April 23, 2012
We’re back to Saturday night racing this week, as the Sprint Cup Series visits historic Richmond International Raceway for the first time in the 2012 season. As of this writing, there was no announced sponsor of the race, and the official website for the track lists it as the “Sprint Cup Series 400″. Richmond is a 0.75-mile D-shaped race track that is comparable to Auto Club Speedway (in terms of banking) despite being less than half the length. 400 laps means we will be going 300 miles under the lights on Saturday.
Fact Of The Track: In the last five years at Richmond–ten total races–the pole winner has gone on to win the race 20% of the time. The average starting position of the race winners during that span has been 9.8, and the average finish of the pole winners has been 12.9.
During The Last Race At Richmond…Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards had the best cars all race and led a combined 315 laps out of the 400 ran that night. They finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. Jeff Gordon ended up 3rd with David Ragan and Kurt Busch rounding out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…I really don’t understand how the practice sessions are going to help the drivers this week, but I don’t own the track so I didn’t make the schedule. There are two practices on Friday at noon and 2:30 pm. Qualifying will then be held at 5:30 that night, and then the race is set to begin around 7:15 pm on Saturday, meaning the cars really won’t be on the track during race conditions in practice. All times are in Eastern Time. Note to those who play Yahoo! Auto Racing: rosters lock early Friday morning, meaning we have to set them before seeing the cars on the track.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Sprint Cup Series 400:
1. Kevin Harvick – When you look at the stat sheet, Harvick isn’t the flat-out, number one pick in most people’s minds, but he is in mine. When you combine history at Richmond along with how each driver is running this year, I believe Harvick is the safest bet, and for that reason he gets my vote. Also, as I said before, “Happy” is the most recent winner here, and he led the most laps at Phoenix earlier this year (which, if you pay attention to ifantasyrace.com, Ryan Rantz thinks is a reversed Richmond). In the last fourteen races here, Harvick has finished inside the top 10 on ten seperate occasions, and that includes five top 5s. Statistically, this is the fourth-best track on the circuit for Kevin, and his average driver rating of 110.1 in the last two years here is third-best in the series.
2. Jimmie Johnson – When you look at average finish, Jimmie Johnson probably wouldn’t be on the top of your fantasy lists this week. However, you have to look at more than just that. Yes, in twenty career starts at Richmond Five Time has averaged a finish of 17.2, but he has also had three visits to victory lane and led 414 laps. Last fall, Jimmie finished 31st, but he led 38 laps that day and was a top 5 car until Kurt Busch put him into the wall. Furthermore, in the last five Richmond races, that is the only event that he hasn’t finished inside the top 11. Also, let’s not forget that the #48 team has had great cars week in and week out and Jimmie hasn’t finished worse than 12th since Daytona. Go against him if you want, but I know I won’t.
3. Denny Hamlin – What’s not to like about Hamlin this weekend? He’s coming off his second win of the season and heading to one of the best tracks on the circuit for him. In twelve career starts at Richmond, Denny has finished inside the top 5 in half of them and notched two victories along the way. His worst finish here is 24th–although he led 93% of the laps ran in that race (flat tire)–and he has completed 4,806 of the 4,810 laps ran in his twelve starts here. Hamlin has also led 1,188 laps in his career here, which is better than everyone not named Jeff Gordon. The #11 should be a force once again on Saturday.
4. Kyle Busch – I actually found it very difficult ranking these next two drivers like I did. However, it’s hard going against numbers like these two have. We’ll start with Rowdy Busch. Richmond is Kyle track, plain and simple. His average finish of 5th here is, by far, the best in the series, and he’s tied with just a handful of others with the most wins at this track (3). In fourteen starts here, he’s never finished worse than 20th, and Busch has eleven top 5s to his name. He has led 859 laps in his career here and has completed 100% of the laps ran (how impressive is that?). Unless a freak situation happens like in Bristol, I fully expect Kyle to be a top 5 car on Saturday night.
5. Jeff Gordon – Gordon’s record isn’t as stout as Kyle’s at Richmond, but it’s still good nonetheless. In thirty-eight career starts at this track, Jeff has visited victory lane twice and amassed twenty-four top 10s (fifteen of them being top 5s). Gordon has led a series-best 1,413 laps here and has the fifth-best average driver rating (104.8) in the last two years at this track. He’s going to stop having bad luck sooner or later, and the last time we were at a short track, Gordon absolutely dominated (Martinsville). He also finished 8th at Bristol despite starting 30th. Also, nine of the last ten Richmond races have ended with Gordon in the top 12.
