Handicapping the Chase Drivers: Texas Motor Speedway

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Handicapping the Chase Drivers: Texas Motor Speedway

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I can’t believe this Jimmie Johnson guy. He falls all the way back to 30th after his team makes a rare mistake at Atlanta, but bounces back to finish 2nd in the race. This team is flawless… and they make my job way too easy.

The fact that we’re heading to Texas also makes this pretty easy to do. Since Texas gained a second race in 2005, every driver who’s won the second Atlanta race has won this race. Texas has been described as Atlanta with more grip and speed, and the best Atlanta drivers usually do well here too.

Here’s what to expect from each of the 12 Chase drivers this week at Texas:

1. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson’s got the best average finish of active drivers here, and it’s the only one above 10.0. He rules the road this time of year and won this race last year. I almost don’t need to bother doing this every week. He’s a machine. Get him if you can.

2-12. Irrelevant. (Just kidding.)

2. Carl Edwards: Carl should win, at least by the recent rule of Atlanta-Texas sweeps. The only question is whether or not he’ll gain enough points on Johnson to turn this Chase into a fight come Homestead.

3. Greg Biffle: Da Biff’s won here before, but that was in 2005. He only has one other top-10 here, a 6th in spring 2007. I want to believe that Biffle can run well here, but two finishes below 30th in his past two races here don’t bode well.

On the bright side, have you seen the new No. 16 paint scheme for next season? Very cool.

4. Jeff Burton: Burton won the first Texas race ever, back in 1997. Since then, he’s had some bad luck, but most of that was while he was still at Roush Fenway Racing. In his past five starts at the track, Burton has one win and three 6th place finishes. He should run up towards the front again this weekend.

5. Kevin Harvick: In 11 starts, Happy’s failed to complete a grand total of 9 laps. He’s only finished outside the top 20 twice, and eight of those finishes were inside the top 15. Harvick finished 11th here in the spring and 10th in this race last year. If the trend holds, Harvick ought to run with the lead pack again this time around.

6. Jeff Gordon: Did you know that Texas is one of the few tracks Gordon has never won at? He has a pole and five top-5s, but he’s never made a mark in the win column. He also finished 43rd here this spring after a crash. Regardless, look to Gordon to challenge for his first win of the season this weekend, for two reasons: he doesn’t want his first winless season since 1993, and he performed pretty well at Atlanta last weekend.

7. Clint Bowyer: Clint’s never finished worse than 19th at Texas, but he’s also only finished in the top 5 once (5th, fall 2006) and has only led four laps. His past record here is pretty consistent with how he’s performed all Chase, though: solid but unspectacular, and around at the finish. Don’t expect anything too divergent come Sunday.

8. Tony Stewart: Smoke has an average finish of 13.0 with one win in 13 career starts at Texas. The win came in this race two years ago, while Stewart was still reeling from missing the then-10 man cutoff for the Chase that year. He’s only finished outside of the top 10 five times, and one of those finishes was an 11th. Stewart should run up front all day and may have a chance at a top 5 finish in his third to last race for Joe Gibbs Racing and the Home Depot.

9. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth’s 10.2 average finish is second best of all active drivers at Texas. Since crashing out of his debut here in 2000, Kenseth’s never failed to finish worse than 20th. He has a win and three 2nd place finishes. If Kenseth wants to get a win this season, this weekend’s his best chance.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Aside from his debut here, Junior hasn’t won at Texas. But once you realize that 10 of his 12 starts have led to finishes of 14th or better, and once you notice that he’s led at least one lap in nine of those races (and four consecutive races here coming into this weekend), and once you realize that his two finishes of 36th or worse have come from circumstances beyond Junebug’s control (one time he was wrecked by Shawna Robinson, the other time his engine grenaded)… I’d call him a pretty safe pick to contend for a victory this weekend.

11. Denny Hamlin: Denny, Denny, who can I turn to? Your five top-10s in six career starts at Texas, and 45 laps led in your other race here (29th this time last year), suggest I can always turn to you. (Poorly worded and obscure Tommy Tutone references aside, Hamlin’s usually a threat at Texas, and probably worth picking up if you’ve got the chance.)

12. Kyle Busch: If Shrub stands a chance to win at any of the next three races, this is probably his best shot. In three of his last four starts here, he’s finished 4th or better. Then again, it’s by far too little, too late to make a run at the title. Here’s to next season, kid. You’ve done well.

So who would I pick to win this weekend? Edwards, plain and simple. The numbers don’t lie, and without a win, it’ll be really difficult to wrestle the title from Johnson’s grasp.

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