Denny Hamlin took the checkers at Texas this spring.
The Sprint Cup Series comes down to the final three races of the 2010 season with this weekend’s visit to Texas Motor Speedway. The AAA Texas 500 will mark the final race on a cookie-cutter 1.5-mile tri-oval this year, as the final two races take place at Phoenix and Homestead, respectively.
After everybody with a legitimate title shot managed to survive Talladega, the top three in points are now separated by under 40 points. Jimmie Johnson maintains the lead over second-place Denny Hamlin and third-place Kevin Harvick, but the margins are slim enough that anything can happen. Any of the three could come into the final two races of the year with the points lead.
Of course, they’re, by extension, the best three fantasy bets this weekend. But where’s the fun in that? Let’s make some interesting picks.
I’m going to cut down from five to three this week, seeing as I just eliminated the three best available choices anyway.
My personal pick for the weekend is Tony Stewart, who somehow I have managed to avoid thus far during the Chase. Perhaps that’s been a good calL—he’s had terrible luck in the Chase ever since the final two laps of the Loudon event. He has little momentum to build off of from the past few races as he lingers in the bottom half of Chase points.
But Smoke’s Texas results tell a decidedly different story. Though his peak years at the track came in 2005 and 2006—as he led double-digit laps in every event and won the fall 2006 race—he showed some muscle this spring by leading 74 laps from the pole before a late race crash eliminated any hopes of victory.
If Smoke’s bad luck is a turnoff, though, don’t forget about Mark Martin, whose 12.8 average Texas finish is fourth best of active drivers. That’s especially remarkable considering that in two of the first three Texas events ever held, Martin finished 34th or worse; however, he did win the other one, the 1998 event.
One of four drivers to run in all 19 Texas events held thus far, Martin has ten other top-10 runs to back up that 1998 victory. Five of them have come in the past seven Texas events. And while Martin has only led three laps at the track since the spring of 2006, he’s shown the ability to keep the car out of trouble and close enough to the front to score plenty of points.
Finally, if you’re looking for a potential surprise pick, consider Martin Truex Jr. and his solid 13.9 average finish at Texas. Only two times in ten starts has he failed to finish in the top 15, and in one of those events he led laps before his engine gave out. No, it’s not the most orthodox pick, but with only three races left in the season, who expects anything to play out predictably?