NASCAR Barometer: Jimmy Johnson is Bigger in Texas

NASCAR Barometer: Jimmy Johnson is Bigger in Texas

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Saturday's Duck Commander 500 didn't bring too many surprises to the fore. Jimmie Johnson demonstrated speed throughout the weekend, qualified in the top 10 and played pit strategy well to make sure his car was the fastest on the long green-flag runs. Texas Motor Speedway has a habit of producing long runs with few cautions, and favored a four-tire pit strategy on Saturday. Johnson and Chad Knaus pieced that together to run at the front of the field all night, ultimately overtaking Kevin Harvick and pulling away for the win. With that win he becomes the second driver to score multiple victories in 2015, and earns his first spring Texas victory.

Saturday night's long green-flag stretches didn't thin the field out through attrition, but it did enable the fastest cars to separate themselves from the competition. While the race was primarily a battle between Johnson and Harvick a number of drivers were able to lead laps. Twenty-six cars finished on the lead lap, and only two competitors had fallen out of the competition before 200 laps were complete.

The fast open spaces of Texas give way to the tight confines of Bristol Motor Speedway this week, so who leaves Texas with momentum, and who needs to regroup?

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson - Johnson rebounded quickly from his disappointing 35th-place finish two weeks ago in Martinsville. The Hendrick Motorsports driver jumped out of the gate early after the week off, leading laps early in Saturday's main event. He battled for much of

Saturday's Duck Commander 500 didn't bring too many surprises to the fore. Jimmie Johnson demonstrated speed throughout the weekend, qualified in the top 10 and played pit strategy well to make sure his car was the fastest on the long green-flag runs. Texas Motor Speedway has a habit of producing long runs with few cautions, and favored a four-tire pit strategy on Saturday. Johnson and Chad Knaus pieced that together to run at the front of the field all night, ultimately overtaking Kevin Harvick and pulling away for the win. With that win he becomes the second driver to score multiple victories in 2015, and earns his first spring Texas victory.

Saturday night's long green-flag stretches didn't thin the field out through attrition, but it did enable the fastest cars to separate themselves from the competition. While the race was primarily a battle between Johnson and Harvick a number of drivers were able to lead laps. Twenty-six cars finished on the lead lap, and only two competitors had fallen out of the competition before 200 laps were complete.

The fast open spaces of Texas give way to the tight confines of Bristol Motor Speedway this week, so who leaves Texas with momentum, and who needs to regroup?

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson - Johnson rebounded quickly from his disappointing 35th-place finish two weeks ago in Martinsville. The Hendrick Motorsports driver jumped out of the gate early after the week off, leading laps early in Saturday's main event. He battled for much of the distance with Kevin Harvick, but ultimately led 128 of the race's 334 laps en route to another victory this season. This team is putting the pieces together for a strong run in the Chase this fall, making the right calls, and picking up wins along the way. Johnson is a past Bristol winner with an average finish of 15th, and could end up being the favorite when the series sets up shop this weekend in Tennessee.

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick started Saturday night's race as the betting favorite. He was consistently fast in practice, and had a top starting position after qualifying. The Stewart Haas Racing driver lived up to the favorite billing by jumping out to the lead in the race's early stages, but it wasn't easy with Johnson hounding him. An ill-timed scrape of the wall in the closing laps may have ruined Harvick's chances for victory, and he remained behind Johnson until the finish as a result. Harvick is also a past winner at Bristol, and his average finish at the track is 14.2. The only other driver to have multiple wins this season should be as strong as usual this week, too.

