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Spinning my wheels: J.J. inching closer

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for FOXSports.com.MORE>>
 
   
 
How are you doing on your starts? With three events left on the Sprint Cup schedule, fantasy participants are checking through every possible data point to ration out those precious remaining starts for their fantasy heroes. Do you save that last use of Jimmie Johnson for Miami? Or do you try to create separation from your league's other competitors here at TMS? Let's break down this week's run at Texas Motor Speedway.

Track info

Texas Motor Speedway is known for having asphalt with superior grip which therefore creates a faster raceway. The frontstretch is 2,250 feet long with five-degree banking. It allows drivers to get into a groove and hit Turn 1 at high speeds. However, being able to race at higher speeds has proven difficult on engines and tires through the years (just check the driver-by-driver race logs). Most of the incidents occur at the track coming out of Turn 4 as the track gets tight with cars traveling at a high rate of speed. Might frustrated drivers boil over again? Tune in this weekend to find out!

History

Interestingly, there have been only two repeat winners at Texas Motor Speedway in its short history on the circuit. That honor belongs to veteran driver Jeff Burton and back-flipping Carl Edwards. Edwards owns sole possession of the lead with three wins. Twelve different drivers have claimed victory at TMS. It's a list that finally includes Tony Stewart following his April win.

Contenders

Matt Kenseth

The season-opening wins enjoyed by Kenseth and his team must seem like they occurred a lifetime ago. He has registered only three top 10s in his past 10 starts. This week's run at Texas Motor Speedway represents a phenomenal spot for Kenseth to put a positive spin on the end of the season. He has engineered seven straight top-10 finishes at TMS and nine overall in his 13 career rides. In fact, he's run inside the top 20 in 12 consecutive TMS rides. Kenseth has averaged a tremendous 9.03-position running slot and 6.9-position finish in the past four years. He's run inside the top 15 in 80.8 percent of all laps run during this period.

Jimmie Johnson

You can't stop the three-time defending champion. You can only ask where he'd like you to put the trophy. J.J. has been dominant during the Chase, as we've come to expect on a yearly basis. He's produced seven consecutive top-10 finishes as we roll toward the final three events of the season. Johnson claimed victory in three of those races. If you have any starts remaining for Johnson, TMS is a solid spot to use one. He's been virtually automatic in his illustrious career. With the exception of an accident in the spring of 2007, Johnson has raced 15th or better 10 of 11 career TMS rides. He has raced to eight top 10s, including five top fives and a 9.1-position average finish. In the past four years, Johnson has averaged a stellar 10.63-position running slot and 8.8-position finish while charging into the top 15 in 72 percent of all laps run.

Jeff Gordon

Gordon experienced a rare misstep last week with a 20th-place finish in the AMP Energy 500. It ended a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes for the No. 24 Hendrick Chevy. Gordon still ranks third in the Sprint Cup standings. I suspect that the 20th-place finish is just a blip on the radar and that Gordon gets back on track this weekend at TMS. The No. 24 Hendrick Chevy, to the surprise of no one, ranks among the top performers here at TMS. Gordon has produced eight top 10s in his 16 career starts here, including two poles and seven top fives. He finally experienced the glory of Victory Lane this spring after leading 105 laps. Gordon has averaged a 14.1-position running slot and 13th-position finish here in the past four years.

Jeff Burton

Burton charged to a fifth-place finish in last week's AMP Energy 500, his first top-10 finish since early June. It marked his third straight top-15 finish and fifth top-16 run in his past seven rides. Last week's top-10 run and Burton's recent brushes with the top 15 are significant. He can be considered for a fourth slot this weekend at TMS. Burton has had an up-and-down career at Texas Motor Speedway, but has been one of the circuit's finest performers here in recent years. He's raced to five top-10 finishes and a 13th-place run in his past six starts. Burton owns eight top 10s in his 16 career starts at the track (10 top-15 finishes) and is one of only two drivers to win multiple events at TMS.

