If Happy Hour is any indication of how the Texas NASCAR Sprint Cup race will be run on Sunday, then Jimmie Johnson is likely to widen his lead in the Chase for the Championship and quite possibly win his seventh race of the season.
Johnson laid down the fastest lap in Texas’ final practice session at 186.670 mph while running the second most laps with 49. After escaping Talladega with a gift sixth place finish while simply looking to just finish, Johnson looks like he wants to finish the last three races of the season with his guns-a-blazin’.
A great tool to use helping figure out who may run better than others is by referring to all the other similar track’s data using practices and what happened in the race itself. In Texas’ case, we have six similar instances this year of races run on 1.5 mile high banked tracks that include Las Vegas, Charlotte, Atlanta, and the first Texas race. The two most recent races run are the most likely indicators of the six as to how well Saturday’s practice times relate to a driver’s actual expected performance.
Without having to look at anything, Johnson stands out despite his practice times just because he’s, well, he’s Jimmie Johnson. Even though he won at Charlotte, the last like-track, he’s had his worst combined season of finishes on these type of tracks which should give hope to some of the others.
What may turn out to be more good news for the field is that Johnson is using that Charlotte rocket as his back-up car this week, opting to go with the chassis that won at Dover instead.
The driver that looked the most promising among those who haven’t done well on these type of tracks this season is Carl Edwards who had the second fastest lap in Happy Hour. He does have two top-5 finishes on these types this season, but Edwards just doesn’t get top-5’s, he gets wins on them and dominates, or at least he did.
Last season at Texas, he continued the Fenway-Roush dominance at Texas by sweeping the season giving him three career wins on the track. It also contributed to Roush’s beefy all-around performance at the track since it opened giving his stable seven wins in 17 races there.
These are supposed to be Roush-friendly tracks and always have been. Yet as the stars aligned in February, everything seemed to change. Roush ended up winning his first Daytona 500 ever, but in the process, sold his season’s soul to do it, or at least that how it looks.
Following Matt Kenseth’s two straight wins to start the season, it’s been one of the worst years ever for Roush.
There has never been a driver so dominant one year with nine wins, to the next having zero wins, while starting every event like Edwards is on the verge of. Greg Biffle won two races late last season and hasn’t won either. David Ragan has gone from barely missing the Chase last season to competing for 26th position in points with the likes of A.J. Allmendinger.
The lone bright spot since Kenseth’s run was the Jamie McMurray win last week, a driver who is in lame duck status. The taint on the bright spot was that the win gave no hope to a once strong program because it was in a restrictor plate race.
Somehow, some way, all things look to be better for Roush this week based on practice. Not only is Edwards second fastest, but Biffle came in fourth, Ragan sixth, McMurray 13th, and Kenseth 27th.
Kenseth’s times are always lousy and he never really puts any emphasis on them. What is encouraging was the nice run he had in the last Charlotte race where he finished second to Johnson as well as his fifth at Texas in the spring.
Denny Hamlin had the third fastest Happy Hour lap and the best average lap times while running his same chassis that led 54 laps at Charlotte last month before having engine problems.
Dale Earnhardt Jr looked solid in his final practice as he came in with the eighth best lap, but more encouraging for him is that he was fast in long runs having the best average lap times over the session. He ran 39 laps in his Kansas chassis, the one that led 41 laps before engine trouble, and has a car capable of winning on race day; something we haven’t been able to say too often this season. It was one of his best practices of 2009.
David Reutimann got off to a blazing start in Saturday’s first practice session by running the overall fastest lap of 186.812 mph on his first of 22 laps run. His fast times should come as no surprise because he’s been doing it all season on the high-banked 1.5 mile tracks.
Not only has Reutimann had great practices for these races, but he’s also turned into success in the actual race. In the six races run on the like-facilities, Reutimann has captured three of his five top-5 finishes, including the only win of his career in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600.
Top Speeds - Saturday’s Final Practice (Happy Hour):
1) Jimmie Johnson 186.670 mph - AVG 49 laps @ 179.239
2) Carl Edwards 186.265 mph - AVG 34 laps @ 179.479
3) Denny Hamlin 185.810 mph - AVG 29 laps @ 179.604
4) Greg Biffle 185.503 mph - AVG 31 laps @ 178.739
5) Bill Elliott 184.894 mph - AVG 33 laps @ 177.448
Top Speeds - Saturday’s First Practice:
1) David Reutimann 186.812 mph - AVG 22 laps @ 181.520
2) Tony Stewart 186.716 mph - AVG 16 laps @ 182.866
3) Juan Pablo Montoya 186.265 mph - AVG 11 laps @ 181.639
4) Kyle Busch 186.252 mph - AVG 32 laps @ 180.853
5) Kurt Busch 185.714 mph - AVG 28 laps @ 180.381
Top 10 Rated Drivers at Texas following all qualifying and practice sessions. Ratings based on those practices, recent results on similar tracks, and current state of the team.
1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Carl Edwards
3) Greg Biffle
4) Matt Kenseth
5) Denny Hamlin
6) Jeff Gordon
7) Dale Earnhardt Jr
8) Kyle Busch
9) Tony Stewart
10) Mark Martin