NASCAR Sprint Cup Texas Preview
THE STORY BREAKDOWN.
The main story line behind Sunday's AAA Texas 500 is, of course, the Chase. Simple math states there are four drivers still in the running for the championship. However, reality states that the two drivers at the top of the standings and the two championship points that separates them is the real story here.
After his win last weekend at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson emerged as the new points leader in the standings. However Johnson's lead over his rival Brad Keselowski is not exactly Texas size. There's only two points between them and any combination of good and bad racing luck involving the two contenders could greatly alter the scope of the title run with only three races left in the season.
Johnson, a four time winner this year with a previous win at Texas, holds all of the strong stats regarding performance levels at this speedway. That's why he's heavily favored to win Sunday's race. Keselowski's Texas numbers are not very good at all. However, we've seen those numbers from other speedways this year and it hasn't mattered at all. Keselowski is one of the most tenacious drivers in the Sprint Cup and it's that determination that has led to five race wins and turned this team into a championship contender.
However, there is one area where Keselowski needs to focus on and create some improvements: qualifying. His qualifying efforts have not been very strong as of late and that creates the need for the team to call audibles regarding pit strategy and track position. In the past four races: Martinsville, Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega, the team's starting positions have been 32nd, 25th, 20th and 22nd.
Mathematically speaking, drivers Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne are still contenders in the title profile. Bowyer, a three time racer winner this season, is third in the standings and 26 points from the top. Kahne, who has won twice this year, is ranked fourth and 29 points away. Realistically speaking, those points are going to be extremely difficult, if not indeed impossible, to make up with only three races remaining. To have a legitimate shot at winning the championship, both drivers are going to be dependent upon help, in the form of unexpected bad racing luck, from Johnson and Keselowski.
THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN
So, which driver is going to be standing in victory lane wearing a genuine Texas cowboy hat and firing those pistols? To get an accurate assessment of that question we again turn to the number crunching professionals from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).
The WSE's Texas report begins with drivers Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin rated at 6 to 1 odds. In 18 starts, Johnson has a win at Texas along with eight top five finishes and 13 top ten finishes along with a very impressive average finish ratio, (AFR), of 9.7. This team is currently operating in the same championship mode that earned them five consecutive titles and that's going to be bad news for the competition.
Hamlin's championship hopes were killed last weekend at Martinsville where two pit road speeding penalties and a mysterious failure in the car's electrical system dropped him from third to fifth, at minus 49, in the points standings. At this point it's all about winning races and developing momentum for 2013. In other words, go for it because he really has nothing to lose anymore. Hamlin will be packing some impressive Texas stats that includes two wins which came after sweeping both races there back in 2010. He also has five top fives, eight top tens and a very healthy 10.3 AFR.
At 8 to 1 odds is the duo of Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle. Keselowski's Texas numbers are just plain terrible. In eight starts he hasn't event logged a top ten finish. In fact, he hasn't even logged a finish on the lead lap. His AFR is an astronomical 25.2. You know what? Take every one of those numbers and throw them into the round file. They mean nothing at all. There's been plenty of other races this year where the numbers were equally harsh and the tenacious Keselowski simply drove his way past them. Keselowski, along with crew chief Paul Wolfe and the resources of Roger Penske Racing are also in a championship frame of mind and they will be formidable during the course of the final three races.
Biffle is a two time Texas winner with the second trip to victory lane coming as recently as this past April. He also has seven top fives, ten top tens and a respectable AFR of 16.2. He's worthy of being considered as a long shot wager.
The WSE has ranked drivers Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth at 9 to 1. Busch is still seeking his first Texas win but does has four top fives, five top tens and a 15.8 AFR. Busch ran a very strong second last Sunday at Martinsville and just might be bringing that momentum with him to Texas.
Matt Kenseth is an excellent wager consideration. He's a double winner at Texas with 11 top fives, 14 top tens and a series high 8.6 AFR.
At ten to 1 you will find aforementioned championship hopefuls Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer. Kahne is a previous winner at Texas with four top fives and five top tens. However, the AFR, at 18.9, is a little on the high side. If Sunday's race becomes an issue of fuel mileage, and it's possible, Kahne is very good at conserving gas on a mile and a half speedway.
