Earnhardt should step up big in Texas

Nov 1, 2005 12:06 AM

Only three races remain in the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup chase for the championship as they roll into Texas this week.

One more driver took himself out of the chase last week in Atlanta though still mathematically eligible. Kurt Busch joined the ranks of Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield as drivers in the chase who have no shot at winning following his 36th place finish in Atlanta. Busch was the only Roush car not to place in the top 7 with winner Carl Edwards making it a clean sweep of Atlanta.

Edwards was the first driver since Bill Elliott in 1992 to sweep the Atlanta races. The Edwards win also marked the first time since 1994 that a Ford has won back-to-back races in Atlanta when Ernie Irvan and Mark Martin did it.

The win also shaved 42 points off the deficit Edwards faced with point leader Tony Stewart in the season standings. Edwards is only 107 points behind in fourth place behind teammate Greg Biffle (75 points from the lead) and Jimmie Johnson (43).

The deficit could be shrunk for all possible contenders again this week if Stewart follows his average performance trend at Texas. His best finish has been fifth in seven career starts. In his last Texas start back in April, Stewart smoked out a very disappointing 31st place finish.

If a performance like that were to occur again this week and any one of the next four drivers in line behind him in points won the race, they would be the new point leader.

The favorites of this week’s race are Roush driven Ford’s. Texas is a similar track to the SMI tracks in Charlotte and Atlanta. All are 1.5 mile D-shaped ovals with about 24 degrees of banking in the turns. In nine Cup races run at Texas, a different Roush driver has won in four of those events including the April edition where Biffle took the checkers. The others are Jeff Burton and Mark Martin in the first two Texas races run, then Matt Kenseth in 2002. Other Ford drivers to win at Texas are Dale Jarrett and last year’s winner Elliott Sadler.

Ryan Newman, tied with Edwards for fourth, drove the one and only Dodge to victory at Texas. The Chevy bow-tie brigade is led by Texas Terry Labonte’s win in ’99 and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s first career triumph in 2000 in front of thousands of screaming fans, including his proud Daddy.

Though Terry Labonte is from the Hendrick crew, his win was surprising because it came at a time when he was winding down his career and Jeff Gordon hadn’t won there yet. The track still remains one of the few places Gordon has yet to taste victory over his illustrious career.

In the nine races Gordon has entered, he’s had 4 top 5 finishes. To someone who has done just about everything in his career with no boundaries, when there is something that seems far out of reach it can be frustrating. He’s come close, but only Phoenix remains more elusive.

The fact that Gordon hasn’t won at Texas is shocking, but for teammate Jimmie Johnson to not have won there with the things he’s done in Atlanta and especially Charlotte over the last few years is more surprising.

Of all the Chevy drivers, Junior might be the one to take a strong look at this week. Earnhardt could challenge the Roush boys because of the way they ran last week in Atlanta finishing fourth. They finished ninth in the first Texas race this year but that was when the team was in the midst of some serious turmoil.

Things are all rosy again for the Bud King. He’s got his crew chief back and Martin Truex Jr comes over full time next year. Junior has Michael Waltrip taking a walk next year, not to mention all the girls and money any one man could want. He’s also got the memories of his father at Texas who showed the entire world that the Intimidator could get emotional. Look for a strong outing this week!

It’s a tough stand not to include Tony Stewart in any equation to do well this week at Texas, but I want to see a mad scramble at the end. I’m looking and hoping for drama.

If T-Stew doesn’t falter this week, it’s likely that he won’t have any mishaps for the final two races. The tracks at Phoenix and Miami are places Stewart could drive blindfolded on and finish in the top 10.

He’s that good there.

Everything is large in Texas and what I want to see is a big finish in the last two races by all the competing Chase drivers to make the final races that much more compelling.