6. Tony Stewart – Here’s a real wildcard for the weekend. Smoke is pretty good here (three career victories) and owns the fourth-best average finish in the series on this track, with a 10.9 in twenty-six career starts. Statistically, this is Stewart’s fourth-best track on the circuit, behind Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, and Chicago. He finished 9th and 7th here last season but has led just two total laps in the last six Richmond events. Despite struggling here in 2010, Smoke still has seven top 10s in the last ten races here, and has completed all but two laps during that span. His 817 laps led here is sixth-best among active drivers.
7. Carl Edwards – This team is making strides, they just need to finally break through. The good news is that Edwards led his first lap of the season last weekend in Kansas, and he’s been pretty good here at Richmond lately. Carl is one of only two drivers (the other being the man ranked #3) to post top 10 finishes in each of the last four races here. Edwards also has led a total of 221 laps during that span and has averaged a driver rating of 108.1 (fourth-best in the series). Carl hasn’t finished worse than 11th in the last month and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Saturday night.
8. Martin Truex, Jr. – I think this week is going to be a real test for this team because Truex hasn’t been good at all in his career at this track. In twelve career starts here, Martin owns an average finish of 24.3 and just four finishes inside the top 20. As I said last week, though, Truex is sort of like the 2011 Brad Keselowski–you just throw out past history for now. He has top 5s in both short track races thus far in 2012, so that’s a little re-assuring. Truex has also qualified in the top 10 in 42% of his starts at Richmond.
9. Clint Bowyer – One of the most surprising things to me this season has been that Clint Bowyer has consistently had the worse car in the Michael Waltrip Racing stable week in and week out. There are a couple things that I like about Clint this week, though. First, he has top 10s in both short track events in 2012 (10th at Martinsville and 4th at Bristol). Also, he has the third-best average finish (10.5) of anyone in the series at this race track, despite only having only one top 5 finish, which was his win in 2008. However, Clint has three 6th-place finishes to his name in his last five starts here, and he has qualified in the top 5 in each of the last three Richmond races. His average driver rating of 104.3 in the last two years here is sixth-best in the series.
10. Ryan Newman – The Rocketman should be one person that is real happy to get away from the intermediate tracks for a week. His success at Richmond is pretty consistent, although, like many people, he has had a few bumps along the way. In twenty career starts at this track, Ryan has compiled twelve top 10s and an average finish of 11.7. He also has just two finishes outside of the top 20. Want to know what I really like about Newman this week, though? His last eight finishes in the spring race here: 20th, 8th, 4th, 6th, 6th, 8th, 3rd, 9th.
11. Greg Biffle – If there’s any track type that you can say Greg Biffle has struggled at this season (I use that term loosely, by the way), it’s the short tracks. In case you forgot, The Biff won the pole in Bristol and ended up finishing 13th, and at Martinsville he wound up 13th as well after starting 26th. On Saturday night, I think Greg could easily challenge for a top 10, but I’m thinking he gets a top 15 finish. In nineteen career starts here, Biffle owns an average finish of 16.6, and he hasn’t finished better than 13th at Richmond since 2006. It’s hard to against a guy when he’s this hot, but you probably should stay away from the #16 this weekend.
12. Mark Martin – Martin hasn’t really ran a short track this season for Michael Waltrip Racing, unless, of course, if you count Phoenix, where he put the #55 Toyota on the pole and finished 9th. However, with Brian Vickers behind the wheel, this car has looked very impressive on the short tracks, especially at Bristol where “The Sheriff” brought it home in 5th. Mark has made a whopping 52 career starts at this 0.75-mile race track and has recorded twenty-eight top 10s and grabbed four poles.He struggled here in 2010, but during the 2011 season, Mark finished 14th and 10th at Richmond and qualified in the top 5 in both races.
13. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – This ranking will probably end up being too low for Junior, but I can’t stop looking past the fact that in the last six races here, NASCAR’s golden boy hasn’t finished better than 16th and has an average driver rating of 63.4. The good news is that Earnhard finished 15th at Bristol and 3rd at Martinsville earlier this year, and I think he should, at least, finish top 15 on Saturday. Junior has three victories at Richmond (in 2000, 2004, and 2006), and actually had more consistent success here before joining Hendrick Motorsports (data here).
14. Matt Kenseth – Like his team mate, I think you would be better off leaving Kenseth on the bench this weekend. Once again, it’s not a firm avoid, but I just think there are too many other options that are better than wasting your time and taking a risk with Kenseth. He was pretty good here from 2002 to 2004, but since then the single-digit finishes are few and far between. In the last nine Richmond events, Matt’s best finish has been just 13th, and he has finished on the lead lap in just 56% of those starts. One thing to take note of, though, is Kenseth has top 5s in both short track races thus far in 2012 (Bristol and Martinsville).
15. Juan Montoya – I don’t know about you, but I was very impressed–and surprised–with Montoya’s 12th-place finish in Kansas last weekend. He started in the back and was on my Avoid list for the race but that #42 Chevrolet was actually pretty good. Hopefully that will give JPM some momentum, which he obviously needs, as he has just one top 10 finish on the season. I think the problem with this team is that they are absolutely horrible at qualifying. Anyway, at Richmond, Montoya has had some good runs and some bad runs as well. In ten starts, he has four finishes of 15th or better along with four finishes of 29th or worse. He sat on the pole for this event last season and Juan is going to be my dark horse of the week for Richmond.
Just Missed The Top 15…Brad Keselowski, A.J. Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose
Those To Avoid Entering The Sprint Cup Series 400:
Greg Biffle – This isn’t an “avoid like the plague” title for the Biff this week–obviously, as I have him ranked above–but if you’re in an allocation league, I wouldn’t start him unless he looks absolutely unstoppable in practice (which is a possibility with how they have been running). There are too many intermediate tracks the rest of the way for you to use the #16 this weekend.
Paul Menard – You don’t have to look at the stat sheet too long to realize that Paul Menard simply is not good here. He finished 16th here in his first start, but in the nine events since, Paul hasn’t ended up on the lead lap once and also hasn’t notched a finish better than 26th. In the last three races here, Menard has qualified 15th, 10th, and 7th, but finished those events in 34th, 37th, and 26th, respectively.
Kurt Busch – I’m starting to trust this team a little more on the intermediate tracks, but the short tracks are a different story for Kurt Busch. He may have finished 5th here last fall, but let’s remember that was when he was still with Penske. In the three races before that at Richmond, the elder Busch brother never finished better than 18th. At the two short track races ran so far in 2012 (Bristol and Martinsville), Kurt has finished 18th and 33rd, respectively.
April 18, 2012
Only 400 miles are set to be ran at Kansas Speedway on Sunday afternoon, meaning there will be 267 laps ran before the checkered flag falls on this season’s STP 400. This 1.5-mile track is most similar to Chicagoland Speedway as well as the newly added (to the Sprint Cup schedule) Kentucky Speedway. Kansas is a fairly new track as well, opening in 2001.
Fact of the track: in the 12 total Sprint Cup races ran here, the pole winner averages a finish of 12.1 and 42.5% of the top 10 qualifiers in those races also finished there.
During The Last Race At Kansas…The race here last October was the fourth race in the Chase and Jimmie Johnson pretty much dominated the whole thing. Of the 272 laps, Five Time led 197 en route to his second victory at the track. He had a near-perfect driver rating of 149.2. Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, despite each never leading a lap, while Roush-Fenway Racing team mates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…There are two practice sessions scheduled for Friday (at 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm ET) followed by qualifying on Saturday, which is set to start around noon. There will be no practice once the starting lineup is set. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing: rosters don’t lock until Saturday morning, so we get to see the cars on the track before deciding our drivers.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The STP 400:
1. Jimmie Johnson – With Five Time and Jeff Gordon dominating but not winning the last two Sprint Cup races, it’s time to ask: what’s wrong with Hendrick Motorsports? This makes just two wins in the last 29 points-paying races for the organization. Let me know what you think by voting on my poll about this issue (click here). With that being said, I personally think it will only be a matter of time before we see a Hendrick driver back in victory lane, and–right now–I think Johnson will be the guy to do it, and it will happen on Sunday in Kansas. The #48 Chevrolet has been great at the intermediate tracks thus far in 2012 (chart here), and Johnson’s record at Kansas is bested only by Greg Biffle. Along with three pole wins, Jimmie has recorded two wins and nine top 10s in eleven career starts with an average finish of 8.4.
