WHEN: Nov. 4, 2012 | GREEN: Approximately 3:15 p.m. ET
WHERE: Texas Motor Speedway
TRACK DESCRIPTION: 1.5-mile unrestricted, intermediate speedway
BROADCAST: ESPN | RACE LENGTH: 334 laps, 501 miles
It is commonly accepted that the Chase is down to a two-man race. This championship is being described as age versus experience -- the hunter against the hunted -- but that is wrong on nearly every level. Last week, Jimmie Johnson said he was comfortable as the chaser and the pressure was on Brad Keselowski; this week, odds are good that he will begin to talk about how important experience is to maintaining his points' advantage.
It is all designed to play those head games, for which Johnson is so adept. The phrase points' advantage will get used a lot, but the lead is virtually non-existent. Johnson and Keselowski both have their fate in their own hands, and neither of them has to count on help from the other. All Keselowski has to do is finish one position better than Johnson every week and the two-point advantage for the No. 48 becomes a one-point victory. Johnson has to finish ahead of Keselowski at least once, because if neither of these drivers win one of the final three races, the tiebreaker belongs to Keselowski.
At first glance, Johnson would seem to have a distinct advantage. He has been precisely in this position before and five consecutive championships are all the proof one needs of how he behaves under stress. Johnson has a distinct statistical advantage on all three tracks both in terms of average finishes and where they fit in his personal record book. Johnson has a better than 10th place career average finish on 12 tracks, including two of the next three. Phoenix is his best track overall with a 5.3 in 18 attempts and he has a 9.7 at Texas. Homestead would seem to be the only track on which he has even slightly struggled and it lands 15th on his personal scale with a 12.8. Of the three, Homestead is Keselowski's best course, but it ranks only 18th of 22 tracks and he has a 20.3 average there. None of that has mattered this season for the Young Gun, however, and he had defied the odds all year.
There is also the little matter of these two drivers focusing too intently on one another. Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne need to make up between eight and 10 positions per race to catch the leaders, but both of them have been practically perfect in regard to top-10 or -15 finishes this season. Rest assured, no one's name is going to be engraved on the Sprint Cup trophy until the checkers wave over the Ford 400 at Homestead.
|10 best drivers at Texas|
Over the past six races at Texas, these drivers have the best average finish.
1 Greg Biffle
Last six races average finish at Texas: 5.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 16.24 in 17 attempts
There was not a lot in Biffle's first four years at Texas that suggested he would be as strong as he currently is. He had a couple of flashes of brilliance such as when he won the spring 2005 race the first season Texas hosted two events and he scored a sixth in 2007. But the majority of his remaining races were well outside the top 25. Several of those were because of engine-related failures or accidents, however, and when he finally managed to stay out of trouble, he was unstoppable. Biffle enters the weekend with an eight-race top-10 streak and the last four of those were top fives. He won this spring and is capable of sweeping Victory Lane under the right circumstances.
2. Matt Kenseth
Last six races average finish at Texas: 5.83 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 8.55 in 20 attempts
Kenseth has been quite as perfect at Texas in recent events as his teammate Biffle. He was running sixth in the 2010 Samsung Mobile 500 when a late-race caution bit the team. An uncharacteristically aggressive Jeff Gordon was trying to get back to the lead when he was bumped by Tony Stewart and that triggered a massive pileup. Kenseth was barely involved, but enough so to send him into the pits and end his day two laps off the pace in 20th. That is the only time since fall 2005 that he finished outside the top 12 on this track, however. In fact, all but four of his last 14 attempts have been top fives, including a victory in 2011 and half a dozen top-three finishes.
3. Denny Hamlin
Last six races average finish at Texas: 8.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 10.29 in 14 attempts
A switch flipped for Hamlin at Texas in fall 2009. Partially aided by fuel, the No. 11 finished second that afternoon, which was this driver's third top five in nine starts. Hamlin found out that he liked running with the leaders that weekend and he swept Victory Lane the following year. Just as fast as he improved, however, he fell back through the field and has not only failed to score a top five in his most recent three starts, his best result was the 12th he earned this spring. Demoralized from last week's electrical failure, he is just as likely to finish in the middle of the pack as he is to grab a top 10.
