Duck Commander 500
April 5, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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We're already six races into the season and have had five different winners as the series shifts back to a 1.5-mile track at Texas Motor Speedway which means the low downforce package comes back into the equation and Jimmie Johnson will most likely win again.
It may sound presumptuous to assume Johnson is going to win again, but let's be real with what we've seen far this season and also in Texas history. He's the only driver with multiple wins this year and they both came on tracks (Atlanta and Fontana) where the low downforce set-up figured prominently. On the other track where the package was a big deal -- Las Vegas, Johnson finished third and led the most laps.
And that's just this year.
How about the fact that Johnson has won the past three races at Texas and has won a track record six times while leading a track record 1,023 laps?
He's so good at Texas that he even wins there when he doesn't have the best car like was the case last fall. Brad Keselowski led 312 of the 334 laps. He had the dominant car on the day, but Johnson stayed close and when it was money time he put pressure on Keselowski. With four laps to go Johnson would make the pass and Keselowski would finish just over a second behind as runner-up.
I guess that's what champions do, but when you add in all his continued history there, his crew chief, and how the season is going so far, it's easy to see why he's the 9/2 favorite (Bet $100 to win $45) to win Saturday night's Duck Commander 500. The only reason he isn't favored by more is because there are several drivers right near his level with the low downforce package, and that's kind of the angle I'm going to roll with this week.
By no means will I be looking to bet against Johnson in any match-ups, but I'm not thrilled about taking 9/2 odds even though Johnson has burned me several times in his career because I didn't want to back his short prices. And really, let's face it, there have been 19 races Johnson didn't win at Texas -- track record five runner-up finishes.
I'm thinking more about Gibbs and Penske this week.
Only two drivers have a career average finish better than 10th-place at Texas. Johnson is one, of course, with an 8.4 average, but the other is two-time Texas winner Matt Kenseth (9.4).
Kenseth has led laps in five of the six races thus far in 2016 and has stared 13th or better in five of the races, but he's still looking for his first top-five finish of the season. He finished seventh at Phoenix and has been 14th or worse in in the other five races.
Kenseth missed this race last fall due to be suspended for spearing Joey Logano's car at Martinsville. In 26 starts he's had 13 top-five finishes which is a track record he and Johnson both hold. He's also led 834 laps which is second only to Johnson. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable have all been stellar on these types of tracks this season, and Kenseth should have his best results of the season Saturday.
JGR driver Kyle Busch has finished in the top-five in five of the six 2016 races, including last weeks win at Martinsville. He was third at Atlanta and fourth at Las Vegas. Last years Sprint Cup champ won at Texas in 2013 and has a 12.4 average in 20 starts. He's been fourth or better in five of his past six starts there and it's likely to happen again this week.
Kevin Harvick finished second 13 times last season while only winning three races. He led a series-high 2,294 laps, the second straight year he led over 2,000 laps. He won at Phoenix this year like he always does, but he's left a couple of wins on the table just like last season. He's led 485 laps this season, including leading the most at Atlanta and Fontana (finished second). He'll be good again, but he seems to be a better bet at finishing second than winning. It's a crazy thing, his team just can't close out races -- too bad there's no first-half wager in NASCAR like basketball or football. He's so good at finishing second that one more and he'll tie Johnson for 10th all-time in NASCAR history with 46.
Harvick has never won at Texas in 26 starts, but does have a very respectable 12.3 average finish.
Brad Keselowski has three top-fives in his last four Texas starts, including a series-high 446 laps led over that span. He won at Las Vegas last month and should be right there with teammate Joey Logano trying get a top-five finish.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (9/2)
4) #20 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
5) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)