212,000 race fans a Texas-sized fit

Apr 1, 2008 7:00 PM

Finish Line by Micah Roberts | The stars at night, are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap), Deep in the Heart of TEXAS!
Everything is big in Texas and there is no better example than the crowds that show up for each of the two NASCAR Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway. To keep things forever at the 1.5 mile high-banked track, the track has made additions to the seating capacity over the last 11 seasons to its current status of 212,000. Only the Brickyard seats more than Texas among all current Cup tracks.

Roberts Top 5 At Texas
Dale Earnhardt Jr 7-1
Carl Edwards 7-1
Greg Biffle 12-1
Jeff Burton 18-1
Kyle Busch 7-1
TOP 10s
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The Texans have always been kind to the rest of the nation in sharing their excesses from being so hearted and generous. Whether it’s simple like BBQ or steaks, Texas has always been a symbol of Americana that is America alone. Texas is exactly what NASCAR is all about. So Cheers and Howdy to you Texas, and thanks for Buddy Holly, Willie Nelson, and the Labonte brothers.

Now, let’s break down this race. A measure that has served well over the years as to who should do well here is to look at past races on the SMI sister tracks of Atlanta and Charlotte. Throw a little hint of Las Vegas in the mix.

We have seen a race run at Las Vegas and Atlanta this year with several teams having similar success and others struggling. Because this is the first season of the new car being run on these types of tracks, we can basically throw away last year’s data from the four SMI sister tracks. The only thing to go until they run the final practice session on Saturday is the results of Vegas and Atlanta.

If we were to go exclusively by what happened last season, it would be Jimmie Johnson with odds of 3-1 or less because he dominated on all those tracks. However, that car used last season is in a museum somewhere. Now Johnson must get along with his new car.

So far the relationship between his new car and the high banked intermediate tracks is a off to a rocky start. Johnson had won three in a row at Las Vegas with his old chassis. In the new car, he finished 29. In Atlanta, Johnson swept the 2007 season. This year, he placed 13. And, he really wasn’t even that good.

Because of Johnson’s slide and troubles with his new car on these tracks, he has been installed at 10-1. Odds like that are normally reserved for Johnson on tracks like Bristol and the road courses. Other than those four races, Johnson has been pretty much single digit odds to win since his rookie year.

So, here we go again looking for someone other than Johnson to win. The list is pretty large, but based on the two high-banked tracks run on already we can narrow it down to a select few.

Kyle Busch sat on the pole at Vegas but finished a weak, but respectable 11. The following week in Atlanta, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs team put it all together and took the checkers. Busch’s teammate, Tony Stewart, was involved in an accident at Vegas. He bounced back in Atlanta, following Busch to finish second.

Only Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. can claim to have finished in the Top 5 at both Las Vegas and Atlanta this season. Biffle and Junior had similarly great runs in both races. Carl Edwards won at Vegas, but blew an engine with the Roush-Fenway horsepower in Atlanta. Biffle’s team was able to keep things in line, running well in both.

A surprise omission from the upper-echelon of finishers at both Las Vegas and Atlanta was Matt Kenseth. He finished okay at Vegas and was mediocre in Atlanta. Kenseth has traditionally been Jack Roush’s driver 1-A, but now appears to be just above Jamie McMurray and just below the Biffle-Edwards duo.

Amid all the speculation that Hendrick is struggling with the new car on these type of tracks, Junior is proving to obviously have something else than his supposed teammates. His second at Vegas and third in Atlanta move him to the front and make him a co-favorite to win the race with Edwards and Kyle Busch.

The last time Junior won at Texas, it was his first Cup win ever. The memories of his father running to him after he won as a proud father remain one of Junior’s most cherished moments. I’d like to hear him talk more about that moment in the winner’s circle.

Micah Roberts is a Race and Sports Director with Station Casinos who has contributed to Gaming Today for the last 11 years.