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).
March 28, 2012
After the 500 laps–well, if the rain stays away–of the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 are completed this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, the Sprint Cup Series will have its first weekend off of the season before heading to Texas Motor Speedway for the first Saturday night race of the year. As usual, I expect the normal faces up front that we see mostly every time we come to “The Paperclip,” so my Preview this week will, chances are, look very similar to everyone else’s. Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have been light years better than the other organizations over the past two seasons at this track, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon.
During The Last Race At Martinsville…Tony Stewart grabbed his third win in the Chase back in October at The Paperclip despite leading just 14 laps. The Hendrick duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished 2nd and 3rd, leading 61 and 113 laps, respectively. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 5. Kyle Busch led a race-high 126 laps but hit the wall late and finished a disappointing 27th.
Practice Schedule…Everyone who plays Yahoo! Auto Racing should like the practice schedule this weekend because we get to see the cars on track before locking down our drivers. On Friday, there will be two practice sessions (at 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm) followed by qualifying on Saturday morning at 11:30 am. Once the starting lineup is set, the cars won’t hit the track again until Sunday’s 500-lap event. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
1. Kyle Busch – Rowdy has never won at Martinsville in fourteen career starts, but that’s bound to change soon, and right now I think it’s going to be this Sunday. The #18 was the best car in Fontana a week ago and Dave Rogers and crew should prepare another hot rod for Kyle again this weekend. Busch has had a top 5 car in each of the last three races at The Paperclip (average driver rating of 110.6) and would have three straight top 5 finishes if it weren’t for getting put into the wall by Matt Kenseth (video here). He was in the top 5 for much of that day (Yahoo! Race Chart here). Rowdy’s six top 5s is tied for third-best in the series among drivers with twenty or fewer starts here.
2. Jimmie Johnson – No surprise here. This is Five Time’s third-best track on the circuit and he owns the best average finish here of anyone in the series with 5.5. In twenty career starts, Johnson has amassed six wins and has just one finish outside of the top 20, which was a 35th-place effort in his very first start here (caused by a vibration). Jimmie’s 11th-place effort in this race last season broke a streak of seventeen-straight single-digit finishes at Martinsville, but he started a new one in the fall with a runner-up, as I said before. He’s had triple-digit driver ratings in every single race here since 2006. Not much more of a safer pick than the #48 Chevrolet this weekend.
3. Denny Hamlin – As long as there isn’t any rain so Darian Grubb can make another idiotic pit road call, I’ll consider Hamlin a lock for a top 5 this weekend. His resume at Martinsville is quite impressive: thirteen starts, four wins, nine top 5s, and an average finish of 6.5. Denny has just one finish worse than 12th here, and that was a 37th back in 2006 when he started 41st and got caught up in an accident. His minimum driver rating in the last six events at The Paperclip has been 118.7 and he averaged a rating of 127.6 during those three years. Also in that span, Hamlin has led 861 laps. This is best track on the circuit statistically and it’s coming at a good time: the #11 crew will be able to wipe their memory or Fontana clean with a solid run (and maybe even a win) this weekend in Martinsville.
4. Jeff Gordon – And the bad luck bug strikes Jeff Gordon again… I wasn’t going to rank him this high when I was originally putting this post together (I had him around 8th or 9th), but when you look at his record at Martinsville, it’s hard to justify not having Gordon in the top 5; he’s just that good at this half-mile race track. Jeff has made thirty-eight starts at this venue and 81.5% of the time he has ended up in the top 10. In the last fourteen races, Gordon has ended up in the top 5 in thirteen of them. It’s his best track on the circuit and even with his bad luck to start the 2012 season, I wouldn’t be afraid to take the four-time champion this weekend.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – If Junebug is going to win a race soon, this will probably be the best chance he has in the next month or so. Statistically, he’s the fourth-best driver at Martinsville (with an average finish of 13.1) although he has yet to visit victory lane at this half-mile track. In twenty-four career starts, however, Junior has amassed thirteen top 10s (nine being top 5s) and he finished 2nd in this event last season. He’s on a streak of three straight top 10s here and also has had a driver rating of at least 100.1 in all three. Earnhardt hasn’t finished outside of the top 15 all season thus far and I wouldn’t bank on that changing this week.
6. Kevin Harvick – “Happy” is really getting the hang of The Paperclip here lately. Going into the 2010 season, he had never posted a top 5 finish in seventeen starts at the track, but in the spring race he went and put his #29 Chevy on the pole and led 57 laps. He had a brake problem that day and finished 35th. In the fall race that year, though, Harvick posted his first top 5 at Martinsville (a 3rd-place effort) after leading 97 laps, and came back in 2011 and grabbed his first career win here in the spring and ended up in 4th in the fall. History isn’t on his side here, but Kevin should have one of the best cars this weekend in Martinsville, and should improve on his career average finish of 15.9.
7. Ryan Newman – I’m going to watch this team closely in practice on Friday because they just don’t seem on top of their game as of late to me. Be sure to check out my final Predictions for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at www.ifantasyrace.com to see whether or not “The Rocketman” is worthy of this spot after practice and qualifying. With that being said, Newman is generally a pretty solid pick on the short tracks. In the last six Martinsville races, he has come away with four top 10s and led a total of 99 laps (over half of his total 182 in twenty career starts here). He has three top 5 starts here in the six races since joining Stewart-Haas Racing so you may be able to snag some qualifying bonus points from him this weekend. His career average start here is 8.9 compared to his career average finish of 14.4.
