Duck Commander 500 Preview: Back to the Fast Tracks

Duck Commander 500 Preview: Back to the Fast Tracks

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We make a return to the intermediate ovals for the first race of the season in Fort Worth this weekend. Following the beating and banging short-track action of Martinsville Speedway, the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is on tap. This event marks a temporary break in the spring, short track part of the schedule, and gives us just one more look at the teams on a cookie cutter oval. The teams that performed well in the close confines of Martinsville can now focus on the business of racing at high speeds and with a return to the emphasis of handling sensitivity and down force. For the drivers that finished well at the Virginia bull ring, they have a leg up in the championship standings as we enter the heart of the NASCAR schedule. For those drivers who do well on the intermediate ovals and looking for a boost in the standings, it's time to strike while the iron is hot. Texas Motor Speedway possesses the trademark characteristics of the "D-shaped" tri-ovals on the circuit. This facility has 24-degree banking in the turns and very high speeds similar to that of the oval in Atlanta. This race will give us a good indication of the drivers that will be dominant for the remainder of the season, since this style of track makes up the bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule. We can look back at the results from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway a few weekends
We make a return to the intermediate ovals for the first race of the season in Fort Worth this weekend. Following the beating and banging short-track action of Martinsville Speedway, the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is on tap. This event marks a temporary break in the spring, short track part of the schedule, and gives us just one more look at the teams on a cookie cutter oval. The teams that performed well in the close confines of Martinsville can now focus on the business of racing at high speeds and with a return to the emphasis of handling sensitivity and down force. For the drivers that finished well at the Virginia bull ring, they have a leg up in the championship standings as we enter the heart of the NASCAR schedule. For those drivers who do well on the intermediate ovals and looking for a boost in the standings, it's time to strike while the iron is hot. Texas Motor Speedway possesses the trademark characteristics of the "D-shaped" tri-ovals on the circuit. This facility has 24-degree banking in the turns and very high speeds similar to that of the oval in Atlanta. This race will give us a good indication of the drivers that will be dominant for the remainder of the season, since this style of track makes up the bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule. We can look back at the results from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway a few weekends ago and get a good indication of who will perform well at TMS on Saturday evening. We've raced just enough on this style of track to have a good feel for who is on top of their game right now. Surprisingly, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets struggled a bit at Las Vegas, so it will be interesting to see if the teams from that stable learned anything from their issues or if they will continue to have problems on intermediate ovals. While both of the teams of Penske Racing cracked the Top 10, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano combining to lead 56 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so expectations are high for that camp heading into the Texas race weekend.

Since we are returning to a 1.5-mile oval this week, we can look back on the data from Las Vegas and Atlanta with some confidence this weekend. But that is really just two events in the big scheme of things. An invaluable aid will be to examine the most recent data from the oval in Fort Worth. The electronic loop statistics at Texas Motor Speedway will be one of our most important tools for selecting drivers for this weekend's race. Theses numbers will help us to spot trends, and when combined with how the teams performed at Las Vegas and Atlanta, both should provide us with valuable information for this Saturday evening's race. The loop stats in the table below cover the last 10 years or 20 races at Texas Motor Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Matt Kenseth7.57683656845,333105.9
Jimmie Johnson9.37105798895,005105.7
Kyle Busch12.96723557044,539101.3
Greg Biffle13.17964737334,838100.9
Tony Stewart12.56393627864,45698.3
Carl Edwards15.27243615314,60795.9
Denny Hamlin10.87921801544,22393.5
Jeff Gordon17.67023915564,40193.2
Clint Bowyer13.3638151853,80791.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.15.48002301954,95091.1
Martin Truex Jr.15.45841352313,92087.8
Kurt Busch17.16422002483,77587.4
Kevin Harvick12.873810064,04785.1
Kasey Kahne19.5718233704,18485.1
Kyle Larson11.710722049083.5
Brad Keselowski18.23521692461,99180.3
Joey Logano17.93171811401,87679.1
Jamie McMurray18.5513125702,61577.0
Ryan Newman17.854362202,38574.6
Paul Menard19.75383922,20571.4