Kurt Busch

The former series champion is still running well as the 2009 season winds to a close. Busch's 17th-place finish last week ended a six-race streak during which the No. 2 Penske Dodge ran 11th or better (five top 10s). The No. 2 Penske Dodge is a big-time threat this weekend, having produced seven top 10s in 12 career TMS starts. Busch has had a couple of missteps in recent TMS runs, including 23rd and 41st-place finishes prior to his strong eighth-place run this spring.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The season can't end quickly enough for the No. 88 Hendrick ride, although Earnhardt did earn a solid 11th-place finish in the AMP Energy 500 last week. It ended a streak of seven consecutive runs to 20th-place or worse. Despite his overall issues, Earnhardt is a strong bet to build on last week's start at TMS. He has earned six top-10 finishes in his 13 career starts at the track, including a current streak of four consecutive top-20 finishes (two top 15s). Fantasy owners also receive a boatload of bonus points on qualifying day, as Earnhardt has averaged a strong 9.1-position qualifying slot during his career. He's run inside the top 15 in 81.9 percent of the laps run in the past four years while averaging a 10.61-position running slot.

Kasey Kahne

Kahne has been running fairly well down the stretch with a few obvious missteps. He's raced to four top-10 finishes in his past six starts, including two runs outside of the top 30. Kahne ranks ninth in the Chase standings on the strength of 14 top-10 finishes (15th-place average finish). He's a quite difficult proposition this weekend at TMS, wearing the proverbial "hit-or-miss" target on his back again. Kahne dominated the field in his first TMS start back in 2004, leading 148 laps en route to a second-place finish. He later claimed the pole and won the spring event in 2006. However, Kahne has finished 18th or worse in his other seven TMS starts. Approach him with caution.

Kyle Busch

Busch has run well down the stretch, producing two top 10s and a 15th-place finish in his past three starts and four top-15 finishes in his past six runs overall. He hasn't been the dominant player in the Chase that we'd hoped for this season. However, I like Busch to produce a solid effort for fantasy participants this weekend. Busch has been solid at TMS in the past four years, having run inside the top 15 in 62.3 percent of the laps run. He's raced to three top 10s and a 15th-place finish in his eight career TMS starts. You know what that means. He's raced 21st or worse in three of his other four starts (18th in the spring).

Mark Martin

It's been a phenomenal season for the No. 5 Hendrick Chevy. Martin is rolling in the second position in the Chase, although the point differential between Martin and leader Jimmie Johnson is growing on a weekly basis. He's raced to eight top 10s in his past 10 starts, including six top-five finishes. Martin owns the most top-10 finishes of any driver at TMS, having produced nine upper-tier runs in his 16 career starts. Five of his top-10 finishes have come in his past seven starts with a strong 12th-place finish tossed in for good measure. The venerable driver has also qualified inside the top 10 in four of his past seven entries. Martin has averaged a strong 14.17-position running slot and 12.9-position finish in the past four years.

Carl Edwards

It's been a solid, albeit unspectacular, season for the No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford squad. Edwards has produced 13 top-10 finishes this season while averaging a solid 15th-place finish. We're still awaiting Edwards' first backflip of the year. Might we see it here and have Edwards end a minor three-race funk? Edwards is set for a big charge this weekend at TMS. He owns four top-10 finishes in nine career starts at the track, including three wins. Edwards led an astounding total of 335 laps in those events. He's averaged a strong 11.52-position running slot in the past four years here and a 13.4-position finish.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin won the TUMS Fast Relief 500 two weeks, the lone shining spot in an otherwise horrid close to the season. He's experienced an accident and two blown engines in the past four weeks. Despite Hamlin's recent issues, he's on the radar for a start this weekend at TMS. Hamlin has raced to five top 10s and a 12th-place finish in his eight career starts, including two top fives. In fact, he's raced 17th or better in seven of his eight starts. He's averaged a tremendous 12.26-position running slot and 11.6-position finish in the past four years.

