Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Texas Preview: 2012 AAA 500

Greg Biffle is using same winning chassis from April Texas race (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

The best way to get started in handicapping this weeks race is to first look at what the Cup Series drivers did in the most recent races held at Texas Motor Speedway's sister tracks at Atlanta and Charlotte. Although each track has their own unique traits, the set-ups required by each team are similar due to the high banked 1.5-mile layout of all three.

Atlanta was run in early September and Charlotte on Oct. 13. Drivers that ran well in those two races should run well Sunday at Texas. Those two recent races hold more weight this week than the first Texas race run in April, just because it's more recent, therefore more relevant.

The top performer at Atlanta and Charlotte was Denny Hamlin, a two-time Texas winner. Hamlin won at Atlanta and finished runner-up at Charlotte. He even finished runner-up in the late May Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. This is why he's listed as the 5-to-1 co-favorite this week at the LVH Super Book.

The only question with Hamlin this week is how he'll respond to having his dreams of winning a Sprint Cup title flushed down the toilet after finishing 33rd last week at Martinsville. The last time Hamlin may have been as disappointed was when he blew his chances at a title in 2010 and it took him an entire 2011 to get over it.

However, the difference between 2011 and this year is that there is no winter gap in between. All the winning set-up notes crew chief Darian Grubb has will be utilized on whatever chassis the team decides to use this week (Joe Gibbs Racing drivers don't report what chassis they use each week, per Joe Gibbs, something that strangely started occurring after their trip to Las Vegas this season).

Even if Hamlin's head isn't in the race this weekend, it's likely that his car will be so good that he won't have time to think about blowing the 2012 season and will find himself competing for the win.

Jimmie Johnson is other co-favorite at 5-to-1, mainly because of his current form. We haven't seen Johnson win on any type of 1.5-mile track this season, but he's been close. He finished third at Charlotte three weeks ago and he also finished runner-up in the April Texas race. He's had one win over his career at Texas (2007) and has the second-best average finish (9.7) in track history.

Matt Kenseth has the best average finish (8.6) in track history that includes two wins. He's on a streak right of four straight top-5 finishes at Texas, which makes it understandable why he likes racing there so much.

“Texas is a really great race track that I really enjoy racing at twice during the season," Kenseth said earlier this week. "There are a lot of fans who always come out and support us there, and it’s also a place that I’ve been lucky enough to have had some great races and finishes at. Texas is a fast 1.5-mile track where we have options to run several lines. It’s a place that can be challenging as well since the straightaways are fairly flat while the corners have some high banking in them. I’m looking forward to this weekend and hope to have another strong performance at a 1.5-mile track similar to our run at Kansas.”

That Kansas win showed that Roush Racing had finally figured out the aero-package program that NASCAR changed at mid-season. Roush drivers had fared well on the 1.5-mile track prior, including Greg Biffle's win at Texas in April, and Biffle is optimistic about completing the sweep this week.

“I’m excited about heading to Texas this weekend and hopefully we can make it a sweep," said Biffle who will be using the same chassis from the earlier Texas win. "We tested the 2013 car there about a month ago and feel good about Texas, but to win there you have to have everything right. You’ve got to drive hard like we did in the spring and there will always be four or five guys to contend with at the end. You can run up the track, down the track, pit stops are important and the track really flattens off the corner. You have really got to watch what you do or that thing will sneak up and bite you, kind of like what happened to me in Chicago.”

That rough September day in Chicago for Biffle and the Roush team was the last of their issues on the 1.5-mile mile tracks as they found the solution they had been looking for with the aero-package. The next crack at a 1.5 was at Charlotte where Biffle finished fourth and then following week, Kenseth won at Kansas.

Like Kenseth, Biffle has a streak of four straight top-5's at Texas. But perhaps the biggest reason to like him this week, besides his 10-to-1 odds, is that he is using the same chassis that captured both his wins (Texas and Michigan) this season.

Look for all the Roush cars to run well this week, and maybe even Carl Edwards. Hamlin will be a beast, and Johnson will likely not press his car too much, but it will be all out with Texas guns-a-blazin' for the Roush drivers.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #17 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
2) #16 Greg Biffle (10/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (5/1)
5) #15 Clint Bowyer (12/1)

Video: Roberts Talks Chase and Texas Odds on the Linemakers

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Biffle Using Chassis at Texas That Won Both His 2012 Races

Both of Biffle's wins in 2012 came in chassis he's using this week (Getty)
Greg Biffle 
Team: No. 16 3M Ford Fusion
Crew Chief: Matt Puccia
Chassis: Primary: RK-809 Last ran Dover – finished 16th; Backup: RK-803 Last ran Pocono – finished 15th


Biffle on racing at Texas Motor Speedway:
“I’m excited about heading to Texas this weekend and hopefully we can make it a sweep. We tested the 2013 cart here about a month ago and feel good about Texas, but to win there you have to have everything right. You’ve got to drive hard like we did in the spring and there will always be four or five guys to contend with at the end. You can run up the track, down the track, pit stops are important and the track really flattens off the corner. You have really got to watch what you do or that thing will sneak up and bite you, kind of like what happened to me in Chicago.”

Crew chief Matt Puccia on racing at Texas Motor Speedway:
“Texas has always been one of our stronger tracks on the circuit and we had some success earlier in the year there with a win. The spring race is a little different than this race temperature wise and this time around we race more in the day. Texas is one of the more unique tracks in that it’s getting more worn out and much bumpier, making it a little bit harder to get a handle on then some of the more recent tracks like Charlotte and Kansas. Tires mean a lot there so pit strategy will come into play.”

• The car: Chassis RK-809 is the same car that won the spring race at Texas and also won at Michigan.

• Texas Stats: Biffle has led a total of 732 laps in 17 starts at Texas Motor Speedway, making Texas his number one track for total laps led on the Sprint Cup circuit and he ranks second in laps led at TMS.

• Point Standings: Biffle is currently ninth the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings.

• Follow: On Twitter fans can follow @163MTeam and @3MRacing for the latest info on Biffle and the No. 16 Pit Bulls.

- Roush Fenway Racing

Kenseth Looking for Fifth Straight Top-5 at Texas

Matt Kenseth last won at Texas in April of 2011 (Getty)
Matt Kenseth 
Team: No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion
Crew Chief: Jimmy Fennig
Chassis: Primary: RK-821 (last run at Charlotte)


Kenseth on racing at Texas Motor Speedway:
“Texas is a really great race track that I really enjoy racing at twice during the season. There are a lot of fans who always come out and support us there, and it’s also a place that I’ve been lucky enough to have had some great races and finishes at. Texas is a fast 1.5-mile track where we have options to run several lines. It’s a place that can be challenging as well since the straightaways are fairly flat while the corners have some high banking in them. I’m looking forward to this weekend and hope to have another strong performance at a 1.5-mile track similar to our run at Kansas.”

Crew chief Jimmy Fennig on racing at Texas Motor Speedway:
“We’re bringing the car that we last ran at Charlotte, and I thought it was a pretty good car for us. Going into Texas we ran pretty decent in the spring, but I also feel like we’ve improved our stuff since the spring as well. We’re going to take some of what we learned at Kansas in regards to set-ups and plan to apply it to Texas as a starting point for this weekend’s race.”


• In 20 Cup starts at Texas, Kenseth has completed 6,638 of 6,690 laps (99.2 percent) and led for 771 laps

• Kenseth has an average starting position of 16.1 and an average finishing position of 8.6 at Texas

• Kenseth is the top active driver in the Sprint Cup Series at TMS with the best average finish (8.6) and the most laps led (771)

• Kenseth has achieved two wins, 11 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes at Texas in the Cup series

• Kenseth holds the record for the most top five (11) and the most top 10’s (14) in Cup action at Texas

• This weekend at Texas, Kenseth will pilot the No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion

• Entering the weekend at Texas, Kenseth is currently 8th in the Chase driver point standings