2. Greg Biffle – No surprise here. Over the last two years, the Roush-Fenway Fords own the best average finish at Kansas of any organization, and all three should be a force this Sunday (yes, I’m including Carl Edwards for the first time this year). As I said before, The Biff has the best average finish at Kansas, although it’s not by much of a margin over Five Time. In eleven starts here, Biffle has collected two victories and recorded eight top 10s. His average finish is 8.3. When you take out Greg’s first start here, though–which came back in 2002 where he finished 36th due to an accident–his average finish jumps up to 5.5. It’s hard to go against a team this hot, and I consider The Biff a near lock for a top 5 this weekend.
3. Jeff Gordon – Gordon got his first top 5 of the season last Saturday in Texas and I fully expect this team to go on a little run here and put together a string of great finishes. At Kansas, Gordon generally finishes in the top 5 unless he has a problem or something. Last fall, the #24 looked like a top 5 car for most of the race (check out the Yahoo! chart here) but the engine blew and Gordon finished 34th. Before that, Jeff had a string of five-straight top 5 finishes at this track, and he won the first two races ever ran at this track (in 2001 and 2002). I’m assuming–as it has been like this all year on the intermediates–that Gordon won’t qualify very well on Saturday, but I think we’ll find him up front by the end of the STP 400.
4. Matt Kenseth – As I said before, it’s a intermediate track so of course you should load up on the Roushkateers. What you may not know, though, is that Kansas hasn’t been too kind to Kenseth, and this is actually his fourth-worst track on the circuit. Through twelve career starts here, Matt has recorded six top 10s but has also ended up 30th or worse in five events. His average finish here is 18th. With that being said, however, Kenseth has finished 7th or better in four of the last five Kansas races and has the sixth-best average driver rating on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here).
5. Carl Edwards – Although Cousin Carl hasn’t been running well at all on the intermediate tracks this year, he’s still getting the finishes. He finished 5th at Las Vegas and Fontana and ended up 8th last weekend after starting 20th. It’ll only be a matter of time before we, once again, see the #99 up front week in and week out once again, though, and I’m guessing that will be sooner rather than later. In nine career starts at Kansas, Edwards has an average finish of 10.7 while compiling six finishes of 6th or better. Three of them have came in the last three events.
6. Tony Stewart – I still don’t understand how in the world the #14 Chevy was so bad last week in Texas, but that is in the past and it’s time to focus on Kansas. Smoke has two victories here in twelve career starts–in 2006 and 2009–and has recorded the best average driver rating in the series over the last three events here (117.4). Stewart ended up in 15th here last fall, but that doesn’t really show how good he really was. When you look at his Yahoo! chart from that race (click here) you will find that Tony was running in the top 5 for about half of the race. They may have struggled last weekend, but I fully expect Stewart-Haas Racing to rebound in Kansas.
7. Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick has been a solid pick on the intermediates this season–with an average finish of 8th–and he’s one of only three drivers to have a driver rating of at least 100 in all three races (chart here). Here at Kansas, “Happy” owns an average finish of 13.6 in twelve career starts and has finished 11th or better in seven of those races. Kevin finished 6th here last fall and he has ended up in that position on four separate occasions at Kansas Speedway. Harvick owns the seventh-best average driver rating in the last three races at this track (104.7).
8. Mark Martin – I’m not expecting a repeat performance of last weekend in Texas out of the #55 Toyota, but I think Martin will still be good for a top 10, or at least a top 15. He has the seventh-best average finish here (13.1) of anyone in the series with at least seven starts at this track. Martin finished 10th here last fall while driving for Hendrick Motorsports and has finished on the lead lap in 75% of his starts at this track. Consistency is key with Martin and his worst finish here is 25th.
