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Samsung 500- Rainy Friday

Samsung 500- Rainy Friday

So much for qualifying.

Inclement weather and some mixed messages from NASCAR led to delay after delay in Friday’s qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway, until finally the track ran out of light, and qualifying was officially considered defunct. As a result, we get little idea of who’s got a fast li’l rocket ship for Sunday afternoon’s race; the cars will roll off in the order of the points standings.

But we do have a not-so-secret weapon picking this race: the venue. Texas is an awful lot like Atlanta, where the Smokeless Set ran just a few weeks ago. Jimmie Johnson won that race (as he always seems to do), and Tony Stewart was coming hard and fast at event’s end. Juan Pablo Montoya posted a Nextel-Cup-career-best fifth-place finish in that event, and the points leader, Jeff Gordon, (who’ll begin this race from the pole) finished “just” 12th, his worst finish so far in a very good year. Will these drivers be the story once again on Sunday? Read on.

Two weeks ago: A very nice week at Martinsville, where our pick of Johnson to win at +750 odds, combined with our head-to-head selection of J.J. over Kyle Busch, led to profit galore. On 1.5 units wagered, we netted 1.92 units, a return of 128%; for the season, on nine units wagered, we’ve netted a positive 3.37 units, for a return of 37.4%. (And note that if you’d eschewed the conservative unit strategy I advise below, and simply placed one unit on every wager I’ve recommended, you’d be up a net 20.67 units on 24 units wagered, for an 86.1% return. It’s riskier on a week-to-week basis, though.) Let’s keep it going.

Take Tony Stewart (+350), 1/6th unit. As I mentioned above, Stewart was coming hard at Atlanta last month, and if the event had been just a few laps longer, he’d have passed for the lead and the win. Smoke won his first career Texas event last fall during his ill-conceived and too-late 2006 push, and he’s come at least sixth his last three tries down here. This is, without question, a safe and wimpy bet, but with no qualifying to go by and Stewart practicing fourth-, first- and fourth-fastest in the three rain-spackled practice sessions over the past few days, I really think the Home Depot crew wins this rematch with his No. 48 nemesis.

Take Jimmie Johnson (+350), 1/6th unit. And why not cover all the bases? Johnson has already taken three of the first six Nextel Cup events this season, and he was fifth-quick in Happy Hour Saturday. Not taking J.J. on these 1.5-mile, high-banked, cookie-cutter tracks is just silly; over the past two-plus seasons, his finishing average at Atlanta, Charlotte and Texas (three nearly identically configured venues) is right around sixth place, and in the last five-plus seasons, it’s right around eighth. That’s just way better than anyone else in the sport, and it bespeaks Johnson’s smoothness and ability to adjust his racecar. He’ll give it a go to take his first-ever Texas win Sunday.

Take Carl Edwards (+1500), 1/6th unit. There are other attractive bets on a board that’s been thrown for a loop because of the foul weather (as of late Saturday, some online books still hasn’t posted their post-Happy-Hour race odds), but assuming Edwards stays up in the mid-teens, he’s my favorite value bet. King Carl came seventh in Atlanta, and has one Texas win and two Atlanta victories to his credit. Leading up to Saturday afternoon’s race, Edwards had also won two consecutive Busch races, so you know he’s in a good frame of mind. This is the kind of track where Carl excels; he has the second-best finishing average at this track type (to Johnson) over the last two and five seasons. Edwards’s Roush Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth (+800) and Greg Biffle (+1800) are also interesting threats; in fact, Kenseth came third in Atlanta. Still, I think Edwards gives you the best shot at a really interesting payday after my two favorites.