Pick a winner? Look at the past

April, 13, 2012

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Chances are decent that someone who hasn't won before at Texas Motor Speedway could win Saturday night. In 16 of 22 Cup races, the man in Victory Lane was a Texas winner for the first time.

Thirteen drivers who have won a TMS event will be in the field Saturday night on the super fast 1½ -mile oval. Five of them have more than one Cup victory at Texas -- Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, the only man with three wins at TMS.

Will one of them win Saturday night? Here are the odds I put on it:

Burton (30-to-1): He won the first race here in 1997 while driving for Jack Roush and again in 2007 for Richard Childress Racing, but Burton hasn't won any race since 2008 and doesn't appear close to winning again.

Hamlin (14-to-1): He won both TMS races in 2010 when he finished second in the Chase. Hamlin also won earlier this year in Phoenix with new crew chief Darian Grubb. He has eight top-10s in his 13 Cup starts at Texas.

Edwards (9-to-1): The other driver who won back-to-back at TMS, winning both events in 2008, Edwards got his first Texas win in his first full season of Cup racing in 2005. Edwards finished third here one year ago and second in November, but he hasn't won a Cup race in more than a year.

Stewart (5-to-1): He won here in November, his fourth of five victories during last season's Chase en route to the championship. His first TMS win came in 2006 with Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart is the only driver with two victories so far this season. If he wins his third Saturday, some people may start thinking another championship is a done deal.

Kenseth (4-to-1): The 2012 Daytona 500 winner loves this place. He won here one year ago, nine years after his first Texas victory. But Kenseth runs up front a lot at TMS. He has 13 top-10s, including 10 top-5s, on this track. Kenseth has finished second four times at Texas and hasn't finished worse than fourth in his last three TMS starts. Tough to bet against him here.

Eight other drivers racing Saturday have one victory at Texas. Can one of them join the list of two-time winners? Here's my take on their chances:

Kurt Busch (35-to-1): He won the November TMS race in 2009, but that was in a Roger Penske Dodge. Now he's driving for Phoenix Racing, a team that has never won on a 1½-mile or anywhere else excluding one restrictor-plate race at Talladega.

Mark Martin (20-to-1): His Texas victory was 14 years ago in the second Cup race ever run at TMS. Martin was driving a Jack Roush Ford that day and will be in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota this weekend.

Roush drivers have eight victories on the 1½-mile oval, more than any other teams. MWR has zero, but Waltrip's team is on the rise. Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer rank in the top 10 after six races.

Martin has finished in the top 12 in three of his four starts this year, so a victory isn't out of the question, but don't count on it. Martin's last Cup win was in 2009, his first season at Hendrick Motorsports.

If an MWR car wins Saturday, it probably will be Bowyer or Truex.

Kasey Kahne (18-to-1): His TMS win came in 2006 when Ray Evernham still was a team owner for Dodge. That must seem like a lifetime ago for Kahne. His first six races at Hendrick Motorsports couldn't have gone much worse, but he loves this track and finished third here in November in the Red Bull Toyota.

Ryan Newman (15-to-1): He's coming off a surprising victory at Martinsville -- some might call it a fluke -- but he had to be in the right place at the right time when cars started crashing in front of him at the end.

His victory at TMS came in 2003 while driving for Penske. Five of the eight guys who have one win here earned that victory for another team.

But Newman is driving for a Stewart-Haas Racing team that has won three of the six races this season and eight of the past 16 since the 2011 Chase began. Granted, seven of those were won by teammate Stewart, but who's counting.

Jeff Gordon (12-to-1): He won this event three years ago, which was an afternoon start on a Sunday. His last victory was in September in Atlanta, a 1½-mile high-banked oval similar to TMS. Gordon has only one top-10 this season but deserved better two weeks ago at Martinsville.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10-to-1): In an emotional moment no one here that day ever will forget, Junior earned his first Cup victory at TMS in 2000 as his famous father greeted him with a hug in Victory Lane, reached in the car and told his son, "I love you."

That was 10 months before Earnhardt Sr. was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500. Now it's been almost four years since Earnhardt Jr. won a Cup race, but what a moment it would be if he were to win Saturday night at the place where he made his father proud.

It could happen. Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four starts at TMS. He also has led laps at Texas in 13 of his 19 Cup starts here. And Junior is off to his best start in years with three finishes in the top three. He hasn't finished worse than 15th all season.

Jimmie Johnson (8-to-1): He won at TMS in November 2007, but only Kenseth has consistently run near the front at TMS as much as JJ. Johnson has finished second four times at Texas, including this event two years ago. Johnson has eight other top-10 finishes at TMS. The only time he didn't post a top-10 here in the past four races was a 14th-place run in November.

Greg Biffle (6-to-1): He comes to Texas as the season points leader with the best start of his career. He has four finishes in the top six and hasn't finished worse than 13th so far this year. His win at Texas was seven years ago, but he has three consecutive top-5s and seven straight top-10s at TMS entering this race, so I'd say his chances this weekend are pretty good.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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