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).