Mash The Gas – Texas Preview

The 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup rolls into Texas with the hammer down as the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas hosts the AAA 500 this weekend. With just three races left in the 2012 campaign, there is little room for error for the championship contenders, which have dwindled to just two main contenders in Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski while Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne remain mathematically in contention. The Texas Motor Speedway is another 1.5 mile circuit similar to tracks in Kansas, Charlotte, and Atlanta, but it has its own personality and characteristics that set it apart from the others.

Coming to Texas for the second time this year, the mile and a half “D” shaped speedway produced winners Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart last season as well as Greg Biffle back in April of this season.

The AAA Texas 500 is scheduled to wave the green flag for the first of 334 laps at 2:16pm eastern on Sunday, November 4th.

Greg Biffle
Dan Margetta: Greg Biffle won the last race held in Texas in the Spring and it appears the Roush-Fenway camp has regained their speed on the 1.5 mile tracks. Biffle has two Texas wins to his credit to go along with seven top five finishes which gives him the second best driver’s rating at the track. This week, the #16 team brings the same car they won twice with this season, here at Texas in April and Michigan in August. Plus Biffle was part of the Goodyear tire test conducted at Texas just a few weeks ago which should give him an edge in the AAA 500.

John Wiedemann: Greg Biffle’s win this year at Texas was his eighth consecutive top-10 finish at the track, the longest current streak. Add the fact that Roush Fenway Racing earned its ninth Sprint Cup victory at Texas, 6 more than any other team, and you will understand why Biffle is at the top this week.

Matt Kenseth
DM: If Greg Biffle doesn’t pull off the win, look for Matt Kenseth to pick up right where he left off in winning the last event at a 1.5 mile track in Kansas. The #17 team should continue to display their recently found speed at a Texas track where Kenseth has a stellar record. Kenseth holds two Texas wins and eleven top five finishes which gives him the series best driver’s rating at the track. The team brings the car they raced at Charlotte a few weeks ago and if not for Greg Biffle’s participation in the recent tire test, I feel Kenseth would be the favorite this week. Should Kenseth win on Sunday, he would have three wins in eight Chase races and still have no chance at winning the championship, something the Chase format wasn’t supposed to allow to happen Things that make you go ‘hmmm’.

JW: Matt Kenseth’s eleven top five finishes at Texas proves that he will be in the mix at Texas. While Championship hopes are history for the #17 team, they still want to finish the season with wins and Texas is a track they are definitely favored at.

Denny Hamlin
DM: Las Vegas lists Hamlin as a favorite for this week’s Texas race based mostly on him having the most success on 1.5 mile tracks this season, winning at Atlanta and finishing second at Charlotte a few weeks ago. Trouble is, while the #11 team looks unbeatable on paper, it’s the intangible things that are destroying their results on the racetrack. The way this team was taken out of the championship fight last week via a part failure while leading in dominating fashion was a bitter pill to swallow. The last time something similar happened to Hamlin, it took him over a year to get over it and he’ll need crew chief Darien Grubb to keep him focused if he has any hopes of getting back into the title hunt.

JW: Last week showed that something as seemingly inconsequential as a switch can ruin a team’s championship hopes. Now 49 points and in fifth place in the standings, nothing bad can happen to Denny Hamlin and the sky needs to fall on the point leaders from him to get back into contention. A win is possible this weekend and it’s also possible that the drivers Hamlin is chasing will finish in the top five, minimizing any gain. Wins are all that Hamlin can shoot for at this point.

Jimmie Johnson
DM: Now that Johnson has the point lead, it will be hard to unseat him in his drive for championship number six. The #48 team has a solid history of running well while not making mistakes and in effect, beating themselves as everyone tries to chase them down. Johnson owns one win at Texas and has the fourth best driver rating. Then again, it is Texas, and just three years ago in 2009, when everything seemed to be going their way, an early crash with Sam Hornish Jr. set them back tremendously in their drive for what eventually became championship number four.

