Complete Preview and Prediction for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Texas

Bob Margolis@BobMargolisContributor IIApril 5, 2014

Complete Preview and Prediction for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Texas

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    Speedway President Eddie Gossage
    Speedway President Eddie GossageGary Miller/Getty Images

    This weekend at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS), NASCAR fans will be be introduced to Big Hoss TV, which bills itself as “the world’s largest high-definition video board.” The Speedway will also receive certification of that fact from Guinness World Records.

    Maybe you're impressed by that. Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage (shown above) says we should be, and the folks from Guinness are involved with saying it is, so this must be a big deal.

    Also at TMS this weekend, NASCAR fans will get to see, up close and personal, the guys who look like a ZZ Top-tribute band and make millions of dollars from duck calls. Fans may not actually get to meet them in person and shake their hands, but the fans attending the race will get to tell their friends that the Duck Commander guys, who have been stylish enough to sponsor the race, were at the track.

    There is some NASCAR racing taking place at TMS, too—really fast racing.

    Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 will be the second opportunity for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup teams to determine whether their 1.5-mile track setups are working.

    The track’s surface is old and worn out just enough to cause plenty of tire “drop-off,” which is what drivers say when the tires lose traction. TMS is a very fast track with the Cup cars entering Turns 1 and 3 at speeds well over 200 miles per hour. 

    TMS also has some serious bumps that will unsettle the car and make for a better show for the fans. It’s tough to pass at TMS, and track position is critical. Expect to see a lot of two-tire pit stops in order to gain track position. The mixing up of some cars, some with two new tires and others with four new tires, will make for some very interesting racing, especially in the closing laps.

    Fast, unpredictable and dramatic. This place has all those ingredients, and it makes Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 a must-watch race. 

Texas Motor Speedway by the Numbers

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    Gary Miller/Getty Images

    Duck Commander 500

    The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

    The Date: Sunday, April 6

    The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)

    TV: Fox, 2:30 p.m. (ET)

    Radio: Performance Radio Network (PRN), SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

    Distance: 501 miles (334 laps)

    Last Year’s Winner: Kyle Busch

    Youngest Pole Winner: Brian Vickers (11/05/2006—23 years, 0 months, 12 days)

    Oldest Pole Winner: Bill Elliott (04/08/2002—46 years, 6 months, 0 days)

    Youngest Winner: Ryan Newman (03/30/2003—25 years, 3 months, 22 days)

    Oldest Winner: Dale Jarrett (04/01/2001—44 years, 4 months, 6 days)

    Races Won from Pole: 3

    Last Race Won from Pole: Kyle Busch (04/13/2013)

    Race Record: Greg Biffle, 160.577 mph (04/14/2012)

    Qualifying Record: Kyle Busch, 196.299 mph (04/13/2013)

    All-Time Race Winner (active drivers): Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards (3)

    Ft. Worth area weather

    Things to do in Ft. Worth

A Look Back in Time

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    • In 1994, NASCAR speedway owner Bruton Smith announces plans to build a multimillion-dollar superspeedway in the Dallas/Fort Worth market.
    • Smith announces he will build his 1.5-mile superspeedway near millionaire developer Ross Perot Jr.’s Alliance Development Corp. site, located between Fort Worth and Denton. The location at the intersection of Interstate 35 West and Texas State Highway 114 was also chosen for its accessibility for the fans.
    • Groundbreaking takes place in 1995, as drivers Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte assist Smith in a ceremony at the speedway site.
    • Construction of the speedway begins later that year.
    • Ground is broken in July 1996 on the Lone Star Tower condominiums outside of Turn 2.
    • The following year, Texas Motor Speedway officials announce plans to build The Speedway Club, a nine-story building located above Turn 1 of the 1.5-mile speedway.
    • On April 5, 1997, Mark Martin, driving the No. 60 Winn-Dixie Ford, wins the inaugural NASCAR race, the Nationwide Series Coca-Cola 300.
    • The following day, Jeff Burton, driving the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford, wins the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Interstate Batteries 500 in front of a sellout crowd, making it a sweep for team owner Jack Roush.
    • On April 4, 2008, while qualifying for the Samsung 500, Michael McDowell, driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, suffered a horrific crash when his Toyota Camry hit the wall in Turn 1 at over 165 mph. He walked away with minor injuries.

