Mash The Gas – Texas Preview

The NASCAR Sprint Cup series returns to action after the Easter break at the Texas Motor Speedway. On the schedule twice, the mile and a half “D” shaped speedway in Fort Worth, TX produced winners Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart last season. It will be a Saturday night shootout this weekend. The Samsung Mobile 500 is scheduled to wave the green flag for the first of 334 laps at 7:46pm eastern on April 14th.

We look at who’s hot in the season so far combined with who runs well at the upcoming track as well as hunches to come up with the following list and discussion.

#14-Tony Stewart
Dan Margetta – Texas is another mile and a half circuit, and a look back to Las Vegas earlier this year reveals Stewart as the dominant driver on this type of layout. He was nearly untouchable at Vegas, especially on restarts, and he should be the favorite heading into Texas.

John Wiedemann – Amongst his five wins in the 2011 Chase, Stewart about dominated the fall Texas race by leading over half of the laps and holding off Carl Edwards for his second win at the track. Stewart has stayed hot this season and is the only Sprint Cup Series driver with multiple wins. It is easy to say that Stewart will be at the front.

#17-Matt Kenseth
JW – Texas has been a great track for Kenseth. Nine top ten finishes in the last ten races at the track including a win and seven top fives in that stretch means that you will see the #17 at the front of the pack this weekend. Roush Fenway Racing is strong at Texas and likely will place one of their drivers in victory lane.

DM – Last year’s dominant winner in this event also performs very well on the mile and a half tracks. Kenseth has two wins at Texas but more importantly out of 19 starts at Texas, Kenseth boasts 13 top ten finishes, with 10 of those being top five results. However, the car that was so dominant a year ago was dinged up a bit in the late race dust-up at Vegas and may not be available for Texas.

#16-Greg Biffle
DM – This team has to break through to victory lane sometime. They’re leading the points, continuing to run well, and were a solid third at Vegas in March. Biffle has a streak of seven consecutive top ten finishes at Texas dating back to 2008 with five of those finishes being fifth or better.

JW – Biffle has one win at Texas and has been running strong this season. Getting past some tracks that he has not run well at historically while maintaining the points lead bodes well for Biffle as he tries to make the Chase for the Championship, something he failed to do last year.

#11-Denny Hamlin
JW – If we just make believe that last year never happened, Denny Hamlin is the favorite for this race. Hamlin swept the races at Texas in 2010. Don’t worry if he qualifies poorly, he won those races starting 29th and 30th. After 20th place finishes in Las Vegas and Bristol, Hamlin’s performance has been on the rise. Denny also has to match the finish his good buddy this past weekend – Bubba Watson won the Masters – so Hamlin has an extra reason to reach victory lane.

DM – Hamlin is the driver who has scored the most points over the last eight races at Texas and could fare quite well this week as the team looks to bounce back from some mediocre results in the weeks following their Phoenix victory.

#48-Jimmie Johnson
DM – Johnson also has a strong record at Texas with 12 top ten finishes in 17 starts. Those numbers along with the earlier Vegas performance where Johnson was the only driver to keep Stewart honest with a close second makes the #48 team formidable contenders for this week at Texas.

JW – Did Johnson loose the lucky horseshoe? I don’t think so. While on his way to winning, or at least a runner-up finish, at Martinsville, he ended up slammed into the wall – unlucky. He finished twelfth and maintains a tenth place position in the standings – lucky. Johnson should be looking for a normal finish, no rain and oil leak drama and being able to race to the finish line will constitute a good day.

Should Be Front Runners And Need To Be Front Runners
#99-Carl Edwards
JW – What happened to the Carl Edwards of last year? Is there truth to the curse of finishing second in the points? Texas is a track that Edwards can dominate. If that happens this weekend, everything else that makes up the first six races will be forgotten.

DM – We have yet to see the dominant type performance that got this team within a whisker of the championship last season. At Las Vegas, where a strong run was anticipated as well, Edwards finished fifth in quiet fashion, having shown up at the front late in the event. Edwards’ team needs to make a statement that they are serious contenders this season.

#99-Kyle Busch
DM – Busch has also caught the bad luck bug the last few weeks, but Texas could be the place they turn things around. It’s been a full year since Busch has raced in a Cup race here as he was parked in the Fall following the infamous truck race incident with Ron Hornaday. Texas was also the scene of Busch’s pit road meltdown in 2010 where his hand gestures at officials hurt the team severely. Erasing the Texas demons would go a long way toward getting Busch and the team back in the winning groove.

JW – Kyle has a big hill to climb if he wants to get in the Chase this year. Granted, this is only race seven on the schedule but Busch is already almost a race behind tenth place in the standings, thirty-eight points back. There isn’t a track that Busch can’t win at, so it’s nowhere near panic time. But, now would be a great time to start the standings climb.

#5- Kasey Kahne
DM – the misfortunes of Kasey Kahne have been well documented so far this season, but Las Vegas was the team’s best on-track performance despite their 19th place finish. Kahne sat on the pole at Vegas and was challenging with the front-runners when he was caught up in the same final laps scrape that derailed Matt Kenseth. No longer just needing a good run, this team has to have a good race, if not a victory at Texas.

JW – Prior to the season starting, actually going back to a test at the end of last season, there was talk about how much Kasey Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis had already added to Hendrick Motorsports and how they were helping rid the perceived team weakness of the mile-and-a-half track. Now the series is back at that type of track and we will see if Kahne can stay out of trouble and get a promised good finish. Well, promised might be a strong word – but I picked him on my fantasy team and I need a strong finish, not that Kasey is thinking about me and my team.

#88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
JW – Texas is the site of Earnhardt’s first Cup Series win back in 2000. It could be the site of his next win, breaking a long and much publicized drought since his last win in 2008. Junior’s relationship with crew chief Steve LeTarte is a good reason for the strong finishes this year and has put him in contention to win.

Michael Waltrip Racing
DM – Are They For Real? This group has been listed as possible favorites the last few weeks, even placing all three cars in the top five at Bristol. This is a people sport and director of competition Scott Miller, who came from the Childress organization, has been in the position long enough now for those efforts to pay off. Martin Truex and Clint Bowyer are in the top ten in points and Mark Martin has had success at Texas. Is this the week one of them breaks through for a victory to push this team to the top level of contending for wins every week?

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