NOTES FROM THE NASCAR NATION: We could see a Texas sized impact on the chase

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into the Dallas-Fort Worth area this weekend for Sunday’s running of the AAA Texas 500. 43 drivers will be taking the green flag in hopes that they will be the one to stand in the Texas victory lane while wearing the white cowboy hat and firing the six shooters into the air. But the one aspect that we will all be watching will be the possibility of a Texas sized impact on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

The story everyone will be watching throughout Sunday’s Texas event will be the progress of the three Chase contenders: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

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If Johnson is going to advance his drive for five campaign at Texas he’s going to have to avoid the pratfall the team experienced last year. An early race accident found the #48 Lowes team in the garage, with some of their Hendrick Motorsports friends, taking on the task of rebuilding the entire front end of a badly damaged race car.

Johnson’s last two outings at Texas hasn’t been that spectacular but, despite that, his overall numbers at this super speedway remain very healthy. In 14 starts he has one win at Texas, in 2007, along with seven top five finishes, ten top ten finishes and his average finish ratio is an impressive 10.1.

Denny Hamlin’s game plan is quite simple: finish ahead of Johnson in order to eradicate the 14 championship points that separate them. Hamlin, and his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing team, would like to do that by sweeping the Texas events this year. They won the race there back in April. Hamlin’s overall numbers definitely makes him a pre race favorite. In ten starts there he has the one win along with four top five finishes, seven top tens along with an average finish ratio of 9.6.

Kevin Harvick’s game plan is the same as Hamlin’s except his numbers are a little different. He’s 38 markers away from Johnson and needs to do exactly what he did last Sunday at Talladega: finish ahead of the #48 and the #11. Harvick is still searching for his first opportunity to wear a cowboy in the Texas victory lane. However, he has compiled some impressive numbers at the speedway. In 15 starts Harvick has three top five finishes, seven top tens along with an average finish ratio of 12.9.

Again, don’t be too surprised if the outcome of Sunday’s race delivers a Texas sized impact on the state of the Chase. Also expect to hear reports regarding the huge smiles on the faces of NASCAR executives at Daytona Beach. You know that they’re just loving what they’re getting from the 2010 Chase.

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Needless to say the other big story line from the Texas weekend will be the current and future status of the financially strapped Richard Petty Motorsports, (RPM). There was some good news for the team this week. All four teams have reported for duty at the Texas Motor Speedway this week. That may sound insignificant to some, but as of last Sunday RPM’s presence in Texas was actually a question mark.

The other good news came from Budweiser who announced earlier this week that they would honor their sponsorship contract, on RPM’s #9 Ford, until the conclusion of the current racing season. It wasn’t that many days ago that this was also another difficult issue for RPM. When Kasey Kahne left the team a few weeks ago Budweiser acted like they were also leaving. They referenced breach of contract and insisted they signed on with Kahne and not substitute driver Aric Almirola. Apparently the famed beer company had a change of heart and will honor their deal with RPM while waiting to join Richard Childress Racing, and driver Kevin Harvick, next year.

Despite the fact that his famous name is prominent on the company logo, Richard Petty is a small, minority, owner of this operation. But that hasn’t deterred his attempts towards putting together an investment group to purchase controlling interest of RPM from majority owner George Gillett Jr. This action is being scrutinized by the Wachovia Bank who holds a $90 million note, now in default, that allowed Gillett to purchase the team approximately three years ago.

Adding to the financial drama was a report, last Tuesday that said there may be another group, yet to be identified, that has expressed an interest in purchasing RPM. But, from the outside looking in, it appears that Wachovia Bank is hoping that Richard Petty will emerge as the new majority owner and it appears they are giving him the time he needs to assemble an investor group before they seriously entertain other offers.

Richard Petty was the recipient of some strong support recently from Ray Evernham, the creator of this team to begin with, who is also a minority owner of RPM. On Wednesday Evernham made an appearance on the very popular “Sirius Speedway” program hosted by Dave Moody on the Sirius Radio Network’s NASCAR Channel. Evernham described the current status of RPM as being a “legal and financial nightmare.” But he also made it clear that he was in favor of Petty becoming the new majority owner and said “I don’t have an interest in owning a piece of the team anymore, but if it comes down to helping Richard bridge a gap for time being, I would absolutely do what it took to help him achieve his goal.”

