Now that Easter Break is over, it's time to ditch the bunny and push the candy aside to find the best drivers for your fantasy teams. Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports are definitely at the head of the class, but beware when going with the easy pick come Sunday; Hendrick hasn't visited Victory Lane in the Lone Star state since Texas Terry Labonte in 1999. Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are also ahead of the curve, scoring high marks in the first six races of the season both on the track and in fantasy leagues. Can they keep their consistency afloat, or will a team like Dale Earnhardt, Inc. use recent momentum to come in and steal the show? Let’s not forget about the track’s defending champs, either; will a struggling team like Evernham Motorsports return from the break reinvigorated, staking their claim on Texas once again?
After the layoff, it’s high time to sort it all out; let’s discover which drivers are ready to ace their Texas test in this week’s edition of Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Cami's Race Rewind:
Kasey Kahne became the 11th different driver to win at Texas Motor Speedway with his victory in last year's Samsung/Radio Shack 500. It was Kahne's second win of the year and marked the third time in his career he had won from the pole. Kahne battled hard with Tony Stewart late in the race, but the No. 9 team put him out in front following a pit stop with less than 15 laps to go. Pulling away on the restart, Kahne left Matt Kenseth eating his dust; the No. 17 Ford finished second, over five seconds behind. Stewart finished third, with Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick rounding out the Top 5 finishers. The most controversial incident during the race occurred between Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle; not just the drivers, but their leading ladies. Biffle had dominated early on, leading the most laps, before getting tangled with Busch on lap 92; contact from Busch sent Biffle hard into the turn three wall, forcing a red flag to make repairs to the SAFER barrier. During the delay, Biffle’s girlfriend Nicole Lunders came storming into the No. 2 team’s pit stall, forcing a confrontation with Kurt Busch’s then-fiancee Eva Bryan that would cause both to be reprimanded by NASCAR after the event.
Mike's Keys to the Race:
Texas is a mile and a half, “cookie cutter” track, but it’s hard to predict a winner here; 12 different drivers have won 12 different races in the track’s short history. The facility is very fast and provides some rather good racing; the surface has aged enough that there are now multiple grooves, giving teams options for how to set up their car and adjustments to make when the car isn't running perfectly. If you're looking for teams to choose this week, expect Hendrick and Childress to be near the front of the pack; those teams ran well at other 1.5-mile tracks this year and should be primed to do so again.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is a previous winner at Texas; he has also run well at California and Las Vegas. Building off of the success that the No. 8 team had on intermediate tracks last year, expect Junior to be near the front for most of the day on Sunday. One more good run by the Budweiser team should put them in the Top 10 in points, squashing any further discussion about how the contract negotiations for Junior are inhibiting their performance.
Mark Martin is back and ready to run up front after three weeks off from driving a Cup car. That shouldn’t be a problem; Mark showed early on in the season that he and the No. 01 Ginn Motorsports team have a good package for intermediate tracks with solid runs at California and Vegas. Expect the part-time driver to come out strong again at Texas, continuing his march toward the Chase on a limited schedule.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
David Ragan remains in the Top 25 in points, making him still eligible for the Sit â€˜Em Down category this week. Ragan has done a serviceable job assuming the driving duties of the famous No. 6 car for Roush Racing; however, he is still a rookie and is going to continue to have rookie struggles. He has had a difficult time keeping his car headed in the right direction for the entire race at times, and Texas is simply not a place where you want to tempt fate by spinning out. Don't expect much from Ragan again this week.
Robby Gordon continues to show flashes of brilliance, but cannot seem to put it together for an entire race. There will be short stints where the No. 7 team runs near the front of the pack during the race, but they always seem to fail at keeping up with changing track conditions. The sponsorship difficulties on the Robbie Gordon Motorsports entry certainly can't be helping any, either, so don't expect a miracle out of Gordon this weekend. Wait until the teams hit a road course to insert Robbie in your lineup.
Roll the Dice:
Kasey Kahne has not forgotten how to drive a race car, no matter what the stats may tell you. Intermediate tracks are still his strong suit, and aside from some self-induced bad luck, he has shown some strength on these tracks this year. The bad luck has to stop sometime, so it is a good gamble to take a shot with Kahne this weekend to turn things around at Texas.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
I doubt Jimmie Johnson can keep up his torrid pace the remainder of the season, but I'm riding the No. 48 freight train for one more go round at Texas. I'm not banking on win number four, but it's hard not to pick the No. 48 to have a strong finish this weekend when you look at several factors. First off, Johnson does have three wins in the past four racesâ€¦that means he's on a roll. One of those wins came at Atlanta, a track with similar characteristics to Texas. Lastly, Johnson has never finished worse than 11th at this track, which came in this race last year when he was battling “an ill-handling car.” If 11th is what he finishes here on a bad day, that makes Johnson a good pick in my eyes.