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – He hasn’t been extremely flashy on the intermediate tracks this year like his team mates, but Junior still owns the fourth-best average finish (7.7) on them this year (chart here) and the fifth-best average driver rating (103.7) over those three races (chart here). His record here at Kansas causes a bit of a worry, but it’s hard to go against the #88 right now. In twelve starts here, Earnhardt owns an average finish of 17.3 and has recorded five top 10s. He finished 2nd in this event last year but his Yahoo! driver chart (click here) shows that the #88 wasn’t that great. Remember, that was a fuel mileage race. Junior should be top 15 with a good chance at a top 10 on Sunday.
10. Martin Truex, Jr. – I’m starting to consider Truex like Brad Keselowski last year when he went on his hot streak: throw away the past history. In seven career Kansas races, Martin’s best finish has been 11th, and that came back in his first start. Since then, he hasn’t finished better than 16th and has three finishes of 36th or worse in those six starts. However, Truex started 8th in both Kansas races last season and he didn’t look too terrible in the fall event (Yahoo! chart here). The #56 has been the 7th-best car on the intermediates this season in terms of both average finish (chart here) and average driver rating (chart here). I wouldn’t advise going against him, as I haven’t for most of this season thus far.
11. Clint Bowyer – This is the sixth-best track on the circuit for Bowyer and also his home track. It’s a bit concerning for me, though, that’s he’s getting worse on the intermediate tracks as the season goes on (driver rating chart here). He should be a good pick this weekend, though, although don’t hold me to that unless I say that after practice is over. In seven starts at Kansas, Clint owns an average finish of 12th and has recorded five finishes in the top 15. Bowyer has completed all but two laps in his career at Kansas Speedway.
12. Kasey Kahne – I’m starting to get some confidence back in Kahne, finally. He has qualified in the top 5 in all of the intermediate races this season and has gotten progressively better in the finish category as they go, with a 19th at Las Vegas followed by a 14th in Fontana. As you probably remember, Kahne ended up in 7th last Saturday in Texas. At Kansas–as you probably would have expected–he has had his ups and downs. In nine starts, Kahne owns an average finish of 17th with just three top 10s. He was good here last season, though, finishing 14th in this event and ending up runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in the fall after starting 5th.
13. Kyle Busch – One top 10 in nine starts is a good reason to stay away from Rowdy Busch this weekend, but I don’t think he’ll be that terrible on Sunday. I still don’t think he will be great by any means, but the #18 Toyota should still end up in the top 15. In the last four Kansas races, Kyle has three finishes of 12th or better, and he owns the ninth-best average driver rating (95.6) over the last two years here. Busch also started 3rd in both events here last season. Busch has an average finish of 12th on the intermediate tracks thus far in 2012 (chart here).
14. Ryan Newman – As I said before, I expect Stewart-Haas to have a nice rebound from this off-weekend in Texas. Newman started in the top 10 last Saturday, but as you know, he ended up a disappointing 21st (sorry fantasy owners who started him). At Kansas, The Rocketman started off great, finishing 2nd in 2001 and 2002, and he finally won here in 2003. Since then, though, Newman hasn’t been too great. In the last nine Kansas races, Ryan has just one top 10 finish and an average finish of 22.6. I’m thinking top 15 for Newman right now but I could bump him up to the top 10 if he impresses me in practice.
15. Kurt Busch – Here’s my dark horse pick of the week. We all know that Phoenix Racing equipment is in no way great, but if you want to be different than everyone else, go ahead and take a shot with Busch. In the last two intermediate races this year, Kurt has finished 9th (Fontana) and 13th (last week in Texas). He sat on the pole in this event last season and led a race-high 152 laps en route to a solid 9th-place finish. Busch followed that up with a 13th-place finish here last fall, and he has finished in 13th or better in five of the last six events here. He’s not as reliable, but Kurt could surprise people this weekend in the #51 Chevy.
Marcos Ambrose – He ran out of gas last weekend with a lap or two to go and while running 8th, but he had a strong car for the majority of that race (Yahoo! chart here). Ambrose finished 9th here last fall so you may want to keep an eye on him.
Brad Keselowski – In the two events last season, BK finished 1st and 3rd. Sounds good, huh? But let’s look deeper into that. His win came from a fuel gamble, but the Blue Deuce seemed to be in the top 15 for many laps that race (Yahoo! chart here). With his 3rd-place finish last fall, Keselowski looked even better, as you can see from his Yahoo! chart (click here). Brad was doing great until his problems last week in Texas and probably would have had a top 10.
