Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Texas Preview: Stewart the Easy Favorite This Week

By Micah Roberts

In an off week that seemed like an eternity for NASCAR fans, things got a little better for most when a guy named Bubba won an event on Sunday. It didn’t matter that the event was golf to NASCAR fans, because they’ve had a special love brewing for Bubba Watson, and not just because he’s a Georgia Bulldog, but rather because of the car he drives.

Watson bought the ‘General Lee’, the famed car from the Dukes of Hazzard television series. Watson not only owns the car, but he proudly drives it to tournaments despite the backlash he receives because the Confederate flag on the roof of the car isn‘t politically correct. Because Watson hasn’t conformed to what people think he ought to do, the fans that comprise of the powerful buying power of NASCAR nation has will soon be seen buying whatever product Bubba is pitching.

With the week off from racing, a big exciting race will be needed to satisfy the fans thirst for NASCAR and it’s something Texas always provides. The high banked 1.5-mile track should provide all the excitement every fan wants to see in a big Texas way on a big Texas starry Saturday night.

Coming into this week’s race, we have a little bit of data to go off of from the results of two tracks that require similar horsepower. Las Vegas is the sister track of Texas and while the baking in Vegas is a just a little flatter with speeds obtained a little slower, it serves as a great barometer for every team as far as set-ups go. Whatever worked well in Las Vegas should translate well in Texas. And whatever went bad at Las Vegas, don’t repeat at Texas.

California is a much flatter and bigger track than both Las Vegas and Texas, but still requires the same type of necessary horsepower needed at Texas.

Stewart is using winning Las Vegas car this week (Getty)
It doesn’t take long to see who the best driver was at Las Vegas and California, because Tony Stewart won them both which is why he is the 6-to-1 favorite this week according to odds posted by the LVH Super Book. If we take Stewart’s past history at Texas into the equation, you don’t have to sort through too many races because he won the last race held there last fall.

If past recent success at Texas and similar tracks isn't enough evidence that Stewart should be favored, consider that he's using the same car that won at Chicago last season and at Las Vegas in March.

It would almost seem foolish to bet any other driver to win this week, but we should at least try to make a case for a few other drivers.

Stewart may have led the most laps in Las Vegas, but it was Jimmie Johnson who was chasing him down but eventually settled for runner-up. Johnson won his six-guns and Cowboy hat at Texas in 2007 and also has four runner-up finishes to his credit. Johnson didn’t look like the driver to beat in Las Vegas, but his crew -- the best in the business -- worked hard to get the right set-up. It’s quite possible that the adjustments made in the crunch at Vegas will have Johnson’s car set ideally right off the hauler when they practice Thursday night.

Greg Biffle won at Texas in 2005, but more importantly, has finished in the top-5 of the last three races run there. The current points leader also has a third-place finish at Las Vegas and a sixth at California to suggest he’s got all the big Texas horsepower he’ll need this week.

“I’m jacked up going to Texas and I cannot wait," Biffle said earlier this week. "I love that race track and we have Filtrete on the car this weekend. Texas is a challenging place, coming off of turn two the track really flattens out, but getting into three and four it’s different on both ends, making for a kind of a long sweeping corner. Typically we run the bottom in three and four, and maybe run up the race track a little bit in one and two. Kind of a double dog leg down the frontstretch and it can be a little bit challenging getting to pit road for green-flag pit stops. We’ve run really really well there, I’ve had a lot of success at Texas, and I feel like it could be our first win of the season coming up.”

Matt Kenseth has the best Texas resume of any driver with an average finish of 8.7 in 19 starts that includes wins in 2002 and last spring. Kenseth was a driver who was expected to do well at Las Vegas and California, but it never materialized. Despite those poor runs, he’s still a driver that can be expected to find his way into the top-5 considering he‘s done it in five of his last six Texas starts. He'll be using a brand new chassis this week to try and get it done again.

Carl Edwards is a three-time winner at Texas and finished third and runner-up last season. Edwards still hasn’t given any indication during practice that he’s a driver to be contended with, but when the race is over, there is right in the mix. At Vegas and California, he looked to have no shot at a top-20 based on practices, but wound up fifth in both races. Texas should get him straight and he knows it.

“I love racing at Texas and it’s been one of our best race tracks," said Edwards, who will be using a brand new chassis this week. "I’ve got some great memories from that place and it’s a fun place to win a race. Martinsville is behind us and we have some really good tracks coming up this month with Texas and Kansas. Those mile-and-a-half tracks have been great for us from day one.”

It’s either hit or miss for Kyle Busch at Texas. He’s either going finish in the top-5 of finish outside the top-15. Busch has never won at Texas and missed last fall’s race due to bad behavior, but the California race showed Busch has some giddy-up under the hood. Busch led the most laps in that race and finished runner-up after the rain shortened the race.

Hamlin swept the 2010 season at Texas (Getty)
In that California race, Denny Hamlin had perhaps the best car and might have won if it weren’t for the rain. Beyond suggesting Hamlin’s progression from California will translate well this week, we also have past history that shows he had a big Texas sweep of the two races in 2010. Hamlin looks to be the best value on the board with most protential to take the race away from Stewart.

The big Texas wild card in this race is Kasey Kahne, who won there in 2006. Kahne also finished third in the fall race last season. The only thing going for Kahne right now is bad luck. He’s had great cars every week, but you would never know by simply looking at the results. It’s likely that Kahne will practice as one of the best this weekend again and we’ll have to see how it plays out from there, but he is going to win very soon, mark it down.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle (12/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
5) #17 Matt Kenseth (7/1)

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