- Roush Fenway Racing

Texas Odds & Ends: 2012 AAA 500

At Texas Motor Speedway:
·         Construction began in 1995.
·         The first NASCAR race was a NASCAR Nationwide Series event on April 5, 1997.
·         The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was on April 6, 1997.
·         There have been 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway, one per season from 1997 through 2004 and two races per year since 2005.
·         Four drivers have competed in all 22 Texas races: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin.
·         Jeremy Mayfield was the first pole winner, in 1998. Qualifying for the inaugural race in 1997 was canceled.
·         Jeff Burton won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
·         16 drivers have scored poles, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon andMartin Truex Jr. with two.
·         16 drivers have won races, led by Carl Edwards, with three. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle each have two wins.
·         17 of 23 races have been won from a top-10 starting position. Only one has been won from the pole - Kasey Kahne in 2006.
·         Matt Kenseth started 31st en route to his victory at Texas in 2002, the deepest in the field that a race winner has started.
·         Both Jeff Burton (1999) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) scored their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Texas, and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne made his first series start at Texas (11/07/10).
·         Martin Truex Jr. (11/04/07) and David Ragan (04/09/11) scored their first series poles at Texas.
·         Matt Kenseth (8.6) and Jimmie Johnson (9.7) are the only active drivers to average a top-10 finish at Texas.
·         Jimmie Johnson (9.2) is the only active driver to average a top-10 starting position at Texas.
·         Roush Fenway Racing leads all owners in victories, with nine. Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsportshave three wins each.
·         There has been two season sweeps, by Carl Edwards in 2008 and Denny Hamlin in 2010.
·         Youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Texas Motor Speedway winner: Ryan Newman (3/30/2003 – 25 years, 3 months, 22 days). Oldest NSCS Texas Motor Speedway winner: Dale Jarrett (4/1/2001 – 44 years, 4 months, 6 days).
·         Youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Texas Motor Speedway pole winner: Brian Vickers (11/5/2006 – 23 years, 0 months, 12 days). Oldest NSCS Texas Motor Speedway pole winner: Bill Elliott (4/8/2002 – 46 years, 6 months, 0 days).
Texas Motor Speedway Data
Chase Race #: 8 of 10
Season Race #: 34 of 36 (11-04-12)
Track Size: 1.5-mile
Banking/Turns: 24 degrees
Banking/Straights: 5 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 2,250 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,330 feet
Race Length: 334 laps / 501 miles
Top 12 Driver Rating at Texas
Matt Kenseth............................. 107.2
Greg Biffle................................ 103.3
Tony Stewart............................. 102.5
Jimmie Johnson........................ 100.6
Carl Edwards.............................. 99.2
Kyle Busch................................. 96.8
Denny Hamlin............................. 94.6
Dale Earnhardt Jr........................ 92.8
Jeff Gordon................................ 91.3
Clint Bowyer............................... 90.9
Mark Martin................................. 89.0
Kurt Busch.................................. 89.0
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2012 races (15 total) among active drivers at Texas Motor Speedway
Qualifying/Race Data
2011 pole winner:
Greg Biffle, Ford, 193.736 mph, 27.873 sec., 11-04-11
2011 race winner:
Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 152.705 mph, (3:10:51), 11-06-11
Track qualifying record:
Brian Vickers, Chevrolet, 196.235 mph, 27.518 sec., 11-05-06
Track race record:
Greg Biffle, Ford, 160.577 mph, (3:07:12), 04-14-12
NASCAR in Texas
·         There have been 32 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Texas.
Track Name
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth
Meyer Speedway
Texas World Speedway
College Station
·         76 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Texas.
·         There have been nine race winners from Texas in NASCAR’s three national series:
Terry Labonte
Bobby Labonte
A.J. Foyt
Billy Wade
Bobby Hillin Jr
Johnny Rutherford
James Buescher
David Starr
Colin Braun

Greg Biffle won the April 14 Texas race (Getty)


Texas Storylines

Jimmie Johnson has one win at Texas (2007)  over his career (Getty)
Texas Motor Speedway awaits the NASCAR national series competitors, and of course, everything’s bigger in Texas.

Except the points spread between NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

Or the NASCAR Nationwide Series spread between Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Or the gap between NASCAR Camping World Truck Series frontrunner James Buescher and Ty Dillon, though that particular one is a tad more robust than the others.

In other words, with three races left in each national series season, zero championships are remotely close to being decided. And the typically close, fast and drama-packed action that usually unfurls at Texas should only ramp up the intensity as the NASCAR season comes to a close.


Johnson Wins, Nabs Chase Points Lead

If the above headline sounds familiar, there’s a reason: It’s been used in just about every single Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup since its inception in 2004.

True, Johnson has not held the points lead in each of the nine Chases, but with his win at Martinsville on Sunday, he has now won in all nine of them (though never this late into a postseason session). Sunday’s win at Martinsville was Johnson’s record 21st career win in the Chase, 10 more than second-best in the category (Tony Stewart).

More pressing, though, Johnson reclaimed the points lead from Brad Keselowski – a comfortable spot to reside with three races remaining.