4. Kevin Harvick
Last six races average finish at Texas: 10.00 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 12.68 in 19 attempts
Time is running out for Harvick to earn a top 10 in the Chase. He remains the only driver without one and even though the No. 29 team will almost certainly be mathematically eliminated from championship consideration this week, pride is on the line. It is difficult to handicap precisely where he will finish this week because his Texas and Chase records are at odds. Before last week's engine failure, he had been consistently in the low teens. At Texas, he has four top 10s and another top 15 in his most recent six races and would be favored to finish in the top 10 this week if not for the malaise that seems to be infecting the Richard Childress Racing stables.
5. Mark Martin
Last six races average finish at Texas: 11.83 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 13.26 in 23 attempts
Martin's part time schedule is working out great for the No. 55 team in general and the driver specifically. It seems that every time he climbs back into the cockpit of his Toyota after Brian Vickers has taken if for a strong run, Martin runs better than before. He finished 11th at Indy after Vickers was 15th at New Hampshire. In their next two pairings, Martin and Vickers finished in the top 10 at Bristol/Atlanta and New Hampshire/Dover. Martin even managed to score a top 10 at Charlotte after car owner Michael Waltrip wrecked while battling for the lead at Talladega. Last week's eighth-place finish for the No. 55 with Vickers behind the wheel is a good indication that Martin is going to finish equally strong at Texas.
6. Jimmie Johnson
Last six races average finish at Texas: 12.17 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 9.72 in 18 attempts
The Chase was tailor made for Johnson and includes nearly all of his favorite tracks. Of the 12 courses on which he has a better than 10th-place average finish, six of them are Chase tracks including Texas. Even there, the numbers are a little misleading and could be better if not for a pair of accidents. One of these came six races ago and forced the No. 48 to retire 38th. That has skewed his six-race average to the low side, but if one considers only the last five races, he would be ranked third behind Biffle and Kenseth.
7. Clint Bowyer
Last six races average finish at Texas: 13.00 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 13.31 in 13 attempts
Getting knocked out of the racing groove at Talladega is becoming a bigger factor in Bowyer's championship hopes each week. He was battling for the lead in that race and might have earned a top-10 finish that would have him much closer to the leaders. In fact, that is the only time during the Chase that he has failed to finish 10th or better. With four top 10s in his last six Texas races, he is strong enough there to finish with the leaders once more even though he started the season with modest results on "cookie-cutter" courses. If he runs the table and finishes in the top 10 in the final three races, it will be a tragedy that his championship hopes were denied on a wild card track.
8. Marcos Ambrose
Last six races average finish at Texas: 13.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 17.88 in 8 attempts
Like AJ Allmendinger, Ambrose is listed among this week's fast 10 because of consistency. In his past six races, he has only one top-10, but he has swept the top 20 since fall 2009. This week Drew Blickensderfer was hired to replace Mike Ford as the crew chief of the No. 9 and his experience is going to pay dividends in the long run. Short term, it can take a while for chemistry to develop between driver and crew chief and that could hamper their ability to keep this current top-20 streak alive. Ambrose's worst effort in the last six races at Texas came this spring; he finished 20th.
8. AJ Allmendinger
Last six races average finish at Texas: 13.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 23.00 in 10 attempts
Allmendinger's recent record at Texas is a big part of the reason why he is in the No. 51 this week. James Finch is making the most of his opportunities and the few undamaged cars that Kurt Busch left behind. Both the driver and owner have to consider this an opportunity race. Allmendinger has to prove to future car owners that he can exceed the limits of the machine without wrecking it and Texas is a good place to make that statement. He owes his place in the top 10 this week to consistency and strength with two top-10s, five top-15s, and a worst result of only 19th in his latest six races on this track.
10. Kurt Busch
Last six races average finish at Texas: 13.67 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 14.42 in 19 attempts
A lot of attention is being directed at Busch and his strength compared to his former team. It is fitting that this week's battle between Allmendinger and Busch comes on a track where they both have top-10 average finishes during the past six races because that levels one playing field. Busch believes that Barney Visser has better equipment than James Finch and at least for the moment he may be correct since he destroyed sizeable chunks of the No. 51 inventory earlier this season. One battle this week will be to finish ahead of Allmendinger, but the other could be even more challenging because to prove the No. 78's cars are stronger, he needs to finish better than his 13th-place run in the No. 51 this spring. Hello wall.
