Saturday, April 5, 2014

Final Texas Practice Notes: Stewart-Haas cars have the edge

Harvick looks like the driver to beat at Texas this week
Kurt Busch laid down the fastest lap (194.630 mph) during Saturday’s final Sprint Cup practice session at Texas Motor Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Duck Commander 500, and he did it with back-up car. His primary car slapped the wall during Friday’s practice after blowing a left rear tire. It is a surprise to see the back-up so dialed in, but maybe it shouldn’t be just because of all the great information the Stewart-Haas Racing organization gained through a test session at Las Vegas last month where Kevin Harvick was the star.

Apparently, SHR is prepared to go fast on the high banked 1.5-mile tracks this year, because Harvick came through with the third fastest lap in Saturday’s practice and then Tony Stewart won the pole. The biggest sign that Harvick might be in line to win his first Texas race was because he had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average among the 18 drivers that ran as many laps straight.

We can look at Harvick’s 41st-place performance at Las Vegas and be skeptical of his chances Sunday, but if we look deeper than just the results sheet, we notice that Harvick had a brake issue that sent him to the garages during the race, but not before he led twice for 23 laps. He was a contender then, and he should be one on Sunday.

So why don’t we have Harvick rated No. 1?

Harvick definitely looked the best overall in practice, but it’s Jimmie Johnson who gets the nod at the top not only because of his good practices, but because of past history that has seen him win three times at Texas, including two of the past three. He’s also driving a chassis that has pretty good history itself, winning at Texas last fall in addition to also winning at Dover in September.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of both practice sessions was seeing Greg Biffle near the top of the charts again. Biffle had a very ordinary Las Vegas race finishing 22nd, but came out blazing with the second fastest lap in Friday’s session and fourth best during Saturday’s happy hour, which was actually 90-minutes. He then went on to qualify fourth.

Biffle certainly has history in favor with two career wins, and he’s also got the Roush-Fenway Racing program behind him that has won nine races at Texas, more than any other team.

Another beneficiary of the Roush pedigree is three-time Texas winner Carl Edwards. Although Edwards didn’t shine during practices at Las Vegas, he did manage to pull out a gutsy fifth-place finish. Edwards had the second-fastest lap during Saturday’s practice.

The best long shot to consider is Paul Menard, listed at 75-to-1 odds before practices. He finished third at Las Vegas and will be using the same chassis again this week. He had the sixth-fastest lap during happy hour Saturday and finished third behind Harvick and Johnson in the 10-consecutive lap average category. If looking for one driver who can help turn $20 into a quick vacation fund, Menard would be it.

Because of Las Vegas being a nice measuring tool for what to expect at Texas, we were initially high on Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. They finished 1-2 at Vegas and each led more than 50 laps, but they weren’t overly impressive Saturday during happy hour. In fact, Keselowski looked terrible, but he gets the benefit of the doubt because of what he did at Vegas. He also found speed somewhere Saturday during qualifying and will start on the front row next to Stewart. Overall, Junior was much better between the two practices and is also using the same chassis that ran out of fuel on the last lap while leading at Vegas.

Rain is expected Sunday in the Fort Worth, TX area, so this one could be racing under like lights at night. If so, Friday’s practice conditions might be more relative to race day than Saturday’s which ran in the morning.

Read More Here..........Final Driver Ratings

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