Turn on the lights and turn up the heat this week as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races under the lights for the first time this season. Texas Motor Speedway needs no introduction as it has produced some of the fastest speeds and exciting finishes we’ve seen over the past few seasons.
Remember back to last season, The Chase for the Sprint Cup was heating up between five-time champ, Jimmie Johnson and now defending champion, Brad Kesolowski. The fall race at Texas last year was firmly in the hands of the No. 48 team for the majority of the 335 laps run, but a late-race caution flag lined the two Championship contenders up side-by-side for a fantastic finish. The two collided with one another in the final laps, with Johnson emerging victorious from the awesome battle and Kesolowski landing in second.
The 1.5/2 mile intermediate tracks are the ones NASCAR circled when designing the new Gen-6 car. They wanted to design a race car that would tighten the delta we’ve seen on the intermediate tracks with the Gen-5 race car over the course of the past five or so seasons. So far this season, we’ve seen a record number of green flag passes for the lead at Las Vegas with 31, and matched the track record of 41 at Auto Club Speedway. Based on these two important stats, I’m going to make the statement that the designers of the Gen-6 car have done their job and improved the passing on these traditional “cookie-cutter” tracks. Saturday night will be no different. Watch for track-record speeds and passing throughout the field.
I went with the defending champ last week, and it was the five-time champ who dominated the STP Gas Booster 500. Against my better judgment, I picked against the recent history at Martinsville Speedway, and it came back to bite me in the end. I went against the history of the past 21 races at the paper-clip, being dominated by three drivers, Jimmie Johnson being one of them. Ford also hadn’t visited Victory Lane (or should I say the front stretch backdrop) in over a decade as well. It was ultimately Johnson and the Chevy’s that dominated last week. Never bet against the trends. Kesolowski finished sixth.
I picked a Chevy for my dark horse pick last week, but I had no luck with Ryan Newman finishing 31st, as the Stewart-Haas camp continued their slow start last week at Martinsville.
If you tuned into www.primesportsnetwork.com on Wednesday night, you heard Greg Dipalma and I preview Saturday Night’s NRA 500 from Texas Motor Speedway. There were a couple drivers I really liked because of where the odds opened up, Matt Kenseth at a 12 to 1 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 15 to 1. I made my picks on Wednesday evening based off historical finishes at TMS without the advantage of seeing any testing or practice speeds.
There was one trend that was clear across the board, starting up front at Texas is very important. We highlighted some drivers who have not traditionally qualified well at Texas, and their tallies in the win column at Texas reflected the importance of starting up front. Six of the last eight races at Texas Motor Speedway have been won from a starting spot inside the top-5.
I liked my pick on Wednesday, and I’m sticking with him again today. Matt Kenseth really likes Texas Motor Speedway, probably because he enters Saturday with a top-5 in each of the last five races at TMS. He boasts the series best average finish (6.2) in the last ten races at TMS and won the first Gen-6 race on a 1.5-mile track when he snubbed Kasey Khane from the win in Las Vegas. Fast forward to Thursday’s test sessions at TMS and look at the 7 fastest 10 consecutive lap averages, and you’ll find Matt Kenseth. Flip to the 5th best consecutive lap average, and you’ll find his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch. Despite Jimmie Johnson being fastest in both test sessions yesterday as far as 10 lap averages are concerned, Toyota claimed 3 of the top 5 10 consecutive lap averages on the day.
Kenseth will be the 13th car on the track for qualifying later this evening and is my guy who will be there at the end this week.
Dark Horse Pick
I didn’t have a long shot pick on Wednesday, but since the cars have unloaded and been on track the past two days, one car has shown a ton of speed in testing. As I mentioned before, qualifying well might mean the difference between a win and a tenth place finish this week in Texas. The No.78 Furniture Row racing Chevy has been fast the past two days, winning the first test session and coming in runner-up in the second of the two test sessions yesterday. Kurt Busch followed up his season-high fourth place finish at Bristol with a top-5 at Auto Club Speedway, the other intermediate oval race this season. We’ve seen some speed out of this team so far this weekend, and Busch will look to shake the woes he had at Martinsville last week with a solid finish in the Lone Star State.
That’s all for this week, so until Kansas, you stay classy NASCAR NATION!