Only time will tell if the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was a two-man race all along. Regardless of history's judgment, there has been plenty of drama.
Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson continue to square off like evenly matched fighters, and their contest will come down to the final round. Last week, few expected Kenseth to catch Johnson in the points standings at Martinsville Speedway, yet they enter Texas Motor Speedway tied atop the leaderboard. One of them will almost certainly have a small advantage on Monday, but so far, they have paced each other lap-for-lap in practice and qualification.
The two garnered the lion's share of attention, but there are plenty of drivers in the field who hope to draw some of that focus their way. In Saturday's first session, 14 drivers recorded 10 or more consecutive laps. In final practice, that number doubled as 28 teams were comfortable enough with their setups to log long sessions -- and that is going to make for close competition Sunday.
$25 or greater
Johnson will roll off the grid slightly ahead of Kenseth on Sunday. The No. 48 qualified third and was quick in both practice sessions. Johnson posted the second-quickest time in terms of 10-lap averages in Saturday morning's session and had the third-quickest average in final practice. His afternoon session was not uneventful, however. He had a right rear tire rub on his first lap as the team tried to get the rear spoiler as low as possible to reduce aerodynamic drag. At the end of Johnson's second session on the track, the floorboard under the throttle shifted, causing him to believe something was wrong with the accelerator. As minor as both things were, little things can get a driver off his game and Kenseth was sitting right next door paying close attention.
Meanwhile, his team No. 20 team was simply fine tuning its car. Kenseth qualified sixth on Friday, but matched Johnson in Saturday's practice sessions. He posted the fourth-quickest 10-lap average in the second practice session and topped that leaderboard in final practice. Both drivers will spend the majority of the AAA Texas 500 in the top 10 and both should be on a fantasy player's roster regardless of their cost.
Carl Edwards won the pole for Sunday's race and showed speed in practice. He showed something else, as well, that might make fantasy players a little nervous: Even during his pole winning lap on Friday, Edwards' car darted all over the track. He continued to show a lack of stability in practices, even though he posted the eighth-fastest single lap in practice two and the 10th-fastest lap in final practice. Players have to wonder how long he can avoid disaster on Sunday, and may want to leave him in the garage.
$20 to $24.99
For much of the season, Martin Truex Jr. was perfect on the similarly configured 1.5-mile courses. He scored top-10s in his first six races on this track type, but his most recent attempts at Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway were disappointing. This time around, he is poised to return to the front of the pack. Truex posted the quickest 10-lap average in practice two and the fourth-quickest in final practice. He qualified only 15th, but that means he has an excellent opportunity to earn positive place differential points.
Brad Keselowski's salary cap dropped while he was struggling in the middle of the season, and that is good news for fantasy players. In recent weeks, he has regained some of his championship form and wants to play the role of spoiler during each race. He could do just that at Texas after posting the third-quickest 10-lap average in practice two and the second-best time in final practice, along with topping the single lap leaderboard. He narrowly missed winning the pole, so it is apparent he also has speed for short runs.
Less than $20
Last week, Dave Blaney was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he sustained significant damage in the early-race spin by Jeff Burton. He retired with crash damage, but that was the first time in 15 races that he failed to finish better than he started. Better still, he typically moves up by a great deal. Blaney struggled in qualification at Texas, but he will earn significant points in the place differential column that will make him worth his $9 price tag.
As a rookie, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been uneven this season and his salary cap reflects that. He is currently priced at $17 and is on the top steps of the bargain basement, but he has also shown the most speed during the weekend. He posted the 13th-quickest 10-lap average time among 28 drivers in final practice and rolls off the starting grid on row five with a ninth-place qualifying effort on Friday. Running in the top 15 will give him an opportunity to score quality passing points and he should outperform his fantasy cost.