Weekend Preview: Roush Fenway drivers usually deliver big in Texas
By: Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
Everyone knows the old adage "everything's bigger in Texas."
There is no team that better personifies this than Roush Fenway Racing. While current drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle lead the charge with three and two wins, respectively, three other drivers have also won races at Texas Motor Speedway for the organization: Matt Kenseth (two), Jeff Burton (one) and Mark Martin (one).
When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (2 p.m., ESPN), Roush Fenway will arrive full of confidence that it, more than any other outfit on the circuit, have figured out all the track's nuances. In all, Roush Fenway drivers have collected nine NASCAR Sprint Cup victories at the 1.5-mile track, five more than the two closest teams: Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Edwards, who already has two checkered flags in 2013 (Phoenix and Richmond), leads all drivers in wins at Texas. He won the 2005 Chase race and swept both events in 2008. In April's race, he finished a respectable third. In addition to his past success at the track, Edwards participated in a recent test.
"I really enjoy racing at Texas. We had a great test there the other day…" Edwards said. "It's aged a little bit, so it has some character, and you can drive the car into the corner really aggressively, slide it around a lot, and that makes it really fun to drive."
Although Edwards and his teammate Biffle are both in the Chase, they sit far enough back where they could be considered spoilers this weekend. Edwards arrives in Fort Worth 10th in points, 76 markers back, while eighth-place Biffle trails co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson by 58.
In 17 starts at Texas, Missouri native Edwards has compiled six top fives and eight top 10s. Through 33 races this season, Edwards, in addition to two wins, has collected nine top-five and 16 top-10 finishes with an average finishing position of 12.7. Being out of the title conversation doesn't affect the impact a win would have on his season -- and it sure doesn't mean he won't be trying his hardest to be the first to cross the finish line on Sunday afternoon. Edward's fully aware of the task laid out before him.
"When you get down to these last few races … each problem is a big deal, and there's nothing else you think about," Edwards said. "Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, those guys, they are going to Texas and they're going to know every single thing about their cars. They're going to have a plan for everything."
Biffle, who is set to make his 400th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this weekend, was also one of the drivers testing at Texas last week. In preparing for Sunday's race, he noted -- as did other drivers -- that the track was taking on more rubber and the groove was getting wider.
"I think it's going to be a fantastic race," Biffle said. "The reason why is with a limited amount of cars there, we were running almost all the way up against the fence, on the bottom and the middle had good grip. We were using the whole race track.
"That race track rubbers up in one practice session really, and will continue to take rubber. I tell you what, a hundred laps in, 70 laps in, that place will be rubbered up from top to bottom."
In 19 starts at the Fort Worth track, Biffle has eight top fives and 12 top 10s to go along with his two victories (spring races in 2005 and 2012). In April's race, he finished fourth. He's logged 458 fastest laps there, which ranks first among all drivers. His only trip to Victory Lane in 2013 came in the first Michigan race. He has also collected four top-five and 13 top-10 finishes on the season.
Although Biffle is likely out of the championship hunt, he's not looking to 2014 just yet. He is fully aware of the importance of each driver's final points position and will use this weekend's race, as well as the final two races, to improve his ranking in the standings.
"If you kind of analyze it, it's really easy to not do that," said Biffle when asked how difficult it is to not turn his attention to 2014. "Each year, if you will, the season is graded by where you finish in points. So every position is very important when it comes down to the end of this thing."
Of the three remaining races, Texas provides the Roush Fenway duo the best opportunity to seize the checkered flag and move their way up the standings.
HORNISH: ‘NOW IS THE TIME'
Between NASCAR's three national series and the IndyCar Series, Sam Hornish Jr. has won three times at each of the remaining three tracks on the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule (Texas, Phoenix, Homestead). Austin Dillon, who Hornish trails by eight points in the championship standings, has yet to win at any of these tracks.
As the series kicks off its final three-week stretch this Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway with the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2), based on past performances at the remaining tracks it's easy to believe that Hornish is in the perfect position to launch a late-season surge and overtake Dillon in the points.
In seven visits to the 1.5-mile facility with the series, Hornish's best finish is a pair of seventh-place showings. He's also visited the track seven times as part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, grabbing a pair of 17th-place finishes as his best outcomes. However, Hornish has won three IndyCar Series races at Texas, including his final victory in the series back in 2007.
"I have had a lot of good fortune here in an IndyCar, so (Texas) has many enjoyable memories for me," Hornish said. "This weekend we just have to put it all together and I think we will. We have the tools, the team and know-how. Now is the time -- we have three races to go and we want this one."
Most recently, after starting on the outside of the second row in this past April's event, he led 39 laps and got caught up in a couple of accidents to finish a disappointing 34th.
Although Hornish is solid at all three tracks left on the schedule, Dillon's record at Texas, even though he's never won there, can't be ignored. He has top-10 finishes in all three of his starts at the Lone Star track, including a third-place performance in the April race. In two races last season, he finished fifth and sixth.
ALMOST WITHIN REACH
Despite a season-low, 17th-place finish last weekend at Martinsville, there is still no denying the dominant season that Matt Crafton has had. Through 19 races, he's racked up an impressive 17 top-10 finishes, including a win at Kansas. Perhaps even more impressive than that is the fact that he's been running at the finish of every race and has completed every lap the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has run this season.
Because of those stats it's easy to understand why Crafton has held the points lead for most of the season. He currently leads James Buescher in the standings by 51 markers. When the truck series arrives in Fort Worth for Friday night's WinStar World Casino 350K (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), Crafton knows the track will require a different strategy than when they raced there in June.
"The cooler temperatures we'll have this weekend mean the track will have a lot more grip and it'll be a lot faster," Crafton said. "The tires won't fall off as much just because it'll be so much cooler. When we race there in June it's always so hot and slippery."
Crafton has visited the 1.5-mile speedway 25 times with the truck series, more than he's visited any other track on the circuit, and has yet to visit Victory Lane. He has, however, finished second three times and collected a total of seven top fives and 14 top 10s, in addition to two pole awards. In the June race earlier this year, he finished eighth, after finishing sixth in the fall 2012 event.
In the past 17 Texas races, the California native has made more green-flag passes (581) than any other driver, and has run the second-most laps in the top 15 (2,107), behind only Ron Hornaday Jr.
Although a win this weekend would not clinch the championship for Crafton, it only moves him closer to what most people consider inevitable.