In this event one year ago, Joey Logano captured his first career win at Texas Motor Speedway. It was the first of a five-win campaign that saw the No. 22 Ford team challenge for the championship in 2014. That victory handed team owner Roger Penske his first victory at the Fort Worth oval since 2003 when Ryan Newman last won at the facility for Penske. When the series returned in the fall, it wasn't Logano turning heads it was Jimmie Johnson. He led 191 laps and out-dueled Kevin Harvick to take the checkers in last November's AAA Texas 500. So at least for the moment, Chevrolet has wrestled control of this high-speed tri-oval from Ford. With Harvick's dominant victory at Las Vegas recently, we have to give some heavy consideration in the direction of Chevrolet this weekend. When we take a look at Toyota, we see that it has been since the 2013 season when Kyle Busch beat out Martin Truex Jr. that this manufacturer last visited victory lane in Fort Worth. Denny Hamlin's win at Martinsville two weeks ago snapped a major drought for Toyota, so it could be time for a driver from this camp to win at Texas. Throw in streaking Gibbs driver Matt Kenseth with his excellent Texas loops stats and his recent Top 10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and we have what is shaping up to be a multi-team, multi-manufacturer brawl this weekend in Texas. We'll take a look at recent intermediate oval stats and historical trends at Fort Worth in order to give you the drivers to win in your fantasy leagues in the Duck Commander 500.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kevin Harvick -
Despite never having won at this oval, Harvick has been a consistent finisher at Texas Motor Speedway over the years. With 12 Top-10 finishes in 24 starts he checks in at a respectable 50-percent rate. Four of Harvick's last six trips to Fort Worth have netted Top-10 finishes, including a runner-up finish in last November's AAA Texas 500. Strong and steady are two words that describe the Stewart Haas Racing veteran's ability at this 1.5-mile track. The No. 4 Chevrolet has been the strongest car on the track on these intermediate ovals the last several months. There's a good chance we could see Harvick's first win at TMS this weekend.

Joey Logano -
Logano is another driver who has used recent Texas outings to reverse historical trends at the oval. The driver of the No. 22 Ford won this event one year ago in a dominant performance. He led 108 laps and set the pace most of the day in the Duck Commander 500. It was Logano's first career win at the Texas track, but almost certainly not his last. With Top-5 finishes in three of his last four visits to Fort Worth, it's clear that the Penske Racing star and this team has this oval pretty well dialed-in. If Logano's performances on cookie cutter ovals recently are any indication, he'll be a top contender in the Duck Commander 500.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson is a four-time winner at Fort Worth, and he won in his most dominant performance yet the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited here last November. Johnson gets the contender label this week based on both his past history at this oval and his most recent outings at TMS. Three of his four victories at the track have come in the last three years, so it's been a top facility for Johnson of late. With close to 900 laps led for his career at Texas Motor Speedway it's clear that this is one of his favorite places to race. If any of the other top contenders struggle, it will be Johnson's day at Fort Worth.

Brad Keselowski -
This is the daring pick of the contenders list this week. Keselowski has really only three impressive performances in his 13-start Texas resume. In our last trip to Fort Worth, the Penske Racing star led 22 laps and dueled all day long with Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick to finish third in the AAA Texas 500. Prior to that, Keselowski led 85 laps and finished a disappointing 15th in last April's Duck Commander 500. The Penske Racing star has been flirting with victory lane at this oval in recent starts, and the timing may finally be right for Keselowski to cash in for that first Texas win.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth's success at Fort Worth has been nothing short of amazing, and it's almost mind-boggling that he's only captured two wins at the track in the last 13 years. Still, the Joe Gibbs Racing star has reeled off 13 career Top 5s and led close to 850 laps at the intermediate oval in 25 starts. Kenseth has six Top-5 finishes in his last nine starts at the Texas oval entering this weekend's Duck Commander 500. With the No. 20 Toyota team performing well right now but still looking for their first victory of the season, Kenseth has a good shot at adding a third career Texas victory to his resume on Saturday evening.

