After two weeks of short-track racing, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the wide open spaces of Texas Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Samsung 500. They say things are often bigger and better in Texas; but that does that equate for success for your fantasy team? With only one repeat winner in 13 races at the 1.5-mile speedway, it could be hard to handicap this weekend’s event; but we have managed to sort through all the stats you don’t always see, giving you a leg up at the first Car of Tomorrow race at this facility.
So, which drivers will give your fantasy team a stellar performance in the Lone Star State, and which ones will leave you shooting blanks? Read what our fantasy experts have to say in this week’s edition of Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Cami’s Race Rewind
Leading just one lap during a race doesn’t usually translate to a successful day; but when that lap is the last one, it can work wonders for you – just ask Jeff Burton. Burton became the first repeat winner at Texas Motor Speedway when he passed former teammate Matt Kenseth on the backstretch coming to the checkered flag. Kenseth, who was looking for the weekend sweep after winning the Nationwide Series race the day before, held Burton off for 15 laps, but couldn’t get enough out of his Ford to hold off Burton’s Chevy. Another former Kenseth teammate, Mark Martin, returned from his two-race sabbatical from the series to finish third in his No. 01 Chevrolet. Jeff Gordon had won the pole and led the most laps during the race, 173, but at the end of the day had to settle for a fourth-place finish while watching his Texas winless streak continue. Roush Fenway drivers put a stamp on their successful weekend with Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. In case you were wondering, this was the infamous race where a wreck ruined the racecars of both Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Busch left the speedway, thinking his car wouldn’t be repaired, causing Earnhardt to fill in as a precursor of what was to come for the Hendrick team.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
TMS is another one of the fastest tracks on the circuit. Its racing groove has aged and in fact begun to widen more with each trip to the track. The expanded groove will allow drivers more options to search for to make cars work, and should allow for more side-by-side racing than we have seen at this track in the past. After two half-milers, the series transitions to the intermediate track layout which dominates the schedule. As such, expect to see the teams that ran near the front at California, Vegas and Atlanta to be able to have similar efforts this weekend in Fort Worth. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were very strong on all three of those tracks, and will most certainly be able to duplicate that kind of run again. Kevin Harvick was in the top 10 at all three of the intermediate races so far this year, and Kenseth was also near the front for two of the first three intermediate tracks. Don’t count out the Hendrick crowd, either; they were strong at California, and Earnhardt Jr. ran well at Vegas and Atlanta. They will certainly begin to get back to the front, and that transition could very well start this weekend.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Edwards was the dominant car at the first three intermediate tracks. While his finish at Atlanta didn’t reflect that because of engine trouble, everyone knows that it was his race to lose; and despite some discouraging finishes in recent weeks, he should be the man to beat once again. While Edwards has only one top-10 finish at Texas, that finish was a win; three of his other five finishes were top-20 runs. However, the strength that he showed in the beginning of the season outweighs the chance that his history represents.
Earnhardt, Jr. scored his very first victory in Cup racing at Texas in 2000. During his 11 races at the track, Earnhardt has three top five and seven top-10 finishes. Add to that resume the fact that Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in five out of six races this season, and three of those finishes were top fives, making him the most consistent driver in the Cup Series to date. Look for Earnhardt to have a very good shot at becoming the second repeat winner at Texas this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Travis Kvapil has been doing some outstanding driving this year in an unsponsored car for Yates Racing. But while that is a very commendable feat, Texas is not one of Travis’s strong tracks. In four races there, Kvapil’s best finish is 24th, and his average finish is a mediocre 27.3. While he has had some good runs this year, just don’t expect to see Kvapil repeat that effort this weekend at Texas.
Bobby Labonte continues to do impressive things in Petty equipment, and appears to have impressed Richard Childress enough to have him hire Labonte to fill his fourth car next year. However, his history at Texas does not look very shining if you remove the first three races that he ran at the track. In the last 10 races, Labonte has a high finish of 10th. The rest of the finishes have been 16th or worse, with four of those being 30th or worse. While Labonte has had some good runs at some tracks for Petty, this weekend will probably not be one of them.
Roll the Dice:
Kenseth has two top-10 finishes in the three intermediate races held so far this year. He also led a good part of this race last season before letting Burton pass him for the win on the last lap of the race. With back-to-back second-place finishes at Texas, and the third-highest average finish among active drivers at 10.3, it isn’t much of a gamble to think that Kenseth will finish in the top 10 this weekend once again.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Coming off a fourth-place finish at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson comes into this weekend looking to finally get some positive momentum in the 2008 season. TMS should provide Johnson and the No. 48 team that opportunity. Other than a 38th-place finish in last year’s race when he was swept up in an accident with Tony Stewart, Johnson hadn’t finished lower than 11th in his other eight Texas starts and won at TMS in the fall of 2007. While he’s not his usual dominating self, you have to know that Johnson won’t be kept down for long.
