Everything is big in Texas except Jimmie Johnson’s point lead coming into this week’s eighth race of NASCAR’s 10 race Chase for the Championship. It’s come down to three drivers with three races to go in what could be the most thrilling close to a season in recent NASCAR history. Jimmie Johnson has a slim 14-point lead over Denny Hamlin, with Kevin Harvick lurking a mere 38 points behind.
This week Johnson will be hoping to avoid a replay of last year’s results while Hamlin is looking for the same results from the final three races of last season. If Hamlin gets his wish, he could be leading following the race and on his way to snapping Johnson’s four-year reign as Sprint Cup Champion.
With three races to go last season at Texas, Johnson got involved in a wreck only three laps into the race and finished 38th. Johnson had a large enough lead to still maintain the points lead despite gaining only 49 points for the poor finish. Meanwhile, Hamlin finished second and gained 175 points, but was way back — 11th in points — coming into the race. The runner-up finish catapulted Hamlin to great finishes for the ensuing races, finishing third at Phoenix and then winning the finale at Homestead-Miami.
Should Hamlin’s ideal scenario from last year be recreated again, he would have enough points to oust Johnson from the throne. Last season’s final point tally from the final three races was Hamlin 435 and Johnson 404. Harvick didn’t make the Chase last season, but he totaled a respectable 416 points in the same races.
Johnson has finished 31st or worse on six occasions this season, giving reason to believe it could happen again, but none of those have come during the seven races of the Chase. There’s a reason why he’s the four-time champ and it goes far beyond just having a great team, car and parts. He doesn’t let anyone see him sweat and he’s as cool and calm as any of the great dominating champions — from any sport — have been in crunch time.
Johnson didn’t do anything spectacular during his practices, averaging 10th-fastest in the three sessions, but he’s bringing his third-place chassis from Texas’ sister track of Charlotte. He has one win at Texas with an average finish of 10.1 in 14 starts, good enough for third-best in track history. In 2006 and 2007, Johnson came into Texas second in points and left with the lead en route to his first two titles. The last two seasons, Johnson came in and left with the lead.
Hamlin won the April race at Texas this year and has the track record for the best average finish of 9.6 in 10 starts. He’s using a new car built specifically for this track rather than taking the winning car from April. He didn’t have a great individual lap time in any practice session this weekend, but was second-fastest in average lap speeds during the final practice, which is a great indicator that he’ll be very strong on long green flag runs Sunday.
Harvick is going to have to run the race of his life this week to have a chance at the championship. He started the season out strong on the 1.5-mile high-banked tracks, finishing within the top 11 at Las Vegas, Atlanta, Texas and Charlotte, but tailed off from those performances in his next run at Atlanta before finishing eighth at Charlotte last month. His practices didn’t indicate that he can be expected to have a great race Sunday as his top lap of the three sessions netted him only 20th-fastest.
While Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick all battle in their own little world of racing for points, the drivers to beat Sunday look to be Kyle and Kurt Busch. The brothers were sitting 1-2 in last year’s race when Kyle ran out of fuel while leading with three laps to go. Kurt raced by to capture his first career win at Texas.
Kyle Busch set himself up for a great weekend because of all the success they had last month at Charlotte when Busch led the most laps before settling for a runner-up finish behind Jamie McMurray. That Charlotte run made it four straight top five-finishes on the high-banked sister tracks dating back to the April Texas race, where he finished third. After an average practice and qualifying session on Friday, his crew used all those great set-up notes to get his car perfect for Saturday’s practice where he was fastest in both sessions.
Kurt Busch is the only driver to have won twice on the sister tracks this season — three times if you count the non-points all-star race at Charlotte. Busch won at Atlanta and then at Charlotte in May. This week, Busch will be using that same winning Charlotte chassis, a car that many thought he would use at an earlier juncture of the Chase. Just like brother Kyle, both are no longer candidates to win the Chase and it’s all about going for wins by all means necessary this week.
The Roush-Fenway drivers have always had success at Texas. Jeff Burton won the inaugural race in 1997 and Mark Martin followed it up the year after with a win. Since then, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards have all claimed victories. For Edwards, he has three wins, the last coming in 2008 when he swept the season. All three drivers had outstanding practices, led by Edwards, but the Roush driver that no one talks about, David Ragan, could outshine them all. During the final practice session Ragan had the second-fastest individual lap and the third-fastest average lap speeds.