10. Kasey Kahne
Last six races average finish at Texas: 13.67 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 18.81 in 16 attempts
None of the Chasers have swept the top 10 this season, but two of them have perfect top-15 records. Keselowski has one 11th-place result to his credit, but Kahne has been almost as strong. He has missed the top 10 on two occasions with a 15th at Dover and a 12th in the Talladega lottery. Kahne has a lot to recommend him this week. He finished second in his first attempt at Texas in 2004 and won three races later in 2006. Those highlights were outweighed by five results of 25th or worse in his first 11 races, but he has been much stronger in recent years. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, he has earned four top 15s in five Texas starts and enters the weekend with back-to-back top 10s.
OTHERS OF NOTE
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last six races average finish at Texas: 14.00 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 13.90 in 20 attempts
Junior wanted to make a statement at Martinsville and he did. Unfortunately, that declaration is liable to get lost in the annals of time because his finishing result did not match the effort. Earnhardt was running ninth with 10 laps remaining and picking his way back toward the front of the pack after a pit stop when he was run over and spun into the wall. Prior to that accident, he had spent approximately 425 laps in the top 10 (87 percent of those available) and was destined to finish there as well. Texas is the site of his first Cup victory, but he has not finished in the top five there since 2004.
13. Tony Stewart
Last six races average finish at Texas: 14.33 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 13.10 in 21 attempts
Average finishes tell only part of the story, which is why drivers like Allmendinger, Ambrose, and Kurt Busch are listed ahead of Stewart this week. They have been solid performers and deserve the accolades, but Stewart has a victory in that span of time and should be counted among them. Unfortunately, a 32nd-place result in 2010 after he triggered a massive pileup on a late-race restart and a 24th this spring dropped him to 13th on this list. It is unlikely that he will be any higher when the series returns in 2013 because he has been lackluster in recent weeks and probably will not earn a top 10 at Texas. Stewart's Chase got off to a good start with back-to-back top-10s, but three of his last five races have ended in the 20s and the frustration is mounting.
18. Martin Truex Jr.
Last six races average finish at Texas: 18.33 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 16.14 in 14 attempts
Truex was almost in the same ballpark as Keselowski, Kahne, and Johnson until last week. His worst result in the first six races of the Chase was a 17th and his average of 9.5 made him a driver to watch on every venue. He had a top-10 capable car at Martinsville as well until he made a mistake on a restart and changed lanes too soon. NASCAR's penalty cost him a lap. The cautions never fell his way and he finished one lap off the pace in 23rd. This week is going to be a big test of how mature the team can be and if they finish in the top 15, that will give them momentum to end the season with a bang.
20. Jeff Gordon
Last six races average finish at Texas: 19.00 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 16.22 in 23 attempts
Gordon's accident in the 2010 Samsung Mobile 500 was ironic and tragic. It was tragic because he had the dominant car that day and was leading with less than 25 laps remaining when a caution waved for a blown engine on the No. 00. The leader is always a sitting duck in regard to pit strategy because if they remain on course, the rest of the field pits and beats them on new rubber. Gordon took four fresh tires and had a slow pit stop on top of that to put him back on track in seventh. The irony of the situation is two-fold. He was uncharacteristically aggressive on the restart, which put him in a hornet's nest with Tony Stewart. The two made contact and wrecked. The second bit of irony was that David Reutimann was racing the No. 00 that day and the caution for his late-race incident also cost Gordon a victory at Martinsville this spring.