In the eight previous Chases, the points leader with three races remaining has gone on to win the championship five times.

Keselowski Escapes Wild-Card Track, Another One On Deck
Keselowski lost the points lead, but there’s no need to fret just yet.

His deficit now stands at a scant two points, a miniscule figure for someone like Keselowski who gobbles up top-10 finishes by the bunch (he has six top 10s in the seven Chase races).

Plus, Keselowski need only look to recent history for comfort. Last season with three races to go, Tony Stewart trailed then-leader Carl Edwards by eight points.

But there’s a potential problem. Most circled Martinsville as Keselowski’s highest hurdle for capturing the championship. But maybe it should’ve been Texas.

In eight Texas starts, Keselowski has yet to score a top-10 finish. None of his eight Driver Ratings have eclipsed 90.0, and his best finish is 14th, in April of 2010. More glaring is the fact that of his eight Texas finishes, five were outside the top 20 – and he has yet to finish on the lead lap.

A Bowyer/Kahne Comeback Would Be Historic, But Not Impossible
Since the inception of the position-based points system in 1975, the largest deficit overcome with three races remaining was by Dale Earnhardt in 1990, when he caught Mark Martin to close out his fourth title.

Under the current points structure, 49 points roughly translates to 12 points. That means Clint Bowyer’s 26-point deficit and Kasey Kahne’s 29-point climb is daunting to say the least.

But is an historic comeback impossible? Of course not. No driver has been mathematically eliminated from championship contention – though a couple may be following Texas (any driver 97 points behind the leader after Texas will be officially eliminated).

Back to Bowyer and Kahne. Bowyer comes into this race with three top 10s in the last four Texas races, and boasts momentum at 1.5-mile tracks after capturing his first victory on an intermediate track at Charlotte. Kahne enters the weekend with two consecutive top 10s at Texas, along with a win there in 2006.

Chevrolet Closes In On History
Jimmie Johnson’s win at Martinsville broke an 11-race winless drought, and nudges the all-time winningest manufacturer nearer to a major milestone: 700 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories.

They now sit at the very edge of the milestone, at 699 wins.

The accolades don’t end there. Chevrolet has already clinched the Manufacturers’ Championship in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series, and can clinch the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ title this weekend at Texas. It would be the first manufacturer championship sweep since Chevrolet did it in 2005.

- NASCAR Media Services

Monday, October 29, 2012

Johnson Now Clear Cut Favorite to Win NASCAR Chase

Johnson is an absolute machine, a one of a kind ( Getty) 
The Linemakers on Sporting News

No matter how much we search for an angle to show that Jimmie Johnson won’t win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, the math never adds up. We can try sell ourselves that 2+2 equals 5, but in the end, we'll be wrong, and that's the way its been with Johnson. Rather than just say Johnson is clearly the favorite, we look to find some semblance of hope that maybe someone can step up and show some consistency to match his high level of competition, but in five of the past six years, that search has been a futile one, just as it is this season.

When Johnson won at Martinsville on Sunday, he also grabbed the points lead from Brad Keselowski, who had been temporarily keeping the throne warm for Johnson for the first six weeks of the Chase. There still are three races remaining before we can actually call Johnson the 2012 champion, but it’s what has made Johnson champ in those other five seasons that makes it hard to believe his short 2-point lead won’t hold up.

Fans from every sport seem to dislike consistent dominance, but it’s different in NASCAR. In baseball, we all bang on the Yankees because they are always so good, but Johnson doesn’t have the massive army of supporters the Yankees do.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Johnson Takes Martinsville, and Championship Lead

Johnson rolls to his seventh Martinsville win, and grandfather clock (Getty)
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Jimmie Johnson held off Kyle Busch on a restart with five laps to go Sunday and won for the seventh time in his career at Martinsville Speedway.

The five-time series champion moved into the lead in the championship standings, two points over Brad Keselowski with three races remaining.

Keselowski started 32nd, methodically worked his way forward, and took a late gamble to grab the lead on a restart with 19 laps to go. When Johnson and the rest of the leaders pitted for tires, Keselowski was a sitting duck once the race went back to green.

Johnson made the race a points bonanza, leading the most laps and earning three points for the victory.

Busch was second, followed by Kasey Kahne.