8. Clint Bowyer – I kind of jumped the guns on him last weekend in Fontana, but the strong run by this team in Bristol a couple weeks ago along with Bowyer’s history at Martinsville makes me think we’re going to see another good run out of this #15 Toyota on Sunday. In twelve starts here, Clint has averaged a finish of right around 15th and recorded seven finishes of 11th or better. If you like patterns, in the last five spring races here, Bowyer has finished 11th, 10th, 5th, 7th, and 9th, compared to his fall finishes of 9th, 9th, 19th 38th, and 19th. His average driver rating of 90.0 over the past two years here is ninth-best in the series.
9. Carl Edwards – The #99 Ford was finally starting to come back to form last weekend when the rain started. Will that continue this weekend? We’ll find out. If you’re going to pick a Roush Ford this weekend, I’d go with Cousin Carl (although I wouldn’t recommend any of them because there are many better picks out there). Edwards has made fifteen starts at The Paperclip and has just one top 5 finish to his name (a 3rd in 2008). He does, however, have five top 10s and just four finishes outside of the top 20. In the last four events here, Carl has one pole and three finishes of 8th or 9th.
10. Tony Stewart – Yeah, Smoke won again last weekend (since when does this happen so early in the season?) and is the most recent winner at this track, so this ranking is probably pretty low in many people’s minds. However, his runs in this race last season as well as both events in 2010 are really sticking out at me. He finished 34th here last year after starting 28th and finished 26th and 24th in 2010 despite starting 5th and 6th, respectively. His driver ratings in those races aren’t much to ride home about, either (best of 88.3). He could sneak up on me and grab a top 5 but I think a top 10 or top 15 is much more likely for Smoke this weekend.
11. Martin Truex, Jr. – Say hello to my dark horse pick of the week. With his (albeit lucky) 8th-place finish last weekend in Fontana, Truex now has an average finish of 9.6 in the last ten (ten!) Sprint Cup races. I think this is the most consistent stretch of finishes during his career in NASCAR’s top series, but don’t quote me on that because I haven’t went back and checked it. Still, this guy has momentum and confidence, and so does this entire Michael Waltrip Racing stable. Will we see a top 5 sweep again like a couple weeks ago in Bristol? Martin’s best finish at Martinsville came in this event in 2010, where he finished 5th, which was his first start here for MWR. He stumbled in the next two events at this track, but last fall, Truex placed the #56 Toyota in 8th-place, and his Yahoo! chart shows that it wasn’t exactly luck.
12. Brad Keselowski – BK is one-for-one on the short tracks in the 2012 season, but I don’t see him getting his first career victory at Martinsville this weekend. Still, I’m expecting another solid run out of the Blue Deuce on Sunday. I’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks: Keselowski knows how to get to the front, he just sometimes has difficulty finishing. In four starts at The Paperclip, BK has averaged a finish right around 14th, and has finished on the lead lap in three of those races. Last fall, Brad had a top 10 car for most of the race but fell back late and finished 17th (Yahoo! race chart here).
13. Matt Kenseth – It’s no secret that the Roush-Fenway Fords aren’t very good here (6 cumulative top 10s in 16 cumulative starts here in the past two years), and I’d consider Kenseth the second-best option in that group of three. He finished 6th in this race last season but his driver rating didn’t back that up (13th-best). Still, he has three finishes of 15th or better in the last five events here and Matt has averaged a finish in the teens (16.5) over his twenty-four career starts at The Paperclip. If you take the #17 this weekend, I wouldn’t expect a top 5, but a top 10 may be possible with some strategy by Jimmy Fennig. I wouldn’t expect him and Brian Vickers to tangle again. Kenseth had a top 10 car before that happened last fall.
14. Joey Logano – In his first start at The Paperclip, Sliced Bread finished four laps off the pace in 32nd place. He learned the track quickly, though, and in the four races after, Logano never finished worse than 13th (including a runner-up finish in 2010). Joey struggled here a bit last fall (driver rating of 67.9) but managed to bring the #20 Toyota home in 18th. Gibbs is one of the two best organizations at this track and Logano has been qualifying well this season, which is a plus on these real short tracks.
15. Jeff Burton – Very rarely will you see Jeff Burton on my top 15 rankings entering a weekend, but I can’t skip over the guy that has the sixth-best average driver rating at Martinsville in the past two years. Over those four events, Burton has amassed two top 10s, but both of those came in the fall events of 2010 and 2011. He was good here back in the day while driving for Roush Racing but since joining Richard Childress Racing, the successful runs have been few and far between for Burton. I’m expecting a mid-teens finish out of the #31 on Sunday. Jeff has nine top 20s in the last ten Martinsville races.
Special Note: Brian Vickers is back behind the wheel of the #55 Toyota this weekend. I don’t see him having another run like a few weeks ago at Bristol, but then again, I didn’t expect much more than a top 20 out of The Sheriff in Thunder Valley, either. His career average finish in thirteen starts at Martinsville is 20.5.
Those To Avoid Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
Kasey Kahne - He’s with Hendrick now, so his performance might be better at Martinsville than before, but I’m waiting for a real good run out of this team before considering him at a track where his average finish is 20.7. He owns just two top 10s in sixteen career starts and hasn’t finished there since 2006. Unless he looks flat out phenomenal in practice (think Denny Hamlin last weekend) I’m going to pass on KK for this race.
Juan Montoya – He ended up with a top 10 a couple of weeks ago in Bristol, but Montoya had just the sixteenth-best driver rating in that race. At Martinsville, JPM has a career average finish of 14.7, but three of the last four events have ended with him in 19th place or worse. He might be a sleeper in some people’s minds, but I’d rather take his team mate, Jamie McMurray, in that role this weekend.
Paul Menard – He finished in the teens in both Martinsville races during the 2010 season, but overall Paul’s history at this track is very shaky. In nine career starts here, he owns an average finish of 22.7 and has completed just 94.5% of the laps ran. His best driver rating has been 79.4 in all of his starts here.