Jamie McMurray -
Chip Ganassi Racing and McMurray were contenders again in Texas. The No. 1 car demonstrated speed to fight with the leaders throughout the weekend, and even led nine laps during the race. McMurray's sixth-place result was his second-consecutive top-10 finish and his third in the last five races. He is within the points cutoff for the Chase in 11th position, but could seal his spot in the playoffs with one small step forward for a win. It appears as though a win is in store for this team soon, and the improvement from 2014, even more so from 2013, is palpable. McMurray finished eighth in the fall of 2014 at Bristol, one of his 10 top-10s earned at the bullring.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Another week produced another top-10 for Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team. The No. 78 hasn't finished a single race outside of the top-10 yet this season, and continues to forge new territory for the team. Truex did not lead a lap Saturday night, but his ninth-place finish was confident, and puts him sixth in the points. Though his average Bristol result is 20.3 with two top-5s, Truex is racing at a level he has never been at before. It appears right now as though no track will be too tough for Truex to overcome. This could end up being the best season of his career, and it would be wise to continue paying attention to him until a significant hiccup occurs.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
After winning the inaugural race at Texas Earnhardt has struggled to find Victory Lane there again. The track's 1.5-mile quad oval configuration is not his best, but you couldn't tell that on Saturday. Earnhardt did everything right to remain in touch with the two leaders, and consolidated a third-place finish for himself. Saturday's finish was his third top-10 at the track in the last five races. Things have been a bit worse for Earnhardt at Bristol recently, though. He failed to finish in the top 10 in both 2014 races there, and even crashed out of the fall race. That could change this week. Earnhardt now has three top-10 finishes in the last five races and sits eighth in points.

DOWNGRADE

Clint Bowyer - Texas was another rough weekend for Bowyer. The No. 15 team failed to show significant speed through practice, and things got even worse during the race. Early in the distance Bowyer felt a rear wheel coming loose, and had to return to the pits under green to tighten a lug nut. The situation never got any better for the Michael Waltrip Racing team, and Bowyer came home in 22nd place at the end of the night. Bowyer hasn't scored a top-10 at Bristol in the last three races, and appears to be continuing his string of poor results in 2015. Fantasy players probably want to continue to avoid him in the near term.

Kyle Larson -
A late mistake on pit road ruined Larson's chances to notch a top finish at one of his best tracks and gain momentum in a tough 2015 so far. The infraction coming off of pit road dropped the No. 42 from the top 10 to a finish of 25th. That result was the second finish worse than 20th in a row for the sophomore, and it may be especially painful since it came from a track where he should have scored a top-10. Larson is now 26th in points (he did miss one race due to a medical issue), but has a mountain to climb before he reaches the heights of his rookie season. The spark he showed in 2014 isn't there this year.

Matt Kenseth -
As the only driver with a better average finish at Texas than Johnson, much was expected from Kenseth last weekend. The No. 20 was off pace for most of the time on track, though. Kenseth didn't qualify well, and wasn't a factor in the race either. He finished 23rd, making it two-in-a-row for finishes worse than 20th at the track. The former champion is a three-time Bristol winner with an average finish of 12.2 from 30 starts at the track, but is may be best for fantasy owners to be patient and watch him through practice and qualifying. Expectations of a strong weekend will be high again this week, but any hints of trouble should cause players to abandon ship.

Tony Stewart -
Stewart may be a notoriously slow starter each season, but Texas has traditionally been a good track for the owner/driver. He started 11th on Saturday, but was only able to finish 24th. Stewart only has one top-15 result so far this season, and just two top-20 finishes in the first seven races of the season. That is a slow start for sure, but we would still expect more from him. Stewart finished fourth in the last Bristol race, but finished no better than 14th in any of the six prior races at the track. Small successes are still possible, but they are appearing all too infrequently. Fantasy players may wish to avoid Stewart until a consistent improvement in results.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Carl Edwards - For the first time in 2015 Edwards and his Joe Gibbs Racing team did enough to secure a top-10. The move to the team this season hasn't paid immediate dividends, and Edwards shouldered some of the blame for that as well. The team bonded well in Texas, though, scoring their first top finish together. More top results may be in store for the pairing now that the initial hurdle has been cleared. The team is 14th in points and looking to climb the ladder up the championship standings. Bristol could be an equalizer for Edwards. He is a three-time winner at the track and the defending champion of this week's race. Texas' small taste of success could prove to be a turning point for the season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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