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NASCAR '09: Texas preview


For the past two weeks, the drivers of the Sprint Cup series have been confined to the smallest two tracks on the circuit. This week, they get to unleash the horsepower and let it all hang out on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday's Samsung 500. While the last two races have been all about track position and leaning on the driver next to you, Texas is all about speed and being aggressive ... without being too aggressive.

On the fantasy side, there's a good chance that you made it through the last two weeks relatively unscathed. We didn't see the multi-car wrecks that sometimes will rear their ugly heads and collect a top driver or two. But if you did have some trouble the last two weeks, here's a chance to bounce back. They always say things are bigger and better in Texas, and there are some possibilities to make some big moves in your fantasy league this week.

Find out who will give your team the best chance to earn a Texas-sized score this week, with our list of favorites, sleepers and longshots.

Carl Edwards: After two subpar finishes at Bristol and Martinsville, Edwards has to be excited to see Texas on the schedule this weekend. In the first six races of the year, the No. 99 has scored only two top 10 finishes -- not exactly the type of numbers many expected from him this season. But that should all turn around this weekend. With three wins, including sweeping both races in 2008, Edwards leads the series in victories at Texas. The only downside to using Edwards this week is if he's not winning at Texas, he's not in the top 10 either. That being said, he's worth the risk because you know this team won't be down for long.

By the numbers: In the two races at Texas last year, Edwards led a total of 335 of 673 laps.

Jimmie Johnson: The battle we saw for the championship last year could heat up again this weekend with Edwards and Johnson both being favorites for this Sunday's race. Johnson will be riding the boost of momentum he got from his first win of the year last week at Martinsville, but will that be enough as he tries to grab his second ten gallon hat in victory lane? No doubt the competition will be tough this weekend, but Johnson will be up to the challenge. In his 11 appearances at Texas he has finished in the top 10 eight times and outside the top 15 only once. Unless there is some freak mechanical issue or crash, look for Johnson to rope in a top 10 finish this weekend.

By the numbers: Johnson's average finish at Texas of 9.1 is tops in the series.

Denny Hamlin: After finishing second the last two weeks in a row, Hamlin is itching to deliver a victory. If he could pull it off, it would be his first career victory on a track not named Pocono or a short track. Currently fifth in the standings, Hamlin is just ahead of teammate Kyle Busch in the standings but is two behind him in the win column. Getting the win at Texas may be a tall order, but it's certainly not impossible. In seven starts at TMS, Hamlin has five top 10 finishes and two top fives. Look for another solid run from the senior member of Joe Gibbs Racing again this weekend.

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By the numbers: Hamlin has completed 99.5% of the laps run in his seven races at Texas and has no DNFs.

Jamie McMurray: With his 2010 plans still up in the air, this year hasn't started out quite the way McMurray would have liked. But a 10th-place finish last week at Martinsville, could be the jump start the team needs to string together a series of top 10 finishes. McMurray was ninth in Atlanta earlier this year, the closest track to Texas we've seen so far this year, and he's prime to match -- or better it -- this weekend. TMS is known as a track that Roush Fenway drivers excel at and McMurray is no exception. In 10 starts, he's earned six top 10 finishes and three top five finishes; including a third-place finish the last time the series ran in Texas towards the end of the '08 season. Certainly bigger names will be garnering plenty of attention this weekend, but don't overlook McMurray when setting your lineup.

By the numbers: Jamie has earned his average finish of 12.7 the hard way. His averaging starting position is 27.7, proving you shouldn't be scared off if he doesn't qualify well.

Mark Martin: One former Roushketeer looking to bring that magic to his new team is Martin, who won at Texas in 1998 when he was at Roush and has amassed top 10 finishes in half of his 16 starts. In Chevys the past two seasons, he has just one finish lower than 12th. The key for Martin will be keeping the unpredictable engine gremlins away that plagued him earlier this season. But you have to believe that Hendrick has had the team working overtime trying to ensure that doesn't happen again. Fresh off two straight top 10s, look for Martin to be a solid top 15 or better this Sunday.

By the numbers: Martin's average starting position and average finishing position are identical -- 14.2.

Casey Mears: We haven't seen much out of Mears so far during his first season at Richard Childress Racing. With just one top 15 and holding down the 26th spot in the standings, Mears needs to shake things up and start moving in the right direction. Texas could provide that jolt. Casey didn't have much luck at Texas during his years with Hendrick Motorsports, but during his years with Ganassi Racing he earned four top 10 finishes in six starts. His RCR counterparts have had success in the Lone Star State, giving us hope that Mears can do the same. I look for Casey to secure top 15 number two this weekend or perhaps a bit better if things play out in his favor.

By the numbers: In the 2005 season, Mears finished fourth in both Texas events and led a total of 38 laps.

Brian Vickers: In the last two years, Vickers has gained a reputation as a good to "B" driver when it comes to the fast 1.5 mile tracks. Thanks to Toyota power under the hood, Vickers does best when he can let it go wide open. He earned a string of three top 10s earlier this year at Fontana, Las Vegas and Atlanta, priming him for a strong run at Texas. The one drawback is that his record at Texas leaves alot to be desired. In nine starts, he's yet to crack the top 10 and has a less than reassuring average finish of 22.9. But don't let that discourage you. While a win or even a top 5 might be out of reach, a solid top 15 or top 10 isn't given how this team is running as of late on this type of track.

By the numbers: Vickers has just one DNF at Texas, which came in the first race of 2006. He followed that up with the pole during the fall event.

Next up: Everyone gets the week off for Easter before a trip to the Valley of the Sun on Apr. 18 for a Saturday night showdown.