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NASCAR Texas Preview: Who will fire the guns!

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, April 07, 2011

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Last year's winner Denny Hamlin got to wear the hat and fire the guns
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be travelling to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Saturday night's running of the Samsung Mobile 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway. The Texas victory lane tradition calls for the winning team to don cowboy hats while the winning driver fires a pair of six shooters into the air. The big question is who's going to wear the hat and fire the guns?

THE NUMBERS AND VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, WSE, has rather definitive opinions, regarding who's going to put that cowboy hat on Saturday night, They have placed drivers Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson at the top of their list and backed the decision with 6 to 1 odds. All three are very good choices.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing #11 Toyota, is the defending race champion after sweeping both Texas events last year. His stats in the lone star state are quite impressive: two wins, five top five finishes, eight top tens along with an average finish ratio of 8.8. But Hamlin's and his team has experienced some frustration over the past two weeks. It began in California with a blown engine and then escalated into a disappointing 12th place at Martinsville following fuel mileage issues. The rash of engine problems that plagued all three of the Gibbs Racing drivers is also still a major concern. That's in light of the fact that the Texas Motor Speedway, with its long straights and sweeping turns, is a high RPM facility.

At the beginning of the season, Hamlin was rated as a serious favorite to snap the Jimmie Johnson championship dynasty. It's very likely that he still is. It's way too early to say his Chase run is over and that Hamlin is standing in a hole too deep to dig out of it. But the team, going into Saturday night, is 19th in the standings, 74 points away from the lead, and that's got to be on their minds. Texas is a good opportunity to get the program headed in the right direction.

There are two drivers, in the Texas Motor Speedway history books, who can say they swept both races there in the same year. Hamlin is one of them, Carl Edwards is the other. The driver of the #99 Roush Fenway Ford has a series high three wins at Texas along with three top five finishes, four top tens and a respectable average finish ratio of 17.7. He's currently second in the standings only five points from the top of the chart. But the big difference maker here may be those Roush Yates FR9 engines with their expanded cooling systems. That means they can race the car with more tape on the front grill to create more down force. Also, the Texas Motor Speedway is considered to be Ford country to many observers. Rough Fenway Racing has a series high seven wins at the track. 6 to 1 WSE odds for Edwards is a very solid wager.

So is Jimmie Johnson at 6 to 1. Johnson comes to the lone star state as a previous race winner along with seven top fives, 11 top tens and a finish ratio of 10.1. The fact that he's third in the standings, 12 points out, clearly indicates that Jimmie "five time" is looking to become Jimmie "Six Pack." The Hendrick Motorsports #48 team is looking for their first win of the season and it could easily come at Texas Saturday night.

Right behind the trio of favorites is a driver who is always a favorite to both dominant and win a NASCAR race. Kyle Busch is rated by the WSE at a rock solid 7 to 1. He's still looking for his first win at Texas, but he does have four top fives, five top tens and a 16.2 finish ratio. He's will also arrive at Texas as the series points leader. Kyle Busch doesn't seem to really have a bad race track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Had it not been for a blown engine at Las Vegas, that led to a 38th place finish, his overall numbers for the first six races would be absolutely astounding.

At 9 to 1 is Kevin Harvick, the driver of the #29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. We used to call him "Happy Harvick" and sometimes we called him "The Bakersfield Basher". After the past two weeks we're now calling him "The Closer." Harvick has developed this knack for showing up to claim a win late in the race. He has two, consecutive, Sprint Cup wins after only leading a total of seven laps. He's still looking for that first win at Texas. but he does have three top fives, eight top tens and a 12.4 finish ratio. His impressive run has elevated him to fifth in the standings, 15 points out. More and more this #29 team is looking like future champions.

The WSE has ranked Tony Stewart at 10 to 1 for the Texas race. The driver of the #14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet is a former race winner there and has an impressive stat list of four top fives, ten top tens and a 13.2 average. The one possible negative here is some on track frustration, during the course of the past two events, leading to garage speculation that claims Stewart and his crew chief, Darrien Grubb, have not exactly been reading from the same page lately. Those frustrating races has caused the team to drop to 11th, 39 points out.

Four time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon has also been experiencing some on track frustration of late. The early season strong start has seen the #24 Hendrick Motorsports team drop to 12th in the standings, 49 points out. Texas could a turn around for this team. Gordon is rated at 12 to 1 odds this week which makes him a solid long shot consideration. That theory is based on one win, seven top fives, nine top tens and a 17.0 finish average.


Joining Gordon in the 12 to 1 category is Matt Kenseth, the driver of the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. In typical fashion, Kenseth has quietly driven his way to ninth in the points, 24 markers from the top. He has also accumulated some impressive stats at Texas. He's a former race winner with a series high 8 top five finishes, and 11 top tens. He also has a very healthy 9.5 average finish. Like his team mate Carl Edwards, Kenseth's Ford will also be powered by one of those horse power producing Roush Yates engines. This is another rock solid long shot consideration.

