Indianapolis: Johnson vs. Earnhardt Jr., Allmendinger vs. Gordon. Pocono: Johnson vs. Allmendinger, Earnhardt Jr. vs Gordon. Watkins Glen: Johnson vs. Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. vs. Allmendinger.
At first, this group looks like it's going to be pretty easy for Junior to advance (assuming Vader takes the group). But the way that the schedule was drawn makes it far from a foregone conclusion. (The schedule was also done as a blind draw too. The six possible schedule scenarios were drawn once and then put back in the pot where two were drawn a second time for the remaining two groups) Junior is only the favorite at Pocono, and remember, Allmendinger was a very successful driver in CART, which didn't have any oval tracks. Even Robby Gordon has a chance if he performs at Watkins Glen like he did at Sonoma. All he would need is a calamity to befall his opponent at Indianapolis or Pocono or a great run at either track to advance.
Jay's Picks: Winner: Jimmie Johnson -- He's strong at Indy, reasonable at Pocono, and good enough at Watkins Glen that he'll be able to hold off a relatively light field. He takes this group in a walk, but that's where the easy times end for JJ.
To Advance: Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- He's going to have to make his run before Watkins Glen, since he loathes road courses, but I still think he's got enough to hold off the field and advance. Barely. (Though if he goes on another top-10 run like he did earlier this season, he could be a surprise late pick.)
Nick's Picks: Winner: Jimmie Johnson -- Johnson is incredibly good at Indianapolis and is going to be a threat to win at both Pocono and Watkins Glen. You don't pick against Vader in NASCAR.
To Advance: AJ Allmendinger -- I'm sure Junior Nation isn't going to be happy, but I just don't see Junior doing well in this format. Assuming Junior loses to Vader at Indy and beats Robby Gordon at Pocono, he'll need to beat Allmendinger at Watkins Glen. I don't see that happening.