The Chase is winding down with only three weeks left until the end of the NASCAR Nextel Cup season now that Atlanta is behind us. The series now heads to Texas Motor Speedway, and of course, everything is bigger in Texas, or so they say, and events at TMS are no exception. Eddie Gossage was tutored by the legendary Humpy Wheeler in race promotion, so look for Gossage and his staff to pull out all of the stops to make this an enormous event. With the title fight the closest it has been in years, the pressure will be as huge as the pre-race extravaganza. The teams that don’t wilt under the pressure will be the ones at the front of the pack when the checkered flag falls.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Texas Motor Speedway is another of the new “cookie-cutter” mile-and-a-half D-shaped ovals on the circuit. The track had some problems initially but has aged nicely the last couple of years and is really starting to offer some great racing. Texas is going to emphasize those teams that have shown they can consistently run up front at the 1.5-mile tracks. Teams that ran well at Charlotte and Atlanta will most likely do well at Texas. Similar to Atlanta, the track is very fast so teams that are good at making horsepower will also come to the front.
Cami’s Instant Replay
Edwards made back to back trips to victory lane thanks in large part to a gutsy call by his crew chief to bring him in for two fresh Goodyears with 15 laps to go in last year’s Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Edwards restarted the race in sixth place and overtook teammate Mark Martin with two laps remaining to become the 10th different winner in 10 races at Texas. It was another great day for Roush Racing at TMS; Martin’s second-place finish kept him in the hunt for the Chase heading into Phoenix. Matt Kenseth led the most laps in the race and came home third, marking the third time in 2005 Roush cars took the top-three spots. Casey Mears and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.
Crank ‘Em Up
Kasey Kahne won the spring race at Texas, swept the season races at Charlotte, and also won at Michigan and California. The Evernham Motorsports No. 9 team has really got the handle on the tracks with this configuration. Kahne is hoping for a miracle in the Chase and winning this race is going to be his only hope to move up. Look for the team to perform well at Texas.
Tony Stewart is pretty hot over the last few races. After winning at Atlanta, the No. 20 Home Depot team is going to turn the same car around and bring it back to Texas. With no worries about Chase competition, look for Stewart to run up front all day and, barring a mechanical failure, expect Stewart to score a top five at Texas this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down
Newman is not very strong at Texas. He did win a race there, but that stands as his only top-15 finish at the track, leaving him with an average finish of 26.8. He has finished 40th twice. With the shape of Penske Racing South’s intermediate track program right now, don’t expect anything spectacular from Newman this weekend.
Jamie McMurray has had some success at Texas. He has three top-10 finishes in five starts; however, his only start in Roush equipment was a 37th-place finish this spring. McMurray has had some flashes this year but most of the efforts have been duds. Call this a hunch but don’t expect much from the No. 26 Roush Racing effort this weekend.
Roll the Dice
Mears has done surprisingly well at Texas. He has an average finish of 11.2 and has two top-five, three top-10 and four top-15 finishes in five races at the track. The No. 42 Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team has been having some decent runs lately and should do so again this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up
With the roll this team is on, how can you not pick Johnson this week? He has finished in the top two in the last three races and is in a prime position to pounce on Kenseth this week and overtake the point lead with just two races remaining. At Texas, Johnson will try to become the 12th different winner in 12 races held there. His best finish to date is a third, in this race last year, but he’s never finished lower than 11th. Those are two good reasons to put him on your team this week.
Even though he hasn’t proven to be consistent in the Chase up to this point, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is another solid choice for this weekend’s race. If he wants to make any sort of serious charge for the Chase, he needs a big finish at Texas. He won his first time out at TMS in 2000 and has followed that up with top 10s in all but two of the seven races he’s run since then. He ran well at Atlanta last week, which is similar to Texas. I look for him to buck the trend and get back-to-back top 10s.
Sit ‘Em Down
Greg Biffle ended his skid last week at Atlanta with a fifth-place finish, but looking at his Texas record I expect that to be short-lived. Other than his win here in 2005’s spring race, Biffle has finished in the top 20 only once and that was a 20th-place run in this race last year. 2006 has been a total letdown for this team that many thought would be a title contender and it seems like their season is ending on a low note as well.
I haven’t done the math, but I think Kyle Busch is very close to mathematically eliminating himself from the championship. If it’s not possible this week, I’m betting he at least comes very close this weekend. Busch had a string of three decent finishes in the Chase, but has once again started to drop off. In three races at Texas, the closest he came to a top-10 finish was his performance earlier this year when he finished 15th and that was still when this team had something to shoot for. With their season down the drain, I don’t see this team making a huge impact this weekend.
Roll the Dice
Last week Martin Truex Jr. had a good run going in Atlanta before getting involved in a wreck with just over 20 laps to go. Truex and his team seem to have a black cloud hanging over them, but this weekend I think they break through the clouds and put in a good run. Considering how strong he was at Atlanta and the fact that he has finishes of 15th and eighth in his two prior Texas starts, he’s prime for a turnaround on Sunday.
Mike: So you think last week’s effort by Biffle was a fluke, huh?
Cami: Oh yeah, considering how poorly they’ve run lately. I don’t think he can keep it up two weeks in a row.
Mike: We’ll see. I wonder if your streak of picking winners will continue this week with Junior.
Cami: I hope so. I’ve gone two weeks in a row. I’m confident Junior or Jimmie can make it three for three. You must think my picking skills are pretty good. You’re using who I picked last week.
Mike: Considering their average finishes and Stewart is using the same car he won with last week, I could see him doing the double.
Cami: He has a serious chance at pulling it off. I was thinking of using him before you stole him. But that’s fine. He may be too tired from climbing the fence last week to win at Texas. But a top 10 is likely.
Mike: Oh yeah. I think a top five is a reasonable expectation. I’m curious to see what Kyle Busch does. He is so hit or miss on these tracks.
Cami: Yeah, especially when he’s spinning out all by himself like he did at Atlanta. I think with all the trouble he’s had in the Chase, his head just isn’t in it anymore. You know if McMurray has a bad week like you predict. You won’t be able to sit him anymore. He’s about ready to fall out of the top 25, I see you went to the bottom of the barrel.
Mike: I didn’t even realize he was that low. I just know I have no faith in him as a driver and I expect his poor performances to continue. So you think Truex is going to put together a good race this weekend huh?
Cami: Yeah, I said to park him last week and he scared me with that top 10 he had going. I let out a cheer when they came back from commercial and he had wrecked. But he ran really good, just had bad luck. I think he can ditch the bad luck this week. Plus I can make up for cheering that he wrecked by cheering that he does well.
Mike: I think their team is getting it figured out more and more and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them run well.
Cami: Kinda like me? I’m getting my mojo back in the final stretch of the season. Now you get to play catch up for a while again.
Mike: At least for a week. It’ll change this weekend, even with Junior winning the race. I guess we’ll see how it pans out.
Standings after Week 7
|Crank Em Up||Martin- 36th||-5||Kahne- 38th||-5|
|Labonte- 12th||3||Stewart- 1st||15|
|Sit Em Down||Ky. Busch- 27th||-1||Harvick- 31st||3|
|Ku. Busch- 14th||1||Truex- 37th||5|
|Roll the Dice||Petty- 17th||1||Edwards- 7th||10|