Top 5 and 5 to watch: Texas Motor Speedway
By: By Bill Marx, Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
Here’s a look at the top five in points and five drivers to watch in Sunday’s Samsung 500. All statistical references are for Sprint Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway unless otherwise indicated. Driver rating is based on the past eight races at the track.
1. Jeff Gordon, 86.9 driver rating. Gordon has five top 10s in the season’s first six races and a 13th-place finish in the sixth. Great numbers. But this is Texas, the only track on which he has finished 43rd in his Cup career—and he has done it twice, including in this race last year. In fairness to Gordon, he did bounce back to finish second in the fall race last year.
2. Clint Bowyer, 90.8. Bowyer led laps in six races last year, and one of those was the fall race when he finished fourth. Steady Bowyer has finished in the top 20 in all six of his starts at Texas, three times in the top 10. Richard Childress Racing engines haven’t been known for their speed, however, and that’s one thing you need at Texas.
3. Kurt Busch, 88.4. Back-to-back short track races cooled Busch’s fast start—a win and three top 10s in the season’s first four races. Busch has never won at Texas and has but one top five in 12 starts. Last year he finished 23rd and 41st.
4. Jimmie Johnson, 104.7. Two years ago at Texas, Johnson crashed and finished 38th. He has eight top 10s in his other 10 starts, including one win. Even with the DNF in 2007, Johnson still has the series’ best average finish at the track at 9.1.
5. Denny Hamlin, 97.4. Hamlin brings the momentum of second-place finishes at both short tracks to Texas, where he has five top 10s in seven races. Granted, he found the runner-up finishes frustrating, but this is the Sprint Cup Series, not Talladega Nights. Hamlin might not be first, but he’s definitely not last.
5 to watch
6. Kyle Busch, 94.9. After finishing 37th in this race two years ago, Busch reeled off Texas finishes of fourth, third and sixth. In the fall race in 2007, Busch led a race-high 153 laps. Only five drivers have led more laps than Busch over the past eight races at TMS.
7. Tony Stewart, 103.1. Stewart has one win and eight top 10s in 14 starts. Stewart was dominant in fall 2006 when he led 278 of 334 laps en route to his victory, one of three he had in the Chase that year.
8. Carl Edwards, 102.3. Speaking of dominant, Edwards won both races last year, leading 123 laps in the spring and 212 in the fall. He won the fall race by a whopping 8.31 seconds over Gordon. Edwards has three top 10s at Texas, all victories.
12. Matt Kenseth, 104.2. Kenseth has gone from perfection—starting the season with two wins—to clinging to the final Chase-eligible position by seven points. And the season isn’t two months old. Kenseth has a terrific record at Texas, with one win and eight top 10s in 13 starts. He finished ninth twice last year and second twice in 2007.
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 96.0. Earnhardt had seven top 10s in his first nine races, including a win in his first start at Texas in 2000. But his past four trips to Texas have been disappointing: no top 10s with one DNF and an average finish of 20.5. Earnhardt has been on the rebound since bottoming out at 35th in points after Fontana and should be able to continue his climb up the standings Sunday.