After a quick off-week, the Sprint Cup Series is back in action. While many fans enjoyed the idle 7 days to enjoy family, hobbies, and food over the Easter weekend, I'm sure that most of us are glad that the sport is back up and running. Texas Motor Speedway, one of the fastest and most popular venues on the circuit, will host this week's event, the Samsung Mobile 500. Although we've already visited a few intermediate tracks so far in 2012, this event is notable because it is the first of 10 night races we'll see before the season finale in November. Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Dale Jr., and others are all off to great starts to their seasons, but can they continue that streak?
Modeled after the blueprint of Charlotte Motor Speedway, this 1.5 mile quad-oval has 24 degrees of banking in the turns and 5 degrees on the backstretch and dogleg. The racing surface is a minimum of 58 feet wide, which makes for exciting 2, 3, and sometimes even 4-wide racing. Pit road speed limit is 45mph here, which has one of the series' narrowest pit roads. With a total estimated capacity of 191,122, TMS accommodates more fans than any other track except Indianapolis. This is a very common track style, with the flat dogleg and wide turns. As I said, Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with Atlanta and Las Vegas Motor Speedways, are quite similar in that aspect. But the climate differences from Texas, Nevada, Atlanta, and North Carolina mean that each venue is different in terms of speeds and grip.
Here at NN, this is the home track for many of our members, such as Coviluvs24, Benracin88, Bootsy, 14Smoke, and many more.
The key for drivers in this race is equipment. As is the case with many tracks, overheating issues are something that drivers and crew chiefs must keep a very close eye on. The front straightaway here is over 2,200 feet long, which will be complete torment on the cars as they thunder down into Turn 1. Drivers must not only keep their engine/brakes/etc. good until the end of 334 laps, but still have enough power left to challenge for position in the closing circuits. Engines are likely to overheat, brakes may just get too worn, and tires could be pushed to their limit if the driver can't take care or them and nurse their equipment to the finish. It makes Texas a lot like Martinsville Speedway in that way. Drivers have to conserve and be consistent.
This is a very predictable race track in regards for Fantasy owners. Among the notables are Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle. Although we haven't visited a track with a dogleg thus far in 2012, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway are the best indicators for success this year. But TMS is a track that rarely changes, so don't be afraid to look at stats from 2, 3, or more years ago. First of all, Stewart is the must-have driver for every Fantasy team this week. He's won 4 straight intermediate track races, including at Texas last fall. Why would you not get him? Kenseth is also a good buy, winning this event one year ago and having more success here than any of the other tracks he's raced on. Among those stats are 10 top fives in 19 career starts, a pair of wins, and no finish outside the top 20 since 2000. Greg Biffle is also a sought-after commodity in Fantasy, ranking second in practically every category, only behind his teammate Kenseth. He won here in 2004, and has three consecutive top 5s at this venue.
There is a long list of normal-top name driver who you might want to avoid headed into this weekend, including Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Newman. There are others who have disappointed in the past few years here, but those three drivers have consistently struggled at this 1.5 mile oval. Some might be tempted to chose Gordon; after all, he won in 2009. But since then, he has cracked the top 12 only once. Over his career in the No. 24, he has failed to finish in the top 20 in almost half of his 22 starts, including 5 DNFs. Keselowski hasn't fared much better, never finishing better than 18th in his seven career starts. In that span, he has led just 34 laps, which barely puts him in the top 25 in the entire series. Other Fantasy owners could want to stay with Ryan Newman this week after winning at Martinsville, but while I normally won't bet against a driver with momentum, I am this time. His win came by avoiding the final wreck, and his stats here aren't very good. With a 20th-place average finish, only 9 laps led since 2004, and just 3 top fives in 17 starts, he is not a good buy.
The Sprint Cup Series is following a typical schedule for Saturday-night racing. The first of 2 practices will be at 5:30pm Thursday, with the next one taking place late Friday afternoon, at 3:00pm. Qualifying occurs shortly after, airing live on Speed at 6:30pm. FOX's broadcast of the Samsung Mobile 500 (334 laps/501 miles) begins at 7:00pm Saturday, with the green flag scheduled to drop at approximately 7:46pm.