Jamie McMurray

McMurray had been mired in a horrid funk, having gone nearly five months without a top-10 appearance. In back-to-back weeks, he has charged to the top of the field and won a thriller in the AMP Energy 500. I'm anticipating another big run this weekend from McMurray as the circuit rolls to Texas Motor Speedway. He owns six top-10 finishes (eight top 15s) in his 11 career starts at the track. He's raced to a solid 18.53-position running slot and 16.1-position finish in the past four years. McMurray will be in my fourth slot this weekend.

Tony Stewart

It's been a charmed season for the new No. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevy, although he'd certainly like last week's 35th-place finish back. Stewart had run to four top-10 finishes in his five starts prior to last week's accident. "Smoke" has been one of the strongest competitors at Texas Motor Speedway in his history, racing to nine top 10s (11 top 16s) in 15 career starts. He dominated the field in 2006, racing to a phenomenal third-place finish in the spring race before taking down his first TMS checkered flag in the fall. I expect another huge effort this weekend.

Quick hits

Greg Biffle

Biffle broke a three-race mini-funk with a huge charge to fourth place in the AMP Energy 500. Can he build on the start or is this week's TMS run a non-starter? The No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford is one of the more divisive options this weekend. He's raced to four top-10 finishes in 11 career starts, including a win in 2005. Unfortunately, Biffle has finished 20th or worse in his other seven TMS starts. He's definitely a hit-or-miss option this weekend, but I am encouraged by the fact that he's run to back-to-back top-five finishes.

Ryan Newman

Newman was one of several Chase leaders who took a step back because of an accident in the AMP Energy 500. It derailed a strong run of finishes for Newman. He'd run inside the top 15 in nine of 10 events prior to last week's accident-marred finish. The No. 39 Stewart-Haas Chevy will look to get back on track at TMS, where Newman ran 15th in April. Newman is a past winner here (2003) and has posted three top-five runs in his 11 TMS starts. However, he's also had his share of disappointments at the track, having seen three of his 11 runs end early because of accidents and engine woes. In fact, Newman has finished 25th or worse in six of his 11 starts. I'll reserve him for another week.

Clint Bowyer

This wasn't the 2009 season that Bowyer envisioned, but he's at least closing things out well. Bowyer has raced to four top 10s (six top 15s) in his past eight starts. I expect his recent string of successes to continue at TMS. Bowyer has raced 19th or better in five of his six TMS starts, including top-10 finishes in both 2008 events. Bowyer has raced to a strong 13.9-position running slot and 13.6-position finish.

Brian Vickers

Vickers has raced to back-to-back top-15 finishes as the circuit runs to TMS. I'm not calling on Vickers to produce a top-tier rebound effort this weekend. Vickers has never generated a top-10 finish in nine career starts, although he has cracked the top 15 on two occasions (16th, 18th and 16th in his past three runs).

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya has raced to 19th and 35th-place finishes in two of his past three starts to offset a tremendous set of top-five finishes (five in his past seven starts). Those minor blips are the outliers on Montoya's fabulous third Sprint Cup season. I'm tossing past performances to the curb this weekend. Montoya has raced to two top 10s in five career starts at the track, but he's also run 19th or worse in his other three rides. Still, he's worthy of roster consideration this weekend.

Longshots

Casey Mears

Mears hasn't posted a huge season, but he's run fairly well down the stretch. Prior to last week's 25th-place finish in the AMP Energy 500, Mears had raced to six consecutive top-18 finishes (one top 10). I'm moderately encouraged by his recent efforts, enough to put Mears on the radar for a fourth roster slot. Mears has raced to three top 10s (five top 15s) in his 10 career TMS starts while averaging a strong 16.7-position finish.

Martin Truex, Jr.

I won't spend too much time discussing the horrid season experienced by Truex and his team. I'll dismiss the carnage and put him up as the Hail Mary option for desperate fantasy participants this weekend. Truex has raced to four top 10s and five top 15s in his eight career starts at the track. Additionally, he has qualified inside the top 10 on three occasions and claimed the pole in the fall of 2007. He's raced inside the top 15 in 72.5 percent of all laps run here in the past four years. As such, Truex is a big threat for a breakthrough this weekend.

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