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Locks, drops & sleepers for Kentucky

Zach, Chris, Kyle, Kristin
| Sep 30, 2011

Lock: JR Hildebrand
Yes, it's Rookie Time in the Lock Spot. Panther Racing is generally fantastic at Kentucky. Their drivers finished P2-P3 last year, and returning teammate Buddy Rice should help a team looking to duplicate or exceed that result. If the "Hildebeast" is unleashed at Kentucky, he could truly take command of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle heading into the season finale.

Drop: Dillon Battistini
This might seem like a sneaky sleeper pick, since both Conquest cars (Baguette and Scheckter) qualified in the Top 10 at Kentucky last year. Unfortunately, Battistini is making his first start in a crowded field with a team that just hasn't been very good on ovals this year. We'll wish him the best, but picking elsewhere this week is the safe move.

Sleeper: Ed Carpenter
It seems like Ed has dropped off the radar a bit since Indy, but this really has been his race the past two years. Two P2s and a pole position in his last two outings show he knows what it takes to get around this track. (Don't forget, team owner Sarah Fisher had some pretty decent finishes here back in the day, as well). Carp might not have the pure speed to win, but I like him to find a way into a Top 10 finish here.
---Zachary Houghton’s Picks

Lock: Scott Dixon
There aren't many drivers who are better than Scott Dixon on the ovals. Coming off a dominant victory in Japan, his second in the last five races (with a worst finish of fifth in that time span) Dixon also has "big mo" on his side. Assuming he'll be a factor in Kentucky is a major understatement. He'll be on the guys to beat all weekend and should bring home a nice result for you.

Drop: Mike Conway
Even with his victory in Long Beach, Mike Conway's season has been abysmal. Only three other times has he managed to crack the top 10, and those all came on road and street courses. On the ovals, his finishes are 24th, 17th, 12th, 24th, and 25th, with a DNQ on the board at Indianapolis. It has not been the year we thought was coming when he qualified fourth in St. Pete. With tow ovals to end the season, odds are it won't get any better for him.

Sleeper: Dan Wheldon
Is it really possible that this year's Indy 500 is only a sleeper? Well, given that he hasn't participated in a race since Indianapolis (though he has been busy tested the 2012 chassis) and that he was just confirmed in Sam Schmidt's No. 77 Bowers and Wilkins entry, the role of sleeper seems to fit. Still, it's likely I would've placed this team here is Alex Tagliani had remained in the seat. Sam Schmidt Motorsports has flexed some serious muscle this season, especially on ovals. There speed is there and they should be mixing it up with the big boys all weekend.

---Kyle Lavigne’s Picks

Lock: Scott Dixon
Dixon’s been strong lately on high-speed ovals, finishing runner-up in both events at our last 1.5-mile oval at Texas Motor Speedway and then third at Iowa Speedway (which, quite frankly, is a superspeedway in all but distance). In addition to being primed for a good run in Kentucky, he also may be primed to rob Team Penske’s Will Power of precious points in his battle with Dixon’s teammate at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Dario Franchitti.
Drop: Dillon Battistini
Battistini can certainly do well on the ovals, as his four Firestone Indy Lights wins in 2008 (which included a victory at Indianapolis in the Freedom 100) attest. But he’s a rookie making his first start in the big time, and his Conquest Racing team is simply not as strong as the speedways as the other squads. Still, it’s nice to see him finally get a shot at the IZOD IndyCar Series after making a splash three seasons ago in Lights.
Sleeper: Dan Wheldon
The Indy 500 winner is back and that’s always a good thing, in my opinion. Not only that, his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team has shown to be quite quick on the ovals. Wheldon will be very eager to be back in an IndyCar and I think all the elements are in place for this group to spring an upset in Sparta.

---Chris Estrada’s Picks

Lock: Scott Dixon
The Iceman had been rather quiet this season, but then again he’s not a driver that has to have a stellar season to be considered a stellar driver. However, just in case anyone has forgotten about good ole Dixie, I think he’ll remind them at Kentucky. He’ll be right at home on this oval and it should be no problem for him to cruise into victory lane.

Drop: Dario Franchitti/Will Power
I’m not sure if making the top two championship contenders tie for drop is allowed, but I’ve never been much for rules. Just to clarify though, by “drop” I mean finishing on the podium instead of the winner’s circle. My hat goes off to these two gentlemen for their inspiring performances this season, but now it’s crunch time. And even the most confident driver isn’t going pedal to the medal on the second to last race of the season, especially when they’ve got as much to lose as Power and Franchitti. Neither one of them needs to be in victory lane this week, they just need to finish ahead of the other.

Sleeper: Dan Wheldon
Who remembers the Target Twins? I DO! Who would love to see Dixie and Dan go one, two this week? I WOULD! It makes me nostalgic for my early days of being an IndyCar fan thinking of those two together and I personally would love to see them both finish the season strong, especially Dan. He’s been such a good sport this season, watching helplessly as his friends and competitors (literally) drive circles around him and then coming in to win the 500 like the champion he is. It would be really great to see him go two for two this season…or three for three (spoiler alert for my Vegas’ lock!) He’ll definitely be a fan favorite this week!

---Kristin Slevin’s picks


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