Race No. 34 of 36 on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule takes us to Texas where we can get back some normal racing instead of the garbage witnessed last week at Talladega. More on that later.
The best thing about Texas is that you can use a wealth of data from the long season to help handicap for this race. You have results from the similar sister-tracks of Las Vegas, Atlanta, Charlotte, and the spring Texas race to go off of. Most of those tracks are all banked about the same and are very similar despite some unique traits of their own.
The most recent race run should get higher regards than the one ran earlier. If we sift through all the results I would pay more attention to the Charlotte race from a few weeks ago more than I would the March Vegas race, but necessarily more than the April Texas race.
Take Jeff Gordon for example. He won the first Texas race this season and has finished well at every one of the sister-tracks. His worse finish was at Charlotte in May when he finished 14th, but that was in part because of rain ending the race. Gordon was in that race as a strong contender to win. Even if we use that finish, Gordon’s average finish on the combined tracks is 5.8.
Jimmie Johnson almost went the entire season without winning on one of these type of tracks, which would have been a major shock because he has dominated on them since he came into the series. No one has been better. He didn’t get the win until a few weeks ago at Charlotte. In the five previous 1.5-mile high-banked races he had struggled, at least by his standards. He did finish second in Texas, but that was the only top-5.
Johnson will be bringing his chassis that he won at Dover with. His backup chassis will be the one he won with at Charlotte. He’s got a nice lead in points and we can expect him to let it all hang out, unlike last week. Knowing Johnson’s style, he’d love nothing more than to win his fourth title in a row in style.
Matt Kenseth hasn’t been good at too many places other than the first two stops of the season he won -- remember the Daytona 500 winner. Yeah, I know, it seems like two years ago since then. Anyway, Kenseth falls into that category of a driver that should do well based on his last race on these type of tracks and Texas itself.
Last month at Charlotte, Kenseth gave everything he had to beat Johnson but had to settle for second. In one of his rare six top-5 finishes on the year, Kenseth was able to finish fifth in the April Texas race. This is one driver that may slip under the Sports Books radar and present great value in all betting propositions.
Kasey Kahne started out slow, but was still respectable on these type of tracks at the beginning of the season. He really came on late with a win at Atlanta in September and then came back with a strong third in Charlotte. The former Texas winner looks like a top contender to win again this week.
Even though the 1.5-mile high banks appear to be the same as results show, Kahne has some particulars that are different to the driver.
"Getting into Turn One can be tricky,” Kahne said. “It is real flat and then as you are coming into the corner, you get into the banking. It’s almost like you fall into the corner at 190 miles per hour. Turn Three is similar but it is not as drastic. It is a difficult place to get your car to handle the way you want. It is a great track, but you really need your car to handle well on entry to be competitive."
This type of track usually doesn’t allow for many surprises, at least to the magnitude we saw the with the last two Talladega winners of Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray winning.
Speaking of Keselowski, he’ll be getting his first run with his new job in 2010 running for Penske Racing in the No. 12 Dodge. He’ll be running the final three races this season. Unlike David Stremme, Keselowski will be getting brand new equipment beginning this week.
TOP 5 Finish prediction:
1) #9 Kasey Kahne (12/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
3) #17 Matt Kenseth (20/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
Last weeks race at Talladega was going so well with all kinds of lead changes and drivers shuffling from way back to the front in one or two laps. In was an exciting race, at least until the end.
In was supposed to be a Green-White-Checkers end, but it didn’t seem like they got to the White flag when all the action started. The caution flag came out a little too late and it seemed like they were in a hurry to call the thing to avoid any more delays, and wrecks, or at least that‘s the way I wanted to believe it.
In all NASCAR’s efforts since the Carl Edwards flip into the catch-fence at Talladega in the spring to avoid those type of occurrences, they threw gasoline on the fire. It seems to me that the folks in NASCAR may want to do a better job a separating the cars more, because that seems to be where the big accidents always come from and the flipping of cars begin with.
The answer isn’t making the hole in the restrictor plate smaller to slow the fuel down because all that does is make the cars take longer to get up to full speed and then once the drafting starts, they go about 10 to 15 miles an hour faster.
If they want to solve the problem, the best way may be to go with a smaller engine that still has some response to the throttle and use some skinnier tires. If drivers start wrecking because they can’t grip, they’ll learn to control their throttle more instead of the full out mash on the gas they do now.
The late Dale Earnhardt used to always complain about not having control over his throttle in plate races, even after he’d won dozens of times in plate races.
Picture going uphill to an expressway driving a Yugo, trying to get up to speed, but getting no response as you continue to chug at 25 mph.
NASCAR has put these drivers in this position and they’re not happy about it. Poor Ryan Newman had to sit crammed in flattened car for 20 minutes until they opened his car like a can of sardines to get him out and it was a direct result of what NASCAR has done.
For my own benefit, If I’m going to spend the bulk of my Sunday morning watching a race that is competing for air-time with my previously unbeaten Denver Broncos, than I at least want to see a finish. Don’t give me all the fun and a frills of what looks to be great racing and then give me an ending like Geraldo’s search for Al Capone’s Lost Vault.