Sport: NASCAR Series: Sprint Cup Event: Samsung Mobile 500 Date and Time: April 9th at 6PM CDT
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the Samsung Mobile 500. Last years races were unforgettable.
In the spring, the Samsung 500 was postponed to Monday because of rain. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart combined to lead 198 of the 334 laps, but both drivers were caught up in a nine-car wreck with 18 laps to go. On the restart, Denny Hamlin took the lead from Jeff Burton with 12 laps to go, and held off a late charge from Jimmie Johnson to get his first career win at Texas Motor Speedway. Then, in the fall, Hamlin passed Matt Kenseth to sweep the Cup races. However, Hamlin was not the top story. The race itself was a story because there were 33 lead changes, a new track record, a crew swap between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, which ended up helping Johnson win his fifth straight championship, and there were two incidents that had the fans talking for a long time.
First, on lap 160 of 334, Kyle Busch spun to bring out the 6th caution. He went to pit road to repair his car. Unfortunately for Busch, he was called for a speeding penalty on pit road. He disagreed with the call, and while serving his penalty, he flipped off the NASCAR officials. This only made things worse because Busch’s actions resulted in a two-lap penalty and ended his chances of winning.
The other incident, which was the top story, occurred almost 50 laps later when Martin Truex Jr. spun to bring out the race’s seventh caution. On the opposite end of the track Jeff Burton drove into Jeff Gordon and they both crashed into the wall totaling their cars. Gordon was not too happy to say the least, and approached Burton. The two exchanged words, and a brawl ensued.
What is in store for this year? This weekend’s Samsung Mobile 500 will be run under the lights for the very first time. Does this mean track conditions will change? Driver Ryan Newman, said in a press conference at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, “I don’t know what the track is going to do. We always had a big balance transition at Charlotte and Atlanta (two other night races) and they would sometimes differ.” (Quote from Fox Sports.com) It looks like the track will be a big unknown.
What do we know? Today, the Sprint Cup Series drivers practiced and qualified for tomorrow’s race. Kasey Kahne was fastest in final practice; but David Ragan looks like he will be one of the guys to beat. Ragan paced the first practice today and won the pole in qualifying (qualified first) for tomorrow’s race.
Favorites to win: Denny Hamlin: He has won the last two races here, and he has the second best average finish of all cup drivers in the last five years at this track according to the Motor Racing Network (MRN). Matt Kenseth: MRN showed in their driver averages table that he had an average finish of 6.6 in the last five years, which was the best for all cup drivers. He also has a win here.
Any of Kenseth’s Roush Racing Teammates (Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and David Ragan): Jack Roush’s teams have won seven races here. Edwards leads all drivers with three wins at this track, Biffle led 224 of the 334 laps last time they were here, and Ragan was fastest in the first practice session today.
Jimmie Johnson: He has an average finish of 12th here in the last five years according to MRN which includes a win and four runner-up finishes.
Kevin Harvick: He has won the last two weeks and he has an average finish of 11th in the last five years, which is fourth best.
Kyle Busch: Kyle has two truck series wins and five nationwide series wins at this track. He is also the current points leader in the Cup Series.
Others to watch: Mark Martin: One win and four straight top tens here.
Tony Stewart: He almost won this race last year and won the fall race here in 2006.
Jeff Gordon: He has one win here and should have won this race last year after leading a race-high 124 laps.
Jeff Burton: He has two wins here.
Dark Horses: Kasey Kahne: He was fastest in final practice and he won this race in 2006.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He won this race in 2000.
My Pick: Matt Kenseth. He has the best average finish among all cup drivers in the past five years and he has not won a race since California in 2009, which was 76 races ago. Kenseth has gotten off to a strong start with two top-fives and three top-tens in the first five races. The man is due for a win.
Images courtesy of: catchfence.com (Kenseth Car), bleacherreport.com (Gordon vs. Burton and Big Crash), blognews.ok.com/hotpass/ (Hamlin Crossing Finish Line) i2.cdn.turner.com (Hamlin Burnout)
Ryan Newman Quote courtesy of video from Foxsports.com/nascar
Statistics found at motorracingnetwork.com, jayski.com, and nascar.com