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Samsung Mobile 500 Preview: Fort Worth Rumble

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A five-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year each of the last two years. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

We make a return to the intermediate ovals for the first race of the season in Fort Worth, Texas, this weekend. Following the NASCAR off week, the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is on tap. This event marks the end of the spring short track part of the schedule, and the beginning of a stretch of intermediate ovals and super speedways. The teams that performed well in the beating and banging of Bristol and Martinsville can now focus on the business of racing at high speeds and with a return to the emphasis of handling sensitivity. For the drivers that finished well at the bull rings, they have a leg up in the championship standings as we enter the heart of the NASCAR schedule.

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 a bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule. We can look back at the results from Las Vegas Motor Speedway several weekends ago and get a good indication of who will perform well at TMS on Sunday, but the truth is that we haven't raced enough on this style of oval this season to have a real appreciation of who's on top of their game right now. Surprisingly, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas struggled quite 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 the two teams of Stewart-Haas Racing both cracked the Top 5, with Stewart winning, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so expectations are high for that duo 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 with some confidence this weekend. But that is really just one event in the big scheme of things. What will likely better serve us is to examine the most recent data from the oval in Fort Worth. The electronic loop statistics at Texas Motor Speedway will be our most important tool 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, both should provide us with valuable information for this Sunday's race. The loop stats in the table below cover the last seven years or 14 races at Texas Motor Speedway.

Matt Kenseth6.65712756063,656106.5
Tony Stewart11.95323397123,895105.8
Greg Biffle15.45844026423,314100.8
Carl Edwards15.55663214933,696100.0
Jimmie Johnson10.75612491193,32898.4
Kyle Busch16.24802034412,95197.5
Denny Hamlin10.25371641312,80995.2
Dale Earnhardt Jr.15.16101631953,60492.7
Clint Bowyer13.039596842,43192.1
Jeff Gordon16.24842164502,81490.3
Kurt Busch15.64671742332,83989.6
Mark Martin13.1411101922,67087.1
Kevin Harvick12.34574832,56883.6
Jeff Burton15.4454114352,59183.1
Martin Truex Jr.16.937759202,29482.8
Marcos Ambrose17.63176711,34282.6
Kasey Kahne20.9439183702,47481.8
David Reutimann24.9294116451,51379.7
David Ragan19.637627101,60478.5
Juan Pablo Montoya23.238070121,62376.1

In this event one year ago, Matt Kenseth captured his second career win at Texas Motor Speedway. That victory ended up being the first half of a great two-race performance for the No. 17 Ford team at this oval. When the series returned in the fall, Kenseth led 87 laps and battled the entire event with Tony Stewart en route to a brilliant fourth-place finish. Last season this Ford team put a real damper on Chevrolet and Toyota's short reign of dominance at this intermediate oval. Roush Fenway Fords and Stewart-Haas Chevrolets should factor in the outcome again this weekend at TMS. Carl Edwards swept at this facility in 2008 and his teammate Greg Biffle are both well-established performers at the Fort Worth oval. Throw in owner/driver Stewart into the mix with his excellent Texas loops stats and his recent victory at the Las Vegas intermediate track 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 Samsung Mobile 500.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

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 12 years. Still, the Roush Fenway Racing star has reeled off 10 career Top 5's and over 750 laps led at the intermediate oval in 19 starts. Those numbers include 169 laps led and a brilliant victory here one year ago. With the No. 17 Ford team performing well right now (4th in the standings), Kenseth has a good shot at adding a third career Texas victory to his resume on Sunday.