Stewart is another former Texas winner who is looking to get into Victory Lane for this first time this season. Currently sixth in the standings, he is the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver yet to win this year. But Smoke should get an opportunity to break that drought here; in 12 starts at TMS, Stewart has seven top 10s and three top fives, with his most recent being his win here in 2006. After possibly causing his team a shot at victory at Martinsville last week when he decided to pit late in the race, there is no doubt that Stewart will have redemption on his mind this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down:
After starting of the year with a Daytona 500 victory and a 10th-place finish the following week at California, things looked good for Ryan Newman. But in the next four races, Newman has faded back out of the limelight and is now 11th in the standings. Judging off his past track record at TMS, all signs do not point to him turning that around this Sunday. While he does have a win at Texas and was fifth in the 2007 fall event, six of his other starts at the track have resulted in finishes of 25th or worse. Steer clear of Newman this weekend; he is just too unpredictable right now.
Paul Menard has managed to hold down a spot in the top 25 in points, but with no top 10s to his credit this year, it’s a tenuous position at best. Granted, he is coming off his best finish of the year at Martinsville. But that 16th-place finish isn’t much to brag about; add into the mix that he has a dismal 28.7 average finish at Texas, and you can see why Menard isn’t a good play this weekend.
Roll the Dice:
Following his 21st-place finish last weekend at Martinsville, Martin Truex Jr. slipped out of the top 12; but don’t be surprised to see him make up that lost ground this weekend at Texas. In his five career starts there, he has no finish lower than 15th and an impressive average finish of 9.4; coming from the strength of three top-10 finishes. His best finish at TMS came in the fall race in 2007 when he finished third. With those stats, it’s easy to see why Truex considers Texas one of his favorite tracks and that’s always a good thing to hear from a driver you are going to put on your team.
Cami: I gotta give you credit, you sure called it right last week when you said my Roll the Dice pick would win at Martinsville.
Mike: Well, thanks. I had a feeling after the disappointment at Bristol two weeks before… although it was kind of a bummer when my Roll the Dice pick finishes fourth and I lose ground to you.
Cami: That is tough. But you did gain ground in the Crank ‘Em Up department, thanks to Busch. Remind me to send him a thank you card… but Gordon’s second-place finish didn’t do much to help me out when you finished fifth and sixth.
Mike: Very true. I was thinking Earnhardt was going to end up in the top three but his car just didn’t quite have the traction at the end of the race. That very well may change this weekend, though; it would not surprise me to see Junior take another win in Texas.
Cami: He certainly keeps dancing around that first win for Hendrick. I agree it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see him pull it off this weekend. The only downside is that he either does really well or pretty poorly there; he doesn’t seem to have much middle ground. Speaking of not much middle ground, I was surprised you went all the way down the list to pick Edwards.
Mike: I realize, in terms of average finish, it is a bit of a stretch to take Edwards. However, due to the fact that he won two of the first three intermediate races and was kicking butt in the third before he had engine trouble, I have to think that he is going to be able to run up front again this weekend. I feel safer about that pick than taking Johnson, who has a high average finish but has been out to lunch on the last two intermediate tracks.
Cami: That’s a good point. But I just find it hard to believe that Johnson and Knaus are going to stay in that fog they were in at those races. I can’t argue too much with your Kenseth pick, though; he should have won this race last year before he let Burton get by him on the last lap.
Mike: True, he ran well in that race and has also run well early this season on this type of track. I have a feeling he will put in another top-five effort and possibly get a win out of the deal. You are truly rolling the dice with Truex, however. I know he’s run well at Texas, but that team has not been that strong so far this year.
Cami: He was 15th at Vegas, so it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the No. 1 team. Plus he’s managing to hold onto 13th in the standings, so he has to be doing something right. Truex’s record a Texas is impressive and it’s one of his favorite tracks, that helped sway me to take the risk. At least I’m taking a risk… your Sit ‘Em picks are pretty safe.
Mike: Yes, I admit that sitting a driver in an unsponsored car who has never finished higher than 24th at Texas is not exactly a longshot, but sitting Labonte isn’t exactly a sure thing. He’s had some good runs for Petty, and intermediate tracks are where he runs best. I was surprised you chose to sit Newman, though. While he’s definitely in a funk right now, he’s still finishing in the top half of the field each week, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him break off a top 10.
Cami: I’d be very surprised to see that from him at Texas. Granted, he has a win there, but Newman only has one other top five and a bunch of poor finishes in between. I guess we’ll just have to see how it all pans out.
The following are the guidelines that Cami and Mike follow in making their picks each week: Crank ‘Em Up drivers can be in any position in the driver standings, Sit ‘Em Down drivers must be in the current top 25 of the driver standings and Roll the Dice drivers can not be in the top 12 of the current week’s driver standings.
Crank – 13.5
Sit – 22.3
Roll – 12.2
Crank – 13.0
Sit – 22.8
Roll – 18.7