Stock Car Challenge preview: Texas
After Jimmie Johnson won two consecutive races to close to within nine points of Nextel Cup standings leader Jeff Gordon, the pressure is squarely back on Gordon to extend his lead with only three races remaining. While all the drivers in the Chase for the Cup remain mathematically alive, it truly is a two-horse race for the title now.
Fantasy teams that have Gordon or Johnson on their rosters should be prepared for a fight to the finish. In the Stock Car Challenge, Gordon is under greater pressure right now and makes for a slightly better choice to anchor your squad as the circuit heads to Texas Motor Speedway. There has been only one repeat winner at Texas, Jeff Burton. Only four of the current Chase for the Cup drivers have won at Texas.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli said Texas has aged really well; it has widened down over the past few years, and the tires have gotten better for the cars. "The track doesn't seem to be as sensitive to change in the fall as it is in the spring, because of the sun. You got to have a great car with a good body, a really good motor program and a driver that is willing to move around a little bit. As the race goes, you are able to move up the race track, and the beginning of a run, you run at the bottom. Not anywhere near as much as you see people run at Atlanta, but it just kind of turns out to be like that."
VICTORY LANE SPECIAL
Jeff Gordon (Value: 24.5): He is the most expensive driver in the game, and now is the time to prove why. Gordon has been a great model of consistency all year long, but now is the time to prove he truly is a champion. Gordon has never won at Texas, but this is the perfect time for him to pull into Victory Lane for the first time. Gordon has six top-10 finishes and five top-5 showings at Texas. In the past five races at the site, Gordon has 85 of the fastest laps run, which ranks fourth among current drivers. Gordon really needs to extend his championship lead this week, and earning his first win at Texas will be a superb motivating factor.
Jimmie Johnson (23.8): Another driver who has never won at Texas, Johnson also should make a very strong push for a victory, since finishing ahead of Gordon could give him a boost toward his second consecutive championship. Johnson has six top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Texas. His 1,119 laps in the top 15 over the past five races rank him fourth among active drivers. During that span, he has an average running position of 11.0. As with Gordon, past numbers could matter less this week with so much on the line.
Tony Stewart (22.6): He could make one final push for glory this week, even though his championship hopes have really faded away. Stewart has a win and seven top-10 finishes in 11 career starts at Texas. Over the past five races at the site, he leads all drivers in average running position (6.9) and fastest laps run (192), and has 1,495 laps in the top 15. He has an average finish of 13.7 at Texas but should finish better than that this week.
Jeff Burton (20.5): Burton has two of the four wins among Chase drivers at Texas. He has five top-10 showings and three top-5 finishes at the site. Burton won the first race of the 2007 season at Texas. He also finished sixth in the first Texas race of 2006. Burton finished fifth at Atlanta and now has two top-5 finishes in his past three races. He appears ready to finish the season in strong fashion.
Greg Biffle (19.6): He still is capable of being a spoiler and has one win and two top-10 finishes at Texas. In the past five races at the site, he has 156 of the fastest laps run, which is second-best among active drivers. His 266 green-flag passes also are fourth-best during that span. Biffle finished sixth in the first race at Texas this season.
Jamie McMurray (15.8): He has endured through another disappointing season, but he also is now a great bargain for this race, because he always seems to deliver quality finishes at Texas. He has four top-10 finishes and a pair of top-5 showings at the site. He finished fifth in the first race at the site this year and has an average finish of 14.4 at Texas.
Juan Pablo Montoya (16.1): He proved to be a quick study in his first-ever Nextel Cup race at Texas this season. Montoya finished eighth after starting 16th, and he slowly continues his climb towards more consistent respectability.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.