                Denny Hamlin's Chase for the Championship is OVER, Finishes 33rd at Martinsville
Crew members work on the #11 FedEx Express Toyota of Denny Hamlin in the garage area during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Hamlin seemed to have electrical problems down the stretch that did him in. (Getty)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Final Martinsville Driver Ratings Following All Practice Sessions

Micah Roberts’ Top 10 Driver Ratings
Tums Fast Relief 500
Martinsville Speedway
Sunday, October 28, 2012 -  11:16 a.m. (PDT)

Rating    Driver     Odds        Practice 1     Qualified    Practice 2    Practice 3

 1. Brian Vickers 50/1                1st                 2nd               1st               1st      
Thoroughly dominated all practice sessions; fastest 10-consecutive lap average in Practice 2.
 2. Jimmie Johnson 4/1             7th                 1st                4th               6th 
Six-time winner with 5.8 career average finish; using brand new chassis this week.
 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12/1        2nd                20th              8th               2nd 
Using chassis that he’s raced in past four Martinsville races to a fourth-place average.
 4. Denny Hamlin 7/2                 3rd                 5th              11th               5th 
Four-time winner with a 6.4 career average; 20-points behind in Chase, needs this one bad.
 5. Jeff Gordon 7/1                     4th                11th              2nd              3rd 
Seven-time winner with 7.1 career average; best 10-consecutive lap average in final practice.
 6. Kyle Busch 10/1                    8th                 3rd               5th               4th  
Career best of third-place in 2011, finished fourth four times; good showing in all practices.
 7. Clint Bowyer 15/1                  5th                 8th               6th              10th 
Only one top-five finish in 13 starts, but MWR cars have something working well this weekend.
 8. Tony Stewart 8/1                 12th                 7th              12th             22nd 
Three-time winner, the last in 2011; using chassis that finished third and fourth at Richmond.
 9. Ryan Newman 25/1             13th               17th              20th              8th 
Won the spring race in April; using chassis that has raced to three top-10 finishes in four starts.
10. Paul Menard 100/1               6th                 9th               7th               7th 
Career best of 13th in 2010, but looked great in practice; using chassis from first race in April.

Note: This is the second race of the season held on the flat half-mile track. The first race was held on April 1, won by Ryan Newman.

Odds courtesy of the LVH Super Book.

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. For more Roberts insights on the race, go to The Linemakers on or follow on Twitter: MicahRoberts7. 

Betting Notes
Brian Vickers no longer at 50/1 odds (Getty)
I can’t remember the last time there looked to be so many solid candidates to win at Martinsville. There are at least nine drivers that I could see that have a legitimate chance at winning Sunday’s race. In normal instances, the list is only about three drivers and they usually go onto to win, which is why the odds are always so low. A great case can be made for the three -- Denny Hamlin, Jimmie and Jeff Gordon -- this week, but I’m taking a shot with Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Clint Bowyer.

I’m a little late to the party with Vickers -- missing out on the 50-to-1 odds, but I’ll be happy with 12 or 15-to-1 odds. At Martinsville you want your driver to be able to get out front early and then take off. Before you know it, he’ll be making his last pit stop, and the race will be almost over. He’s got the look of a car in practices that looks dominating in the same way Hamlin, Johnson and Gordon have when they rolled to wins.

The only question mark with Vickers is that he doesn’t have a great record at Martinsville. No top-5 finishes over his career in 14 starts. But then again, he never had a car this good, either.

Martinsville Practice Notes: Vickers and Earnhardt Jr. Look Strong

Vickers has the look of a winner this week (Getty)
By Micah Roberts
The Linemakers on Sporting News

Martinsville Speedway has been dominated by the same four drivers over the past decade. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have won multiple times, combining for 16 wins in the past 19 races. One of the drivers to crash the party over that stretch — Rusty Wallace in 2004 — has retired and the other two — Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman — did so in two of the past three races.

Based on what happened during Friday and Saturday’s three practice sessions in preparation for Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500, we may have another party crasher. Brian Vickers has never had a top-5 finish at Martinsville in 14 career starts, but that should change Sunday because he was fastest in all three sessions.

Vickers not only had the fastest single lap speeds, but he was also strong in average lap times, including having the best 10-consecutive lap average in the second session.

Being fastest in practice doesn’t necessarily equate to winning the race, but at Martinsville’s flat half-mile paper clip of a track, it’s usually a good indication that he’ll be able to get up front and lead for quite a few laps. Gordon, Johnson and Hamlin have all been top practice performers during their dominant race wins and now Vickers falls into that category.

Read More Here.........