    For additional facts about Texas Motor Speedway, click here.

Storylines to Follow

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    Greg Biffle
    Greg BiffleTerry Renna

    Seven different winners in the first seven races 

    It hasn’t been done in NASCAR since 2003. The record for different winners to start the season is 10, set in 2000. 

    In neither of those seasons (both pre-date the Chase) were there more than 16 winners after 26 races. In 2003, there were 16 different winners after 26 races. When these stats are put into historical perspective, it becomes a a very safe bet that the six different winners so far in 2014 will be safely in the Chase after Richmond.

    Among the marquee drivers without a win so far this season are Greg Biffle (see above), Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. All have a win at Texas on their resume. 

    Busch vs. Keselowski

    Although Kurt Busch told reporters at a media event earlier in the week that he had already moved on from his little fracas last weekend at Martinsville, we all know that he hasn’t. Keselowski is still likely to receive some kind of payback from Busch.

    However, Texas Motor Speedway is a very fast track and not the place you really want to deliver payback without risking some serious consequences. Expect the media to poke at these two all weekend to keep this “feud” alive—at least until next week at Darlington, which is better-suited as a track for serious payback.

    Are you tired of hearing about tires?

    Last season, Goodyear introduced a new tire to Sprint Cup competition. It combines two different rubber compounds on the same tire. It’s called a “multi-zone tread” tire, and NASCAR and Goodyear used the new tire successfully last year at both Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

    This season, they’re adding Texas Motor Speedway to the roster of tracks using the new technology, starting this weekend.

    “With this 2014 rules package, we expect speeds and loads to be up at Texas,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales.  “Like at Atlanta last year, we didn’t want to sacrifice grip on a worn racing surface. We decided to bring our multi-zone tread to enhance the durability on the right-side, and we are coming back with the Texas left-side we’ve run there in the past to maintain grip.”

    The new Gen 6 car has been very fast, and track records have been broken almost everywhere. This new tire is designed to maintain grip longer than the previous tire and to not wear out as quickly.

    Texas is a fast and abrasive track. This will be a good test to see if Goodyear got it right. The company usually does.

    However, sometimes it doesn’t.

    New engines on the horizon

    NASCAR CEO Brian France created a buzz when, in an interview on Sirius XM on Tuesday, he alluded to significant forthcoming engine changes for Sprint Cup cars. 

    He declined to discuss specifics and said that details would be coming soon. 

    With high speeds being the rule at Texas Motor Speedway for Sprint Cup cars, there’s bound to be quite a bit of talk about the upcoming engine changes and how those changes are likely to slow down Cup cars. 

    The drivers don’t mind the current speeds and, apparently, neither do the fans. If the cars were to go five to 10 mph slower, it's doubtful the fans would notice. Anything slower would take a bit of time getting used to.

    Hopefully, the new engines keep the cars fast.

Drivers to Watch

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    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Joey Logano

    Joey Logano is having another one of his roller-coaster seasons. In other words, this team is fast; Logano (above) has one pole this season (Las Vegas) and three top-fives. The problem is, the team lacks the consistency needed to win championships. 

    Consistency through one race at a time is what wins, and right now, that’s all the No. 22 team cares about—winning. Las Vegas showed us that Team Penske’s 1.5-mile setup is right on the money (teammate Keselowski won and Logano finished fourth). And last weekend, Logano proved that he can be consistent for 500 grueling laps at Martinsville. 

    Texas Motor Speedway is a much more fun place to race, and Logano, still very much in his 20s, is all about having some fun while he’s at the track. Sunday will likely be a very good day for him.

    Jimmie Johnson

    It’s been a tough week emotionally for the Johnson family. Johnson’s wife lost her brother in a freak skydiving accident at the beginning of the week. 

    Johnson has dealt with heavy emotions before while he’s been working at the race track. Maybe the circumstances have not been as close to him as this current situation is, but they were difficult. These are times when a team as strong and close-knit as the No. 48 team is can rally around a teammate who is dealing with adversity and come out on top. 

    Johnson, who has three wins here to his credit, would like nothing more than to be able to stand in Victory Lane on Sunday and dedicate a win to his late brother-in-law. This team will be very tough to beat on race day.

    Carl Edwards

    Edwards brings his stellar record of three wins and eight top-10s to TMS this weekend. He could easily be the driver to end the streak of new race winners each week to open the 2014 season. 

