Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Texas 2 – AAA Texas 500 (2012 Chase Race #8)
by Jordan McAbee, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am a fantasy NASCAR junkie. In addition to my preview articles on OnPitRow, I also post weekly practice breakdown and race prediction articles at www.ifantasyrace.com . Follow me on Twitter: @FanNASCARPredicOctober 30, 2012 8:03 pm UTC 1 Comment
And now it’s down to two. The Sprint Cup Series championship will likely be won by either Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski, and there’s three races left on the schedule for those two to duke it out. On Sunday, the drivers will log 500 long miles at Texas Motor Speedway, which is a 1.5-mile tri-oval race track. Speeds will be high and cautions will be few, and it’s always possible that the race will come down to fuel mileage.
During The Last Race At Texas…Jimmie Johnson led nearly half of the race here back in April but it was Greg Biffle who crossed the finish line ahead of “Five Time”. Mark Martin ended up 3rd that day with Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth rounding out the top 5. Pole sitter Martin Truex, Jr., who led 69 laps that day, wound up 6th.
Practice Schedule…Just like last weekend at Martinsville, the Sprint Cup Series will practice on Friday afternoon (12:30 pm) and then have qualifying later that day (4:30 pm). Then, on Saturday, there will be two additional practice sessions, the first starting at 3:00 pm and Happy Hour set to kick off at 5:30 pm. The AAA Texas 500 should start sometime around 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The AAA Texas 500:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson - Five Time’s record here isn’t as great as it is at other tracks, but it’s still good nonetheless. In eighteen career starts here, Johnson has only one win but averages a finish of 9.7 and has finished inside the top 5 nearly half of the time. This team will be on the A game from here on out so get used to seeing Jimmie’s name near the top of every power rankings chart. On similar tracks this season, nobody has been as strong consistently as the #48 team and here at Texas back in April Johnson led a race-high 156 laps. He has five top 5s in the last seven Sprint Cup races and should easily make it six of eight on Sunday evening.
2. Matt Kenseth - Statistically this has been Matt Kenseth’s best track on the circuit and he also has the best average finish here at Texas (8.6) among active drivers. The #17 won a couple weeks ago in Kansas–another tri-oval intermediate track–and wound up 5th here back in April. That makes it six top 5s in the last seven Texas races for Kenseth and twelve in the last fourteen. The #17 is up front here every single race and that won’t change this weekend, as Kenseth should be challenging for his third win in the last five Sprint Cup races–and his third career at this track.
3. Clint Bowyer – Right now it’s just difficult to overlook how strong this #15 team has been for the last month or so. I didn’t really take Clint seriously when he said they were going to go out and try to win every week for the rest of the season but this team has been living up to that statement. At Texas specifically, Bowyer’s record isn’t super strong, but it’s still pretty good. Three of the last four races at this track have ended with Clint solidly inside the top 10 and only five drivers have a better average driver rating in the five races here since the beginning of the 2010 season. Clint won at Charlotte a few weeks ago and ended up 6th back at Kansas, both of which are tri-oval intermediate tracks. He has eleven top 10s in the last thirteen Sprint Cup races and should make it twelve for fourteen when the checkered flag waves on Sunday.
4. Kasey Kahne – When you look at Kasey Kahne’s record on the tri-oval intermediate tracks this season, it might surprise you a little bit considering this team got off to quite a rocky start early on. In the nine races on these types of tracks thus far, Kahne has recorded seven top 10 finishes and one win, which came at Charlotte in May. Most recently, he finished 4th at Kansas after starting on the pole. Here at Texas Motor Speedway, Kasey has recorded one victory (back in 2006) and has finished 3rd and 7th in his last two attempts. Kahne’s average finish of 18.8 here might worry you a little bit but keep in mind that this team has been firing on all cylinders since the Chase started and hasn’t finished worse than 15th.
5. Kyle Busch - Speaking of being really strong in this year’s Chase, the #18 team has been right up there with the best of them when there hasn’t been any mechanical issues, something you can’t predict. In the last eight races on tri-oval intermediate tracks, Rowdy has finished 11th or better in all but one of them, and that was at Kansas a couple weeks ago. We all know what happened there. At Texas, Kyle has been somewhat hit-or-miss–similar to his record last week at Martinsville–but when he has a good car, he can be counted on for a top 5 for the most part. Busch finished 11th here back in April but should be much stronger than that this weekend, and he’s a lot better here than his 15.8 average finishes makes him out to be.
6. Brad Keselowski - Well, in the two Chase races that Brad Keselowski was worried the most about, he finished 8th and 6th. He still lost the points lead to Jimmie Johnson but I think it should be a good battle from here on out between the #48 and the #2. Keselowski’s record here at Texas is nothing special whatsoever–five starts, ZERO top 10s, and an average finish of 25.3–but this is one of those weeks where you simply need to disregard those statistics. On similar tri-oval intermediate tracks this season, Bad Brad has been one of the best and has finished 11th or better in each of the last seven. I boldly predict (just kidding, this isn’t bold at all) that Keselowski will post a career-best finish at Texas this weekend. His current best is 14th, which came back in 2010.
