The Dickies 500 is the 34th race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule. The Cup Series will visit the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway for the second time in 2006. Texas has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 1997 – Jeff Burton was the track’s first winner. The track is a moderately banked quad-oval track with 24 degrees of banking in the corners and five degrees on the backstretch and through the dogleg on the frontstretch. Drivers will race 334 laps for the checkered flag. The field will include 2005 fall polesitter Ryan Newman and race winner Carl Edwards.
51 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. 2006 owner points determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes for the remainder of the season. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at TMS is 194.224 mph, set by Bill Elliott in 2002.
To the Point
The season’s most consistent driver this season, Matt Kenseth, held his points lead on the strength of a fourth-place run at Atlanta. Just 26 points back is a streaking Jimmie Johnson, who led laps en route to his second-place finish at AMS. Rookie Denny Hamlin sits third, 65 points back, and could certainly pounce if Johnson and Kenseth slip. Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved into fourth in a points tie with fifth-place Burton (Earnhardt gets the edge based on his finishes this season), just 94 off the lead. Kevin Harvick was the big points loser at AMS, dropping four spots to sixth. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch round out the top 10. Tony Stewart‘s Atlanta win all but locked up the 11th spot over Edwards.
What to Expect
Texas is one of the fastest tracks on the Nextel Cup circuit, but despite its similarities to Atlanta, it hasn’t routinely produced the close finishes that AMS has. While there will be some cautions-the fewest TMS has ever produced is six in this race last year-look for a race similar to Kansas Speedway with long green-flag runs and the very real possibility of a fuel-mileage race. The pit window at TMS is around 60-65 laps, but look for some teams to try to stretch that at the end.
Tires haven’t been the issue this year that they have been in the past, although the Goodyears at Atlanta were a slightly harder compound, which some drivers said made the cars more difficult to drive. These aren’t the tires Goodyear is scheduled to bring to TMS this week, but should anything change, this will bring an additional challenge to teams.
Who to Watch
There has never been a repeat winner at Texas. The first 11 races have produced 11 different winners. If this trend holds, look for one of the three Hendrick Motorsports Chase teams to win, especially Johnson, who has finished no lower than second in the last three weeks and thrives on this type of track. Johnson has never finished out of the top 10 at TMS, and his hot streak is happening at the right time. Gordon would like to erase Texas from the list of tracks that he hasn’t conquered, but his momentum over the last few weeks is not in the direction he wants to see it going. Ditto Busch, but he’ll be fast this week.
Still, this could be the week that someone claims the Texas Double, and Kahne could be just the man to pull it off. Kahne has burned up the intermediate tracks all year, with all of his six wins coming on tracks over a mile in length. Earnhardt claimed his first career victory at Texas and has been red-hot in recent weeks. Kenseth and Martin will have something to say about the results as well and either of their teammates, Greg Biffle or Edwards have plenty of reason to believe they can find victory lane this week. Texas native Terry Labonte will be the sentimental favorite to win in his final Cup start.
Did You Know?
- That Kenseth’s Texas win came from a starting spot of 31st? That the lowest starting spot for a winner at TMS.
- That there has been only one first-time Cup winner at TMS? That man, Earnhardt Jr., was also the first rookie to win at Texas.
- That only Newman and Bobby Labonte can claim the honor of multiple poles at TMS? Each have two, and that’s one more than anyone else.
You Don’t Say
“Atlanta is behind us. We had a car capable of winning, but it didn’t happen. We move forward. We have three races remaining in the Chase. The objective is to score every point possible. That is done by winning the race and leading the most laps. That’s our objective this weekend at Texas. It will be the same at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. We’ve had a good race at Texas in the spring, starting from the Bud Pole and winning. We’re taking the car that won at Lowe’s a couple of weeks ago, so we know it has the potential to take the Bud Pole and run up front.” – Kasey Kahne on his goals for Texas and the remainder of the Chase
“It’s very special. I always love running there. Texas was the place where I realized I could make a career out of racing. Before our Busch Series win there in ’98, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it as a racecar driver. I was living in a double-wide and trying to get my career going. I hadn’t had much success in racing up to that point, but we won that race at Texas, and it set the foundation for our championship that year.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. on TMS and its special significance to him
“Texas is one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. We’ve obviously had some success there so that helps in my opinion of the track. But, the facility is great, it’s always a packed house and the fans there are great. It’s a fun atmosphere for sure.” – Matt Kenseth on TMS
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