Things may not actually be bigger in Texas, but they are definitely faster.
For years, Texas Motor Speedway competed with another similarly configured 1.5-miler in Atlanta for the right to be called the fastest track in NASCAR. After a recent repaving project at Michigan International Speedway, that track leap-frogged the two but Brian Vickers’ speed of 196.235 mph in the 2005 Dickies 500 remains one of the fastest pole speeds on record, wedged between restrictor-plate superspeedway marks set at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
At 1.5 miles in length, the radius of the corners is much tighter than the plate tracks, and that puts a premium on both horsepower and handling. It also contributes to a greater sense of speed for both the drivers and fans. This benefits either teams with a lot of resources or those who chose to focus their effort on this track type. There are very few sleepers on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks in the sense that drivers and teams do not suddenly emerge as contenders overnight, but there are good values if a fantasy player knows where to look.
A driver’s record on the 1.5-mile tracks of Texas, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Kentucky Speedway tends to be remarkably consistent and that helps with the predictability of the NRA 500.
Brad Keselowski got off to a slow start last year with a 32nd in the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas and a 36th in the Texas spring event. The team knew they needed to elevate their effort on this track type to have a shot at the championship and they succeeded in doing so. Keselowski finished 11th in his attempt at Kansas before scoring two victories and five top-fives in the seven attempts on this track type. He kept that momentum alive into 2013 with a third at Vegas, and another top-five will make him a great value even with an extremely high salary cap.
Matt Kenseth finished fifth in the 2012 Samsung Mobile 500 and followed up with a fourth in the STP 400 at Kansas last spring. Toward the end of the season, he survived and won a tire-killing Hollywood Casino 400 and then finished fourth in Texas’ second race. There was a little anxiety about how well he would fare in his new Joe Gibbs Racing ride, but those concerns were abated at Vegas earlier this year when he won the Kobalt Tools 400. Kenseth has been a consistently good value all season and even when he fails to crack the top 10, he runs strong enough in terms of laps led, fastest laps posted and quality passes that he is still a great value in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game. Kenseth also has one of the best recent Texas records and enters this weekend with a five-race top-five streak.
Former teammate Greg Biffle eclipses Kenseth and the remainder of the field at Texas, however. He has not cracked the top 10 for nine consecutive races. The vast majority of these efforts ended in top-fives, including a victory in this race last year. Biffle’s triumph was based on pure power because the final 234 laps of the Samsung Mobile 500 were run under green flag conditions. Biffle has not yet earned a top-five in 2013 and that has him flying under the radar screen, which could be a great reason for fantasy players to use him to differentiate their rosters from the competition.
Tony Stewart had an up and down day at Martinsville and for a while it appeared he would end on a high note. Instead, he slipped outside of the top 15 for the third consecutive race and continues to languish in the points. Activating Stewart is going to require a little faith that the team can return to the form it showed at the end of 2012. After winning Vegas, Stewart struggled to find the right setup on 1.5-mile tracks, and four of his next five efforts on that track type ended outside the top 20. He closed the season with a four-race sweep of the top 15 that included a fifth in the AAA Texas 500 and kept his momentum alive with an 11th-place finish at Vegas this spring.
Trevor Bayne showed remarkable consistency last year on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and that gives the No. 21 team a great set of notes from which to work. He had one stellar effort that produced a ninth at Vegas and one mediocre run of 28th in the spring Texas race, but the remainder of his races on this track ended in a narrow band from 16th through 24th. He finished in that same range with a 23rd this spring and needs just a little luck to be a top-15 value in the salary cap game.
Jeff Gordon had a great run last week in Martinsville, which could be the catalyst needed to turn his season around. However, this team struggled badly at Vegas and Auto Club Speedway in the new Generation-6 car earlier this year. Gordon used a little strategy and a lot of veteran knowledge to finish 11th in the Auto Club 400, but he spent only 26 laps in the top 10 and was never a challenger to win. He was also uneven on the similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks in recent events, so cautious fantasy players will want to observe him for a while before committing their salary cap.
Ryan Newman finished fourth at Vegas last spring and was fifth at Chicagoland in the fall. All but one of his remaining nine efforts on this track type since then have ended outside the top 15, and his average finish in those events is an unproductive 24.8. His 38th-place finish at Vegas this spring was due to a blown engine after he missed a shift on a late-race restart, but he was already a lap off the pace when that misfortune struck.
* The Power Average is the average finish during the last three years, plus the number of laps spent in the lead, in the top five, and in the top 10 expressed as if they were finishing results. For example a driver who has led the most laps receives a hypothetical first-place finish, the driver who leads the second most laps receives a hypothetical second-place finish, and so on. This rewards drivers who competed at the front of the pack for the majority of the race, even if an unfortunate event takes them out of contention at the very end of the race. A driver's recent record in the support series is also factored in, as is his average running position as provided by NASCAR Statistical Services. Failures to qualify are credited to the driver as if they were a finishing position (i.e. the first non-qualifier is assigned a 44th-place finish).