NASCAR Sprint Cup ‘Closing’ gap

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Everything is big in Texas except the NASCAR Sprint Cup point lead after six races.

Las Vegan Kyle Busch has a mere five-point lead on Carl Edwards with the next seven drivers in line all within 19 points of first. The changes to point structure make the numbers appear smaller than they are, but it really has been a competitive season thus far with a legitimate case made for at least 12 drivers to win the Championship.

This Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway will see Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin trying to continue their win streak to three. Harvick, now dubbed the “closer,” has won the last two races on the season with late come-from-behind wins at California and Martinsville.

It’s the second time Harvick has won back-to-back races in his career and each of those wins also represented his first victory ever on the track. Harvick would really shock the racing world with another win becoming the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to win three straight races. If he does, it would be his first win at Texas.

Hamlin doesn’t have a win this year, but is coming into this race having won two Texas races in a row sweeping the 2010 season.

Last week was supposed to be a confidence builder, or sort of a crutch, for the struggling Hamlin because he had won three in a row at Martinsville, but it didn’t happen. He finished 13th, his worst finish on his home state track since his first Cup start there.

It wasn’t like he was bad. Hamlin led quite a few laps and looked to have one of the top three cars on the track. But things aren’t going right for Hamlin and perhaps it’s a hangover from blowing the 2010 season in the final two races.

The drivers to watch this week can be found by looking at what happened in Las Vegas and a little bit from California. They are both good indicators of who will be strong on this high-banked, super fast 1½-mile track.

The one who stands out the most is Matt Kenseth, who also happens to have the best average finish of 7.3 on the track since he won in 2002. Kenseth started on the pole at Las Vegas, practiced well and finished 11th, a race won by teammate Carl Edwards. At California a couple of weeks ago, Kenseth finished fourth.

Edwards is a three-time winner at Texas, the most any driver has there, and in addition to his Vegas win, he also finished sixth at California.

It’s surprising that for all Johnson’s success at Las Vegas, Charlotte and Atlanta, he wouldn’t have more than his one win in Texas. Even more surprising is that Johnson doesn’t have a win yet and has now gone 14 races, dating back to last year, without one.

Others to key on this week include both Busch brothers, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart.

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