Saturday, November 1, 2014

Texas Practice Notes & Final Driver Ratings: 2014 AAA Texas 500

Jimmie Johnson gave us a blast from the past on Saturday
When looking at Saturday’s final two practice times at Texas Motor Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, you may have to do a double take on the date because the names on top of the speed charts look as though they’ve been transported from 2009.

This is the 10th race held on a 1.5-mile track this season and the first nine races went basically as they were supposed to with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick dominating most of the practices and then combining to win six of the races. But on Saturday, Keselowski was sluggish, Harvick looked ordinary, while Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart all looked like major players.

Maybe the cooler weather had something do with the speeds which made the charts look as random as a Talladega race. Maybe it took some of these teams nine full races on 1.5-mile tracks to finally close the large gap Penske Racing had over most of them. Whatever the case may be, we have the makings for the most wide open 1.5-mile race of the season -- a real Texas shootout.

Just when we started to write Jimmie Johnson off after not winning a race since June and being eliminated from the Chase two weeks ago, he goes out and puts on a show with not only the top speed during the final session, but also the best 10-consecutive lap average. Sure, he may have won at Texas’ sister track at Charlotte in May, but it was their lack of success in the five ensuing 1.5-mile races that led to the demise of their season. Now the No. 48 team has given us a blast to the past where they once again look like the best car and driver to beat on these type of tracks.

Johnson will have quite a few supporters from other teams in the garage cheering him on as well. There are eight drivers alive in the Chase, and two of them -- Keselowski and Harvick -- are siting seventh and eighth in points. Both of those drivers are capable of winning it all in the season finale at Homestead, another 1.5-mile track, but they have to advance first and the window of opportunity is closing fast . If a non-Chase driver like Johnson wins, then points become more valuable for a transfer spot as only one win-and-in position will remain with Phoenix.

Drivers like Edwards, Newman, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are all sitting within the top-six in points, but aren’t strong contenders to win Sunday, however, they’ll all be battling for a position of eighth or better. The more automatic entries won by non-Chase drivers, like last Sunday at Martinsville, the better for these guys. Johnson being strong at Texas should give these type of drivers some hope for making the Homestead Championship Round.

For both Edwards and Newman, they may be saying, “Hold on, we are good enough to win Sunday.” And they might be right based on Saturday’s practices where Edwards had the fastest speed in the early session and was eighth quickest in happy hour. Newman had the second fastest single lap speed behind Johnson in the final session. With Keselowski and Harvick not looking so great, maybe this is one where they could steal a win. If Newman did it, it would be his first win of the season.

There are truly about 20 drivers that have a chance to win Sunday. Beyond our top-10 list of drivers, others include Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr and Brian Vickers. The practice session that deserves the most consideration into your betting equation should be weighted heavily to the final session.

These 1.5-mile tracks haven’t offered a lot of value at the bet window if straying away from the favorites, but Sunday’s race at Texas might be the best opportunity to cash with someone at 20-to-1 or higher. The best value of all might be Dale Earnhardt Jr. who is using the same chassis he swept Pocono with this season.

Read More Here......Top-10 Texas Driver Ratings

Practice 3 Speeds

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
AAA Texas 500 
Texas Motor Speedway
Sunday, November 2, 2014 -  12:16 pm (PT)

RATING    DRIVER   ODDS            PRAC 1     QUALIFIED   PRAC 2   PRAC 3  
 1. Jimmie Johnson 7/1            8th             3rd            2nd        1st  
Three-time winner, including last fall; best 10-consecutive lap average in final practice; using Dover chassis.  
 2. Jeff Gordon 5/1                   5th             2nd           29th       24th 
2009 winner; only driver to start all 27 Texas races; using runner-up chassis from Chicago and Charlotte.
 3. Joey Logano 7/1                20th           10th           27th        4th 
Won spring race; three straight top-5 finishes; using winning Bristol chassis from August.
 4. Kevin Harvick 9/2                2nd             5th           16th      11th  
No Texas wins (13.6 average), but has led laps in 24 off 33 races this season; using winning Charlotte chassis.
 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 20/1     14th            12th          14th        5th 
His one and only win came in 2000, the first of his career; using chassis that won both Pocono races.
 6. Brad Keselowski 5/1          24th            26th          25th       14th 
Runner-up during 2012 Chase; needs to win Sunday or next week to advance in Chase; using Bristol chassis.
 7. Kasey Kahne 25/1             15th            14th          24th        6th 
2006 winner; his only win of 2014 came in August at sister 1.5-mile track in Atlanta; using Brickyard chassis. 
 8. Carl Edwards 30/1              7th             11th           1st         8th 
Three-time winner, the last during 2008 sweep; four top-5 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this season.  
 9. Denny Hamlin 20/1            12th            20th           7th        12th  
Swept 2010 season, 10.6 average finish in 18 starts; Good match-up play due to cautious approach for Chase.  
10. Kyle Larson 12/1               22nd           17th          21st       22nd 
Finished fifth during April race; the 1.5-mile tracks have been his best and he’s very close to winning.

Note: This will be the 10th of 11 races this season on a 1.5-mile track and the second held at Texas Motor Speedway. The first was held April 7 and won by Joey Logano. 

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

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