A.J. Allmendinger – Penske Racing as a whole has been good here lately and A.J. has two top 10s in his five career starts at Kansas (in 2008 and 2010). He finished 15th at both Fontana and Texas this season.
Those To Avoid Entering The STP 400:
Jeff Burton – His history at Kansas is a bit concerning and Burton hasn’t been too great on the intermediates this year, both average finish-wise (chart here) and when looking at average driver rating (chart here). In twelve career starts, Jeff has averaged a finish right around 19th and he hasn’t finished better than 18th in his last four starts at this track.
Joey Logano – Sliced Bread may be good for a top 20 finish, but that’s not really what I’m looking for. He ranks 22nd in terms of average finish at the intermediate tracks this year (chart here) and his best finish at Kansas is just 17th, which came back in 2010. He started 4th in that race. That is also Logano’s only top 20 at this race track.
Aric Almirola – For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, there’s simply no reason to waste a start on Almirola when you can get close to the same finish out of Casey Mears or David Reutimann. Wait until another short track comes around–or Aric shows something at an intermediate track–before starting the #43 Ford.
April 10, 2012
After the first weekend off of the 2012 season, the Sprint Cup Series will now have five straight points-paying races before another “break,” which will be the All Star weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Three of these five–including this weekend’s event at Texas Motor Speedway–will be some good old Saturday night racing. This is your typical cookie-cutter track, and Texas (which is a 1.5-mile, d-shaped oval) is most comparable with Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
During The Last Race At Texas…Tony Stewart led a race-high 173 laps en route to his fourth win of the 2012 season. This was in the midst of Smoke’s battle with Carl Edwards, who finished 2nd. Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, and pole-sitter Greg Biffle rounded out the top 5. Kenseth won the spring race earlier in the season. Interesting fact: eight drivers who started in the top 10 finished there in the April Texas race, with five doing the same in November.
Practice Schedule…Things will be a little different than most weekends. Practice #1 will start at 5:30 pm on Thursday evening. Once that is over, the cars won’t be on the track until the next day; Happy Hour will be at 3:00 pm on Friday followed by qualifying at 6:30. The Samsung Mobile 500 is set to start a little after 7:00 pm on Saturday. That could be a little interesting because the cars won’t be on track for practice at any of the same time frame when the actual race will be ran. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing: the deadline to set your rosters is Friday morning.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Samsung Mobile 500:
1. Tony Stewart - Not sure how much detail I need to go into here. Stewart is on absolute fire at the intermediate tracks and should be on your roster, no matter what, until further notice. As I said before, Smoke won the last race at Texas in 2011, which was the second of his career here (the first coming back in 2006). His average finish of 12.6 in twenty starts at Texas Motor Speedway is fourth-best in the series, and Stewart has the third-best average driver rating over the last four events here. Make no mistake about it, the #14 will be up front at some point on Saturday night, and right now I’m thinking he’s going to win the Samsung Mobile 500.
2. Greg Biffle – These next three drivers could be ranked any way in spots 2 through 4 this weekend. They should all three be good picks, but I’m just giving the nod to The Biff and Kenseth because Roush-Fenway Racing has been the best organization at Texas over the last two years. The Biff has been the only driver in the series to finish in the top 10 in each of the last seven races here, and the last three have all been top 5s. When it comes to driver rating, Biffle hasn’t had one under 92.5 at Texas since early 2008. I’d consider Greg a lock for a top 5 on Saturday night.
3. Matt Kenseth – Matt Kenseth has the best average finish of anyone in the series at Texas Motor Speedway (8.7) and has just one finish outside of the top 20 in nineteen career starts here. He’s led 756 laps here–also a series-best–and like his team mate Greg Biffle, Kenseth has three straight top 5 finishes here. He put the #17 Ford in the top 5 during qualifying in both 2011 events here, but Matt has yet to record a pole at Texas. Kenseth’s finishes have been lacking on the intermediates so far in 2012 (22nd at Las Vegas and 16th at Fontana) but there’s no reason to think this team won’t turn that around on Saturday night. He won this event last season and had a near-perfect driver rating of 144.7 while doing so. As usual, Kenseth will be good pick at Texas, but I’m not considering him a lock for a top 5 yet.
