With the Masters just finishing and Tiger Woods not winning, there may be an awful lot of similarities when comparing this weeks NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. Golf and NASCAR?
Nothing comparable, however, Jimmie Johnson right now is about as Tiger Woods as anyone in the sports world now, including Tennis’ Roger Federer, considering Roger only has to play one person to win.
Let’s just look what’s he’s done this year and wait on the track specific career dominance. Since leaving Las Vegas’ newly configured track with his third straight Vegas win, he has proceeded to win two of the next three races. Those last two tracks he’s won on may be the most opposite of any two tracks on the circuit with Martinsville being this flat half mile track where it seems like the bumper to bumper traffic never stops. Compare that to the flat out horsepower track of Texas where it’s wide open with several grooves to race on.
Atlanta and Las Vegas?
Now that’s another story. Both are very similar and will run very much the same with most teams using the same set-ups they used for each. You can also throw in Texas and Charlotte as being similar 1.5 mile high banked tracks, all owned not-so-coincidentally by Speedway Motor Sports, who figures they should give the fans the type of fast paced NASCAR racing they want to see.
So how has Johnson done this year on the 1.5 mile high banked tracks?
Can you say perfect! He’s 2 for 2 in the win column on those tracks. Last year in a similar situation (minus Vegas because of the old banking) Kasey Kahne didn’t stop until he took 4 of the 6 high banked track wins. In those six races, Johnson finished second four times, but no worse than 11th. Over the last two seasons of combined efforts at Texas, Charlotte, and Atlanta, Johnson has an average finish of 4.42 which is one of the more amazing figures of consistency in today’s NASCAR.
Can he keep it up and do it again?
Why not? Lets be real about this, those two races he won this year are still very fresh on the minds of the crew where the possibility of misinterpreting writings because of a long delay between similar races isn’t there. Because of everything going Johnson’s way and the likelihood of him winning again, he has been installed as the 4 to 1 favorite. Generally 4 to 1 favorites are reserved for dominators of the road courses or even for the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. a few years ago in plate races. The last driver that comes to mind that was as low as 4 to 1 in a 1.5 mile high banked track was Jeff Gordon in the late 90’s. Incidentally, Gordon was also the last driver prior to Johnson to win three of the first six races.
Who can stop Johnson’s thunder?
You would think Kasey Kahne initially because of what he did last season. However, Kahne’s team may have had the biggest drop off from the previous year that I’ve seen in a long time. It happens all the time in drag racing, but it shouldn’t happen this glaringly in NASCAR. Not with the money that Evernham gets from Dodge! Kahne has gone from winning 4 of 6 last year at these tracks to finishing 35th or worse in this season’s first two attempts.
Kenseth may be the Lone Ford Ranger
Carl Edwards has performed well this season from the Ford camp on the 1.5 mile tracks with a 6.5 average finish in the two races, but Kenseth has been a force. Kenseth has had the best combined finish in the first two 1.5 mile tracks this season behind Johnson. Look for Kenseth to be the top Ford performer again. In Texas history, the scoreboard still reads Kenseth 1, Johnson zero.
All the rest of the contenders come from Chevy. Mark Martin is back in the No. 01 Army ride after two disappointing runs by Regan Smith in the COT. Martin was fantastic at Vegas and Atlanta with a 7.5 average finish. Over Martin’s career at Texas he’s had 6 top 10 finishes that include one win. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon lead the way others who well do well this weekend. Stewart took the fall race at Texas last season while Gordon still has yet to win at Texas.
Texas 0 for 12 with a best of 2nd in 2002
Phoenix 0 for 15 with a best of 3rd in 2002 and 2004
Homestead 0 for 7 with a best finish of 3rd 2004
Gordon has won on 21 (19 active) of the 24 tracks he has raced on including two no longer on the circuit, North Wilkesboro and Rockingham. Based on his 2nd place Vegas run, perhaps Gordon is the driver that could unseat Johnson and it’s possible that Gordon is still steaming after the Martinsville race…..whatever it is that Johnson did to irritate his boss.
One driver to keep an eye and take a shot with at high odds is Juan Pablo Montoya. Las month in Atlanta, Montoya showed everyone he could handle a car and maximize speed by taking the high line to a 5th place finish. It came with lots of accolades from his peers and has to give JP some serious confidence heading into this race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is bringing the same chassis we have been high on for the last two 1.5 mile tracks, chassis No. 039. Had it not been for a bad late pit sequence in Atlanta the car would have had at least a 3rd instead of a 14th. Another positive is that Junior is excited that Texas repaired the dip that he complained about last year. He went to the highest level too, openly complaining in front of several reporters with SMI President Bruton Smith.
Junior won't know how that area between Turns 1 and 2 feels until he practices Friday. "I told them if they could fix that they'd have a better racetrack," said Earnhardt, on a conference call after testing the Car of Tomorrow in Richmond. "(TMS president Eddie Gossage) was upset I used the media to tell him that, but sometimes you guys got the loudest microphone."
Top 5 Texas Prediction
1) #17 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
2) #20 Tony Stewart (7/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (4/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
5) #8 Dale Earnhardt Jr (12/1)
Something to keep an eye for Texas Qualifying
Six teams are expected to use the new Chevy R07 engine for this week’s race in Texas. The engine has been used once prior by RCR driver Scott Wimmer. He failed to qualify for the race. Expected to use it this week is Casey Mears, Kyle Busch, and all of Gibbs racing including one of the favorites to win, Tony Stewart. Wimmer will also attempt to qualify again.
Jeff Gordon tested the engine during a tire test at Darlington last month, where he ran 500 laps with no problems. The new engine is designed to use more modern parts and be more durable. It also has a different plumbing system. As far as horsepower, it is believed that the potential is for more. However, it is apparently not believed too much because both Johnson and Gordon are running the stuff they know is solid. As for Childress, their letting Wimmer be the lab rat.........Not quit sure about Stewart and Hamlin going out on a limb this early before everyone else. If you're struggling, Big Deal. If you're winning and doing well, it really is a big risk.