7. Greg Biffle - Despite having a career average finish of 16.2 at Texas, this is actually one of the best tracks on the circuit to use Greg Biffle in fantasy racing. He’s always strong here but sometimes he simply doesn’t get the finish he deserves. However, as I stated earlier, The Biff is the most recent race winner at this track and is currently on an eight-race streak of top 10s here and has led an incredibly impressive 452 laps over that span. There’s no doubt in my mind that the #16 should be solidly inside the top 10 here on Sunday, but it is worth noting that this team has been disappointing on the tri-oval intermediate tracks as of late, with just one top 10 (at Charlotte) in the last five races. The other four results were: Kentucky (21st), Atlanta (15th), Chicago (13th), and Kansas (27th).
8. Denny Hamlin - Hamlin won both races here during the 2010 season but hasn’t done much since. In the three events at Texas since those two victories, Denny has finished 15th, 20th, and 12th and has led a grand total of zero laps. That being said, he’s been really strong on the tri-oval intermediate tracks as of late, posting a 3rd-place finish or better in five of the last seven. With two “stumble” weeks in a row, however, you have to wonder how that is affecting Denny Hamlin mentally, and whether or not that will show on the racetrack this weekend. In a perfect world, Hamlin would be a serious threat for a top 5 finish on Sunday (and maybe even a win), but this world is nowhere near perfect. In fourteen career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Denny has an average finish of 10.3, which is good enough for third-best among active drivers.
9. Jeff Gordon - This ranking will most likely be too low when it’s all said and done on Sunday, but there are just other drivers that I like more than Jeff Gordon this weekend. As I stated earlier, he finished 4th here back in April and that was a follow-up to his 6th-place effort in this event last season. When you look at the recent tri-oval intermediate track races, however, the #24 hasn’t been as strong as expected (35th at Chicago–not his fault–18th at Charlotte, and 10th at Kansas). In twenty-three career starts at this track, Jeff Gordon has a career average finish of 16.2 but should improve upon that in the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday. I’m not expecting another top 5 out of him, though. He has one career victory at this track, which came back in 2009.
10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Yeah, he disappointed fantasy owners last week in Martinsville (myself included) but the #88 Chevrolet was still strong, in my opinion. This week we’re at Texas Motor Speedway and this venue is actually one of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s best tracks on the circuit. In twenty career starts here, he has collected eleven top 10 finishes and he won here back in 2000. Currently, Junior is on a three-race streak of top 10 finishes here and should make it four-straight on Sunday. When you look at the tri-oval intermediate track races this season, it may or may not surprise you that Earnhardt hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 in any of them.
11. Mark Martin - The one reason that I have Mark Martin outside of the top 10 this week is because the engine woes returned for him at Kansas a couple weeks ago. That may very well have been a fluke problem but the race this Sunday is a 500-mile event and that adds a little bit more worry into my mind. That being said, Mark was a solid top 5 car here last time around and his average finish of 13.3 here is sixth-best among active drivers. Also, in five of his last seven Texas starts, Martin has finished 6th or better, which shows you how much he likes this track. If the #55 doesn’t have another engine problem, Martin should be a very good pick on Sunday–I’m back to thinking that that’s a pretty big “if,” though.
12. Martin Truex, Jr. - Believe it or not, Truex has just one finish this season outside of the top 12 on the tri-oval intermediate tracks this season, and that was his 17th-place run at Las Vegas back in March. I know that the #56 Toyota has been strong this season but even that surprises me. Truex ended up 2nd in Kansas a couple weeks ago, and although I don’t think he’ll be that strong this weekend in Texas, a top 10 is nowhere out of the question for this team. As I mentioned before, he was 6th here last time around and that followed up his 8th-place finish in this event one year ago. Before his breakout season this year, Texas had actually been a pretty good track for Martin; he has finished inside the top 10 in half of his fourteen starts here and really Truex’s bad runs only happened due to either a wreck or engine problems.
13. Kevin Harvick – This team had an engine failure in Martinsville last weekend but I wouldn’t expect that to happen again, so you can probably count on Harvick for another finish between 11th and 16th. He finished 9th here back in April but that’s when this team was running a little better than they are now. I’m not sure what’s going on there but right now it looks like the #29 Chevrolet is the second-strongest car out of the RCR fleet every week. Happy has a career average finish of 12.7 here at Texas Motor Speedway and that is good enough for fourth-best among active drivers.
14. Tony Stewart - Smoke won this event last season but keep in mind that that was during his incredible run to win the championship. When you take that out of the equation, that is Tony’s only top 10 finish at this track since the start of the 2010 season. Still, with an average finish of 13.1, Smoke still has the fifth-best average finish here among active drivers and he finishes inside the top 10 more often than not. He’s a two-time winner at Texas and even though I don’t think the #14 has a shot on Sunday, it’s certainly possible (remember how strong this team was on the intermediates to start the season?). In recent tri-oval intermediate track races, Stewart has finished 5th (Kansas) and 6th (Chicago) among four races outside of the top 20 (both Charlotte races, Atlanta, and Kentucky).
15. Paul Menard - Paul has finished 15th or better in three of the last four Texas races and he should make it four in the last five on Sunday evening. This team has picked up right where they left off once Slugger Labbe came back and that includes their surprising 3rd-place run in Kansas a couple weeks ago. I’m not predicting a finish similar to that at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the #27 Chevrolet flirted with the top 10 in the AAA Texas 500. Menard’s best run here came in 2011 when he finished 5th. Since the Charlotte race in May this team has been a top 15 machine on the tri-oval intermediate race tracks.