29. Brad Keselowski
Last six races average finish at Texas: 20.67 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at Texas: 25.25 in 8 attempts
Keselowski has only one top-15 finish at Texas in eight starts and less than a handful of top-20s. That will not mean a thing this weekend as the team has defied their personal odds on a number of occasions. It seems unlikely that Kez can challenge for a top-five with a career average finish of 25th, but a result in the high single digits is likely and one thing seems certain: The No. 2 and 48 cars will run within sight of one another all afternoon. If Johnson spends too much time watching for Keselowski in the rearview mirror early in the race, he might have to watch him through the windshield in the closing laps.
|All Drivers: Last six races at Texas|
|Driver||Avg. finish (attempts)||Driver||Avg. finish (attempts)|
|1. Greg Biffle||5.50 (6)||22. Jeff Burton||20.67 (6)|
|2. Matt Kenseth||5.83 (6)||23. Aric Almirola||21.50 (2)|
|3. Denny Hamlin||8.50 (6)||24. Joey Logano||21 .83(6)|
|4. Kevin Harvick||10.00 (6)||25. Jamie McMurray||23.00 (6)|
|5. Mark Martin||11.83 (6)||26. Juan Montoya||24.33 (6)|
|6. Jimmie Johnson||12.17 (6)||27. Casey Mears||24.60 (5)|
|7. Clint Bowyer||13.00 (6)||28. Sam Hornish Jr.||25.67 (3)|
|8. AJ Allmendinger||13.50 (6)||29. Brad Keselowski||26.67 (6)|
|8. Marcos Ambrose||13.50 (6)||30. Bobby Labonte||27.33 (6)|
|10. Kasey Kahne||13.67 (6)||31. Scott Speed||28.60 (5)|
|10. Kurt Busch||13.67 (6)||32. Landon Cassill||31.00 (4)|
|12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.||14.00 (6)||33. David Gilliland||31.83 (6)|
|13. Tony Stewart||14.33 (6)||34. Travis Kvapil||35.60 (5)|
|14. Kyle Busch||14.60 (6)||35. Reed Sorenson||38.25 (4)|
|15. Ryan Newman||15.67 (6)||36. Dave Blaney||38.67 (6)|
|15. David Ragan||15.67 (6)||37. JJ Yeley||40.25 (4)|
|17. Carl Edwards||17.33 (6)||38. Michael McDowell||40.33 (6)|
|18. Martin Truex Jr.||18.33 (6)||39. Mike Bliss||40.40 (5)|
|19. Paul Menard||18.67 (6)||40. Joe Nemechek||41.83 (6)|
|20. Jeff Gordon||19.00 (6)||41. Josh Wise||42.33 (3)|
|21. Trevor Bayne||19.75 (4)|
|Caution to the wind|
Most caution flags: 12 (2007 Dickies 500, 2006 Dickies 500, 2000 DirecTV 500)
Fewest caution flags: 2 (2012 Samsung Mobile 500)
Average number of caution flags per race: 7.7
Final Caution, last five races:
April 2012: Lap 95 of 100 – Debris (from Trevor Bayne).
November 2011: Lap 271 of 334 - Debris.
April 2011: Lap 216 of 334 – 3-car accident on backstretch, (Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr., and Regan Smith).
November 2010: Lap 329 of 334 – 1-car spin in turn 2, (Patrick Carpentier).
April 2010: Lap 319 of 334 – 9-car accident on backstretch, (Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard, and Carl Edwards); with a red flag period.
No race at Texas has been extended by a green-white-checkered finish.
Most caution laps: 73 (1997 Interstate Batteries 500)
Fewest caution laps: 10 (2012 Samsung Mobile 500)
Average number of caution laps per race: 39.0
|Leading the way|
Most leaders: 29 (2000 DirecTV 500)
Fewest leaders: 4 (2009 Dickies 500)
Average number of leaders: 10.9
Most lead changes: 33 (2010 AAA Texas 500)
Fewest lead changes: 13 (2009 Dickies 500, 2007 Samsung 500)
Average number of lead changes: 22.7
Last five winners at Texas (starting position):
April 2012: Greg Biffle (3rd)
November 2011: Tony Stewart (5th)
April 2011: Matt Kenseth (4th)
November 2010: Denny Hamlin (30th)
April 2010: Denny Hamlin (29th)
Worst starting position for race winner: 31st – Matt Kenseth (Apr. 2002).
