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Ryan McGee and Marty Smith discuss how the new Chase format is affecting races in the regular season, as seen by Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson's duel at Martinsville.
Johnson leads practice Friday
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jimmie Johnson led the first Sprint Cup practice at Texas Motor Speedway, the only one held on Friday. He won the race here last November.
Johnson posted a speed of 193.237 mph, easily outclassing Greg Biffle, who put together a run at 192.055 mph for second place.
Big time in the Lone Star State
It's a big weekend in North Texas, or more accurately Fort Worth and Arlington.
The NCAA men's basketball Final Four tips off Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington -- aka "Jerry World" -- and Sunday, Texas Motor Speedway plays host to the Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 in far north Fort Worth.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and I would add even the egos behind the local sports facilities.
The Cowboys' still relatively new stadium could swallow most others in the country, and it has a video board that was the envy of the world when it debuted in 2009.
Not to be outdone, TMS president Eddie Gossage just oversaw the installation of an HDTV array you could probably watch from space. How big is "Big Hoss"? Try 9,000 square feet bigger than the one at the nearby football (and any other sport they can get in it) stadium. Total square footage of the TV at the track? 20,633. Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand Sunday to certify it as the largest HD screen in the world.
"The saying is, 'Everything is bigger in Texas,' but we're going to have to change that to 'biggest,'" Gossage said. "The Guinness Book of World Records is an institution, and they have deemed 'Big Hoss TV' to be the biggest in the world without any qualifiers. It is the ultimate fan amenity. Our fans deserve the best and there isn't a stadium or an arena anywhere in the world that can top this screen."
To Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' credit, he's yet to take the bait Gossage has set out for him. Or maybe he's just thinking of another Texas phrase, "All hat and no cattle," and is resigned to knowing he can't fit a TV in his playground that rivals "Big Hoss."
What's more important overall is more than 100,000 fans will pack into AT&T Stadium on Saturday, and then again Monday for the final. Well more than 100,000 fans will be at TMS on Sunday to watch the race -- weather permitting.
And that's no bull.
At the track
It's time for practice. Enjoy. pic.twitter.com/vvHeStbV3U— Alan Cavanna (@CopaCavanna) April 4, 2014
Texas Motor Speedway has a unique schedule this weekend with the Final Four in town also drawing sports fans.
Sprint Cup Series qualifying for the Duck Commander 500 falls on Saturday afternoon instead of the usual Friday, and the Nationwide Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 rolls off Friday night instead of the typical Saturday afternoon.
None of that appears to be in jeopardy from inclement weather -- which popped up Thursday evening -- but Sunday's main event may have issues. The National Weather Service is forecasting a 60 percent chance of rain Sunday.
Johnson ready after heartbreaking week
Jimmie Johnson came into the media center at Texas Motor Speedway and got right into what was on most people's minds.
His brother-in-law, Jordan Janway, died in a skydiving accident Monday in California. He was 27. Johnson spent the week grieving with his wife's family.
"I appreciate the opportunity to say thank you to everybody for your thoughts and prayers, he said. "This week has been a very difficult week for the Janway family. It's been so tough for me to sit back and watch the people I love so much deal with so much pain. But, things are progressing and everybody is as good as you could hope. Last night, the family spent a lot of time telling stories about Jordan and smiling a little bit; smiling more than tears, and the healing process has definitely started."
Of course now he's back in the office, and Johnson is trying to look ahead and get ready to race at a track where he's had a great deal of success with three victories in the Sprint Cup Series, including one in November.
"I just wanted to come in and make a brief comment before we got busy with racing," Johnson added. "And then, try to switch my mind into this racing reality and focus the next couple of days and go racing and try to win a race.
"So, just once again, thank you to sponsors, fans, friends, and everybody involved. The few times I did check into social media, there's just been a huge outpouring of support and I'm very thankful."
Janway, a skydiving instructor, was very involved in extreme sports.
"He was just a free spirit, a very adventurous guy, Johnson said. "Base-jumping and parachuting and wearing the squirrel suits like you see the guys flying along the cliff sides, that's what he did. He's in a lot of those videos shooting that footage. So, it was a tragic death for sure. But he was doing something he loved. He was very passionate about it.
"And he never met a stranger. He was a very warm and caring young man, and he's definitely going to be missed."
Logano stays above the fray
"At least it's not me this time," he said and then laughed. "It happens. I know it. Like I say all the time, we race against each other every week and eventually we're gonna run into each other and eventually we're gonna get aggravated with each other, and it's just how you reason with it and how you get over it.
"Everyone has their own way of doing it and has different ways of doing it, but those guys are two championship race car drivers. They'll figure out how to get over it and move on here fairly shortly, but that's part of our sport and it's cool."
Logano is famous, or maybe infamous, for past feuds with Kevin Harvick, where he drew Harvick's wife into the fray by saying, "[She] tells him what to do and wears the firesuit in the family."
Then there was the one last year with Denny Hamlin that led to a last-lap wreck at Fontana in which Hamlin was injured and missed four races. A disagreement with Tony Stewart occured directly after that race.
Tire concerns at Texas?
Are drivers worried about tires at Texas, the way they were following the race at Fontana, Calif., two weeks ago, when some teams elected to push the limits on low tire pressures and many paid the price? Yes, they are.
Are tire supplier Goodyear and NASCAR worried about tires at Texas? Not so much.
"Really I think on the heels of the issues we saw at Fontana, people are asking the question, 'Is there a possibility we could see the same thing?'" said Greg Stucker, director of race tire sales for Goodyear. "There's always that possibility.
"People are always pushing the envelope, always trying to stress all parts of the racecar. We understand that and support that. That's what makes racing great, right?"
Despite some drivers and teams calling for NASCAR to set rules on air pressure in tires, Stucker said NASCAR and Goodyear agree that leaving that call in teams' hands makes for better racing.
And Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, reminded drivers and teams that they don't always like mandates from NASCAR and to be careful what they wish for.
"Yeah, and I think it's a small group [of drivers and teams asking for NASCAR rules on air pressure]," he said. "We're early in the process this year in a lot of different areas. Sometimes that question will be raised.
"But long-term, they would rather be in charge of their own destiny, I think."
Podcast: Marty & McGee
Now that's commitment to racing pic.twitter.com/9GnALbfVK9— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) April 4, 2014