Another driver who has yet to have a bad day at Texas Motor Speedway is Denny Hamlin. In three races run at TMS, he has finished in the Top 10 each time. Hamlin is having a strong sophomore season, with a pair of third place finishes helping boost him to sixth in the standings. Joe Gibbs Racing cars are normally strong on tracks of this type, and with Hamlin's record and how well the team is running this year, I expect things to keep rolling along.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
This pick might come back to haunt me, but I would avoid Greg Biffle this week. He did run well here last Spring before his infamous wreck with Busch, but that 42nd place finish only added to the woes Biffle's had at this track since his win here in 2005. In the three races since that trip to Victory Lane, Biffle has an average finish of 32.3. The No. 16 team has yet to click this year as it is, so I'd hold off on using The Biff until they show more consistent signs of improvement.
Another team that is yet to really click this year is Ryan Newman's No. 12 team. Long passed are the days of multiple poles and stolen fuel mileage victories, and Texas is no exception to that rule. Newman is a past winner there, but since he won, he hasn't done anything all that impressive. In the five races since, the No. 12 car has a best finish of 16th, instead collecting three finishes of 34th or worse.
Roll the Dice:
I know, I know, I said I wasn't going to give Casey Mears another chance until he made major improvements; but I really feel like he is going to pull off a good run this weekend. Hendrick Motorsports is so strong, some of that HAS to rub off on this team…doesn't it? Casey finally put a notch in the Top 10 column at Bristol, and Texas is a track where he has had plenty of past success. In six starts at the Speedway, he has an average finish of 10.5, including four Top 10 finishes. He may be a long shot (this is Roll the Dice for a reason), but I think he's one to take a serious look at.
Mike: So, you really think Hamlin can overcome his early season struggles and have a good finish at Texas?
Cami: I really don’t see how Hamlin has been struggling. He’s in the Top 10 in points and has two 3rd place finishes; he should have had a win at Bristol, too. His worst finish is only 28th.
Mike: 11th at Fontana, 19th at Atlanta aren’t all that impressive though. I just haven’t felt like he was very competitive near the front in the races on intermediate tracks.
Cami: But he’s finished in the Top 10 in all three of his Texas starts. I’ll take my chances.
Mike: Johnson on the other hand, he’s about a lock. That dude is on fire right now, and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t end up in the Top 5.
Cami: He’s bound to stumble sometime soon, but looking at his Texas record, it’s doubtful to say that it will be this weekend.
Mike: I agree. Past records are important to future success; that’s why I’m going with Junior. Two finishes out of the top 10 in nine races here, and one of those was a 12th. I think he’ll be right up front all day.
Cami: He should have finished better than he did at Atlanta. That was the “oops, I pitted at the wrong time” race, wasn’t it?
Mike: Yeah, he was headed for a sure Top 5 without that bonehead move. He’d be in the Top 10 in points already if it wasn’t for that.
Cami: I really don’t see any glaring issues with any of our picks.
Mike: I don’t know about that; I keep thinking Biffle has got to break out at some point in time. The pieces are there; they just haven’t put it all together yet. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get a Top 10 this weekend. Newman, on the other hand, I won’t be picking him any time soon. Penske is running worse than Ginn Motorsports; what’s up with that?
Cami: I have no clue what their issues are. Things got worse there after Busch lost his crew chief this week.
Mike: I hope your jinx on Mears continues. I’ve never seen anyone run so poorly when you pick them like he does.
Cami: You’re just saying that because I’m really heating up, and you’re scared you’ll get beat by a girl.
Mike: Hardly. I’m still ahead of you in all three categories. I don’t feel any pressure.
Cami: I had second and third last week picked, baby!
Mike: Eh, we’re both hitting our stride. We’ll just have to see how it pans out.
Crank â€˜Em Up- 15.6
Sit â€˜Em Down- 21.5
Roll the Dice- 22.5
Crank â€˜Em Up- 12.7
Sit â€˜Em Down- 23.7
Roll the Dice- 21.7
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