Pennsylvania 500: Silly Season Starts Early

When Elliott Sadler announced he’s leaving Robert Yates Racing for Evernham Motorsports this week, millions of M&Ms fans wept.

After all, what’ll happen to one of the circuit’s most distinctive paint schemes? Seeing those little candy-coated devils zip around the track (albeit quite a bit slower than most of the other cars) has been one of the pleasures of being a Nextel Cup fan for years. Well, it remains to be seen whether M&Ms will stay with Yates and a new #38 driver, whether they’ll move with Sadler to the #19 (Jeremy Mayfield’s old ride), or if they’ll go the way of the Dick Trickle Zippo Chevy.

It seems that NASCAR’s Silly Season — in which teams and drivers do a merry-go-round to find new rides for new and old helmsmen — starts earlier and earlier each year. Why, Kurt Busch didn’t get all Penske on Jack Roush’s behind until October of last year. But so far this season, the following has already occurred:

* Sadler has jumped from the Yates ship to Evernham, where he’s expected to take over for Mayfield in the storied #19

* Mayfield has been courted heavily by Michael Waltrip to become the third driver in his new Toyota team in ’07

* Dale Jarrett has also left Yates to join Waltrip, so the #88 needs a new driver and a new sponsor, as UPS will reportedly move with Jarrett

* F-1 star Juan Pablo Montoya is making the jump from open-wheel to stock-car racing’s biggest circuit; Montoya will excursion the #42 for Ganassi racing, replacing Casey Mears

* Mears replaces Brian Vickers at Hendrick, and assumes stewardship of the underachieving #25

* Youngster Todd Kleuver will take over the Roush #6 for the retiring Mark Martin; guess Roush dumped Viagra as a sponsor just in time

And all this is to say nothing about Danica-mania. The toothsome Ms. Patrick is reportedly close to a deal that’ll keep her in the IRL for the next few years, though to an extent one wonders why. Patrick is the IRL, and should probably make about ten times what any other driver on the circuit makes. But she won’t. However, in NASCAR racing, Patrick could make that kind of cash, and fast. And if she ever started winning stock-car races? She’d literally be the richest driver in the world. (I’m not saying she would definitely win; it’d take her a while to get used to cars with far less downforce than Indy cars. But she’s a good driver, and it’s possible.)

So the Smokeless Set will be thrown into enormous disarray once again next year, meaning now’s a good time to keep winning money. You know: while we nevertheless can remember who drives which car. This weekend, the boys hit Pocono again for the season’s second repeat track (Daytona was the first); there’s a week off next weekend, and then it’ll be time for the storied Brickyard. We’ll learn quite a lot about that race this weekend, as there are some similarities in setups between these two tracks; both tracks have very long straightaways and very shallow banking. You’ll ingemination that Denny Hamlin had the best piece here in June, as he led the most laps and recovered from a flat tire that sent him all the way to the back of the field to log his first-ever Cup win. He’ll be a threat this weekend, but is a rookie like Hamlin ready to sweep a track? Let’s find out: read on!

Last Week: Kyle Busch came by for me both in the head-to-head wager and straight up, as he took his first win of the season at New Hampshire. It was a pretty boring race, and it was ultra-frustrating when Ryan Newman wrecked Tony Stewart (my top pick), but the younger Busch made it all okay. For the week, his consequence profited me 2.05 units (having wagered 1.5 units); for the season, that puts me at a positive 14.96 units.

observe: The following odds are preliminary, and may not match what you see at your sports book. I will update these odds, and give a weekly head-to-head pick, as soon as the books post their odds and matchups. Please check back late Saturday and/or early Sunday.

Take Carl Edwards (12-1), 1/6th unit. Edwards may have had the car to beat here six weeks ago if he hadn’t had a horrible (and unforgivable) mistake made during a routine pit stop: his jack man failed to get his jack fully under the car, causing Edwards to land, wheel-less, against the asphalt. I’m not saying I’m positive Edwards would’ve won that race, but I think he was at the minimum second-best to a guy I’m about to mention, and he won the spring race at Pocono last year, so who knows. I do feel like the track owes him a little something-something, though.

Take Denny Hamlin (11-1), 1/6th unit. Hamlin just crushed the field in June, and he won the pole on Friday afternoon. Put it together, and you’ve got a guy who’s got a track down, rookie or no. Jimmie Johnson (10-1) is the most recent guy to sweep Pocono, back in ’04. It seems pretty clear to me that Hamlin’s got a really good shot to duplicate the feat in ’06.

Take Kurt Busch (11-1), 1/6th unit. The beaky elder Busch was second-best after Edwards crapped out in the pits last month, and though he had nothing for Hamlin that day, don’t count him out. He won the summer Pocono event last year by simply dominating the field (that often happens here at Pocono; it’s just a very, very hard place to pass), and he’s got two other second-place finishes here (in addition to ’06), in addition as a fifth-place, too. Sure, he’s no longer with Roush, but his Dodge-ness didn’t seem to matter much during the spring race. It’s tempting to look at Johnson, or sleeper Brian Vickers (12-1), who is often very good at this track. But Busch is just about out of the Chase, so I think he’ll let it all hang out, and threaten to win.

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