Winning Chassis’ Racing at Texas
Each week we usually see one winning chassis from another race compete, and sometimes none, but this week we have four drivers starting winning cars. Kurt Busch has his winner from the Coca-Cola 600, Greg Biffle has his winner from Pocono, Tony Stewart has his from Fontana and David Reutimann is using his winner from Chicago.
Week of the Long Shots
It’s not inconceivable to believe that the traditional favorites of Hamlin and Johnson will point-race and be cautious with their moves to avoid trouble. It’s also possible that Kyle Busch or Kurt Busch might not win the race, which leaves open a lot of possibilities for some juicy underdog prices to wager on in Las Vegas sports books.
Based on this weekend’s practice, a few drivers stood out, beginning with Martin Truex Jr. (50-to-1), who had a terrific final two practice sessions Saturday. David Ragan (100-to-1) looks like he’s got the best equipment he’s ever had, while Joey Logano had solid average practice times using the same set-ups as his Gibbs teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin. David Reutimann (50-to-1) also is a candidate just because of the car he’s using, which thoroughly dominated the end of the Chicago race.
Roberts Weekly Driver Ratings
Each week I will provide an analysis of my top rated drivers on how well they will do in the race based on the following criteria:
• Practice sessions leading up to the weekend’s Sprint Cup race
• Chassis information on what was brought to each track by each team, good or bad
• Driver tendencies at certain tracks
• Recent and overall histories for each driver at each track
• Decipher poor past results with what really happened, good car — or bad luck?
These final ratings should help assist in final betting strategies with the Las Vegas books or match-up and prop plays, as well as help in NASCAR fantasy leagues.
Micah Roberts Top 10 Driver Ratings
AAA Texas 500
Texas Motor Speedway
Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010 — 12:19 p.m. (PDT)
Rating Driver Odds Practice 1 Qualifying Practice 2 Practice 3
1. Kyle Busch 8/1 15th 29th 1st 1st
Tied best Texas finish with third in April; leading with three laps to go in 2009 race.
2. Kurt Busch 12/1 22nd 6th 8th 4th
Won last year’s race and finished fourth in April; using winning Coca-Cola 600 chassis.
3. Jimmie Johnson 7/2 9th 17th 11th 10th
Won in 2007 and finished third in April; using third-place Charlotte chassis this week.
4. Greg Biffle 12/1 1st 2nd 10th 18th
Winner in 2005 and finished 10th in April; using winning chassis from Pocono this week.
5. Carl Edwards 12/1 2nd 3rd 2nd 14th
Swept 2008 season; second-fastest consecutive 10 lap averages during second practice.
6. Tony Stewart 10/1 17th 11th 6th 17th
Winner in 2006 with 13.4 average finish; using winning California chassis from Oct 10 race.
7. Denny Hamlin 6/1 29th 30th 18th 24th
Won Texas race in April and has best track average finish at 9.6; using new car.
8. Martin Truex Jr. 50/1 8th 21st 3rd 3rd
Finished ninth in April and has 13.9 average finish in 10 career starts; very fast in final practices.
9. David Ragan 100/1 12th 5th 22nd 2nd
Third-fastest average speeds during final practice session; should be one of his best career runs.
10. Clint Bowyer 20/1 25th 7th 9th 27th
Average finish of 15.3 in nine starts with top average speed in second practic; using runner-up Fontana car.
Note: The Oct. 16 race at Texas’ sister track in Charlotte, N.C., can be used as a great barometer for who will do well this week due to the recent notes acquired on the similar high banked 1.5-mile track.
Odds courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.
Micah Roberts, a former race and sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He writes for multiple publications covering all sports. He can be reached at MM.Roberts7@gmail.com. For more of Roberts’ insight on the Texas race, log onto LVRJ.com/Motorsports.
KEVIN HARVICK ON WHAT IT’S GOING TO TAKE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP: “I really think you are going to have to finish in the top five over the last three races. If you’re not able to do that and be in contention to lead laps, you’re probably not going to win the championship. You can’t be conservative. You can’t go there hoping for a top 10 because, as you’ve seen over the past few years, top fives and leading laps is what it’s going to take over the next three weeks. I just believe one of three cars is going to do that.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON ON HIS STRATEGY NOW THAT THE VOLATILE TALLADEGA RACE IS FINISHED: “All out. We need to be as competitive and as fast as we can possibly be at this point. We’re going to three tracks that are good for all three competitors. As Kevin (Harvick) was saying earlier, you’re going to have to run in the top five to stay in the game. Then obviously take advantage of things and win if you can. Ten extra points from first to second are going to be important. Leading laps, leading the most laps, you’re going to have to be on your A game from here on out.
