We could see an interesting race here at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. The Duck Commander 500 will be the first Saturday night race of the 2015 Sprint Cup season and we’re coming off of a bye week due to Easter. Additionally, due to NASCAR’s condensed schedule, the teams all practiced in the heat of the afternoon on Friday, so you have to question how those speeds will translate once we go green. The races here at Texas always seem to be fun, too. For practice results, go here: Practice #1 — Happy Hour, and for notes go here: Practice #1 — Happy Hour. Kurt Busch won the pole for this week’s race and you can see the full starting lineup by clicking here.
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Final Top 15 Ranking For The Duck Commander 500:
There’s no reason to think that Kevin Harvick won’t be a top 5 car once again this weekend. The #4 Chevrolet was buried deep on the speed chart during Happy Hour on Friday (31st) but that’s because this team focused solely on race runs. In fact, they ran 62 laps in that session while most teams ran in the mid-20 range. In Practice #1, however, Kevin posted the 3rd-fastest lap of the session to the surprise of no one. Overall, Harvick’s record here at Texas is very consistent but not stellar…although that honestly doesn’t matter whatsoever. “Happy” has a career average finish of 13.1 at this track and has never visited victory lane. The latter might change on Saturday night, though. Harvick has four finishes inside the top 10 over the last six Texas races and has just one result worse than 13th–in this race last season when he had a solid top 5 car but had mechanical issues. You can’t predict things like that, but this team hasn’t had those problems in 2015 thus far and I don’t see it happening on Saturday night.
Now that the #2 Ford is locked into this year’s Chase, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe can now take more chances to get additional wins. That can either be good or bad for fantasy owners, because it’s somewhat feast or famine when those situations arise. However, I’m not sure if they’ll need to gamble in the Lone Star State this weekend because the Blue Deuce has some nice speed and should be able to challenge for the win without strategy. Keselowski posted the 10th-best lap in Practice #1 and had the 6th-fastest ten-lap average. In Happy Hour later that afternoon, he was 14th on the speed chart and 2nd in ten-lap average, as they were one of the few teams that spent a little time on race trim in that session. Here at Texas, BK has never went to victory lane, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later. He has, however, finished 9th or better in four of the last five events at this track, including a 3rd-place run here last fall. I fully expect Brad Keselowski to be a top 5 threat on Saturday night with a legitimate shot at the victory.
I’m still baffled as to how Jimmie Johnson was so bad at Martinsville a couple of weekends ago. I guess you can’t be great every single week. With that being said, that makes it three out of the last four races that “Six Time” has finished outside of the top 10, and that’s starting to concern me. I think Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway will say a lot as to whether or not this team is actually struggling or if they’ve just hit somewhat of a rough patch. Johnson has been very good here at Texas throughout his career, notching four victories–including wins in each of the last three fall events–and amassing a 9.1 average finish. He has ended up inside the top 10 in eight of the last ten events here and there’s no reason to think that JJ won’t be there once again this weekend. Jimmie was 2nd-fastest on the speed chart in Happy Hour and had the 2nd-fastest ten-lap average during Practice #1. I’m expecting a big bounce back this weekend out of the #48 team.
Kurt ended up 14th back at Martinsville but he had a better car than that. The #41 Chevrolet is still one of the fastest cars in the garage right now (thanks to copying Kevin Harvick’s setups) and that’s not something you can ignore in fantasy racing. Throughout his career, Busch has been decent here at Texas with a career average finish of 16th over 24 career starts. That includes a win here back in 2009 and his 8th-place finish in last year’s fall race. In practice, the #41 Chevrolet was 9th-fastest in Practice #1 and 8th on the speed chart in Happy Hour. Kurt didn’t end up on either ten-lap average chart, though, so that’s a tiny bit concerning. It’s always hard to trust Kurt Busch when it comes to fantasy but, as I said before, you can’t ignore the fast cars. When he’s on top of his game, Kurt has the potential to be a top 5 threat on a weekly basis, and I think that’s what we’re seeing right now. He’s on a mission to make NASCAR look bad and the way that’s going to happen is if he finishes up front. Good luck, Kurt, and good luck to the fantasy souls who take a chance on him once again this weekend at Texas. Let’s hope NASCAR doesn’t try to screw him again.
