Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Samsung Mobile 500
Texas Motor Speedway is one of three 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. The two others, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, share the same length and corner banking. The wear of the racing surface on each track is unique, which causes the speeds to vary somewhat. Still, the similar configuration that these sites share makes for great comparisons when assembling your lineup for each of the five races these venues will host in total.
As was the case last week, fantasy owners facing a pre-qualifying deadline will get a practice session to observe before locking in their roster. The first practice will be held Thursday with Happy Hour practice and qualifying on Friday. The race itself will be held under the lights, for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway.
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Drivers to keep an eye on
Last year, Busch compiled four top-five finishes on 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks, the most of any driver. He appeared to be working on a similar finish in the November race at Texas until spinning out on Lap 159. Busch would then lose a lap for speeding on pit road and two more after flashing an inappropriate gesture at an official. With over 150 laps led in each of the last three races of this season, all resulting in top-three finishes, look for another Rowdy performance, assuming a cooler head (and finger) prevails.
Before coming undone during the 2010 Chase, the elder Busch brother had four straight finishes of sixth or better at 1.5-mile cookie-cutters, including two wins and another in the All-Star Race at Charlotte. In the three Texas starts prior to last year's postseason disaster, Busch had two top-fives, including a win, and another top-10. After starting the season off with four straight top-10s, Busch is headed to a perfect location for climbing back toward the top of the standings.
The top overall cookie-cutter driver from a year ago was Kenseth with an 8.5 average finish, the only driver to average better than 11th over the six races. While Kenseth didn't win any of those, he finished runner-up twice, including the Chase event at Texas. Over his last 10 starts at Texas, Kenseth's 6.6 average finish is tops as are the six top-fives and eight top-10s he has compiled in that span. You simply can't pick a safer driver than Kenseth this week.
A year ago, Allmendinger showed he's capable of putting streaks of consistency together. With three straight top-15 finishes at Texas and two consecutive finishes of 14th this season, including a season-high average running position of 10th last week, more of the same could be in store on Saturday night. In 2010, Allmendinger owned an average finish of 15th in cookie-cutter races and is running as well as any middle-tier driver right now.
Despite being known as a strong driver on cookie-cutters, Texas is the only track of the three in which Kahne does not own multiple wins. Since winning in the Lone Star State back in 2006, Kahne did not have a top-15 finish until last year. Kahne started and finished in the fifth position in April and 13th in the fall, his third race with Red Bull. Coming off a DNF due to a crash last week, Kahne draws a prime venue in which to make up for lost time.
After a shaky start to 2011, Bowyer has bounced back with two straight top-10 finishes. In those two races, Bowyer has been a fixture up front with an average running position that has not dropped below seventh and more than 98 percent laps of his laps spent in the top 15 of each race. While the last two spring races at Texas have been forgettable, Bowyer owns three straight top-10s in the fall. Based on his sudden resurgence, owners should bet on Bowyer to finally blossom once again in April.
Last week marked Ragan's first top-10 finish of the season, his first such since an eighth-place result in the postseason event at Texas. In fact, both of Ragan's top-10s in last year's Chase came at 1.5-mile cookie-cutters, a strength of the Roush program. He owns five finishes of 17th or better in the last six starts at Texas and would likely be 6-for-6 if not a blown engine in the spring of 2009. Among bottom-tier drivers, Ragan is a potential diamond in the rough.
With an average running position of at least 11th in five straight starts at Texas, Reutimann is a prime sleeper candidate. In three of those races, Reutimann spent more than 94 percent of his laps running in the top 15. Despite those strong performances, he has finished 16th or better on four occasions with just one top-10. Reutimann will come at a great value and could reward risk-taking owners with his first top-10 of the season.
Temper your expectations
Last week Hamlin said, "Martinsville's spring race always seems to be the springboard for our season." The result was a 12th-place finish, his worst ever at Martinsville Speedway save for a crash in 2006. In addition, Hamlin was complaining about poor pit stops and bad fuel mileage. Many owners are sure to jump on Hamlin this week solely because he swept both races at Texas in 2010. With only one top-10 finish this season, that broom appears buried somewhere in the back of the closet.
Last fall at Texas marked Bayne's first entry in the Cup Series. He would go on to finish 17th with an average running position of 23rd. That would remain his only start until winning this year's Daytona 500. As thrilling as that surprise victory was, the luster has quickly worn off as Bayne has just one lead-lap finish since. Outside of being the cheapest viable driver in salary cap formats, Bayne offers little reason to be tempted.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
Don't miss these great reports....
Recent KFFL releases
Fantasy Football Sleeper: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Fantasy Baseball Closer Hot Seat: Fernando Rodney, Brandon League, more
Five drivers to watch in the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race
Fantasy baseball closer depth charts - AL