JW: With a second place finish in the spring, Jimmie Johnson scored his 13th top ten at Texas. He also probably feels that he gave the race to Biffle after brushing the wall while racing for the lead. Johnson led a race-high 156 out of 334 laps, and his second place finish was the fourth runner-up since he won in the fall of 2007. The close battle with Keselowski will keep the #48 team sharp and focused to the finish.

Brad Keselowski
DM: Keselowski and the #2 team continue to defy the odds and come into Texas just two points behind Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team after surviving two tough races at Kansas and Martinsville. Their toughest test could be this week at Texas where Keselowski has never finished in the top ten let alone on the lead lap. His average finishing position here is 25.3, but this team and driver live to prove the experts wrong and seem to find motivation when everyone essentially writes them off. A Keselowski victory on Sunday would be considered a surprise even though we all know better we just don’t want to admit it.

JW: Broken record statement of the week – for Keselowski, the past doesn’t matter. I expect a top five finish this week and the past will be forgotten. One thing to remember is that the past for a driver like Keselowski includes a relatively small sample including the first runs at a track. Keselowski had one of the fastest cars in the April race at TMS this year but fuel pressure issues sent his Dodge behind the wall and relegated Keselowski to a 36th place finish. Expect Bad Brad to be fast again on Sunday.

Clint Bowyer
DM: Bowyer has been steadily gaining ground on the points leaders the last few weeks but time is running out and the #15 team needs to make their move now. The Michael Waltrip Racing cars of Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., and Mark Martin have been strong on all the 1.5 mile tracks this season with Bowyer using fuel strategy to win at Charlotte. Bowyer is third in points but no one has ever come as far back as he is to win the championship with three races left. The optimistic way to look at that is for Bowyer to race all out with nothing to lose in the hopes of pressuring leaders Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keslowski into making mistakes.

JW: Back in April as the Sprint Cup Series came to Texas, we were wondering if Michael Waltrip Racing was for real. With two cars in the Chase, a third car that is fourteenth in owners points and Clint Bowyer still in the championship hunt, this team was definitely for real in 2012. A repeat of his Charlotte run would make Bowyer a serious contender. Right now Bowyer needs to eat away at least nine points from Johnson’s lead in each of the next three races. It’s a difficult task but not impossible.

Quick Laps
Mark Martin came home third in the spring race and could be a challenger for the victory on Sunday. The schedule for the #55 car will be repeated again in 2013 and can almost be considered a contender each race no matter who is driving.

Jeff Gordon finished fourth and can’t be left out of talk of possible winners at Texas. In fact, the entire Hendrick Motorsports team finished in the top ten in April with Kasey Kahne seventh and Dale Earnhardt Jr in tenth.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the pole – we were wondering if MWR was for real back in April
Johnson, who led a race-high 156 of 334 laps, finished second at Texas for the fourth time since his Nov. 2007 victory

Kevin Harvick tends to remind us he is still around at the mile-and-a-half tracks. Far from contending for the championship, Harvick and Martin Truex Jr (polesitter at Texas in the spring) are Chase drivers still looking to get a win in 2012.

Chase Standings heading into Texas:
Jimmie Johnson 2291 points, wins and takes over points lead
Brad Keselowski 2289 points, drops to second, 2 points behind Johnson
Clint Bowyer 2265 points, gains a position but loses a point to lead, now 26 points back
Kasey Kahne 2262 points, gained a spot and a point to 29 behind leader
Denny Hamlin 2242 points, drops to 5th and 49 points back after master switch breaks
Jeff Gordon 2237 points, still climbing in the standings, but 54 points behind lead
Martin Truex Jr. 2228 points, loses a spot and 20 points to 63 behind
Matt Kenseth 2226 points, gains a position in standings, 65 points behind leader
Greg Biffle 2222 points, jumps up 2 positions and is 69 points out of lead
Tony Stewart 2220 points, loses 3 positions and now is 71 points behind
Kevin Harvick 2203 points, loses 29 points to 88 points behind
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2151 points, back on the track and racing

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