    Las Vegas was a good weekend for the No. 99 team, with Edwards starting 11th and finishing fifth. It appears that this Jimmy Fennig-led team has its 1.5-mile setup where it needs to be. A big plus—Edwards is good at taking care of his tires, a critical requirement at TMS. 

    Could we see another backflip on Sunday afternoon? Be sure to be watching the end of the Cup race.

    Brad Keselowski 

    This Team Penske driver has had two really bad weekends in a row. How is he ever to handle the frustration of running poorly and dealing with Kurt Busch?

    The Busch deal isn’t going to be a problem. Keselowski knows Busch isn’t going to do anything at a fast track like TMS. However, this team needs to get down to business and deliver a solid outing. 

    The No. 2 team performed well at Las Vegas. Crew chief Paul Wolfe worked with his driver throughout the afternoon to give Keselowski a car he could take to Victory Lane. One should expect a similar performance from this squad again this weekend.

    If Edwards doesn’t end the streak of a new driver winning each week, Keselowski will.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    This team has turned into one of those teams that is always a threat to win each and every weekend. Last weekend at Martinsville, it was the difference between a two-tire stop and a four-tire one that might have put Junior in Victory Lane.

    That was then, and this is now. This Steve Letarte-led team finished second in Las Vegas, the only other 1.5-miler Cup cars have run on this year. Letarte obviously has a setup for the No. 88 Chevrolet that rewards its driver with fast speeds and a comfortable feel from behind the wheel.

    That comfortable feel is the key to success in the Sprint Cup series, and it is also why this team has seen so much of it so far this season.

    Greg Biffle

    Given his record on 1.5-mile tracks in general (seven wins), you have to consider Biffle as the next driver to win this season, extending the number of different winners to seven. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has two wins and an amazing 12 top-10s at TMS. This place is one of Biffle's best tracks. It's also the scene of his first win with current crew chief Matt Puccia (April 2012).

    "A win is important for us at this stage in the game, but so is a top-five finish and to run competitively," said Biffle in a pre-race release. I feel really good where we are at. We just need to close the deal and this is one of our best tracks.” 

    Close the deal, indeed.

Sleepers and a Dark Horse (or Two)

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    Jeff Curry/Getty Images

    Kyle Busch

    Busch a sleeper? Or a dark horse? And at Texas Motor Speedway, where he has one win and six top-fives? Are you out of your mind? 

    Not really.

    Last weekend at Martinsville, this team looked just a tick off the pace. One could be kind and write it off as being the result of the race being a short-track race. That would be too easy. The M&Ms team’s performance at Martinsville makes them bit of a question mark for Texas. 

    On the only other 1.5-mile track run by Cup cars this season, Las Vegas, Busch finished 11th. I’m not sure if the Toyotas have the speed to match the Fords on these tracks. Or the Chevys, for that matter.

    Matt Kenseth

    Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kenseth’s team also comes into TMS as a question mark this weekend.

    The past two weekends, this team has been at the top of its game with two top-fives at Fontana (fourth and the pole) and Martinsville (sixth). However, that pesky 29th-place start and 10th-place finish at Las Vegas is a cause for concern. This team’s 1.5-mile setup could still be off the mark, and Kenseth may be an also-ran on Sunday.

    I’d like nothing better than for this team to prove me wrong. But I don’t think it will.

    Ryan Newman

    With two poles and a win at TMS, Newman absolutely qualifies as a sleeper on Sunday. But those results were accomplished when Newman was driving for other teams, not Richard Childress Racing (RCR).

    It has to be troublesome to Newman that the best running team at RCR is rookie Austin Dillon’s. But then he probably knew that would be the case coming into RCR anyway, so it might not bother him too much.

    Texas comes at just the right time for Newman to establish himself as the top dog at RCR, a title which he rightly deserves. He just needs to go out and earn it—and he will.

    Jamie McMurray

    Truly a dark-horse pick for TMS, McMurray comes off a difficult weekend at Martinsville, where he finished 42nd. McMurray’s team has shown flashes of brilliance during practice, but when race day comes around, it’s like a different team.

    However, McMurray is a talented driver with both a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 win on his resume. I’d like to blame his 15th-place finish at Las Vegas on bad pit strategy, as he ran up with the leaders for much of the afternoon.