4. Jimmie Johnson – When you look at Five Time’s record at all of the current tracks, you might be surprised to find that Texas is pretty far down the list (in 13th). However, Johnson still owns an average finish of 10.2 here and twelve top 10s in seventeen starts. He won the fall race in 2007 and Jimmie has recorded three top 10s in the last four races here. Johnson has the second-best average driver rating on the intermediates thus far in 2012 (chart here) and still hasn’t finished worse than 12th since Daytona. I wouldn’t expect that to change on Saturday night, although I don’t see Johnson fighting for the win. He should, however, still have a nice, solid race, as usual.
5. Carl Edwards – Despite having three victories at this track, Cousin Carl’s average finish here isn’t that great (although it’s not terrible, either). In fourteen career starts, Edwards has amassed six top 10s, but also four finishes outside of the top 25. When you add it all up, Carl’s average finish is 15.5. There’s no reason for that to scare you away from picking him this weekend, though. I have a hunch that this team is finally getting their wheels underneath them, and that this “hangover” they are experiencing will go away this weekend. Edwards finished 3rd and 2nd in the two Texas races in 2011 and has posted top 5s in both intermediate races thus far in 2012. He had led the fifth-most laps at this track of anyone in the series (493).
6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Somewhat quietly (for who it is, anyway) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is off to the absolute best start of the season in a very long time (maybe even his whole career). Junior now has two straight 3rd-place finishes after Martinsville a couple weeks ago, and–ironically–that is also the number of top 5s he has recorded in nineteen career starts at Texas Motor Speedway. His average finish of 14.1 is eighth-best in the series at this track and Earnhardt has notched three top 10s in the last four races here, which is where I expect him to end up on Saturday. In the intermediate races thus far this season, Junior has the fourth-best average driver rating (chart here) and has finished 10th and 3rd. He’s one of only four drivers with two career poles at this track.
7. Kevin Harvick – Harvick has averaged the fifth-best driver rating in the two cookie cutter races this season (chart here) and I expect him to have another solid Chevy at Texas this weekend. In eighteen starts at this track, “Happy” has averaged a finish of 12.9–which is fifth best in the series–and owns eight top 10s. He doesn’t lead many laps, though, with just five total coming in four different races. Harvick’s best finish here has been 3rd, which came back in 2006, and in seven of the last nine events here, Kevin has finished 13th or better. Texas is his sixth-best track on the circuit (statistically).
8. Ryan Newman -This ranking may be a little too high for The Rocketman, but I can’t look past the fact of how strong him and his owner have been on the intermediate tracks this season. Newman finished 4th at Las Vegas and wound up in 7th at Fontana, and he ran in the top 10 for most of those two races. At Texas, though, Newman’s record is a little bit discouraging. However, I’m not too worried about it. In seventeen starts here, The Rocketman has averaged a finish of 20.7 while amassing just three top 10s. The good news? He’s been consistent. In the last six events at Texas, Newman hasn’t finished worse than 20th and in five of the six he’s ended up between 11th and 16th. I like him for a fourth top 10 at Texas going into this weekend.
9. Clint Bowyer – I’ve jumped the gun a bit on Bowyer at the intermediates this season, but that’s not to say he isn’t a bad pick. I think this team is capable of grabbing their fourth top 10 of the 2012 season this Saturday night, but it’s nowhere near a lock. Clint’s history at this track, however, is pretty good, so it’s probably going to come down to how strong the #15 Toyota is this weekend. In twelve career starts at Texas, Bowyer has notched seven top 10s, and even finished runner-up in this race last year. In the last five events at this track, Clint has finished in the top 10 in four of them. This is the seventh-best track on the circuit for Bowyer (statistically) and he should be a solid pick on Sunday night, but make sure he looks good in practice before committing.
10. Martin Truex, Jr. – Another week down and another solid finish for Truex, so that begs the question: is he a real Chase contender? You can vote by clicking here. At Texas, Martin tends to have a good race unless he gets in an accident, which happened in the fall race of 2010 and this race last season, where he finished 38th and 35th, respectively. However, Truex six top 10s in thirteen starts to his name here, and you know what I always say: pick ‘em while they’re hot. He finished 17th at Las Vegas and 8th at Fontana. I’m not sure what happened during the Vegas race, but the #56 Toyota was in the top 10 for the majority of the event (Yahoo! chart here). I’m expecting another top 10 out of Martin Truex, Jr. this weekend.