Denny Hamlin -
The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has started the season with a bang. Hamlin comes to Texas eighth in the driver standings and coming off his first win of the season in our last race at Martinsville. Texas Motor Speedway has been one of his better statistical intermediate ovals. The Joe Gibbs Racing star boasts two victories and 10 Top-10 finishes at this facility in 18 starts. Two of Hamlin's last three trips to the 1.5-mile oval have yielded Top-10 finishes. With the weather heating up and the No. 11 JGR team heating up as well, it's a great time for Hamlin to be visiting the Fort Worth oval.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
We can't easily forget that Earnhardt racked up his first career Sprint Cup Series win at this oval in 2000, and he's been a consistent performer here over the years. Earnhardt owns a 56-percent Top-10 rate at Texas Motor Speedway, which speaks volumes of his consistency at this intermediate oval. The last time we saw Junior in action on a 1.5-mile oval, he led 4 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and finished an impressive fourth in the Kobalt 400. Earnhardt has six Top-10 finishes in his last eight Texas races entering this Saturday evening's Duck Commander 500, and that bodes very well for the No. 88 Chevrolet team.

Ryan Newman -
Despite the huge fine and penalty levied to Newman and the No. 31 team over the off-week, the RCR veteran still makes a steady fantasy racing play at the Texas oval. Newman is a one-time winner at TMS and he's led 99 laps for his career at the facility. While a lot of the success came earlier in his career, there have been good outings of late for the veteran driver. Newman has Top-10 finishes in two of his last four trips to the Fort Worth oval. Additionally, if we look to recent outings on the cookie cutter tracks, Rocket Man's 10th- and third-place finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas are good indicators of his potential this weekend.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Texas who can provide a solid finish

Carl Edwards -
Six races into the season and Edwards finds himself 17th in the driver standings entering this event. Things have not gotten to the best of starts with his new Joe Gibbs Racing team. However, there is good reason to expect business to pick up this weekend at the Fort Worth oval. The JGR star is coming to one of his favorite tracks this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, so there's good reason to forecast a boost for the No. 19 Toyota team this week. Edwards is a three-time winner at this oval, and swept both races here in 2008. His ninth-place finish here last November could be the low side of what to expect Saturday night.

Kyle Larson -
This young driver's NASCAR resume may be short, but there are certain ovals that Larson took right to in his rookie season of 2014. The cookie cutter ovals in particular were good tracks for the No. 42 Chevrolet team. At this track in Central Texas, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver claimed strong fifth- and seventh-place finishes last season. When we couple that with the last outing that we saw Larson race on a 1.5-mile track we have good reason for optimism in the Duck Commander 500. Just four weeks ago, we saw the young driver qualify fifth, race inside the Top 10 all day and finish eighth at the similar oval in Las Vegas.

A.J. Allmendinger -
The hot start to the season has cooled a bit for the JTG Daugherty Racing team, but that's due in large part to the short track portion of the schedule that we just came through. The intermediate ovals were great starts early in the schedule for Allmendinger and the No. 47 Chevrolet team. He grabbed impressive seventh- and sixth-place finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas. Now we return to the cookie cutter ovals and we're sure Allmendinger is chomping at the bit to get back into the race car. He has 12 career starts at TMS with only two Top-10 finishes to his credit. However, when we point to his most recent outing here in November we see a respectable 14th-place finish in last fall's AAA Texas 500.

