Texas offers high speeds, tight racing
NASCAR on FOX’s cast of characters will put on our cowboy hats as we head to Texas Motor Speedway for our first night points race of 2011.
Texas is surely one of the most challenging tracks in NASCAR. It’s fast and difficult, particularly coming off the corners where the bank flattens out quickly. We will see speeds of nearly, if not more than, 200 mph at Texas.
The guy who has done the best job of mastering it is Carl Edwards, who has won three times in NASCAR’s top series. But, in the “what have you done recently” category, Denny Hamlin won both 2010 Texas Sprint Cup races. Hamlin struggled at his best track, Martinsville, last weekend where once again sub-par fuel mileage and slower-than-the-rest pit stops prevented him from taking home another checkered flag.
He and his team will be hard at work this week looking for better Texas results. Meanwhile, FOX prerace producer Chuck McDonald along with Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip have been hard at work creating another entertaining get-up-to-speed prerace show.
Kevin Harvick, based on his winning performance two weeks in a row at Auto Club Speedway in California and then Martinsville last week — two very different tracks — is surely pegged as a favorite at Texas. Waltrip has nicknamed Harvick “The Closer” because he doesn’t lead many laps in the races he wins, but he gets the job done by finishing first. He led just one lap to win California, six to win Martinsville.
However, Junior Nation was on its collective feet last weekend at Martinsville as Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearly won. Had it not been for “The Closer” dusting Junior with four to go, Earnhardt, who finished second, would have won his first points-paying Cup race in nearly three years. Junior’s deal with new crew chief Steve Letarte has truly come together. They are working as a team at the highest level, Letarte is effectively adjusting the car so it gets better and better as the races go on, and Junior is getting the job done behind the wheel.
You may remember that Junior won his first Nationwide Series race at Texas in 1998 and his first Cup race there after leading the most laps of any driver in 2000. America’s favorite stock car driver is poised to win again at a track where he’s broken through in dramatic fashion before.
Krista Voda, Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum and I will be very busy on pit road. The race is a long 500 miles.
The last four Texas Cup races have included green-flag pit stops, which, with the new NASCAR-required fueling systems, will create a great unknown. Greg Biffle’s team has tried three different gasmen in the season’s first six races in its effort to conquer the new fuel system, and David Reutimann’s team suffered through a broken filler nozzle last weekend at Martinsville.
Surely, someone will benefit magnificently and someone will suffer terribly at Texas during green-flag pit stops.
As always, preliminaries — practice and qualifying — will be broadcast on the FOX-owned SPEED channel. The first practice is early — Thursday afternoon. The race is live on FOX at 7 p.m. ET Saturday.
Just as Martinsville’s grandfather clock that goes to the winner is an admired trophy, so, too, are the unique awards for winning at Texas especially valued. High-dollar specialty guns have gone to pole winners, and unique cowboy boots made into trophies have gone to feature event winners.