Texas Race Preview: Will Night Race Spark Even More Fireworks?
Folks in the Lone Star State like to say that things are always bigger in Texas, and they back it up by showing off such outrageously oversized things as steaks, Cowboys Stadium and traffic jams.
Texas Motor Speedway does its share to live up to the name. It hosts some of the biggest crowds – and traffic jams – in NASCAR. It has one of the biggest races of the season, its Chase race coming two races before the season finale.
It’s winners wear giant cowboy hats in victory lane and its trophy sports a giant pair of cowboy boots.
And last year, it played host to one of the biggest dust-ups and feuds in NASCAR, its fall race generating the infamous fracas between Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon.
Now it has moved its spring race to Saturday night. After last fall’s wild race, what can it possibly do for an encore?
Three Things To Watch
1. Will night race spark another feud?
Gordon stole the show in the last race at Texas, confronting and shoving Jeff Burton after a wreck under caution.
TMS President Eddie Gossage believes the move to Saturday night will spice things up and possibly create another dramatic, controversial moment.
“Strange things happen at Texas Motor Speedway and even stranger things happen at night,” Gossage said. “This is a track where we have seen a couple of the wives get into it on pit road and Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon wrestling around the apron in Turn 2.
“We see all kinds of crazy stuff happen, and that’s been in the daylight. Wait ’til the moon is out and the juices start flowing. This thing could be wild.”
2. Can Denny Hamlin finally get on track?
Hamlin is typically a slow starter, but jumpstarted his eight-win season last year with wins at Martinsville and Texas. He expected the same thing to happen this season.
So far, it hasn’t.
Hamlin led 89 laps last week at Martinsville, but his three-race winning streak there came to an end when he got caught on pit road when a late caution flag came out, leading to a 12th-place finish.
Hamlin swept both races at Texas last year. Can he keep that streak going to finally jump-start his season?
3. Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. sustain fast start?
Earnhardt Jr. has gotten off to a strong start with new crew chief Steve Letarte, culminating in an impressive runnerup finish last week at Martinsville.
He has been solid on downforce-type tracks so far, finishing eighth at Las Vegas and 12th at California. He led 46 laps and finished eighth in this race last year.
Can he have another strong run at Texas to sustain his early momentum?
Who’s Hot ….
Kevin Harvick – Rallied to win the last two races. You can’t get much hotter than that.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Junior Nation is fired up after Earnhardt Jr.’s near-win and runnerup finish last week at Martinsville.
Kyle Busch – Has a win and two third-place finishes in his last three races.
Matt Kenseth – Has finished fourth, fourth and sixth in his last three races.
… Who’s Not
Jeff Burton – Might be itching for a fight this time after the start he’s gotten off to.
Tony Stewart – After late fade at California, had a terrible day at Martinsville, finishing 34th.
Martin Truex Jr. – Has run well, but trouble keeps finding him. Must shake off the effects of a vicious crash at Martinsville.
1. Denny Hamlin – Swept the races at Texas last year for two of his three career wins at 1.5-mile tracks.
2. Carl Edwards – Leads all active drivers with three wins at Texas and won two weeks ago at California.
3. Matt Kenseth – He won at Texas in 2002 and lost the race last November on a green-white-checkered restart.
4. Kyle Busch – Third in this race last year, but let his temper and a one-finger salute derail him in the fall race.
Winningest Active Drivers
Carl Edwards 3
Jeff Burton 2
Denny Hamlin 1
Greg Biffle 1
Kurt Busch 1
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1
Jeff Gordon 1
Jimmie Johnson 1
Kasey Kahne 1
Matt Kenseth 1
Terry Labonte 1
Mark Martin 1
Ryan Newman 1
Tony Stewart 1
By The Numbers
16 - There have been 16 different winners in the 20 Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway.
Kenny Bruce – Jimmie Johnson. He’s gone deeper into a season without a win, but not much. After last week’s costly speeding penalty, Johnson is itching for payback.
Kris Johnson – Kyle Busch. Still smarting after last weekend's near miss at Martinsville, Rowdy exacts his revenge in the Lone Star State.
Jeff Owens – Tony Stewart. Led 163 laps and finished second at Las Vegas, the last 1.5-mile race on the schedule. If he’s got his scruffy beard, he’ll look like a real cowboy in victory lane.
Bob Pockrass – Greg Biffle. Led 224 laps in November on his way to fifth-place finish. He might lead that many again, and have an even better finish.