NASCAR 2011: Seven Bold Predictions For the Samsung Mobile 500
Texas Motor Speedway is one of the fastest tracks in NASCAR and, since its opening in 1997, has been known for producing exciting action on the track—even during qualifying (remember Michael McDowell's hair-raising wreck just a few years ago).
Ford won seven of the first 10 Texas races and has nine victories at the track overall. Recently, however, it's been Toyota's show, with wins in both races last season.
Here are seven predictions for what to expect at Texas Motor Speedway. They may not all turn out to be true, but there are good reasons for believing each of them could happen.
1. This Week's Winner Will Also Win the Fall Texas Race
The first three years Texas Motor Speedway hosted two Sprint Cup events, there were two different winners each year. But in two of the past three seasons, one driver has swept both races.
In 2008, Carl Edwards dominated the race, leading 123 laps en route to the win. He tied Jeff Burton for most career Texas victories with two, but immediately broke that record by winning the fall race while leading 212 of the 334 laps.
In 2010 it was Denny Hamlin's turn to dance the Texas Two-Step. Although he led just 12 laps in the spring and 31 in the fall, Hamlin came on strong at the end of both races on his way to the season sweep.
The 2009 series saw two different winners, with Jeff Gordon taking the spring event and Kurt Busch winning in the fall. Even still, each driver ran well in both races. Busch came home eighth in the spring, while Gordon led 11 laps in the fall.
I predict that 2011 will see a similar pattern, and that whoever wins Sunday's race will also be celebrating in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway in November.
2. Carl Edwards Will Go Home Empty
Carl Edwards will likely be many fans' top fantasy pick this week. He has three Texas wins, more than any other driver, and swept the 2008 races here.
However, Carl Edwards has been the epitome of hit-or-miss at Texas Motor Speedway. Despite his three wins at the track, in nine other races at Texas he has just one top 10, a 10th-place result in 2009.
Due to three DNF's and several other poor finishes, Edwards' average finish at the track is only 17.7, even with his three wins.
His recent record at Texas is also not cause for encouragement. In last year's races, Edwards finished 33rd in the spring and 19th in the fall while failing to lead any laps in either event. He finished 39th in the fall 2009 race, giving him an average finish of 30.3 in his last three trips to Texas.
I expect Edwards to continue his recent trend of shaky performances at Texas. Of course, if Edwards pulls another Jekyll and Hyde and wins on Sunday, refer to my prediction No. 1 and look for him to pull off the Texas sweep in the fall.
3. Paul Menard Will Get a Top 5, Leading His RCR Teammates
This prediction has two parts. If the first part comes true, odds are the second part will be true as well.
Paul Menard has just one top 10 at Texas, but I believe the pieces are in place for him to score his first top five there on Sunday.
Last season, most of Menard's best runs came at mile-and-a-half tracks similar to Texas. He had eighth-place finishes at Charlotte and Kansas and came in fifth at Atlanta. In the fall Menard posted a 10th-place result at Texas, his best ever at the track. He even led 11 laps at Kansas, the most he led at any track in 2010.
But even more importantly, Menard is with RCR this season, the best organization he's driven for in his young career. Already the results have been eye-opening. Menard posted his best-ever finishes at each track on the Sprint Cup schedule for the first five races of 2011 before a difficult race at Martinsville last week.
I look for him to continue the trend he's set for most of this season and get his first-career top five at Texas Motor Speedway.
If he does so, chances are good that he'll be the highest-finishing RCR car.
Even though Jeff Burton has two Texas wins, he has just one top five at the track since 2007. Clint Bowyer is also strong at Texas, but likewise has a single top five there since 2007. Ditto for Kevin Harvick. If Menard pulls off the top five, he stands a good chance of looking down at his teammates in the finishing order.
4. Matt Kenseth Will Have RFR's Best Finish, but Greg Biffle Will Lead More Laps
In the last 10 races at Texas, Matt Kenseth has eight top 10s and no finishes outside the top 20. He also has six top fives and four runner-ups, including last fall.
Greg Biffle is no slouch either, but hasn't demonstrated Kenseth's consistency at the track, with four finishes outside the top 30 at Texas since 2006.
However, Biffle has recently shown that he can lead more laps at Texas than Kenseth. Last fall he dominated the race before fading to fifth, leading 224 laps to Kenseth's two. In the spring he led 13 laps while Kenseth led none. Neither driver led laps in the fall 2009 race, but in the spring of 2009 Biffle led 93 laps while Kenseth paced the field for 55.
5. Trevor Bayne Will Get Back on Track with a Top-15 Run
After a thrilling victory in the season-opening Daytona 500, the 2011 season has been a struggle for Trevor Bayne, to say the least.
His best finish since then is 20th at Las Vegas, and he has crashed in multiple events, including Martinsville last week.
However, Texas could be the perfect place for Bayne to find his groove. He made his Sprint Cup debut here last November with an impressive 17th-place run.
Bayne has struggled on the short tracks of Bristol and Martinsville in 2011, but as previously noted, his best run other than Daytona came at Las Vegas, a track similar to Texas Motor Speedway. Look for Bayne to bring the No. 21 Wood Brothers car home in one piece with a solid run this Sunday.
6. Jimmie Johnson Will Score One Texas Top 10 in 2011, but It Will Be a Top 2
Every year since 2006, Jimmie Johnson has finished in the top two once per season at Texas Motor Speedway, with one of those finishes being a win (2007).
However, he has just one additional top 10 at the track in that time, a ninth-place run last fall.
I expect this trend to continue for Johnson, who seems to be hit-or-miss at the track. This is unusual for Johnson, who is generally a model of consistency at the intermediate tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. But for whatever reason, inconsistency has been a problem for Johnson at Texas, who has two finishes of 38th in the last eight races.
Recently, Johnson has fared better at Texas in the spring races. He has finished second in the spring race each of the last three years, while in 2006 and 2007 he did better in the fall races.
7. A.J. Allmendinger Will Sweep the Top 10 in Texas in 2011
A.J. Allmendinger is having an excellent season so far in 2011. Richard Petty Motorsports experienced constant turbulence in 2010, but the team is on solid footing this season. It is focusing its efforts with just two teams rather than the four it fielded last season.
Allmendinger has just one finish outside the top 20 and sits 14th in points, despite just one top 10 finish. He has shown the potential to be a top-running car at times, but the consistency hasn't been there in the end to produce strong finishes.
That will change at Texas Motor Speedway. In 2009 Allmendinger finished 10th in the fall Texas race, and last season he finished 13th and 14th in the two Texas races.
Allmendinger should be able to improve on those results, and I look for him to finish in the top 10 in both Texas events this year, perhaps sneaking into the top five and leading laps as well.