NASCAR is going deep into the heart of Texas this week for the eighth race of the season. Itís hard to believe the season is almost a quarter of the way over, but here we are going to our third 1.5-mile high banked track of the season. We get a nice preview and indicator for what might happen this week just because of what we saw in Las Vegas and Atlanta not too long ago.
We also get to look at the two day Charlotte test session where every team went out and tested the new spoiler which could make a difference in this race. Whoever has the quickest and best read on the set-up of their car -- in regards to how the new spoiler responds -- will be the team that will have a head start this week in Texas and a leg up at all the down force tracks.
During the two days test session at Charlotte on March 23-24, a couple teams really stood out beginning with the Richard Childress cars of Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer.
Kevin Harvick has already had success at Las Vegas and Atlanta with the old spoiler with second and ninth place finish respectively. Heís fallen in points since getting off the fast tracks and his rise back up should coincide with what looks to be Childressí best performing tracks, oneís like this week in Texas.
Harvickís week started off pretty good for him as a Yankee fan. He went to opening day at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday and watched as the team was presented with their World Series rings. The inspiration could be useful as Harvick hasnít won a race since the 2007 Daytona 500. Heís been close and heís knocking at the door and Texas looks like a great opportunity to snap the losing streak.
Juan Pablo Montoya surprised everyone with a great Phoenix after tweeting that he hated his car in Fridayís practice and said it was going to be a long race day. During the Charlotte testing, Montoya was at or near the top on each day. In Atlanta, Montoya also came home with a third place finish which makes him a nice candidate to win this week.
Jimmie Johnsonís world class crew would seem like the natural choice to be ahead of the curve with any new change to the car, especially as to how it relates to the down-force track that theyíre always so good at. Johnson won at Las Vegas and finished 12th in Atlanta already this year. During the testing, Johnson didnít dominate as would be expected, but he was in the top-10.
Jeff Gordon has gone 36 races without a win. The last race he won was this very same Texas race last season. Prior to that win, Gordon had gone an entire season without a win, the first time that happened since his rookie season. Itís not like he hasnít been competitive, because he has. In fact he probably should have won the last two races this year. In both instances, at Martinsville and Phoenix, Gordon had victory within his grasp but let it go.
Could it be that his family life has softened Gordon a bit, or is it just age and maturation, or maybe the combination of all of the above. The Gordon from a decade ago would not have let both of those races go without winning at least one of them. We canít blame the car or the crew in either instance because each gave Gordon a chance to win. The blame for not winning those two races falls squarely on the driver.
Texas was one of the last races Gordon was able to check off on his things to do check-list. The only race track that Gordon hasnít won at now is Homestead-Miami. Heís a smarter, more cautious driver than ever before, but it has cost him some wins along the way; that and the brilliant idea of giving Jimmie Johnson a ride with the best organization in NASCAR.
Matt Kenseth didnít do anything special in the testing with the new spoiler, but we should believe that heíll be good on race day based on what he did at Las Vegas and Atlanta where heís the only driver to finish in the top-5 for each. Heís a former winner at Texas and has the best average finish position of anyone with a 9.1 average finish. Heís on a current streak of six straight top-10 finishes. He should present good value in odds to win this week.
Kenseth fall under the category of being a Roush driver who drives a Ford, something that has been very favorable over the years since Texas debuted in 1997. Despite the track arriving during Gordonís hey-day along with the most dominating driver and team in modern NASCAR history, Hendrick Motorsports has won only three races; one each by Gordon, Johnson, and Terry Labonte. RCR cars have one win with Jeff Burton, DEI with Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Joe Gibbs with Tony Stewart.
Only six wins by Chevy cars for 18 races is well under the normal ratio of Chevy on most tracks in the Cup circuit. Roush Racing kicked off the trackís first two races with wins and followed up in later years with wins by Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and three other times by Carl Edwards.
An interesting driver in a Ford to take a look at this week who will have great long shot possibilities is Paul Menard. He was fastest in one of the test sessions and finished fifth in Atlanta this year.
Kasey Kahne has shown some horsepower on the high-banked 1.5-mile tracks this year. He led the most laps in Atlanta and finished fourth. Heís also one of only four drivers to have top-10 finishes at both Las Vegas and Atlanta. He hasnít been so special on the other tracks, but itís likely heíll have the same type of horsepower this week and contend for another good finish. While driving a Dodge, Kahne won at Texas in 2006.
Brian Vickers has never cracked the top-10 over his career at Texas, but these are the type of tracks he does well at and made his run into the chase last season by doing well on them. He looked fast in the Charlotte testing with the new spoiler and could be another semi-long shot to take notice of.
Kyle Busch moved four points in the standings after a great run at Phoenix and is currently in 12th. Had there been no caution late at Phoenix, or had his team made the inning call be taking two tires in the last pit, or perhaps not even pit at all, Busch might have won the race. The good run at least shows that his is team might finally be moving in the right direction. During testing, Busch was rather ordinary as were his finishes at Las Vegas and Atlanta this year, but did lead the most laps at Texas last fall.
Kurt Busch won in Atlanta this season and last season along with taking the last Texas race as well. He dropped eight points in the standings following a poor Phoenix run, but heís been on of the most consistent drivers all season. Look for a great run this week as he has more positives pointing his names than most this week.
Top 5 Finish prediction:
1) #17 Matt Kenseth (15/1)
2) #2 Kurt Busch (10/1)
3) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (15/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (18/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)