The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Samsung/Radio Shack 500 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday April 6, 2006

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Race Trax: Samsung/Radio Shack 500

Amy Henderson · Thursday April 6, 2006

 

On Track
The Samsung/Radio Shack 500 is the seventh race on the 36 race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Cup Series will visit the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway twice in 2006; they’ll return to run in the Chase for the Nextel Cup in October. Texas has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 1997. The track is a moderately banked quad-oval track with 24 degrees of banking in the corners, five degrees on the backstretch, as well as through the dogleg on the frontstretch. Drivers will race 334 laps for the checkered flag. The field will include 2005 spring polesitter Ryan Newman and race winner Greg Biffle.

48 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Beginning this weekend, 2006 owner points will determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Texas is 194.224 mph, set by Bill Elliott in 2002.

The Nextel Cup Series points race is hotly contested so far in 2006. Jimmie Johnson retook the top spot with his third-place finish at Martinsville, and leads by 59 points over Mark Martin. Johnson’s finish was his fourth Top 5 and fifth Top 10 finish of the season. Matt Kenseth’s Martinsville brake woes sent him from the top spot back to third this week, with Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five.

What To Expect
The Nextel Cup Series changes gears from its slowest track to one of its fastest this week. Texas shouldn’t produce the yellow flag periods that the short tracks do-the most ever there was an even dozen in 2000-but engine attrition may be a factor, although not to the degree that it often is on the flatter tracks. If setups cause tire wear to be an issue, the result will be hard crashes and mangled racecars with the day ended prematurely for the unlucky teams.

Who to Watch
At the risk of sounding like a broken record-*Jimmie Johnson*. Johnson has completed every lap of every race he’s run at TMS, never finishing outside the Top 10. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Johnson’s average finish at Texas is the best among all active drivers, because the speedway is configured almost identically to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, where the No. 48 team has been dominant in recent years. Coupled with Johnson’s white-hot start to the season, he should be a clear favorite, despite his lack of a Texas win.

The only reason Johnson isn’t the overwhelming favorite starts with "Roush" and ends with "Racing." All five Roush teams are very, very strong at all the 1.5-mile tracks-three of them have found victory lane at TMS-and any one of them could pounce on the win at Texas. All five teams will be looking for redemption after Martinsville. Greg Biffle in particular has had a start he’d like to put behind him with a win, and newcomer Jamie McMurray would like to take his first Roush win. Matt Kenseth has been so consistently strong this year that he can’t ever be bet against. Another driver who has had success at Texas is Elliott Sadler, will have the Roush-Yates horsepower that is part of the key to those teams’ success.

Rookie Reed Sorenson ran well at Atlanta, which could translate into Texas good fortune, and the pair of Joe Gibbs Racing rookies, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley should run well, too. D.E.I. rookie Martin Truex Jr. has had the added bonus of a mentor who loves TMS in Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and both of them could find a top finish this week.

Did You Know:

  • Jeff Gordon is tied with Dale Jarrett for the most Top 5 finishes (four) of any driver at Texas-but has never worn the cowboy hat in Victory Lane. There are only three other tracks on the Cup circuit-Chicagoland, Phoenix, and Homestead-Miami-where Gordon cannot claim a victory.

  • A Texas native-Terry Labonte-has more Top 10 finishes at TMS than any other driver.
  • That there has been only one first-time Cup winner at TMS? That man-Dale Earnhardt, Jr.-was also the first rookie to win at Texas.
  • There has never been a repeat Nextel Cup winner at TMS.

You Don’t Say"¦
"I haven’t been too shy about how I feel about running at Texas. It is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. It is one that we circle on the schedule every year. The fans in Texas are unbelievable. Eddie (Gossage) does a great job here and we always have great crowds, fans that are excited to see us come and race." Driver Elliott Sadler on TMS

"I’ve run there in a Busch car, an IRL (Indy Racing League) car and in a Cup car with this Home Depot team. I never looked at it as a treacherous racetrack. For some reason, it seemed that the track’s transitions were very line-sensitive. The entries and exits to the corners are very tricky, and that’s what makes Texas difficult. I don’t think it’s treacherous. You just have to hit your marks every lap. Texas doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for error.” driver Tony Stewart on Texas’s reputation as a treacherous racetrack

"I have to fix myself first. I’m still pretty disappointed with Martinsville, and it’s obvious we took a giant hit in the points. The only approach is to just forget about Sunday, and that’s the approach that I use with the crew. We put it behind us and move on. It was out of our control, and we have to put all our efforts into this weekend and come out swinging. We’re focused on putting together a strong practice plan this week and getting all the springs and shocks prepared and every possible piece and part that we might think about putting on the car during practice. We’re on equal footing with every team inside the Top 35 in the garage again this weekend and are looking forward to being able to start off practice focusing on race setup. We’ve got to do a better job in qualifying and give ourselves a better shot at staying out of trouble early on at each race. Obviously we’ll be trying to find the same balance we found at Atlanta and hope to be the fastest car on track again." driver/owner Robby Gordon on putting last week’s disappointment behind them and focusing on TMS

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