Commentary

Looking for better days at Texas

Updated: November 2, 2012, 6:46 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Time to make one of my famous, or infamous, predictions. I hope this one turns out better than the one I made two months ago about Denny Hamlin winning the championship.

Here goes: Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway will be far more exciting than the one here in April. The unexpected will happen. Something will surprise you.

I don't say this haphazardly. There are legitimate reasons this race will produce some drama, which clearly was missing in April.

Jimmie Johnson disagrees.

"I think it will be like [the April race], to be honest with you," Johnson said Friday. "So I'm preparing for that in my mind."

Johnson, who will start on the pole Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN), feels certain this race won't resemble the one at Kansas two weeks ago, a wild crash-fest with tires shredding and cars spinning on the new pavement.

"I'm trying to think back to Kansas and what created all the cautions," Johnson said. "A lot of it was the narrow racing groove and the uncomfortable or unbalanced aero situation that the pack was in. It did create some slipping and sliding and a lot of cautions.

"But here we'll be from the [inside] line to the wall all the way around the track, and we'll have options, which the drivers love. It creates fewer cautions because we have an opportunity to race and move around. The flip side of that is there's a lot of green-flag racing."

He's right about that. The April race at TMS ended with 224 consecutive green-flag laps. Great, except for the fact that nothing much happened on the track. Greg Biffle led the final 31 laps and won the race over Johnson by more than three seconds.

The race had two cautions for a total of 10 laps. Both were debris cautions.

So Jimmie, we'll agree to disagree on our predictions for Sunday. Saying this race will be better to watch than the last one is not exactly going out on a limb.

Other than attending a sleep clinic for the geriatric set, you can't find an activity more boring than the Saturday night race at TMS seven months ago. This race has to be better. If not, I may leap from the press box just to thrill the crowd.

It truly pains me to say April was a dud, but a more positive statement would be untrue and filled with more spin than the political campaigns this weekend. That race was a yawner, possibly the most boring three hours of the 2012 season.

I've covered every Cup race at this place since it opened in 1997. This is my home state, and this ultramodern facility brought a great deal of pride to race fans across Texas. It also has produced some embarrassing moments filled with controversy.

That includes some events that brought attention for all the wrong reasons, such as the multicar crash on the first lap of the first race when most drivers howled about the dual-banking and impossibly narrow exits from the turns. And don't forget the water seeping up through the track at another event.

Those days are long gone for TMS, but you can't say those events were boring. The track was reconfigured years ago and now ranks as one of the favorite 1.5-mile ovals among most of the drivers.

It's not necessarily a good thing when drivers love a track. What drivers want to see and what most fans want to see often are conflicting desires.

Sunday should be a mix of both, with a few surprises to break up the monotony of cars getting spread out at high speeds.

Let me be specific and list three reasons why:

1) It's go time for Clint Bowyer, who will start fourth, and Kasey Kahne, who will start 13th.

Johnson leads Brad Keselowski, who will start eighth, by two points with three races remaining. It looks like a two-man show, but Bowyer and Kahne still have hope. Bowyer is 26 points behind Johnson, and Kahne is 29 back.

Bowyer made light of the situation when asked Friday what he needed to do to catch Johnson.

"I think a hit man is probably out of order," Bowyer said. "He rides his bicycle a lot. I was hoping maybe he would blow his knee out or something. Nothing career-ending or anything. Maybe painful -- something painful to keep him out of the car."

The truth is Bowyer knows he has to win to have any realistic shot, and his team may be willing to take some risks to do so. The same is true for Kahne.

That could lead to some crazy moves near the end of the race.

"You have to beat him," Bowyer said of Johnson. "It's incredible the job they do each and every year. It's a challenge for everybody to try and outrun him."

2) A night and day difference.

The April race ended in the dark. The track was cool. That means it had more grip, which leads to most of the cars running the same line.

This place in the daylight is a much different racetrack. It's warmer and has less grip. The cars will move around and are more difficult to control, especially on the tight exit of Turn 2. A few drivers will push it too far and lose control.

3) Different agendas.

Johnson and Keselowski will watch each other. Bowyer and Kahne may do the unexpected. Everyone else? Well, they'll just flat out go for it. Points racing doesn't matter now. Take your shot and make something happen.

So look for a little more action and a lot less boredom than April. And if I'm wrong, look out if you're sitting directly below the press box.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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