Mash The Gas: Texas Showdown

Everything’s bigger in the state of Texas and right now there is no bigger NASCAR story than Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson set in a deadlock tie atop the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings as the series heads to the Texas Motor Speedway and the AAA Texas 500 Sunday afternoon.

Texas is yet another 1.5 mile speedway but its speed sets it apart from the others and according to last week’s test session, the track “rubbered up” quickly which should provide for some exciting multi-groove racing. It’s tough to win at Texas and on top of that, it’s crunch time in the fight for the Sprint Cup as just three races remain to decide the title.

The AAA Texas 500 is scheduled to start at 3pm Eastern on Sunday November 3rd. If you can’t make it to the track, the race will be broadcast on ESPN and on the radio at PRN. 334 laps make up the 501 mile distance at the mile and a half Texas Motor Speedway.

Here are some drivers and storylines to track as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into the Lone Star state.

Matt Kenseth
Dan Margetta: Out-pointing Jimmie Johnson and drawing even in the standings at Martinsville had to feel like a win for Matt Kenseth and the #20 team heading into Texas, as the 1.5 mile circuit is one of Kenseth’s best. He has two Texas wins to his credit and owns the best average finish among the drivers to go along with having led the most laps here. In 2013, Kenseth has captured four of his seven victories on the 1.5 mile tracks, although he finished 12th here in the spring. A crash cut short his Texas test session last week but the team enters Texas on a roll and dead even with Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team as the two best organizations on the circuit. Kenseth fell just short to Johnson in an epic 2007 battle for the win here but this season, he seems poised to apply the pressure to Johnson as the Chase winds down. Neither driver is known to make mistakes, which leaves everything to team strength and performance and I think Kenseth and the #20 team has a slight edge this week and could gain valuable points.

Jimmie Johnson
John Wiedemann: Last week’s Martinsville race wasn’t the coronation that Jimmie Johnson was looking for but he can make up for it this week by besting Matt Kenseth at Texas. This title fight continues to look like it is going down to the wire and every race is crucial. The 2011 championship came down to a tie and the tie breaker of number of wins gave Tony Stewart the championship. Johnson is behind Kenseth at this point by two wins. With Kenseth having a statistical edge this weekend at Texas, the #48 team will need to be at the top of their game to grab more points and win the Texas showdown. Johnson has won twice at the Texas Motor Speedway. Getting a third win this weekend and heading to another great track for the team in Phoenix will go a long way towards winning championship number six.

Kyle Busch
DM: After slipping a bit last week at Martinsville, Kyle Busch and the #18 team are in “must win” mode if they have any aspirations of holding the Sprint Cup at the end of the season. Busch dominated the spring Texas race, capturing the pole position and leading 171 of the 334 laps to score the win. Busch also won at Atlanta, the track most similar to Texas and the high speeds here suite his driving style. Anything less than a win at Texas will be a disappointment heading forward in the Chase and Kyle Busch and the #18 team are definitely capable of pulling off the feat. While Busch has driven fast race cars so far in the Chase, the team appears to have been out coached so to speak by the #20 and #48 teams and it’s time for them to step up and prove they are on the same level as the point leaders.

Carl Edwards
JW: Looking beyond the championship battle, we see a forgotten driver who could end up in victory lane this weekend and take away some of the attention. Carl Edwards has three wins at Texas Motor Speedway as part of the top organization at the track with a total of nine wins from it’s drivers. Roush Fenway Racing has always been the team to watch at Texas and that will continue this weekend. Look for other RFR drivers Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to also run at the front. Edwards needs a spark to finish out the season strong and Texas gives him that shot. Even though he hasn’t won at Texas since 2008, Edwards finished third in the spring race and has six top five and eight top ten finishes in his Texas career. Edwards will be a contender this weekend.

Jeff Gordon
DM: Jeff Gordon’s Martinsville win vaulted him to third in the point standings and the only driver within a stone’s throw of the two leaders. Gordon has had mixed results at Texas with one win and eight top five finishes and he needs to keep up the momentum from last week’s victory. In a way, the pressure is off Jeff Gordon as he has nothing to lose and everything to gain from here on out and has he stated in a recent release, the team is “really in sync right now.” Gordon could sneak up on Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth in the coming weeks and the 13th Chaser could very well be a factor in the championship by season’s end. Taking one race at a time, Texas is up first and Sunday we’ll see if the team can capitalize on their Martinsville success.

Jamie McMurray
JW: Jamie McMurray is finishing off the season strong and looks to be one to watch at the start of the 2014 season. With disappointing finishes in previous seasons, McMurray has turned it around this year and has been the strongest driver that is not a Chase contender. McMurray is even outperforming many of the Chase drivers. Starting his 400th career NASCAR Sprint Cup race this weekend, McMurray looks to make it a good one.

Kevin Harvick
DM: Kevin Harvick is the only driver besides Matt Kenseth with multiple wins on the 1.5 mile tracks this season. Harvick won at Charlotte in May and then again at Kansas a few weeks ago. For Texas, the team brings the same chassis that won at Kansas and then finished 6th at Charlotte in October. He still has a chance to challenge for the championship but the team will have to prove they have moved past the scathing interviews from the Harvick-Childress dispute last weekend. The only way to bury that baggage is with a win this week at Texas and while they may be bickering, both car owner and driver are racers first and all that extracurricular stuff goes out the window once the green flag falls.

Martin Truex Jr.
JW: Overshadowed by being booted from the Chase do to Michael Waltrip Racing shenanigans, Martin Truex Jr. has had a solid season and the tracks that he has been the best on have been the mile and a half ovals. This weekend should be another solid run for Truex who this week announced that he will be driving for Furniture Row Racing in 2014. After losing sponsor NAPA due to the previously mentioned MWR tactics, Truex looked to be out of a ride with not a lot of prospects. The fit between Truex and Furniture Row should be a good one and I expect good things to come to them in 2014. This weekend, with all the issues behind him, Truex should go out and contend for the race win.

Elliott Sadler
DM: Texas can be unpredictable at times and for that reason I’m going with Elliott Sadler in the #55 car as my long shot pick this week. Sadler is given a 300-1 chance to win by the odds makers in Las Vegas and the team is bringing the chassis that last raced in Chicago. Brian Vickers drove the car then and challenged for the lead early on before mechanical issues ended his day. Sadler does have a Texas win to his credit and the #55 car has raced well on the 1.5 mile tracks this season. Plus, this is Sadler’s chance to show the rest of the NASCAR world he is worthy of a Cup ride so there is plenty of incentive to win in the final races of the season. If things line up, this could be the Texas surprise on Sunday.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
JW: This could be the week that Ricky Stenhouse Jr finds victory lane in a Sprint Cup Series race. With the history of the #17 at Texas and Roush Fenway Racings success at the track, Stenhouse has a great group behind him to get him the win. Some of Stenhouse’s best finishes this year have come on mile and a half tracks. Stenhouse has great Nationwide Series results at Texas including a win in 2012. So everything is lined up for Ricky to end up in victory lane with a cowboy hat and six shooters, we’ll just have to watch and see. Everything is bigger in Texas and nothing would be bigger than a rookie winning a Chase race.

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