Mash The Gas: Texas Preview

Ryan Blaney practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. [Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway]

Ryan Blaney practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. [Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway]

By Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The first Saturday night race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season kicks off this weekend as the Texas Motor Speedway hosts the Duck Commander 500. Texas marks a return to the 1.5 mile oval configuration tracks and the race under the lights on Saturday should produce some high speeds.

Duck Commander 500
Texas Motor Speedway
501 miles (334 laps)
Saturday, April 9 7:30pm ET
FOX, 7pm ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
While Texas is similar to the other 1.5 mile tracks in size and configuration, it tends to race a bit differently characteristic wise than the others and the low downforce aerodynamic rules package could shake things up.

So far this season only Jimmie Johnson has multiple victories and statistically he is the best at Texas, but one thing we have learned this year is to never take anything for granted and there are plenty of others ready to step up and stake their claim to Johnson’s Texas reign.

Here are some drivers to watch Saturday night in the Duck Commander 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway….

Brad Keselowski (Dan Margetta)
I know everyone is on the Jimmie Johnson band wagon when it comes to Texas, but Brad Keselowski is a driver to keep your eye on this week. He has yet to win here and comes in at 8-1 odds but in the last Texas race, he led the most laps before losing the victory to Johnson who passed him with four laps to go. Then think back to Las Vegas, a track similar to Texas, where Johnson led the most laps only to see Keselowski charge late and take the win. Keselowski has four top five finishes at Texas with three of those coming in the last four races here and he has matched Jimmie Johnson on the track but unlike Johnson he hasn’t closed the deal for the victories. That could change Saturday night in Texas and I’m picking Brad Keselowski for the win.

Carl Edwards (John Wiedemann)
Carl Edwards is my pick for the win this weekend. I have been consistent that the Joe Gibbs Racing cars are going to be the ones to beat pretty much week in and week out, and this week is Edwards turn in victory lane. Edwards already has three wins at Texas and the fifth best driver ranking in the series at the mile and a half oval. Edwards has had all top ten finishes this season with the exception of Las Vegas, which I suppose should throw a wrench into my prediction being it is another 1.5 mile track. But, I am going to look at his top five at Atlanta along with past success at Texas to bolster my forecast. He will probably have to battle his teammates for the win this weekend but I believe that Edwards will prevail and notch his first victory of the season.

Matt Kenseth (DM)
If it wasn’t for his bad luck this season, I would make Matt Kenseth my first pick for the Texas win Saturday night. Kenseth has two victories at Texas and holds thirteen top five finishes and seventeen top ten results. He owns the best average finishing position at Texas and has the second best driver rating. He comes in at 7-1 odds but so far this season the Racing Gods haven’t been kind to him as each week he has performed strong only to fall victim to some form of bad luck at the end. He led the white flag lap at Daytona, had a pit error and black flag ruin Atlanta, crashed late in Vegas, and last week found himself in the weak outside groove at Martinsville despite having the best car late in the race. The good news for Kenseth is Texas is a good place to turn that luck around and after making numerous deposits in the luck bank this season he may be ready for a withdrawal on Saturday night. He should have his best finish of the season and if all goes right, maybe his first victory.

Jimmie Johnson (JW)
Yup, we definitely need to include Jimmie Johnson as a driver to watch this weekend as he looks to win his fourth race in a row at Texas. It may be jumping on the bandwagon but it is a pretty big wagon built on the fact that Texas is another track that Johnson is dominant at. It didn’t work for him last week at Martinsville but I believe his Texas dominance is a little different. Johnson has six wins at Texas, double the next closest driver, including victories in five of the last seven races at TMS. Next, look at this season with his victory at Atlanta and third place finish at Las Vegas, where he led the most laps, and his intermediate oval program is obviously at the top of the charts. I already picked Edwards for the win this weekend, but looking at the stats – maybe I should have picked Johnson.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
Martin Truex Jr. is another driver who has raced up front all season without any victories to show for it. His Texas record isn’t bad as he has two top five finishes and ten finishes in the top ten. He’s listed at 15-1 odds this week and he did put up top ten finishes in both Texas races last year. This season with technical help from Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex has improved even more and he could surprise some people on Saturday night. The Gibbs cars have run well at Texas and Truex should benefit from the alliance. It also helps to have crew chief Cole Pearn on top the pit box. If you are looking for a driver coming in under the radar this weekend at Texas, Martin Truex Jr. is your guy.

Joey Logano (JW)
Besides being NASCAR’s most popular gremlin, Joey Logano is a pretty awesome driver on 1.5 mile tracks. Looking at the last couple years, Logano is at the top of the field in results at the “cookie cutter” tracks. In the last five races at Texas Motor Speedway, Logano is the only driver to get a victory other than Jimmie Johnson when Joey took the win in the 2014 spring race. Team Penske hasn’t been consistent lately and Logano has been in and out of the top ten, switching each week. Staying with the pattern, this is his week to be in the top ten plus Logano has a streak of top five finishes in his last three Texas spring races. Look for a run at the pole as well as Logano being in contention for the victory this weekend.

Austin Dillon (DM)
With generous 30-1 odds this weekend, make sure you take a serious look at Austin Dillon as your long shot pick. Dillon does not have a good record at Texas as his average finishing position is 21st, but those stats do not reflect the huge improvement Dillon and the #3 team have undertaken this season. Dillon has worked well with crew chief Slugger Labbe and that chemistry is very close to paying off with a victory. Dillon finished fifth at Las Vegas, a track very similar to Texas, and he is coming off another top five performance last week at Martinsville. It is becoming a matter of “when” and not “if” Austin Dillon will win a race and there is a strong chance that first victory could come at Texas on Saturday night.

Ryan Blaney (JW)
There is a really good race going on to see who will be the next first time winner on the Sprint Cup Series with drivers like Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott looking to make their mark in the series. These drivers are the future start of the sport and any one of them could drive to victory this weekend. Blaney is the driver that stands out to me. While Blaney ran a partial schedule last season, he showed good speed and the final results didn’t necessarily show how well he raced. The same is true this season as he embarks on his first full Sprint Cup Series season of racing, although the final results are starting to show. Last season at Texas was a good example as Blaney lost an engine early in the spring race and was knocked out of the fall race by an early accident. Look for big things from this driver and I think he will be the first of the “young gun” group to find victory lane.

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