    With just six top-10s to his credit and three top-fives, McMurray is truly your dark horse of the race.

    Kevin Harvick

    Here’s another driver who usually isn’t thought of as a sleeper or dark horse, but given his team’s performance this season, Harvick's squad has been one of the least predictable in the series. 

    It appears now that Harvick’s win at Phoenix was more of an “even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then” episode than it was a real victory, as this team has been nowhere since. 

    “As we’ve gone through these first five or six weeks, we’ve been to racetracks that we’ve been to before, but we have different things to work on the cars with a lot of new things to understand,” said Harvick in a media release.

    “We’re still trying to get our arms around everything because there are so many new things to understand. Texas is the first racetrack that’s similar to a track that we’ve raced at already, so it’ll be an interesting race.”

    Good thing this team has a win in its back pocket. It may be a long season. Harvick sits 25th in points.

Mother Nature vs. NASCAR

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    Jeff Curry/Getty Images

    Weather has been a factor at nearly every Sprint Cup race this season, except for Fontana. 

    The weekend forecast for the Texas Motor Speedway area calls for rain and cooler temperatures on Sunday.

    I’m not sure why, but Mother Nature seems to have a beef with NASCAR this year. Maybe it's because NASCAR has come up with a way to take the fear out of the dark clouds that can descend upon a race track and turn a beautiful afternoon into a gloomy one.

    Enter the newest version of NASCAR’s Air Titan 2.0 track-drying system. It is remarkable, very portable, and it travels everywhere, making it easier to dry the track when necessary.

    The Air Titan may be the greatest addition to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing since the introduction of the "Car of Tomorrow" in 2007.

    The weather in Texas this time of year is very volatile, and tornado warnings are often associated with storm systems that pass through the area. 

    Be prepared for a longer-than-usual day of watching NASCAR on Sunday. And be sure to adjust your DVR settings accordingly if you plan on recording the race.

Qualifying Notes

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Tony Stewart won the pole for the Duck Commander 500 with a lap of 27.628 seconds, 195.454 mph.

    But it was teammate Kevin Harvick who stole his thunder with a blistering lap of 27.234 seconds, 198.282 mph during the first round of qualifying. Harvick’s lap not only shattered the Texas Motor Speedway track record, but the record for the quickest and fastest lap on a 1.5-mile NASCAR track.

    Harvick was just a tick slower in the third and final round of qualifying and he’ll start third on Sunday.

    Sandwiched between the two Stewart-Haas Racing teammates is Brad Keselowski who starts second after a lap of 27.633 seconds, 195.419 mph.

    It was Stewart’s first pole and third top-10 start of 2014.

    "This thing is fast. It was good in the first run, and in the second run it was pretty good and we were second and we ran a little bit quicker,” said Stewart after qualifying. "The good thing is Chad Johnston (crew chief) made a really big change there to try and make it better. Like he said, 'I was either going to make you quick, or I was going to make you 12th.' I'm glad he made the change. He's got a lot of confidence and I really like that."

    Jimmie Johnson failed to make it past the second round of qualifying for the first time this season. He'll start 16th on Sunday.

    “We have a very fast race car, in race trim especially,” said Johnson. “Our car is blazing fast. Qualifying hasn't always been my strong suit, and today it showed up here for whatever reason. We'll get her cleaned up and get her ready for the race on Sunday.”

    Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts 19th.

    Kyle Larson is the fastest qualifying rookie. He’ll start 14th.

And the Winner Is:

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    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    I went with NASCAR's "Most Popular Driver."

    It really was a tough choice between him and his teammate, Jimmie Johnson.

    Johnson's fastest lap in practice on Friday was his first one. He went slower after that.

    Junior was quick off the hauler too, but he also had the quickest 10-lap average, with a speed of 187.425 mph. Additionally, Junior made several long runs for a total of 53 laps during practice. Only Logano (55) and Kasey Kahne (also 53) ran more laps. All three were practicing long runs and gauging tire wear.

    I like all three drivers on Sunday, but Junior's team has been better overall since the start of the season.

    And Texas Motor Speedway is where Earnhardt Jr. won his first Sprint Cup race on April 2, 2000.

    The winner of the Duck Commander 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    Honorable mentions: Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Greg Biffle

    *All quotes in this slideshow are taken from official team and manufacturer media releases unless otherwise stated.