Kurt Busch -
The Stewart Haas Racing star returned to action with a vengeance at Phoenix and Fontana. We got to see a really motivated driver in his return. Due to the veteran driver's early-season suspension we missed the No. 41 team at Atlanta and Las Vegas, so we don't have a gage on the current intermediate oval performance of this team, but that is of little concern. Busch has one career win at Texas Motor Speedway and 13 Top-10 finishes in 24 starts (54-percent). In our last trip to Fort Worth he qualified fourth, led 15 laps and finished a strong eighth. He should crack the Top 10 in Saturday night's 500-mile race.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Only three drivers have started the season with six-consecutive Top-10 finishes and Truex is one of those drivers. That places him among the likes of Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. That really speaks to the excellence of the Furniture Row Racing team to start this season. Intermediate ovals are good tracks for the driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet and that should be encouraging going into this Saturday's Duck Commander 500. Truex's last visit to Texas Motor Speedway yielded a less-than-impressive 19th-place finish in last November's AAA Texas 500. Instead, we would focus on the sixth- and second-place finishes he's claimed at Atlanta and Las Vegas this season as a truer barometer of potential this weekend.

Brett Moffitt -
Once again Moffitt will be in the No. 55 Toyota of Michael Waltrip Racing this weekend in relief of Brian Vickers as he continues to recover from blood clots. This is a driver way down in the driver pool of most weekly lineup leagues and can be had on the cheap, however, don't mistake the potential for tremendous upside. Moffitt turned heads with his start at the similar oval in Atlanta early this season when he raced the No. 55 Toyota to a strong eighth-place finish in the Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500. We're not saying that Moffitt will crack the Top 10 again this weekend, but the team's current level of performance would suggest that the young driver will keep it on the lead lap and finish inside the Top 20 at Texas.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Trevor Bayne -
There's a lot of pressure on Bayne and the No. 6 Ford team as the Sprint Cup Series pulls into Fort Worth this weekend. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has not started the 2015 campaign very well and limps into Texas a distant 25th in the driver standings. The Top-20 finish at Martinsville was encouraging but now the game changes again as we go back intermediate oval racing. Bayne has nine career starts at Texas, but the results have been mixed at best. Five Top-20 finishes in those starts have averaged out to a 22.9 career average finish at the facility. Based on his Atlanta and Las Vegas outings earlier in the year, he could do somewhat worse in the Duck Commander 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -
The driver of the No. 17 Ford had some tough luck at Martinsville Speedway in our last race and finished 40th. Stenhouse is hopeful to shake that misfortune and get going back in the right direction at Texas Motor Speedway, but he faces an uphill battle. The young driver has four career starts at the 1.5-mile oval with only one Top-20 finish to his credit. Intermediate ovals have been tricky for the young Roush Fenway Racing driver and Texas has been among the most puzzling. Stenhouse finished an uninspiring 36th at the similar oval in Atlanta earlier this season. That gives us pause about starting him in this Saturday's Duck Commander 500.

Tony Stewart -
The malaise for Stewart continued at Martinsville as the star driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet finished 20th at a short track where he's normally racing and finishing with the leaders. That's been the trend this early-season, as Stewart has been struggling even on his favorite ovals. We don't see that changing at Texas Motor Speedway despite Smoke's two-career victories at the Fort Worth oval. The struggles of the owner/driver won't come to an end so easily. His poor 30th- and 33rd-place finishes on the cookie cutter ovals of Atlanta and Las Vegas are good warning sign to stay away from the No. 14 Chevrolet team this weekend.

Austin Dillon -
After an electrical problem led to a DNF and 41st-place finish at Martinsville Speedway last weekend, the Richard Childress Racing young gun is looking to get back into top form this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. From Atlanta and Las Vegas indicators it's going to be uphill racing for the No. 3 Chevrolet team this Saturday night at TMS. 39th- and 20th-place finishes at those two tracks don't bode well for Dillon coming into the Duck Commander 500. He has four career starts at this intermediate oval, so Dillon is not short on experience here. However, the results have been less than inspiring with no Top-20 finishes in those four attempts. The average finish over that span works out to 24.2 and that's where you'll likely see Dillon end up this Saturday evening.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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