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NASCAR Sprint Cup Preview: Texas

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This weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas could be the most important race of the season so far, and not just because of you may, or may not cross the finish line first.

The 334-lap Samsung Mobile 500 around the Fort Worth track should be the first real racing test for the new rear spoiler, the race being the first visit to the type of intermediate track that caused the old aerodynamic package so much trouble.

And for a first test NASCAR have picked a formidable place.

Despite being only 1.5miles around, thanks to the high banking – 24 degrees in the corners – average speeds are amongst the highest in the series, Tony Stewart's pole lap for Saturday night's race over 191mph.

“The big wildcard out there is how is the spoiler going to work,” says Jimmie Johnson, who leads the overall points by 36 from Matt Kenseth.

“I think that the lead car in qualifying we won't see alot of difference,” he continues. “But there's still a lot to be learnt with the car in traffic, and even though we had the Charlotte test we never really put ourselves in a racing position and side by side and stuff like that.”

The sentiment is a radical change from the spoiler's initial introduction, Brian Vickers describing it as “a good” and “noticeable” improvement.

However, don't expect a whole new world order come Saturday, as Jeff Gordon explains; “I don't think it's going to change who's going to be fast and who's going to run good and how your day is going to go.”

It may not be a surprise that Gordon wants to believe that, the four-time champion is the defending race winner at the track, though his victory twelve months ago was his first win at the track. However, this year any 'killer instinct' Gordon has seems to be lacking, having led on late restarts for the previous two races only to let the victory pass him by (though at Martinsville that had more to do with Matt Kenseth than Gordon himself).

Yet there are ominous signs already.

Pole sitter Tony Stewart tops the statistical most likely list from Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, though more through consistency than any enormously dominating performances, and from the front of the field and with Stewart-Haas back to winning ways in 2010 now would be a perfect time for a Smoke win.

Second on the grid is a surprise, but a driver who is increasingly forcing himself into discussions about the top-ten – Sam Hornish Jr.

Penske Racing have come on leaps and bounds as a three car team, with Hornish and Keselowski increasingly on a par with their more illustrious teammate. Poor luck (or Carl Edwards) has found a nasty habit of ending their good runs.

Of course, don't expect a win out of Hornish, unless miraculous strategy and torrential downpours are involved.

As for whether the spoiler will join inclement weather and crew chief crystal ball gazing, I remain to be convinced, subscribing more to the Jeff Gordon approach than the “wild card” idea.

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