Posted 04/13/2012 at 05:23 PM
Tony Stewart came into this week’s Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway as the Las Vegas favorite to win based on his recent excellence on the 1.5-mile tracks. But based on his final practice Friday afternoon, those odds are likely to change considerably for the worse.
Stewart slapped the wall with his primary car, the same chassis that had won at Chicago last fall and Las Vegas in March, on his second lap run in practice and was forced to go to a back-up car. Stewart had a terrible time of it during Thursday’s practice session as well and Friday’s run was a continuation of a set-up Stewart wasn’t comfortable with.
After the team got the back-up car set-up with all the notes transferred over from the primary car, Stewart had less than 30 minutes remaining of the 90 minute session to get things worked and it didn’t happen. Stewart finished with the 35th fastest lap and was slipping and sliding all over until the red flag came out signifying an end to the final practice.
With 15 minutes remaining in the session, Trevor Bayne came out in qualifying trim and laid down the fastest lap at 184.641 mph. Greg Biffle followed suit in a mock qualifying run with the second fastest lap at 184.370 mph. For Biffle, he was also fast while in race trim with the third fastest lap that stood for 75 minutes.
Matt Kenseth ran the majority of his 76 laps (tied with Jeff Gordon for the most) in race trim and was the fastest for the first 75 minutes with a speed of 184.351 mph which ended up being good enough for third best following Bayne and Biffle.
Clint Bowyer had the fourth fastest lap (184.269) of the session and captured it at the early stages of practice with Kenseth. AJ Allmendinger finished with the fifth fastest lap (184.005) in the final stages of practice while in qualifying trim.
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin both had top-5 times while in race trim for the first 75 minutes, but settled for sixth and seventh, respectfully, when it was over. Hamlin noted before practice that his car is the fastest he’s ever had at Texas, which is saying a lot since he won both Texas races in 2010.
Biffle had the best average speeds (179.110) among all drivers that ran at least 35 laps. However, Biffle ran only 36 laps which doesn’t stand out in regards to many of the drivers that ran up 76 laps.
The driver that really stood out in the average lap category relative to the amount of laps he ran was Kurt Busch. The 2009 Texas winner ran 67 laps for an average of 177.364 mph, a good sign for a team that has struggled to find consistent speed on these type of tracks.
It was a little surprising to see the Hendrick cars finish the session 20th or worse with Dale Earnhardt Jr 20th, Jimmie Johnson 22nd, Kasey Kahne 24th and Jeff Gordon 30th. They all ran consistent laps throughout the session but seemed to be missing that extra something that would serve them well in a restart situation during the race.
As for Tony Stewart, you can never count him out, but his entire race will be a work in progress during each pit stop. His team will be hoping that race day will see lots of early cautions so they can get everything that needs to be fixed early on to give their driver a chance to win on another 1.5-mile track.