In Happy Hour Logano said that his car drives like it did last year and that’s all I really need to hear because he is the defending winner of this race. The #22 Ford was just 17th-fastest on the overall speed chart in Practice #1 on Friday but had the 7th-best ten-lap average. In Happy Hour, Joey was 26th on the overall speed chart, but he has a much better car than that. As noted before, this is a night race and we practiced in the middle of the afternoon so you have to take these practice speeds with a grain of salt. The fact of the matter is that no one has a better average finish over the last two years at Texas Motor Speedway than Joey Logano and in three of those four races he has ended up inside the top 5. There’s no reason to believe that that won’t happen again this weekend. “Sliced Bread” bounced back (if you want to call it that) with a top 5 finish at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago and still hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 in Sprint Cup races in 2015. Unless he runs into mechanical issues on Saturday night, I wouldn’t bet on that changing.
The story of Kasey Kahne at Texas Motor Speedway is just like the story of his entire career: he’s inconsistent. With that being said, you should definitely pay attention when the #5 Chevrolet is fast off the truck–and that was the case this weekend. Kasey ended up P2 on the speed chart in Practice #1 and then laid down the fastest lap in Happy Hour later that day. He had the best ten-lap average in that initial session, too, although the #5 team focused on qualifying setup in that later practice. At Texas specifically, Kahne has notched one victory in 21 career starts and has a mediocre average finish of 18.6. However, since joining Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey has had very good race cars and his results have definitely improved; in the last six races at this track, Kahne has finished 11th or better in four of them with a best finish of 5th in the 2013 fall race. Also, for what it’s worth, this is Kasey’s birthday weekend and drivers tend to perform pretty well during milestones like that, for whatever reason.
The #31 team completely fell apart at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago, but I’m willing to forget about that and remember that they had four straight top 10s before that (and three top 5s in a row). Also, you have to remember that Newman has top 5s at both Las Vegas as well as Fontana this season, both of which are intermediate race tracks like Texas. Last year, “The Rocketman” was consistent in the Lone Star State with finishes of 15th and 16th in the two races. With that being said, he had much better race cars than that. Newman owns a career average finish of 18.9 here at Texas but I expect him to have a much better run here on Saturday night. He won here back in 2003 but hasn’t posted a top 5 finish at this track since the 2008 season when he was still driving for Penske (yeah, it’s been that long). Newman can usually be counted on for a top 10 finish on a week-to-week basis and that’s the case once again for the Duck Commander 500. With luck and/or strategy, he could turn that into a top 5, though. The #31 Chevrolet had the 5th-best ten-lap average in Happy Hour and posted the 10th-fastest overall lap time.
Junior has a really comfortable race car this weekend and that is going to pay huge dividends here on Saturday night. We’ll probably have at least one long, green flag run in the Duck Commander 500 and one could argue that comfort is almost important as speed. And Earnhardt has both. In Practice #1 on Friday, Dale said that this was one of the best handling race cars he’s had here at Texas in a long time while posting the 5th-best ten-lap average on significantly older tires than the drivers ranked 1 through 4 on that chart. He posted the 7th-fastest lap in Happy Hour while working on qualifying trim. Junior has one win here at Texas (back in 2000) and over 25 career starts at this track he owns an average finish of 14.6. He’s also posted top 10 finishes in six of the last eight races here, which is good although it’s worth noting that in the last two spring races Junior has finished 43rd and 29th. If everything goes right on Saturday night, though, that shouldn’t happen. Earnhardt disappointed at Martinsville a couple of weekends ago as well as at Phoenix a month ago but in all of the intermediate track races in thus far in 2015 he has finished 6th or better. He’ll have to climb through the field a bit after qualifying 25th but that’s not impossible here.