JIMMIE JOHNSON’S APPROACH WITH TWO DRIVERS CHASING HIM INSTEAD OF ONE: “For me we’ve always really approached each race with the mentality that we needed to win. You can go back to the Texas race a few years back where I worked hard to get by Matt. We’ve been able to win at Phoenix. Our Homestead performance has been getting better and better each year. I felt last year we had a chance to run with the lead group of guys and didn’t need to, played it smart.
“It’s really the same mentality. We need maximum points. Of course, it’s a little bit more forgiving or easy on your team and yourself with a big points lead. But we don’t have that this year. We’re going to have to race, and we’re ready for it.”
TEXAS ODDS & ENDS – AAA TEXAS 500
compiled by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media Services
· 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 19 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 19 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.
· 13 drivers have scored poles, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon with two.
· 16 drivers have won races, led by Carl Edwards, with three. Jeff Gordon won at Texas for the first time, last season. Gordon has won at every track he has run except Homestead-Miami Speedway.
· 14 of 19 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. Denny Hamlin started 29th in his win earlier this season.
· Both Jeff Burton (1999) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) scored their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Texas.
· Six of the last eight races have had a margin of victory under one second. Last November’s race had an MOV of 25.686 seconds, the largest since the inception of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.
· Denny Hamlin (9.6) and Matt Kenseth (9.9) are the only active drivers to average a top-10 finish.
· Roush Fenway Racing leads all owners in victories, with seven.
· There has been one season sweep, by Carl Edwards in 2008. Edwards is looking to break a 69-race winless drought. Jeff Gordon’s last win came at Texas, 62 races ago.
Race #: 34 of 36 (11-7-10)
Track Size: 1.5 miles
Race Length: 501 miles
· Banking/corners: 24 degrees
· Banking/straights: 5 degrees
· Frontstretch: 2,250 feet
· Backstretch: 1,330 feet
Driver Rating at Texas
Tony Stewart 105.7
Matt Kenseth 101.6
Jimmie Johnson 99.0
Kyle Busch 98.3
Carl Edwards 97.8
Denny Hamlin 97.2
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 96.4
Greg Biffle 95.5
Kurt Busch 94.5
Jeff Gordon 93.7
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2010 races (11 total) at Texas.
2009 pole winner: Jeff Gordon (191.117 mph, 28.255 secs.)
2009 race winner: Kurt Busch, 146.372 mph, 11-8-09)
Track qualifying record: Brian Vickers (196.235 mph, 27.518 seconds, 11-3-06)
Track race record: Carl Edwards (151.055 mph, 11-6-05)
Pit Window: Every 50-55 laps, depending on fuel mileage.
NASCAR in Texas
· There have been 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Texas.
· 73 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Texas.
· There have been eight race winners from Texas in NASCAR’s three national series:
|Bobby Hillin Jr.||1||2||0|
LAS VEGAS HILTON SUPER BOOK NASCAR ODDS TO WIN
AAA TEXAS 500
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2010
JIMMIE JOHNSON 7-2
KYLE BUSCH 8
JEFF GORDON 8
DENNY HAMLIN 6
JEFF BURTON 25
KEVIN HARVICK 10
MATT KENSETH 20
CARL EDWARDS 12
GREG BIFFLE 12
KURT BUSCH 12
MARK MARTIN 25
TONY STEWART 10
CLINT BOWYER 20
JUAN MONTOYA 30
KASEY KAHNE 25
JOEY LOGANO 40
RYAN NEWMAN 60
MARTIN TRUEX JR 50
JAMIE McMURRAY 18
DALE EARNHARDT JR 50
BRAD KESELOWSKI 200
DAVID REUTIMANN 50
ARIC ALMIROLA 300
DAVID RAGAN 100
AJ ALLMENDINGER 75
MARCOS AMBROSE 200
SAM HORNISH JR 300
ELLIOTT SADLER 300
REGAN SMITH 500
PAUL MENARD 200
SCOTT SPEED 1000
BOBBY LABONTE 2000
TRAVIS KVAPIL 5000