Friday, April 10, 2015

Texas Practice Notes: Kahne's strong practice diminishes Harvick's edge

Kurt Busch starts from the pole and should lead plenty of laps
Despite not looking imposing during Friday’s two practice sessions at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick is still the driver to beat in Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500. However, the large advantage gap he had over the rest of the field may have closed dramatically based on what happened during those practices.

Saturday’s race will be the third this season on a 1.5-mile track (Atlanta and Las Vegas) and fourth on a down force track (Fontana), and Harvick led 292 laps between the two races capturing a win and two second-place finishes. His excellence on these tracks so far give all the creditability he needs to still be considered the favorite even though several drivers showed more speed in practice.

One of those drivers was 2006 Texas winner Kasey Kahne who had the second fastest lap (190.463 mph) during the first sessions and the fastest lap (190.975) in the final session. Kahne also had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average during the first session which means he’s going to be very good on longer runs, and there are a lot of those over 500 miles.

Unlike most practices where the most relevant times are in the final session, the first session at Texas might be the most important because of it being mostly run in race trim. The final session was split in half with teams starting in race trim, and then switching over to a mock qualifying set-up. Brad Keselowski was fastest in the second session using just race trim, but Kahne got the fastest lap with qualifying trim on his ninth and final lap run.

Another note to consider with the practices is that the race starts under much different conditions under the lights than they practiced under during the day.

Kahne has yet to crack the top-10 in any of the down force tracks this season, but over his career, the 1.5-mile tracks have seen him have his most success. Looking the sharpest during practice gives Kahne a serious upgrade in his ratings this week, but still makes him only the third best candidate to win.

Right after Harvick, it’s four -time Texas winner Jimmie Johnson who looks just as good as Kahne. What gives Johnson a boost over Kahne is that Johnson has not only won three of the past five Texas races, but he’s also won on a 1.5-mile track (Atlanta) this season. Johnson had the second fastest 10-consecutive lap average after Kahne in the early session. Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were next best in the category.

McMurray is the real interesting look here just because he looks so fast, but the problem with him is that we have seen this before out of him and it didn’t translate to race day. You probably won’t get 60-to-1 odds anymore with McMurray, but he wouldn’t be a bad play as a long shot just because his speeds are attractive. And with Harvick giving the appearance that his bar has been lowered, McMurray is worth an investment.

David Ragan fits that criteria as well just because he had the best 10-consecutive lap average in the final practice session. He also had the fifth-fastest lap in the early session. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars are improving time out on these tracks. Expect Ragan to run as well as teammate Denny Hamlin, who swept the 2010 Texas season.

Read More

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Duck Commander 500
Texas Motor Speedway
Saturday, April 11, 2015 -  4:46 pm (PT)

RATING    DRIVER   ODDS               PRAC 1   PRAC 2      QUALIFIED    LV*
 1. Kevin Harvick 4/1                3rd       31st          2nd         1st 
Dominant in 2015 on the three down force tracks - led 292 laps; using winning Charlotte chassis.
 2. Jimmie Johnson 6/1          13th        2nd           5th         41st 
Four-time winner, including three of the past five; won on similar track at Atlanta in February.
 3. Kasey Kahne 20/1               2nd       1st            4th         17th 
2006 winner; easily had the best practice with fastest 10-consecutive lap average in practice 1.
 4. Brad Keselowski 10/1        10th       14th          3rd          7th 
Career-best runner up during Chase in 2012 championship year; third last fall; practiced well.
 5. Kurt Busch 6/1                     9th        8th          1st          DNP
2009 winner; wasn’t great during practice, but when lights came on in qualifying, his car liked it.
 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10/1     16th         7th          25th        4th 
2000 winner, his first career win; finished sixth or better on the three down force tracks so far.
 7. Denny Hamlin 12/1             15th        4th         18th         5th 
Swept the two 2010 races and has a 10.1 average finish in 19 starts; Gibbs cars on the upswing.
 8. Joey Logano 10/1               17th       26th         6th         10th 
Won this race in 2014; was slower than expected during practices, but he’ll be battling for top-five.
 9. Martin Truex Jr. 18/1            1st       17th        15th         2nd   
Career-best runner-up in 2013; he’s one of three drivers to finish in top-10 of all six 2015 races.
10. Jamie McMurray 50/1          6th        3rd        10th         11th 
Career-best runner-up in 2005; he’s hard to trust best his practice speeds are hard to ignore.

* Results from the Las Vegas March 1 race, the last race held on a 1.5-mile track, similar to Texas. Atlanta results can also be used to narrow down best candidates to win.

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

Micah Roberts, a former race and sports book director in Las Vegas, has been setting NASCAR odds since 1995. For more post-practice analysis, visit the Linemakers on or follow MicahRoberts7 on Twitter. 

No comments: