A Few to Watch in Texas

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After an off-weekend for the Easter holiday, the drivers and teams of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series must now turn their attention to the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway, the next stop for the Series. In the young 2015 season, we have already seen close competition, success stories, and either vast improvements or disappointing disasters for many of the entrants. As we eagerly await the next event, we should look closely at how the 2015 championship has unfolded to this point to determine who is in a strong position to win in Texas.

Clearly the team with the best odds is the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4, driven by reigning series champion Kevin Harvick. While Martinsville ended Harvick’s streak of eight consecutive top-2 finishes, he has shown dominance in nearly every event this season. Crew chief Rodney Childers and his SHR team lost no momentum over the off-season, and have shown remarkable strength on the 1.5 mile tracks. Harvick won at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the fall, another 1.5 mile that shares many attributes with Texas Motor Speedway. He led and nearly won both the Atlanta and Las Vegas races, as well, adding two more top-2 finishes to his results on the 1.5 mile venues. We will not get a preview of Harvick’s performance this weekend, as he has left his Xfinity Series seat with JR Motorsports to team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, it is never a bad bet to pick Harvick on a track such as Texas.

Consistency is a good word to describe Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 team so far this season. While his average finishing position of 13.6 at Texas is not as strong as many of his competitors, the 88 has shown remarkable speed in each race this year. If crew chief Greg Ives and the team can put a whole race together, Jr. will be poised to pick up his first win of 2015 and punch his ticket to the Chase. An additional plus for Jr. is that he will run the Xfinity race this week, as well. So far this season, drivers who run the Xfinity car on Saturday perform well on Sunday in the Cup car, which is now more like the Xfinity machine under the 2015 rules package.

Team Penske is certainly the dominant organization in the Verizon IndyCar Series. While not equally strong in NASCAR, the Penske entries are consistently in the mix and now have a pair of wins. The 2014 season saw both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano enjoy strong runs on 1.5 mile tracks. Logano, in fact, won this race one year ago. Typically fast on these tracks in qualifying, the Penske drivers have often shown the ability to start in the front and maintain their position throughout the race. If they can repeat their 2014 success this weekend, either of the Penske duo may add a second win to their 2015 season.

Two dark horses stand out in my mind. Both the No. 47 of JTG Daugherty Racing and the No. 78 of Furniture Row Racing showed that these two organizations made vast improvements during the off-season. Drivers AJ Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr., respectively, are faster this year than in 2014. Allmendinger hopes to make his second consecutive Chase appearance, and may be able to secure his spot for 2015 soon. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that both JTG Daugherty and Furniture Row receive their engines through a technical partnership with storied organization, Richard Childress Racing. Unlike its “satellite” teams, RCR continues to struggle this year. Formula One fans may find a comparison to Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso’s current situation. Both of these one-car operations seem invigorated by their winter advancements. Watch them to battle for wins this spring and summer, maybe beginning at Texas.

One response to “A Few to Watch in Texas

  1. Your analysis is spot on, Mark. Looking forward to Texas race and hope that all goes well for each team.

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