Tony Stewart -
The last time we saw Smoke in action on an intermediate oval, he was totally dominating at Las Vegas and held off Jimmie Johnson for the win. With this week's Texas race being the second 1.5-mile oval event of 2012, it's hard not to like Stewart's chances this weekend. The owner/driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet is a two-time winner at the Fort Worth oval, including last fall's AAA Texas 500. The electronic loop stats for the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion are nearly flawless at this facility. Stewart has led more laps and has more laps in the Top 15 at TMS than any other Sprint Cup driver since the inception of electronic scoring.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson is a one-time winner at Fort Worth, but he's not started the 2012 season in race winning form just yet. Johnson gets the contender label this week based on both his past history at this oval and his most recent performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He led 35 laps at that intermediate oval a few weeks ago and battled down the stretch run with Stewart for the win. We could see a repeat of that scenario at Texas. The Hendrick Motorsports star has won or finished runner-up in five of his 17 starts at TMS. The No. 48 Chevrolet team isn't throwing darts just yet this season, but that could all change after Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
The NASCAR icon's great start to the season and flirtation with victory lane at Martinsville the prior race has the No. 88 team on everyone's radar screen heading to Texas this week. We can't 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 53 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 a season-best 70 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and raced with the leaders that entire event before settling for a Top-10 finish. We expect much more in this event. In fact, we believe there's a good chance that Earnhardt could put his 135-race winless streak to rest this weekend.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Carl Edwards -
Six races into the season and Edwards finds himself a sub-par 11th in the driver standings entering this event. He's fresh off an uneventful Top 10 at Martinsville and hoping to gather some momentum at Texas Motor Speedway. The Roush Fenway Racing star is coming to one of his favorite tracks this weekend in Fort Worth, so there's good reason to forecast a boost for the No. 99 Ford team this week. Edwards is a three-time winner at this oval, and swept both races here in 2008. His second- and third-place finishes here in 2011 are very reassuring for both the driver and fantasy racing players alike.

Greg Biffle -
The championship standings leader has lost a little steam over the past couple races, but he should get a hop in his step coming to Fort Worth this week. The 1.5-mile Texas oval has held a host of good performances for the Roush Fenway Racing stable, and Biffle is no exception. He has one career win and nine Top-10 finishes in 16 career starts at TMS. Biffle rides a three-race Top 5 streak at this facility entering this weekend, so confidence must be running very high in the No. 16 camp. In fact, the last time we saw Biffle in action at TMS he won the pole, led 23 laps and finished a brilliant fifth in last November's AAA Texas 500.

Ryan Newman -
Rocket Man hopes to build on the momentum of his big Martinsville win this week at Texas Motor Speedway. The intermediate oval has held a lot of success recently for Stewart Haas Racing, so that bodes well for the No. 39 team entering this weekend. Newman has two pole positions and one victory at this track, although this success came much earlier in his NASCAR career. Given how well the veteran driver performed recently at Las Vegas (fourth-place finish) we have high expectations for the No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing team on Sunday afternoon.

Clint Bowyer -
After his third Top-10 finish of the season at Martinsville Speedway, it appears that Bowyer has settled in well with his new team at Michael Waltrip Racing. He sits a lofty ninth in the championship standings entering this weekend, and looking for more at the Texas oval. The driver of the No. 15 Toyota sports a respectable 58 percent Top 10 rate at TMS and Bowyer is riding a three-race Top 10 streak at the intermediate oval. Given the momentum of this driver and team, Bowyer has to be smiling wide coming to Fort Worth for the Samsung Mobile 500.

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

Denny Hamlin -
After a very encouraging performance at Martinsville Speedway in the last race, the Joe Gibbs Racing star is looking to continue building momentum this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. JGR teams have struggled at Texas, but the driver of the No. 11 Toyota has been the lone exception. Hamlin swept this facility in dominant style in 2010, and he sports an eye-opening 62 percent Top 10 rate at the Fort Worth oval. He also has over 130 career laps led at TMS, so we're quite used to seeing Hamlin race with the leaders here. There's little doubt he'll do it again on Sunday afternoon.

Jeff Gordon -
The No. 24 team have been plagued with bad luck this season. Gordon's last race at Martinsville is a perfect example of this fact. He led a whopping 328 laps but was crashed on the final restart. Gordon's recent performances at Texas Motor Speedway have been a bit of a mixed bag of sorts. He's failed to crack the Top 10 in four of his last five trips to TMS. However, he's led over 100 laps during the span and won one pole position. Gordon's last trip to Fort Worth yielded a brilliant sixth-place finish, and we believe that's the Gordon we'll see this weekend.

