Friday, April 12, 2013

2013 Texas NRA 500 Practice Notes: Referencing Las Vegas and Fontana still looks to be best move

Matt Kenseth looks good this week
By Micah Roberts

Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose were the fastest during Friday’s two 90-minute practice sessions at Texas Motor Speedway in preparation for Saturday’s NRA 500. However, Friday’s practices might not tell the entire story to what we’ll see Saturday night under the lights, when the temperature is much cooler. Both of Friday’s sessions were run under the sun, conditions that won’t be relative to Saturday’s 7:46 p.m. (ET) start time.

In each of the sessions, there were some strange occurrences that kind of let everyone know that the irregular practice schedule -- in relation to being a night race run on Saturday -- had teams trying several different things other than simply trying to maximize speed under the sun.

For instance, in the final session, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all finished with single lap speeds 32nd or worse, which is almost unheard of collectively. On normal race weekends, the final session is about maximizing speed and getting a last chance to be fast on race day. However, when looking at the 10-consecutive lap averages from the same session, all five of those drivers placed in the top-10, which shows they were placing a premium on being good in long runs.

Brad Keselowski ended up with the best 10-consecutive lap average during happy hour while Paul Menard was tops in the early session.

Coming into this race -- before Thursday’s testing and Friday’s practices, the top candidates considered to win were mostly based on what happened at the two down-force tracks the new Gen-6 car had already seen this season at Las Vegas and Fontana. The drivers who did well on those tracks didn’t necessarily have fast single laps times Friday, but they were at the top of the 10-consecutive lap averages, which looks to be the best angle to play when trying to identify Saturday’s winner.

Matt Kenseth won at Las Vegas and Kyle Busch won at Fontana -- with an assist going to Joey Logano for knocking Denny Hamlin out. You’ll notice that three of the four names are all from Joe Gibbs Racing, which is kind of why we elevated Kenseth to the top of our charts this week. The Gibbs cars seem to have an edge on these tracks.

Kenseth’s past history also helps get him to the top of the list. A track best 8.3 average finish with two wins is pretty strong. He’s also currently on a run of five straight top-5 Texas finishes. During the final practice session, he had the third fastest 10-consecutive lap average.

Five drivers -- Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Busch and Menard -- had top-10 finishes at both Las Vegas and Fontana. Two of them -- Busch and Edwards -- had top-5 finishes at each. Menard, with odds this week at 75-to-1, looks to be a driver that is going to break through in one of these type of races soon. We waited all last season for Martin Truex Jr., who was in a similar situation, but it never happened.

While we like Menard to do well -- maybe more hopeful because of the odds, the best value on the board may be Earnhardt Jr. at 15-to-1. However, the top three cars look to be driven by Kenseth, Johnson and Keselowski. It should also be noted that Kahne is using the same chassis this week that he led six times for 114 laps at Las Vegas.

Read More Here for Top-10 Driver Ratings

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