11. Denny Hamlin – Denny seems to have a really good finish at Texas or end up in the lower teens or worse, and with his performance at the intermediates in 2012 thus far, I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt going into this weekend. Hamlin won both Texas races in 2010 and has three more top 5s to his name in thirteen career starts. His average finish of 10.2 is second best in the series at this track, but qualifying has been a sort of struggle for this team here lately: in the last six Texas races, Hamlin hasn’t started any race in a spot better than 22nd. We’ll see what #11 shows up this weekend because it’s been a tale of two cars in the two intermediate races this season.
12. Kyle Busch – Rowdy was an early favorite of mine to take the championship this season, but he’s really letting me down–as well as fantasy owners–thus far. I’m not sure what to expect out of Kyle this weekend in Texas, to be honest with you. His record here is decent: thirteen starts, five top 10s, with an average finish of 16.2, and he owns the ninth-best average driver rating in the last four races here. He didn’t race in the fall event here last season (suspension) but Kyle ran a decent race here in April last year, starting 11th and finishing 16th. If he starts in the top 10, I’d give Rowdy more consideration, but going into the weekend there are simply too many other options that would be better than the #18.
13. Mark Martin – Martin is back behind the wheel of the #55 Toyota this weekend, and I expect another solid teen finish out of him like we have gotten in the other cookie cutter events in 2012 (he wound up 18th at Las Vegas and 12th at Fontana). Mark has made twenty-two career starts at Texas Motor Speedway and owns twelve top 10s, including a win back in 1998. He struggled in the two 2011 events here but in 2009 and 2010, Martin wound up in the top 10 in all four Texas races. He will probably look faster than he is in practice, just to warn you.
14. Kasey Kahne – One of these weeks, the #5 team is going to break out and finally put together a complete race, but the question is when. Kahne’s history here at Texas is hit-or-miss; in fifteen career starts, he’s notched four top 5s (including a win from the pole back in 2006) as well as five finishes of 25th or worse. What I’m expecting out of Kasey this weekend is similar to what we saw out of him in Fontana: have a good qualifying effort but then fall back early and just ride around and get the finish. He wound up in 14th that race and you can view his Yahoo! chart by clicking here.
15. Brad Keselowski – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: BK just has a knack for getting to the front in races this year; he’s led at least one lap in four of the first six events in 2012. His finishes on the cookie cutters this season have been less than stellar (32nd at Las Vegas and 18th at Fontana), but when you look at his Yahoo! Driver Charts for those races (here and here, respectively), the Blue Deuce was at least a top 15 car. At Texas, Brad’s best finish has been 14th in seven career starts, and I expect him to finish right around that mark on Saturday. He’s also my dark horse pick of the week.
Those To Avoid Entering The Samsung Mobile 500:
Joey Logano – If his 26th-place average finish at Texas doesn’t scare you away from Sliced Bread this week, then his performance on the intermediate tracks thus far in 2012 surely will. He finished 16th at Las Vegas but Logano’s Yahoo! chart (click here) shows that he had really a mid-twenties car until the end of the race. He has a 4th-place finish to his credit at Texas (back in 2010) but other than that race, Logano hasn’t finished on the lead lap in any other of his seven career starts at this track.
Juan Montoya – Like Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya rarely finishes all of the laps when the series visits Texas Motor Speedway. He has made ten career starts at this race track and has ended up with just two top 10s (in 2007 and 2009), in which he was on the lead lap at the end. In the seven starts here that Montoya has finished at least one lap down, he owns an average finish of 26.6. His average driver rating in the first two intermediate tracks this year has been 59.0. I wouldn’t expect much out of the #42 this weekend.
Aric Almirola - I’m not a big advocate of “start saving” when it comes to Yahoo! Auto Racing, but I just see no point in taking Almirola on the intermediate tracks; it has been obvious so far this season that the #43 team is at its best on the short/flat tracks. He’s going to be a mid-twenties driver just like the Las Vegas and Fontana (24th and 25th, respectively) and you should be able to at least match that by picking Trevor Bayne, who finished 17th in this race last season (IF he is entered this week).