Brad Keselowski -
This is the daring pick of the sleepers list this week. Keselowski has no real impressive Texas outings to hang his 10-gallon hat on. In fact, the Penske racing star has no Top-10 finishes and only 3 Top-20 finishes in seven career starts at Texas Motor Speedway. Throw all that out the window this weekend. We've liked everything we've seen of Keselowski and the No. 2 Dodge team to this point in the season. While he's a better fantasy racing play on short tracks, he's more than capable of making waves on intermediate ovals, as he showed with his Kansas Speedway victory last season.

Marcos Ambrose -
The Top-15 finish at Martinsville has hopefully gotten the No. 9 Ford team back on track for this week's race at Texas. Ambrose sports Top-15 finishes in his last three trips to Texas Motor Speedway. This weekend he will attempt to extend that string of Top 15's at TMS. We believe the odds will be good because Ambrose has been clearly comfortable racing at this intermediate oval ever since crossing over to NASCAR a few years ago. Considering Ambrose cracked the Top 15 at Las Vegas a few weeks ago, we have high confidence in the Richard Petty Motorsports driver in the Samsung Mobile 500.

Paul Menard -
The Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team got a wake up call at Martinsville Speedway last weekend. Menard had a mediocre race car and he battled to a 27th-place finish in the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500. He will look to rebound this week at Texas. Menard finished a career-best fifth at this facility one year ago, and he returned in the fall to post a respectable 15th-place finish in the AAA Texas 500. The last time we saw Menard in action on a 1.5-mile oval he was finishing a stellar seventh at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March's Kobalt Tools 400.

Trevor Bayne -
We've been waiting to get Bayne back in our sleepers list, and this week's race at Fort Worth is the perfect opportunity to roll out the No. 21 Ford. The young Wood Brothers Racing driver will be making his third start of the season in this weekend's Samsung Mobile 500. Bayne cracked the Top 10 in his last start at the intermediate oval in Las Vegas. He started 25th and finished a respectable ninth. In three career starts at the Fort Worth oval Bayne has finished 17th in all three. We're willing to bet he gets inside the Top 15 for the first time at TMS.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Kyle Busch -
The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has started the season with some of the worst luck we've seen in 2012. Busch sits a lowly 16th in the series standings and with two finishes outside the Top 30 in two of his last three races. The Joe Gibbs Racing star's record at Texas Motor Speedway is not the greatest with a less-than-impressive 39 percent Top 10 rate at the oval. In this event one year ago, Busch finished 16th in what has been a typical outing for him at this facility. The last time we saw him in action on an intermediate oval, Busch finished 23rd at Las Vegas a few weeks ago.

Kasey Kahne -
The new Hendrick Motorsports driver is off to a rough start in 2012. While we would normally give him the fantasy racing nod of approval for a Texas race weekend, we have to shy away this time around. Kahne's engine failure at Martinsville in the last race is just the latest in a series of misadventures for the No. 5 Chevrolet team. Kahne has the experience and equipment to prove us wrong at Texas this Sunday afternoon, but we advise stay away until this veteran driver and team get things figured out.

Juan Pablo Montoya -
The malaise of 2012 for the No. 42 team has drug on to Texas race weekend. Things have just not gone right since Montoya smashed into that jet dryer at Daytona to start the season. Entering this race Montoya is ranked 17th in the driver standings and looking to change his fortunes at TMS. Texas Motor Speedway has been a tough nut to crack for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver. Montoya has only a 20 percent Top 10 rate at the Fort Worth oval. Considering he recently piloted the No. 42 Chevrolet to an unimpressive 25th-place finish at Las Vegas, you can understand our pessimism for the Columbian driver this weekend.

Joey Logano -
While we continue to wait for Logano to catch fire this season, we have to dial down our expectations for the No. 20 Toyota team this week. With the exception of Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing teams have struggled at Texas recently. They were also scarcely represented in the recent Las Vegas race. Logano has a lowly one Top-10 finish in seven career starts at Texas Motor Speedway, and that factors out to a mere 26.0 average finish at this 1.5-mile oval. There are much better weeks in the schedule to deploy Logano in your fantasy racing lineups.

Taylor is a thrice-named Fantasy Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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