NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Insider: 3-Race Sprint to the Finish Starts at Texas

The Chase is winding down, and go figure, the No. 48 team is threatening to end the 2009 season well before the final race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson has been on a tear of late, with top-two finishes at both Lowe’s Motor Speedway and the short track of Martinsville… not to mention surviving the “Lotto.” Unfortunately for his competition, Texas Motor Speedway will offer no respite from the team’s bid for four straight titles, as TMS is all but a carbon-copy of the 1.5-mile configuration in Charlotte. Texas is notorious for the strain it puts on motors, as well as proving dangerous for ill-handling cars with narrow, high-speed corners. More than anything, it’s yet another cookie-cutter event, and the usual suspects will be the ones at the front at what has been dubbed “the Great American Speedway.” With all the intermediate races as of late, many teams may well have their lineups for these tracks down to a science – but the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider will hone in those still trying to find that elusive setup.

By the Numbers

Best Average Finish at Texas Motor Speedway (since 2005, active drivers)
Matt Kenseth, 9 starts, 6.9
Jimmie Johnson, 9 starts, 8.8
Tony Stewart, 9 starts, 11.6
Denny Hamlin, 8 starts, 11.6
Mark Martin, 9 starts, 12.9

2008 Dickies 500 Top-Five Finishers
Carl Edwards, 212 laps led
Jeff Gordon, 15 laps led
Jamie McMurray, 56 laps led
Clint Bowyer, 36 laps led
Greg Biffle, 2 laps led

Coveralls

There was a time that the Texas Motor Speedway proved to be an obstacle for Gordon, but that time has long passed. Not only did Gordon finally score an elusive win at one of the few tracks on the Cup circuit he hadn’t visited victory lane at, he’s riding a stretch of five top 10s in the last six races (the only exception was an early wreck in the spring 2008 race). What’s more, Gordon’s led an average of approximately 50 laps a race in that span. The No. 24 team was the runner-up in this event one year ago, and they’ll be contending for another top-two finish on Sunday. – Bryan

Johnson is marching to his fourth consecutive championship, and this weekend could go a long way to sealing the deal. Johnson has only two finishes at Texas lower than 11th, and in three of his last four races there he’s scored second-place or better finishes. Johnson has won 17 Chase races in his career and 46 total Cup races. He is on his way to making history and joining the elite fraternity of 50 race-win drivers. While he can’t get there this season, he can get very close. Expect to see Johnson drive another nail in his pursuers’ coffins this weekend. – Mike

Pants

Texas has been either feast or famine for Biffle, but as of late it’s been a feast. Biffle has top-10 finishes in back-to-back TMS races, not to mention a dominating win he scored in a backup car at Fort Worth in the spring of 2005. Roush Fenway Racing has not been on its game at the 1.5-milers this year, but between his third-place run at Texas in the spring and an impressive performance at Kansas, the No. 16 bunch is the only Blue Oval out there that’s been able to consistently show signs of a breakthrough. With the title all but out of the question, Biffle and Co. should have no pressure… and a result that reflects that this weekend. – Bryan

Hamlin has been on the ultimate roller coaster during the Chase this season. He was second at Loudon, fifth at Kansas and first at Martinsville. Conversely he was 37th at California, 42nd at Charlotte and 39th this past weekend. However, in all three of those races he led double-digit laps and had arguably the best car in at least two of them before he had mechanical failure. So if Hamlin can keep it together for the whole race this weekend, he’ll be right there at the end. Also, don’t forget that his average finish at Texas is 11.6… third best among active drivers. – Mike

Shorts

Sam Hornish Jr. may well be the most improved driver of 2009 on the Cup circuit, and it was this race back in the spring that served as a springboard of sorts for his sophomore rebound. Qualifying in the top 15, Hornish scored a lead-lap, 17th-place run at Texas that immediately preceded his first career top 10 in Cup at Phoenix, marking the start of his charge from a backmarker to an emerging prospect. Though Hornish didn’t run well at Lowe’s recently, that’s been the exception for the No. 77 team rather than the rule; they’ve run well at Charlotte even since last year, and were nearly a top 15 car at both LMS and TMS earlier this season. Add that to their top-20 runs at other intermediate ovals in the Chase, and the potential is there for a solid fantasy bargain. – Bryan

Brad Keselowski is now taking over the No. 12 car for the rest of the season for Roger Penske, as the two prepare to run the circuit full-time in 2010. This is a fantastic opportunity to pick up a cheap driver for the last three races who just might sneak up and score a top-10 finish for your fantasy team. This weekend is a bonus, because Keselowski has run two Cup races at Texas, and that experience might help him have a more solid run this weekend. – Mike

The Last Word

Texas Motor Speedway has supplanted Atlanta as the fastest track on the circuit where they don’t run restrictor plates. It is also aging nicely, which is opening up the racing grooves and allowing drivers the opportunity to a choice as to where they’d like to run. Drivers can work all parts of the track, making a less than perfect car handle well enough to be competitive. The drivers who have run well on intermediates so far in the Chase will certainly be a good choice here, as the cookie cutter oval usually produces more predictable results. And – as we’ve reminded you every week – the Chase competitors are in the Chase for a reason and will have a very good chance at top-10 finishes this weekend.

Results of our Experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games

Game of Tomorrow

Bryan – 9060
Mike – 8700

Hat Dance

Bryan – 6584
Mike – 6810

Four Play

Bryan – 16964
Mike – 14915

Chase Challenge

Mike – 939

To help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week, as well as the total for the season.

Totals

Bryan – 320 11326
Mike – 405 11075

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