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Jimmie Johnson looks up while signing autographs before practice at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Jimmie Johnson looks up while signing autographs before practice at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero)|Associated Press
NASCAR

NASCAR: Eckel picks the Oh Oh Oh O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 - Jimmie Johnson has the pole

O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Texas Motor Speedway, 3 p.m.

Mark Eckel

NASCAR moves to Texas this week where the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 will take place at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Veteran Jimmie Johnson, in his 18th season, will be on the pole and looking for his first win of the season. Johnson’s best finish this season was eighth in Phoenix week four of the season.

Johnson’s Chevy teammates at Hendricks Sports will be up from with him as William Byron will start from position two and Chase Elliott in position three.

“To have all three cars up there in the top three positions, and I think Alex (Bowman) would have been right there in the mix if he didn't have his troubles in Round 1, is saying a lot," Johnson, who won this race in 2017 and finished fourth in 2016, told NASCAR.com. "The work that went into these cars and the work that's gone into, honestly the last 36 months; and we're not out of the woods yet. But this is a very good weekend for us to really build on our 1.5-mile program. And I think we're off to a great start.”

This race began in 1997 with Jeff Burton winning the 334-lap event. Since then the red-hot Kyle Busch has won the race three times, including 2018 and 2016. No driver has ever won in back-to-back years, however .

Busch, who won the truck race and the Xfinity series race this weekend is not only looking to go back-to-back, but to pull off a weekend sweep.

"I look forward to the challenge of that,’’ Busch said “I look forward to the opportunity of that, hopefully being able to come out of here with a three-race sweep. We've been on such a strong run right now, things have been clicking pretty good and hopefully we can keep that going weeks ahead.”

Busch, who is the current points leader with 273 and has wins at Phoenix and Fontana, California this meet, is the favorite at 5-2.

Here our the selections from the panel of experts that include Scott “Tobacco Road’’ Baker and Mike “Left Turn’’ Sweeney.

Busch is someone you want to use in your fantasy leagues, or in head-to-head betting. But at such a short price we’re not going to use him here.

Joey Logano (6-1): Tobacco Road Baker is not a big Logano fan, but even he had to admit this could be his race. Logano’s #22 has six straight top seven finishes here. He finished third in both 2016 and 2017 and sixth last year. He also won this year in Las Vegas where the rules were the same as they will be Sunday. At 6-1 this is a nice price. I like him.

Jimmie Johnson (12-1): Johnson’s drought didn’t phase Left Turn Sweeney, who was impressed by the veteran’s times this weekend and thinks he might just get back to the winner’s circle. Johnson earned his first pole since 2016 and it’s not often you can get the driver on the pole at 12-1.

Kevin Harvick (7-1): Tobacco Road’s choice to get the checkered flag. Harvick, who is currently third in points, has won twice here, came in second to Busch last year and finished fourth in 2017. He’s raced in Texas four times and has been in the top five all four times.

Longshot plays: Chase Elliott (12-1) and Ryan Blaney (11-1).