I honestly don’t know how this #78 team has pulled off six top 10 finishes in a row to start off the 2015 Sprint Cup season but I’m not complaining from a fantasy perspective: that kind of value from a mid-tier driver like Truex is incredible. Now we’re at Texas Motor Speedway, which is one of Martin’s best tracks on the circuit. Sounds like a perfect time for him to disappoint everyone, doesn’t it? That’s the pessimist in me talking. Believe it or not, Truex has the 8th-best average driver rating over the last four events here at Texas and that includes his near-win here back in the spring race of 2013 (he led 142 laps and finished 2nd). As we’ve seen thus far in 2015, it doesn’t really matter how the #78 team practices before the race because they’ve really been able to keep up with the track and adjust on the car during the race–allowing Truex to finish up front every week. In practice this week, the #78 Chevrolet was fastest in Practice #1 but then slid down to 17th on the speed chart in Happy Hour. I’m not too worried, though, there’s plenty of speed in that car.
The fantasy opinions on Kyle Larson vary a lot this weekend. On the one hand, he had a great 2014 here at Texas Motor Speedway, ending up 5th and 7th in the two events. However, the #42 team has ran into their fair share of struggles already in 2015 and Kyle could kind of be considered to be in a slump. Also, he didn’t race last weekend at Martinsville because of the passing out incident so there’s always that concern. In practice this weekend, Larson was kind of disappointing, ending up 12th in Practice #1 and 13th on the Happy Hour speed chart. However, his teammate, Jamie McMurray, has plenty of speed so maybe that will transfer over to the #42 on Saturday night. I’m starting to believe that Larson is one of those drivers that really thrives on momentum and he doesn’t have a whole lot of that right now. This kid has enough talent to finish top 5 every weekend but until I see him running up front consistently it’s hard for me to recommend him in fantasy leagues…especially allocation games. Larson could have a top 10 car on Saturday night but the real question will be whether or not he’ll be able to bring it home.
Jeff Gordon now has three straight top 10 finishes after a rocky start to the 2015 season, but I’m still not satisfied. This team is good enough and have cars strong enough to be knocking off top 5s left and right. Once they get into a groove and notched a few great runs in a row, I think we’ll see the 2014 version of Jeff Gordon come out. Until then, however, I would temper my expectations when it comes to the #24. Jeff won this race back in 2009 but since then he’s run into his fair share of troubles here at Texas Motor Speedway. Over the last eleven races at this track, Gordon has notched six finishes of 23rd or worse compared to just three top 10s. With that being said, the #24 Chevrolet came home in 2nd in this race one year ago so there’s a small reason for optimism. All of the Hendrick cars have some great speed this weekend even though it doesn’t really show on the speed chart when it comes to Gordon. I’m not worried, though. As long as nothing goes wrong, expect Jeff to get a solid top 10 finish, and with the right strategy he could jump into the top 5.
Statistically, Texas Motor Speedway is Matt Kenseth’s best track on the circuit. Well, that’s not counting Kentucky, and I don’t right now because we’ve only raced there four times. But even if you do, you get the point I’m trying to make here. Over 25 career starts in the Lone Star State, Matt Kenseth owns a career average finish of 8.9 with 13 top 5s and 17 overall top 10s. Not too shabby. Six of the last nine Texas events have ended with Kenseth inside the top 5 and he can definitely accomplish that again this weekend in the Duck Commander 500. The #20 Toyota seemed to lack some speed during the practice sessions on Friday but I’m not that worried because Kenseth rarely shows his hand until later in the race. He was 20th on the speed chart in Practice #1 and wound up 23rd-fastest in Happy Hour. Matt got his second top 5 finish of the 2015 season a couple of weeks ago at Martinsville and you can tell that this team is just knocking on the door of a win. Will it happen at Texas on Saturday night? It honestly wouldn’t surprise me that much but I like quite a few other drivers more than Kenseth, at least heading into the race.
