Matt Kenseth was predictably able to overcome the hurdles in front of him last week, the Chase’s seventh round, at Martinsville. Now, his ballyhooed two-man NASCAR points battle with Jimmie Johnson heads to Texas Motor Speedway at a draw. For Kenseth, the intermediate racetrack is a sight for sore eyes; however, he’ll have to contend with Johnson, who isn’t getting near enough credit for his own Texas driving acumen.
Johnson is the defending winner of the Texas Chase race and had he not encountered some retention problems on restarts in the most recent Sprint Cup Series event there, held in April, he’d be heading into this weekend’s tie-breaking slugfest as the favorite among the two championship combatants.
-7 Johnson’s net loss of seven positions on seven restarts in the spring helped keep him from the lead pack.
The No. 48 car didn’t lead a lap — it’s usually a good sign when not leading is a rarity — there in April en route to a sixth-place finish. It wasn’t a bad points day, but I’m guessing Johnson isn’t aiming for satisfactory results amid a heated title battle.
If Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus can replicate last year’s setup in this race (the No. 48 ranked first in average green-flag speed, leading to 168 laps led and a dramatic win) and enjoy some late-race restart luck (Johnson retained position 100 percent of the time from the preferred groove on restarts in the final 10 percent of races during the 26-race regular season), then the five-time champs will be, once again, extremely difficult to defeat.
Kenseth isn’t a slouch, though.
11 for 11 In all 11 races of the CoT/Gen-6 era at Texas, Kenseth has finished inside the top 20.
At first glance, that seems like an easy feat, but Kenseth is the only driver in the series to have accomplished it. Of course, he is far better than a 20th-place finish. He ranks second in Production in Equal Equipment Ratings (PEER) at Texas in that time frame and saw a run of top-5 finishes limited to five straight with his 12th-place result in the spring race, despite ranking in the top four for average running position (6.7) and average green-flag speed in the race.
5.5 Greg Biffle’s average finish across the last 10 Texas races is a series-best 5.5.
Even in lean Roush Fenway Racing years, Biffle is a bad hombre in the Lone Star State. The 1.5-mile quad oval is inarguably his best track; he ranks first in the series in PEER and led the second-most laps (452, trailing only Kyle Busch’s 487) in that span. To date, a late-race surge from 23rd to ninth and a confrontation with Johnson — all at Martinsville — have been the only noise he has made in the Chase. Sunday’s event is statistically the best chance he has to capitalize on his inclusion in this year’s playoff.
306 The suspension of Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 car broke on lap 306 during the spring race at Texas, while Gordon was running in the top three.
An Internet search for “Jeff Gordon + Texas” would likely yield video clips of his 2010 fight on the backstretch with Jeff Burton. It makes sense that it would. Ranked 13th in PEER, Gordon isn’t necessarily a standout in Fort Worth, but he is capable of high-level performance. Despite his 18.6-place average finish over the last three races there, he managed to rank inside the top 10 for average running position (eighth, eighth and third) in each outing.
0.714 Kasey Kahne’s replacement-level Chase PEER of 0.714 is the worst among all Chasers.
Kahne’s sleepy playoff has included three finishes of 27th or lower, anchoring down a 20.3-place average finish. It has been the Chase from hell for a driver who won twice during the 26-race regular season. The closest he came to looking like himself was a 138-laps led, runner-up performance at Charlotte. Unfortunately for Kahne and the No. 5 team, his past Charlotte success — he ranks first in PEER there — doesn’t translate to its sister track in Texas. Kahne ranks 19th in PEER at Texas, with just two top-5 finishes, and five finishes of 19th or worse, in his last 10 starts there. With championship aspirations derailed, Kahne will be merely trying to hang on for the ride on Sunday.
+16 Austin Dillon is currently projected to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship by a 16-point margin over top challenger Sam Hornish.
Dillon won’t have the only cowboy hat at the Texas track this weekend, but he does stand out in this regard; based on past relevant averages, he is slated to gain eight points on Hornish in the next three races after making up ground at Charlotte (he finished second), previously an unkind track to the future Richard Childress Racing Cup Series driver. If Dillon holds course without winning a race, he will become the first driver to claim the Nationwide title without winning a race in his title-winning season in the series’ 32-year history.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at@DavidSmithMA.
Photos byAction Sports, Inc.