Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: NRA 500

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Track history: NASCAR speedway owner Bruton Smith announced plans to build a multi-million dollar superspeedway in the Fort Worth/Dallas market late in 1994. Construction started in August 1995 on the 1.5-mile dual-banked Texas Motor Speedway. Dual-banked turns angled at 8 and 24 degrees allow NASCAR and Indy-style racing.

On the first lap of the inaugural Cup race in 1997, as the field entered Turn One, 13 of the 43 car starting field were involved in a massive wreck. Darrell Waltrip's car was the only one to be retired after the accident. TMS did some reconstruction work in 1998, eliminating the 8-degree dual-banking, resurfaced the track, all to the tune of $4 million. They also added 4,800 seats in 1998.

In 1999, TMS spent $2.5 million on the 4/10-mile clay-surfaced dirt track to host the World of Outlaws sprint cars. 10,000 more seats were added in 1999, bringing the total capacity to 154,861. The sold-out 1999 PRIMESTAR 500 was the largest attended sporting event in Texas history. In 2000, TMS had to fix some track flaws, a dip, caused by erosion, under Turn Four and other problem areas in Turns One and Two.
Late in 2001, TMS was in the resurfacing mode again. This time, the entire 1.5-mile speedway was repaved with a granite-based asphalt compound over a concrete base. The track had been extremely fast since it opened and after that resurfacing, the straightaway speeds approached 200 mph.

April 6, 1997: The 1997 Interstate Batteries 500 was the inaugural Cup race at TMS. Qualifying was rained-out, so the current point leader at the time, Dale Jarrett, lined up in front of the field with his No. 88 Quality Care Ford. Jarrett led 42 of the 334 lap event and finished second.  Jeff Burton drove the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford from fifth in the lineup, led 60 laps, and scored the victory. With an average race speed of 125.111 mph, due to several wrecks, it was the slowest Fort Worth Cup race on record.

April 14, 2012: Greg Biffle won the Samsung Mobile 500 from a fourth place start. It was the No. 16 Ford driver’s first victory of 2012, breaking his 49-race winless streak. It was Biffle’s second victory at Texas Motor Speedway. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 17 Matt Kenseth 15 laps, finished fifth; pole-sitter No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. 69 laps, finished sixth; winner Biffle 90 laps and No. 48 Jimmie Johnson led the most laps (156 of 334) and finished second.

November 4, 2012: Jimmie Johnson won the AAA Texas 500 from the pole. It was the No. 48 Chevrolet driver's fifth victory in 2012. It was his second victory and 14th top-10 finish in 19 races at Fort Worth. This was Chevrolet's 700th Sprint Cup Series victory. Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 39 Ryan Newman six laps, finished 12th; No. 2 Brad Keselowski 75 laps, finished second; No. 18 Kyle Busch 80 laps, finished third and Race-winner Johnson led the most laps (168 of 335).

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Denny Hamlin 11/7/10, Matt Kenseth 4/9/11, Tony Stewart 11/6/11, Greg Biffle 4/14/12 and Jimmie Johnson 11/4/12.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Brad Keselowski 11/2/08, Trevor Bayne 11/7/10 and David Starr 4/9/11.
First Cup pole: Martin Truex Jr. 11/4/07 and David Ragan 4/9/11.
First Cup win: Jeff Burton 4/6/97 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 4/2/00.

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 20 finish as track favorites Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.  There were 45 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Saturday night’s NRA 500 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Mid-Pack picks
Kurt Busch scored a victory for Penske Racing here in November 2009. Since then, he logged four top-13's in six Cup races, two for less-funded teams in 2012. Besides the win, in 20 TMS starts Busch has 12 top-10's including an eighth-place last fall with his current Furniture Row Racing team. He wants to move on from the disaster at Martinsville. He said: "We had a flat tire, got spun out, had a fuel pump issue and then ended the race in a fiery blaze due to a brake failure. Bring on Texas! Can’t wait to get to that fast oval.” Prior to Martinsville, Busch had two consecutive top fives (Bristol and Fontana). We think you will see the No. 78 Chevrolet SS running with the leaders this week.

From our list of mid-packers (drivers entered in the race who are not in the top 15 in points and/or not track favorites), Mark Martin has the second-best average finish (13.9 in 24 starts) at this track. Martin hasn't pulled into the Fort Worth victory lane since 1998, but he has scored sixth or better in five of his last eight Cup starts at the track. He also scored the fourth-most driver points in those races. He has three Nationwide Series victories and a pole in nine starts here as well. Last week, subbing for Denny Hamlin, Martin took an unfamiliar car to a 10th place finish at Martinsville. This week he's back ride-sharing the No. 55 Toyota for MWR. Give the crafty veteran some serious consideration this week.

We're going out on a limb this week with Martin's teammate, Brian Vickers. He hasn't raced at Fort Worth since 2011 and, in 14 career Cup races; his best finish was a 12th. Vickers is holding up his end of the deal in the No. 55 with finishes of eighth and 11th this year. At Texas Motor Speedway, he takes a turn subbing for Hamlin in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. The JGR team has two wins and an average finish of 10.9 in 14 races with Hamlin behind the wheel at this track. We feel that Vickers will be able to maintain that average here in Saturday night's event.

Last week at Martinsville, we thought we hit the mark picking Martin Truex Jr.. He was running top-10 for about 180 laps until getting caught up in a multi-car wreck. This week, he said: “Texas is one of my favorite tracks. It’s been a really good track for me in the past. I love that it’s old and worn out. It’s got some bumps in it." In 15 Cup starts, he has earned two poles (November 2007 and April 2012) and seven top-10 finishes. His three most recent starts resulted in eighth, sixth and 13th place finishes. Truex has a Sprint Cup average finish of 15.9 and a Nationwide Series (four races) average finish of 15.2 at Fort Worth. That's pretty consistent. Let's give the No. 56 Toyota Camry another chance on your fantasy roster in the Lone Star State.

Bonus pick this week: Tony Stewart, 22nd in the points, is due for a turn-around!

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
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