Bowyer will be seeking his first Texas win on Sunday. He has three top fives and seven top tens there along with a healthy 13.3 AFR. When Bowyer joined Michael Waltrip Racing this year, no one really expected this ride to produce three wins let along making the Chase line up. He's truly been one of the bright spots of the 2012 season and the team is strong enough to win Sunday's race.
At 12 to 1 odds are Hendrick Motorsports team mates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both could be regarded as long shot wagers. Gordon has a win at Texas along with eight top fives, 11 top tens and a 16.2 AFR.
Earnhardt is also a previous winner in the Lone Star state. He also has a trio of top five finishes, 11 top tens and a 13.9 AFR.
At 15 to 1 is a trio of drivers that also has to be considered as being long shot considerations. Carl Edwards is a three time winner at Texas including sweeping both races there back in 2008. He also has five top fives, seven top tens and a decent 15.0 AFR. Granted, this has been a very frustrating year for a driver that was favored to be a championship contender back in January. The law of averages says this long year for Edwards has got to turn around eventually. It could happen on Sunday.
Also in the 15 to 1 group is reigning champion Tony Stewart whose Chase hopes suddenly took a down turn in recent weeks. Texas is a great place for "smoke" to get back on track. He's a two time winner there as well as the defending race champion. He also has five top fives and 11 top tens along with a healthy 13.1 AFR.
The third driver, in the 15 to 1 trio, is Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. While Truex made making the Chase line up look easy, there is the frustration of still seeking his first win of the season. He' also seeking a first win at Texas. He only has a single top five finish there along with seven top tens and a 16.1 AFR. That's not exactly strong numbers, but there's that strong sense of determination to put his Toyota in a victory lane before the year ends that earns him a long shot consideration.
The WSE's Texas rankings concludes with Mark Martin, a previous Texas winner with a 13.3 AFR, ranked at 20 to 1 followed by Kevin Harvick, with a 12.7 AFR, listed at 30 to 1. All other drivers, not listed here, are automatically ranked at 8 to 1 odds.
Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races. However, if you're thinking about making a Texas sized wager anyway then you may as well have Texas sized information from the professionals at the World Sports Exchange.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The AAA Texas 500 is 334 laps/501 miles around the Texas Motor Speedway's mammoth 1.5 mile quad oval.
The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting positions and the winner's share of the $6.9 million race purse. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth in Sunday's 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 earn a starting berth in the race.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup event was held at Texas in April of 1997 and was won by Jeff Burton. Since that time there has been 23 Cup races there that has sent 16 different winners to victory lane. 17 of those 23 races has been won from starting positions within the top ten. Only one driver, Kasey Kahne back in 2006, has won a Texas race from the pole position. Roush Fenway Racing leads the team wins at Texas with nine. Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each have three wins there.
The track qualifying record, 196.235 MPH, was set by Brian Vickers back in November of 2006.
The Texas Motor Speedway officially opened in 1997. The track is 58 feet wide. The front stretch measures 2,250 feet while the back stretch is 1,330 feet long. The four turns are steeply banked at 24 degrees. The front stretch, including the dog leg, is only banked at five degrees.
Weather could become an interesting factor during the Texas Motor Speedway weekend. The forecast for the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area calls for clear skies and daytime highs of 87 degrees on Friday. Saturday calls for partly cloudy conditions, temperatures in the low 80's and a slight, 20%, chance of thunder showers. However, it's Sunday's forecast that may wrinkle the brows of crew chiefs. There's also a 20% chance of rain that day with daytime highs falling to the low 70's. That drop could impact track temperature which in turn could hamper the car's handling capabilities during the early portion of the race. By the way, in the event of rain, the speedway has a fleet of six jet dryers which can dry the track in approximately two hours.
The AAA Texas 500 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network with the pre race show beginning at 2 pm eastern time. Race replays will be Monday morning, at 12 am eastern, on ESPN2 and on Wednesday, November 7th, at 12 pm eastern on SPEED.
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