Hamlin continues to be feast or famine this season so keep that in mind when putting him on your roster this weekend. After his win at Martinsville, Denny now has three top 5s along with three finishes outside of the top 20 in 2015. With that being said, I believe the #11 Toyota has some speed this weekend and should be in contention for another good result in this year’s Duck Commander 500, I just wish he started closer to the front. He was just 15th-fastest on the overall speed chart in Practice #1 but Denny ended up 4th-fastest in Happy Hour. Hamlin is a two-time winner here at Texas and owns a career average finish of 10.8 over 18 career starts. He has ended up inside the top 10 in ten of those starts and in two of the last three. Denny has been somewhat inconsistent to start this season–which is very frustrating for fantasy owners–but I feel like once this team gets their issues sorted out he could win quite a few races this year.
Once again Jamie McMurray and the #1 Chevrolet have looked plenty fast in practice, and now the question is whether or not this team is going to be able to bring home the finish on race day. The good news? With their 10th-place finish at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago, this team now has ended up 11th or better in three of the last four Sprint Cup races. Looking at his stats at Texas Motor Speedway, Jamie Mac finished 5th here in last season’s fall race but you have to take that with a grain of salt: that’s his only top 10 here in the last 12 events (or since 2008). You can either be optimistic or view that as a fluke. As I said before, however, Jamie has nice speed this weekend and was 6th-fastest in Practice #1 while ranking 3rd in ten-lap average. During Happy Hour, McMurray was 3rd on the speed chart with the 4th-fastest ten-lap average. All signs point to this being a good weekend to use Jamie McMurray as a sleeper but there are the usual concerns as to whether or not he can actually finish. Time will tell… In an interview shown on RaceHub, Jamie thinks this is the best car he has had at this track in a long time.
Yep…still waiting on that first top 10 of the season. Don’t worry fantasy owners, it will come soon, and this #19 team could very easily turn that into a string of top 5s. I know, you’ve heard pretty much that exact same sentence since Daytona. But seriously, all it takes is one good run. Texas Motor Speedway has been a very good race track for Carl Edwards over his 20 career starts here; he’s visited victory lane three times in the Lone Star State along with three additional top 5s. At this track last season, Carl wound up 14th and 9th, and that’s pretty damn good when you consider the fact that Roush-Fenway was (and still is) majorly lacking competitiveness in the Sprint Cup Series. Cousin Carl was 7th-fastest in Practice #1 on Friday and followed that up with a 38th-place rank on the Happy Hour speed chart. I’m not overly concerned about that, though, because the #19 team was working on race runs during that final session. Do I think Joe Gibbs Racing is still lacking a little bit in the horsepower department? Yes. Do I think Carl Edwards has a shot at a top 10 this weekend at Texas? Maybe, we’ll see how it goes.
BONUS DRIVER WRITE-UP
Almirola and the #43 team haven’t posted a top 10 finish thus far in the 2015 season but that doesn’t mean they’ve been terrible by any means. After an 11th-place finish at Atlanta earlier this year, Aric went out to Fontana and brought his Ford home in 11th once again and then followed that up with a 12th-place finish at Martinsville a couple of weeks ago. So there’s a little bit of momentum going on there. Looking at his history here at Texas, Almirola hasn’t been too bad, especially recently. In the last two spring races here, Aric has posted finishes of 7th and 12th, which are a lot better than his career average finish of 20.1 here. He was middle-of-the-road in Practice #1 on Friday, posting the 25th-fastest lap, and got even worse in Happy Hour, ending up 37th on the speed chart. With that being said, we do race at night this week, so how valuable are these practice speeds? My optimism is high that we will see another surprising result out of this team on Saturday night. Now I’m not guaranteeing a top 10 finish out of Aric Almirola in this weekend’s Duck Commander 500, but he’s a pretty decent sleeper option in most fantasy leagues.
The Next Nine:
17. Paul Menard
18. Tony Stewart
19. Greg Biffle
20. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
21. Danica Patrick
22. Casey Mears
23. Austin Dillon
24. Clint Bowyer
25. Ryan Blaney