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Texas Motor Speedway NASCAR leaves one of the slowest tracks on the circuit and heads west to one of its fastest as drivers face their next challenge. With the exception of a road course, every track type is represented in the Chase and teams have to be flexible in the final 10 races to claim the ultimate prize. There is not a single aspect of their program that can be overlooked and there is no rest. In the final three weeks, they will be challenged by a cookie-cutter track, a short, flat track, and a true oval with progressive banking.

Texas is going to be a chess game. This is the final race in which all of the major teams should be evenly matched since the similarly configured, 1.5- and 2-mile tracks dominate the circuit and most organizations put the lion’s share of their efforts into going fast on them. The drivers will jockey for position all afternoon and, except for Edwards and Stewart, they will be more than willing to roll the dice if needed. An example of the importance of this track type was demonstrated in at Chicagoland when several teams gambled on fuel mileage and lost positions on the final lap. If the calculators are a little less accurate this week, dark horses could run away with the show like they did at Talladega and Kansas…and the bad news is that rain is forecast at 50 percent during the coming weekend for northern Texas and this fall has been plagued by weather.

Rain or shine we will race! So lets get into finding out who are the top guys to watch for this Sunday!

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Something unfortunate has to happen to the five drivers ahead of him for Johnson to have a shot at earning a sixth consecutive championship, but the only fate he controls is his own. Last week, he took the first step toward running the table at the end of the season with a near-win and second-place finish at Martinsville. He’s been equally strong at both Texas and Phoenix in the past and counts them among his favorite tracks in terms of average finishes. He hasn’t been perfect on the 1.5-miler outside of Fort Worth with two bad results in the high-30s, but both of those were caused by crash damage. Every other result has been 15th or better and nearly half his starts resulted in top-fives. Then again, he proved he was fallible at Charlotte a couple of weeks ago when he crashed while trying to pass Ryan Newman.

Kenseth is in the same boat as Johnson. He has to sweep the top five in the final three races in order to have a shot at overtaking Edwards and he could not ask for a better track to make another statement. His win at Texas in the spring delivered a message that he would be a contender during the regular season. As dramatic as that victory was, it was par for the course for Kenseth at Texas because he has finished in the top five in eight of the past 12 races there; in fact, six of those were either second- or third-place results. Look for Edwards, Johnson, and Kenseth to dominate the top five during the race and track position will determine the final outcome.

Dark Horses

Last season, Denny Hamlin took over the points lead from Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship after winning the AAA Texas 500 in a wild day of racing at Texas Motor Speedway. Plus with coming off from a great weekend at Martinsville no one should count Denny out of winning just yet.

To qualify for the Chase and be competitive once it starts, teams must have a solid cookie-cutter program. Brad Keselowski did not get off to a particularly strong start this year with a 26th at Vegas, an 18th at Texas, and a 19th at Charlotte, but as soon as he successfully gambled on fuel at Kansas in June, all that changed. Beginning with that victory, he strung five consecutive top-10s together on this track type until he stumbled slightly at Charlotte in the Chase. His gaffe is the reason he is relegated to dark horse status, however, because it backed up a similarly modest showing in that track’s first race. The No. 2 team was not overly strong at Texas this spring, but they have improved immeasurably in the intervening months.

Underdogs

Kasey Kahne is never to be taken lightly at Texas. Why? Kahne has always run well at Texas and he admits that Texas is one of his favorite tracks. Kahne is merely one top ten away from getting to 100 top tens. This Red Bull #4 team has feverishly been working to get a win! Watch out for the Bull!!

Kurt Busch has the capacity to run strong on the cookie-cutter courses and prior to the Chase race at Kansas, he was the only driver with a perfect record of top-10s on that track type in the first seven races. Only two of those results were top-fives and he hasn’t been terrible in his two most recent cookie-cutter races, but with back-to-back 13ths he hasn’t exactly earned maximum points, either.

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