You can expect to hear a lot of speculation this weekend on the status of RPM and expect to hear even more in the weeks to come. There’s a lot more than just tangled finances involved here. This story has a lot of human emotion connected to it. Literally everyone wants to see “King” Richard Petty, and his famous #43 race car, remain active in NASCAR racing.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), truly believes that Jimmie Johnson will be “the man” next Sunday at Texas and they’re backing that up with 4 to 1 odds. Right behind him is Chase rival Denny Hamlin rated at 11 to 2 this week.

Championship contender Kevin Harvick leads a trio of drivers in the 9 to 1 category. But it’s the other two drivers in this category, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who could turn out to be lucrative long shot wagers. It’s well documented that Gordon’s last trip to victory lane was at Texas in April of last year. He has an average finish ratio of 15.9 in 19 starts there. He also holds the track record for top five finishes with seven. If Gordon is going to get the win that has eluded him for the last 18 months this might be the opportunity. Meanwhile Tony Stewart’s up an down Chase performance could use another shot in the arm and Texas could be the place for it to happen. Stewart won the Texas race in November of 2006 and has an average finish ratio of 13.4 there.

All by himself, at 10 to 1, is the always important Kyle Busch.  He’s still looking for his first win at Texas but, as we’ve all seen before, he’s somehow always a player in any NASCAR race he enters. This is another really good long shot consideration.

Now here’s a really good long shot opportunity. That would be Carl Edwards at 12 to 1 odds. Granted, Edwards is currently trying to resolve a 69 race win less streak but the fact of the matter is he has some really good numbers at the Texas Motor Speedway. He has a series high three wins there and swept both races back in 2008. Edwards is also one of the Ford drivers for Roush Fenway Racing who holds the track record for team wins at seven while Ford holds the track record for manufacturer wins at nine. Also in this 12 to 1 category is Greg Biffle, another Roush Fenway Racing driver, “The Biff” is also a previous race winner at Texas and is another great long shot consideration. The same goes for Kurt Busch, also ranked 12 to 1, who is defending race champion as well the track record holder for the largest winning margin. Busch won last November’s race by a whopping 25.686 seconds.

In the middle portion of this week’s WSE rankings Jamie McMurray is set at 15 to 1. At 20 to 1 is a trio of drivers featuring Talladega winner Clint Bowyer, previous Texas winner Matt Kenseth and two time winner Jeff Burton who is another long shot consideration.

At the bottom end of the WSE listing you will find Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin and previous race winner Kasey Kahne at 25 to 1. Joey Logano stands alone at 35 to 1 this week. The trio of Martin Truex Jr, David Reutimann and previous Texas winner Ryan Newman closes out this week’s list at 40 to 1 odds.

Time for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races. They would prefer that you, instead, spend your money on the variety of unique racing souvenirs available at the NASCAR Store on line. That Dale Earnhardt Jr bar b que grill cover is really bitching.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The AAA Texas 500 is 334 laps/501 miles around the Texas Motor Speedway’s massive 1.5 mile quad oval.

The race has 49 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 14 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning these teams are not guaranteed a starting berth because they are currently outside of NASCAR’s top 35 in owner’s points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway was held in April of 1997 and was won by Jeff Burton. Since that time there has been 19 Cup races there that has sent 16 different winners to victory lane.

The turns of the Texas Motor Speedway has 24 degrees of banking along with five degrees of banking on the straightaways and the dog leg.

The speedway has permanent seating for 138,122 fans.

The pit road speed is 45 MPH.

Weather should not be a big factor in Sunday’s race. The Dallas-Fort Worth forecast calls for sunny skies and a balmy daytime high of 74 degrees.

The AAA Texas 500 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network beginning at 2 pm eastern time. The rebroadcasts will be on Monday morning, 230 am et, on ESPN2 and again on Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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