By Micah Roberts
We also get to look at the two day Charlotte test session where every team went out and tested the new spoiler which could make a difference in this race. Whoever has the quickest and best read on the set-up of their car -- in regards to how the new spoiler responds -- will be the team that will have a head start this week in Texas and a leg up at all the down force tracks.
During the two days test session at Charlotte on March 23-24, a couple teams really stood out beginning with the Richard Childress cars of Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer.
Kevin Harvick has already had success at Las Vegas and Atlanta with the old spoiler with second and ninth place finish respectively. He’s fallen in points since getting off the fast tracks and his rise back up should coincide with what looks to be Childress’ best performing tracks, one’s like this week in Texas.
Harvick’s week started off pretty good for him as a Yankee fan. He went to opening day at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday and watched as the team was presented with their World Series rings. The inspiration could be useful as Harvick hasn’t won a race since the 2007 Daytona 500. He’s been close and he’s knocking at the door and Texas looks like a great opportunity to snap the losing streak.
Jimmie Johnson’s world class crew would seem like the natural choice to be ahead of the curve with any new change to the car, especially as to how it relates to the down-force track that they’re always so good at. Johnson won at Las Vegas and finished 12th in Atlanta already this year. During the testing, Johnson didn’t dominate as would be expected, but he was in the top-10.
Could it be that his family life has softened Gordon a bit, or is it just age and maturation, or maybe the combination of all of the above. The Gordon from a decade ago would not have let both of those races go without winning at least one of them. We can’t blame the car or the crew in either instance because each gave Gordon a chance to win. The blame for not winning those two races falls squarely on the driver.
Texas was one of the last races Gordon was able to check off on his things to do check-list. The only race track that Gordon hasn’t won at now is Homestead-Miami. He’s a smarter, more cautious driver than ever before, but it has cost him some wins along the way; that and the brilliant idea of giving Jimmie Johnson a ride with the best organization in NASCAR.
Matt Kenseth didn’t do anything special in the testing with the new spoiler, but we should believe that he’ll be good on race day based on what he did at Las Vegas and Atlanta where he’s the only driver to finish in the top-5 for each. He’s a former winner at Texas and has the best average finish position of anyone with a 9.1 average finish. He’s on a current streak of six straight top-10 finishes. He should present good value in odds to win this week.
Kenseth fall under the category of being a Roush driver who drives a Ford, something that has been very favorable over the years since Texas debuted in 1997. Despite the track arriving during Gordon’s hey-day along with the most dominating driver and team in modern NASCAR history, Hendrick Motorsports has won only three races; one each by Gordon, Johnson, and Terry Labonte. RCR cars have one win with Jeff Burton, DEI with Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Joe Gibbs with Tony Stewart.
Only six wins by Chevy cars for 18 races is well under the normal ratio of Chevy on most tracks in the Cup circuit. Roush Racing kicked off the track’s first two races with wins and followed up in later years with wins by Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and three other times by Carl Edwards.
Kasey Kahne has shown some horsepower on the high-banked 1.5-mile tracks this year. He led the most laps in Atlanta and finished fourth. He’s also one of only four drivers to have top-10 finishes at both Las Vegas and Atlanta. He hasn’t been so special on the other tracks, but it’s likely he’ll have the same type of horsepower this week and contend for another good finish. While driving a Dodge, Kahne won at Texas in 2006.
Brian Vickers has never cracked the top-10 over his career at Texas, but these are the type of tracks he does well at and made his run into the chase last season by doing well on them. He looked fast in the Charlotte testing with the new spoiler and could be another semi-long shot to take notice of.
Kurt Busch won in Atlanta this season and last season along with taking the last Texas race as well. He dropped eight points in the standings following a poor Phoenix run, but he’s been on of the most consistent drivers all season. Look for a great run this week as he has more positives pointing to his name than most this week.
Top 5 Finish prediction:
1) #17 Matt Kenseth (15/1)
2) #2 Kurt Busch (10/1)
3) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (15/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (18/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)