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Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Samsung/Radio Shack 500 Fantasy Preview

By Bryan Van Stippen

By Bryan Van Stippen

The Cup series will be making its only trip to Texas Motor Speedway where speeds reach the 200 mph mark. Much like Atlanta, Lowe's cars will be running fast, but contrary to those tracks the speeds do not slow down much during the race. With the high speeds come concerns over engine and tire wear. In this race last season five drivers were sidelined with engine troubles and another seven were in the garage after trouble on the track. Texas is notorious for long green flag runs so expect fuel strategy to come into play at some point in this race.

Texas is one of the younger tracks in the series with just six events run here. Each manufacturer has been in victory lane and there has yet to be a repeat winner. Expect that to change this weekend, as Ryan Newman is looking to defend his win from a year ago. Newman had plenty of problems to start the season in 2003 and this was the track where he posted his first victory of the year. Newman has been running much stronger this season with four top 10s in six races and also has three poles but is still looking for his first win. He should be able to put a check in that column come Sunday.

Newman will receive plenty of competition from Jimmie Johnson. In two races here Johnson has a pair of top 10s while averaging a seventh place finish - the best in the series. Johnson has three top 5s this year but has placed outside the top 15 in the other three races. Through the first six races he is averaging a 13th place finish but should be able to improve upon that with a solid run this weekend.

Last weekend at Bristol we saw a couple of veteran drivers post excellent runs with Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader and Michael Waltrip all finishing in the top 10. The veteran that is always competitive here is Terry Labonte. Labonte, from Corpus Christi, Texas, loves his hometown track. In six races Labonte has four top 10s including a trip to victory lane (1999). He averages a ninth place finish in that span and has never finishes outside top 20. Labonte has been steady this season with five finishes in the top 20 but has not finished higher than 17th place. He will have his best finish of the season at the end of this race.

There are a couple more veteran drivers that have been very competitive here in Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. Wallace nearly ended his 100+ winless streak at Bristol with a second place run and is hungrier then ever. He has a pair of top 5s and had not finishes outside the top 15 in six races at the track for an average of 10th place. Martin struggled at the end of the race at Bristol dropping out of the top 20. Prior to that finish he had posted four consecutive runs in the top 15 including a top 5 at Las Vegas. Martin won the inaugural event here (1998) and has four top 10s, including three straight. Both drivers have run well this season and will be looking to continue their success.

There is plenty of history at Texas in its six years in NASCAR. The one thing that many may remember is that Texas is the track where Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Cup race. He did have troubles in this event in 2002 when he was involved in a wreck while running just outside the top 10. He ended the day in 42nd place but has three top 10s including a second place finish last season to average a 13th place finish in four career races. He will be a contender for the win along with Newman and Johnson.

With fast speeds come plenty of problems and some drivers have had more headaches here than others. Two of those drivers are Joe Nemechek and Robbie Gordon. Nemechek does have a top 5 finish here, which came in the inaugural event (1998), but has not finished in the top 30 since. He averages 30th place in five races, which is among the worst for all active drivers. Gordon is still searching for some consistency. After a fourth place run at Darlington Gordon finished in 19th place at Bristol. He has just the one finish in the top 15 this season to go with three finishes outside the top 30. He has run just two races at Texas and averages a 29th place finish as he placed 41st (2002) and 18th (2003). Gordon was decent at Atlanta (17th place) and would be happy with a top 20 finish this weekend.

Bryan Van Stippen is ESPN's fantasy racing correspondent and the senior staff writer for Fantasy GMs (www.fantasygms.com). Email any questions or comments to bvs@fantasygms.com.

All statistics are provided by Fantasy Racing Advisor.