Texas Motor Speedway
There are 14 intermediate tracks on the schedule for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, the most of any track type. They comprise the meat and potatoes of the tracks on the circuit. The drivers that win on these tracks have earned themselves an advantage because of the number of races run on these tracks. Texas is considered one of the more challenging among the intermediate tracks because of the gripping, bumpy rough surface. The grip of the track allows drivers to run at nearly full throttle the entire race. While this type of racing is what makes this track exciting, it puts a lot of stress on the engines, suspension systems and tires.
The race will be run amidst concerns raised by Texas Motor Speedway's president and general manager Eddie Gossage. His concerns revolve around NASCAR's refusal to run an open test session at Texas. Gossage believed that one was needed, so there wouldn't be tire problems like there were at Las Vegas Motor Speedway - a record 11 cautions - and more recently at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He made the request after listening to driver comments - Tony Stewart being the loudest critic - following the race focusing on the Goodyear tires. Given the concerns of Gossage, along with the similarities of Las Vegas and the Atlanta tracks to that of Texas, the race promises to be exciting.
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Length: 1.50 miles
Banking: 24 degrees
Leading the Pack
Tony Stewart | No. 20 The Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Stewart's transition to Toyota has improved his average finish in 2008. In the first six races this season, he has an average finish of 12.3, compared to 17.0 in 2007. He has three top-fives and four top-10s thus far heading into the Samsung 500. He has run 12 times at Texas with seven top-10 finishes and one victory; he can claim the highest driver rating (109.3) of all Sprint Cup drivers in the last three years on this track. Stewart runs well at the intermediate tracks and is always a favorite to win on any track type. Fantasy owners can point to improved finishes this year and should feel confident that he will be in a position to contend this week.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
In an up-and-down season to date, Gordon had a strong finish last week, challenging the eventual winner Denny Hamlin until the final lap, finishing second. Without a victory in this young season, Gordon certainly has the resources and talent to win at Texas. He has run 14 times at the track without a victory but has seven top-10s under his belt. He would like to end his drought both at the track and this season with a victory. Through the last six races at Texas, Gordon's average place is 12.1, which is good for seventh among Sprint Cup drivers. Gordon is always a solid option every week, but fantasy owners may want to temper their expectations for a victory this weekend.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Earnhardt has thrilled fans this year with his improved performance with his new team. He has finished in the top 10 five times and in the top five three times through six races this season. In all but one race, he was competitive in the final laps challenging for a checkered finish. Earnhardt has run 11 times at Texas and has one victory. Seven times, he has recorded a top-10 finish. He has to be a favorite entering the race with the improved equipment and resources he has received with Hendrick. Earnhardt is the third-highest placing driver in the last three years on this track, trailing only Stewart and Matt Kenseth. It seems to be only a matter of time before Earnhardt will reach Victory Lane.
Jeff Burton | No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Burton has been on fire of late. In his last four races, he has three top-five finishes and four top-10s. He has run 14 times at Texas, winning twice. Out of the 14 races, he placed in the top 10 six times. Last year at Texas, Burton won the Samsung 500 and placed sixth in the Dickies 500. Not always afforded his deserved respect because of his quiet disposition, drivers will attest to his competitive driving. Given the strong momentum he carries into the race, as well as previous successes on this track, Burton should be viewed as a favorite, and a solid fantasy option.
Matt Kenseth | No. 17 DeWALT Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Transitioning to the Car of Tomorrow on a full-time basis has appeared to be a challenge to Kenseth and his team. Through the first six races, his average finish is 18.1 compared to 9.3 this time last year. He has won at Texas and has an average finish of 10.3 through 11 races. Kenseth is the strongest finishing driver on this track in the last six races with an average finish of 6.5. In his last four attempts at Texas, he has finished in second place three times. His team has struggled with the COT's aerodynamics and is diligently working on improving its airflow. Kenseth is also adapting to his new crew chief after losing Robbie Reiser, who was replaced by Chip Bolin prior to the start of the season. Fantasy owners should be rewarded this week, where Kenseth has had tremendous success throughout his career.
Drivers to Keep an Eye On
Greg Biffle | No. 16 Dish Network Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Improved finishes early in the season have vaulted Biffle back to a solid fantasy option on a weekly basis. Through the first six races, he has improved his average finish from 22.3 in 2007 to 9.3 in '08. He is third in the standings only 60 points behind the current leader Burton. Biffle is well suited to run well in the Samsung 500. He has one win and two top-10s in eight starts at Texas. Biffle's average finish during that time is a dismal 24.5, but that is in large part to four DNFs in those eight starts. If he can manage to avoid any incidents, Biffle makes for a solid option this week.
Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Harvick is off to one of his best starts in his eight-year career and heads to a track where only five drivers have averaged a better finish over the last three years. In 10 career starts, Harvick has two top-fives and four top-10s at Texas. Harvick, who is currently second in the Cup points standings, has managed to finish in he top 10 in four of six races this season. Earlier this year at Las Vegas (fourth-place finish) and Atlanta (seventh-place finish), where the track layouts are very similar, Harvick finished in the top 10 at both tracks. Harvick is a solid fantasy option this week and is a likely candidate to record another top-10 finish if he can stay out of trouble.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Coming off his victory at Martinsville Speedway in the Goody's Cool Orange 500, Hamlin hopes that he has found his groove. His season began slowly, but he has finished in the top 10 three of his last four races. Historically, Hamlin has run well at Texas. His four top-10 finishes have come in only five career starts at Texas. Last year, Hamlin started seventh in both races and led 45 laps. Hamlin posted respectable finishes at comparable tracks this season (Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway), which should give fantasy owners confidence in another solid finish.
Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Johnson remains a threat again this week to capture his first checkered flag of the season. Last year's champion has run only two strong races; he finished second in the Auto Club 500 and fourth last week at Martinsville. Johnson has the third-highest average finish (10.0) over the last three years at Texas, trailing only Kenseth (6.5) and Martin Truex Jr. (9.4). Texas is a track where Johnson performs well at; he has recorded a victory and seven top-10 finishes in nine starts. Johnson should be considered a solid option this week for fantasy owners, especially with an encouraging performance last week at Martinsville.
Clint Bowyer | No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Last season's surprise third-place finisher in the final Cup standings struggled in his first three starts this season. He has, however, improved in his last three races with top-10 finishes in each. He has run only four times at Texas with an average finish of 14.8. Many analysts discounted his strong showing last year, and when he struggled through the first three races, fantasy owners may have begun to believe he was overrated. However, Bowyer has been solid of late and is coming off a sixth-place finish at Atlanta, where he led 52 laps. Bowyer is a solid option on a track type where he has had some success.