A race at Texas has been won by the pole sitter 1 time and from the front row 4 times in 23 races.
|Active winners at Texas|
Carl Edwards (3)
Tony Stewart (2)
Matt Kenseth (2)
Jeff Burton (2)
Denny Hamlin (2)
Greg Biffle (2)
Ryan Newman (1)
Mark Martin (1)
Kurt Busch (1)
Kasey Kahne (1)
Jimmie Johnson (1)
Jeff Gordon (1)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1)
|All-time "Cookie-cutter" wins|
Top-10 All-time winners on all current "cookie-cutter" tracks, plus all active drivers (Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas, Las Vegas, Kansas, Chicagoland, and Kentucky)
1. Jimmie Johnson (16)
2. Jeff Gordon (15)
3. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (14)
4. Tony Stewart (12)
5. Richard Petty (11)
Bobby Allison (11)
7. Cale Yarborough (10)
Mark Martin (10)
9. Darrell Waltrip (9)
10. Bobby Labonte (8)
Carl Edwards (8)
David Pearson (8)
Fred Lorenzen (8)
Other Active Drivers 14. Jeff Burton (7)
Kasey Kahne (7)
Matt Kenseth (7)
19. Kurt Busch (5)
23. Kyle Busch (4)
Greg Biffle (4)
Denny Hamlin (4)
Kevin Harvick (4)
29. Ryan Newman (3)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3)
Brad Keselowski (3)
36. Jamie McMurray (2)
David Reutimann (2)
45. Casey Mears (1)
Joe Nemechek (1)
Clint Bowyer (1)
|First time winners at Texas|
Jeff Burton: 1997 Interstate Batteries 500
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 2000 DirecTV 500
|"Cookie-cutter" tracks (Charlotte, Atlanta, Texas, Las Vegas, Kansas, Chicagoland, and Kentucky since 2009)|
Texas is the final "cookie-cutter" race of the season and the road to the championship has gone through this track type all season. Hers is a comparison of how the drivers have fared on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track combined and the last three (Charlotte, Kansas, and Texas) specifically.
|Driver||Combined Avg.||Combined Attempts||Texas||Kansas||Charlotte|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr||16.11||35||14.86||16.20||23.00|
|Juan Pablo Montoya||18.30||37||21.86||16.83||19.63|
|Martin Truex Jr||16.76||37||19.29||16.00||17.63|
|Sam Hornish Jr||25.17||23||23.50||24.75||25.60|
|Beaver's Best Bets for Texas|
Winner: Matt Kenseth. So long as Clint Bowyer does not take this race as an opportunity to exact revenge on Kenseth for the Talladega mishap, the No. 17 is going to be strong.
Dark horse top 10: Mark Martin. The veteran has a history of running strong in weeks after Brian Vickers has scored a top-10 and that bodes well for Martin's chances.
Don't bet on it: Kevin Harvick. He will score another top 15, but top 10s will continue to elude the driver of the No. 29.
|Beat Beaver -- Predicting the top 10|
Success predicts success at Texas. Seven of the top-10 finishers this spring came from the list of drivers who finished 10th or better last fall and two more earned top 15s in the most recent running of the AAA Texas 500. Guess where this week's favorites come from?
1. Matt Kenseth
2. Greg Biffle
3. Kasey Kahne
4. Jeff Gordon
5. Carl Edwards
6. Martin Truex Jr.
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Brad Keselowski
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Mark Martin
LAST WEEK'S PICKS
Last week was average at best with five of my top-10 picks finishing in the top 10. Denny Hamlin was the biggest disappointment with his electrical problem and if he had contended for the victory, my numbers would look a lot different this week.
For any driver correctly picked in the top 10, five points are awarded. For any driver picked in his exact finishing position, five bonus points are awarded. For correctly predicting the winner, a total of 20 points are awarded. So for a perfect top 10, a total of 110 points are available. One point is subtracted for each driver picked who finishes outside the top 10.
|4.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||21||-1|
|10.||Martin Truex Jr.||23||-1|
Total points for Martinsville = 25 (out of a possible perfect score of 110)
Season best: 53 points (New Hampshire, September); Season worst: 2 points (Daytona, July); Season avg.: 23.5 points (22 races)
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