I am a fan of old western movies, (some of my favorites include High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josy Wales, and North To Alaska) and this week couldn’t be any more of a cliché storyline showdown if you asked for it.
[media-credit name=”texasmotorspeedway.com” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]First, the race takes place in the Lone Star State, the most cliché western setting on the face of the Earth. Second, The Chase for the Sprint Cup is boiling down to a two-man showdown between points-leader, Carl Edwards and two-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart. The lead has been shaved to eight with just three weekends remaining in the 2011 campaign.
Third, the video and graphics posted on Texas Motor Speedway’s homepage tells it all. President of Texas Motor Speedway, Eddie Gossage might be dubbed the Don King of NASCAR after this weekend’s hype of the Stewart/Edwards saga.
Not to add insult to injury but fourth, Tony Stewart’s comments in Victory Lane last weekend at Martinsville Speedway was the quote heard ‘round the world: “Carl Edwards had better be real worried. That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to sleep for the next three weeks.”
This race has certainly gained the attention of race fans across the globe, and may be more hyped than the “Thrilla in Manila” before all is said and done.
With qualifying rained out last Saturday, Denny Hamlin would start the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota 11th, and quickly made it known that I had made a solid Winner Pick. An early incident would force Hamlin to Pit Road for fresh slicks, restarting him at the rear of the field. The fresh Goodyear’s were all he needed to hit the point by lap 63.
As all race fans know, 500 laps at Martinsville is an eternity…Hamlin, the favorite at the historic short track knows that the key to winning at the paper clip is staying out of trouble. Caution by caution, the race drew on until Hamlin regained the lead at lap 320.
With 81 laps remaining, Hamlin was shown fourth on the leaderboard, but could not find the speed to run with eventual race-winner, but enough to fend off the lower-half of the Top-10, finishing in 5th. My Winner Pick mentioned the chaos last week after the checkered flew: “For Martinsville for sure. People just have no regard. I would get into guys and then I know it’s coming — I’m going to get slammed in the next corner. It’s just one of those things where it’s frustrating to watch because you see some of these cars getting torn up on accidents. Accidents happen and some these drivers need to realize that.”
As for my Dark Horse Pick, I was at a severe disadvantage when I submitted my column last week before ANY on-track activity at the paper clip. After starting 20th, Juan Montoya drove his way into the Top-15, overcame two costly penalties on Pit Road, but still finished outside the Top-20 in 22nd.
I said last week that I was going out on a limb by picking the Colombia native, and that’s exactly the result I received when the hoodless No. 42 Target Chevrolet crossed the finish line in 22nd last week.
Dark Horse Pick
Marcos Ambrose is my guy this week.
Ambrose is starting to get the hang of these fast 1.5-mile intermediate tracks. His performances this season Texas and her two twin sisters, Charlotte and Atlanta, has proved that Ambrose is a threat when the haulers pull into Fort Worth. Ambrose finished 6th in our first trip to Texas Motor Speedway this spring, he matched that finish at Charlotte in the Coke Zero 600, and one-up’ed himself just three weeks ago in the Bank of America 500, finishing 5th.
His only finish outside the Top-10 out of the three sister tracks was Labor Day weekend at Atlanta where he finished 21st. Prior to this season, Ambrose hadn’t scored a Top-10 at Texas Motor Speedway. Ambrose will bring the same chassis that has finished so well this season (No. 735) at Texas, Charlotte, and Atlanta,
He is coming off a fairly dismal, 29th-place finish last week at Martinsville and looks forward to Sunday’s AAA Texas 500: “I enjoy going to Texas Motor Speedway. I have run well there in the past and it’s always seemed to be a good track for me. We’ve been good on 1.5-mile tracks this year and I think we’ve got the intermediate track setup figured out. We are taking the same car we finished sixth with earlier this year back to Texas this weekend, so I’m optimistic about our chances and I expect to see the DEWALT Ford finish in the Top 10 Sunday.”
Its only right that I pick one of the two drivers taking part in the Showdown In The Lone State State this week. That being said, I’m going with the driver of the duo that has yet to score a win in this 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
After this spring’s trip to Texas, Carl Edwards was shown 3rd on the leaderboard behind race-winner Matt Kenseth, and non-chaser Clint Bowyer. This was the first trip to Texas since 2008 that Edwards scored a Top-5, following a drought that lasted the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Edwards swept the races at Texas in 2008, and scored his first victory at Texas in the fall of 2005. Edwards has finished outside the Top-10 just one time during this 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, his 11th place finish coming at the roulette wheel, Talladega Superspeedway.
It’s almost a lock for a Top-5 this week for me, and with Edwards’ attitude working for me, my confidence level couldn’t be any higher: “We couldn’t be coming to a better race track. This track has been great for us. Practice went really well. We’ve got two Fords one and two and we’ve got as good a car and engine as we’ve ever brought here, so that’s good and I’m just ready for qualifying tonight. We’d like to qualify well and get a good starting position. It would be really nice if we could qualify on the pole and get that first pit box. That would be spectacular, but this race is one of the most fun races we go to.”
That’s it for this week, stay tuned next week as The 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup heads to the desert…
Until next week…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!