch has taken over the title of hottest driver on the circuit from Tony Stewart (+895). He's won two of the last four Nextel Cup events, including a dominating win at Michigan (an identical match to Fontana) two weeks ago. He hasn't worse than 11th since July 1st. He is, as they say, smokin'. Busch the Elder won the pole for Sunday's race, and he's got a career win, a career second and a career third at this venue. I expect him to contend. Click here to bet this pick

Take Carl Edwards (+991), 1/6th unit. Edwards shocked me winning at Bristol last Saturday night, but that's not why I'm taking him here; Bristol and Fontana have about as much to do with one another as do Paris Hilton and reading. No, I like Edwards here because he won the first Michigan race this season, and because he's got the best finishing average at Fontana and Michigan combined over the last three and the last five seasons. Simply put, it's a track style that suits him very well. There are several other drivers who can be good on Sunday (Martin Truex Jr. (+991), in particular, stands out to me), but I think Edwards has a legitimate shot at going back-to-back. Click here to bet this pick

by Michael Cash - - Email Us

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