At 16 to 1 WSE odds is Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle. The "Biff" is a former Texas winner who has also collected four top fives and seven top tens along the way. He also has an average finish ratio of 17.0 there. However, Biffle has endured up and down performance levels that has left him 20th in the standings, 77 points out. It's too early to call this situation bleak, but it is time to start a forward charge. The one plus factor here is the aforementioned Roush Yates engines at a speedway where high RPM is the norm.

The WSE's 20 to 1 category features a trio of drivers who are serious long shot considerations. That list is led by Mark Martin. The driver of the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is a former winner at Texas who also has seven top five finishes, a series high 12 top tens and a healthy finish ratio of 12.4. He also starts Saturday night's race tenth in the standings, 38 points out.

Also in this category is his Hendrick Motorsports team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr who thrilled the "Junior Nation" with his "almost win" last Sunday at Martinsville. The "Junior Nation" will be hoping that their favorite driver can transfer the Martinsville momentum to Texas. Earnhardt has a strong emotional tie with the Texas Motor Speedway. It was the scene of his first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup win back in 2006. Off to a very good 2011 start, Earnhardt comes to Texas eighth in the standings, 20 points out.

Completing the 20 to 1 trio is former Texas winner Kurt Busch who also has three top fives, ten top tens and a 13.8 finish ratio. The elder Busch brother is fourth in the standings and only 14 points out. Right behind him is Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer who will also be looking for a strong run at Texas to move his program forward. He goes into Saturday night 16th in the standings, and 61 points out.

Leading a quintet of drivers at 30 to 1 is Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton. A pre season Chase favorite, Burton's team had endured one round of bad racing luck after the other. The sight of him coming to pit road, last Sunday at Martinsville, with the hood of his car completely buckled up is a prime example of how this driver's season is going. He's currently 28th in the standings, 96 points out. But the good news for Burton is the fact that Texas is a good track for him and it's a good place to turn his season around. He's a two time winner there including winning the first ever Sprint Cup race at the track back in 1997. It was also the scene of his first ever Cup win. Burton also has three top five finishes and nine top tens.

Also in the 30 to 1 group is 2006 race winner Kasey Kahne who is currently 15th in the rankings, 56 points out. He is joined in this group by former race winner Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Completing this week's WSE rankings, at 40 to 1, are drivers Martin Truex Jr, Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers. If you don't see your favorite driver on this week's WSE listing they are automatically ranked at 15 to 1 for the Texas race.

Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR needs us to remind you that these posted numbers are for entertainment and information purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing wagers on their events. But if you're going to do it anyway, and many of you will, then you may as well go for it and place a Texas sized bet. The WSE has presented you with a lot of potentially lucrative options this week.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Samsung Mobile 500 is 334 laps/501 miles around the Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile quad oval. It's the seventh of 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup points races.

The race has 44 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. Nine of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they do not have a guaranteed start in the race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

There is plenty of Texas sized racing room at this speedway. The track is 58 feet wide. The front stretch measures 2,250 feet while the back stretch is 1,330 feet. The four turns are banked at 24 degrees while the straightaways, as well as the dog leg, are banked at five degrees. Pit road speed, always a concern during a Sprint Cup race, at Texas is 45 MPH.

The Texas Motor Speedway opened in 1997. With it's various seating configurations, it can accommodate up to 192,122 fans.

The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held there in April of 1997 and was won by Jeff Burton. Since that time there has been 20 Cup races that has sent 16 different winners to victory lane. In recent times the Texas Motor Speedway has developed a tendency for close finishes. Three of the last four races there have a margin of victory of less than one second. Roush Fenway Racing leads the team win list having sent their Fords to Victory lane at Texas seven times. Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports has three wins each.

Qualifying is always important at any Sprint Cup event. The Texas Motor Speedway track record, 196.235 MPH, was set by Brian Vickers in November of 2006. Only one Texas race has been won from the pole position. Kasey Kahne accomplished that feat back in 2006. However, 14 of the 20 Cup races there has been won from the top ten starting positions.

The weather could be somewhat of a concern. The Friday forecast calls for partly sunny skies, southwest wind up to 20 MPH and a day time high of 89 degrees. The Saturday daytime forecast again calls for partly sunny skies, southwest winds up to 30 MPH and highs of 86 degrees. The concern here is the weather forecast for Saturday evening which calls for cloudy skies, a 20 percent chance of showers, wind gusts and a temperature drop to 65 degrees.

The Samsung Mobile 500 will be broadcast live by Fox Sports with the pre race show beginning at 7 pm eastern time. The race re air will be Wednesday, April 12th, at 12 pm eastern on SPEED.

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