At this point in the season one year ago, a gauntlet was thrown down by one driver to another, saying "he ain't gonna have an easy three weeks," and then lived up to the hype.
This year, there's not as much trash talking outside of the cars. Instead, those involved in the NASCAR Chase for the Cup are letting their actions on the track do the bidding for victory this time. There's no throw-downs, no fights, and no quick draws.
But, the last sentiment could be good to describe where NASCAR is this week.
The old cliche is "Everything's bigger in Texas," and the stakes are not any bigger than they are right now for the Chase contenders. This track has seen freak accidents to top drivers literally from the first race ever run on the track. Anything can happen in cowboy country, and that is certainly the case this week at the Texas Motor Speedway.
That has weighed on the minds of the writers as now with this being the eighth race of the Chase, their pool of drivers is beginning to get thin. All have earned a chance to go for the title, as no more than two races separate the entire field. But one bad race could erase that kind of margin.
So now, it's time the writers put on their boots and chaps, as here's who they wrangled up to get them another win on the year, this time in the AAA Texas 500:
Misan Akuya: Mark Martin
Alright I got no chance at the championship after coming pretty close last year. No biggie. Mark Martin will get me another win.
That 55 has been close all year long. It is about time.
James Broomhead: Denny Hamlin
Kelly Crandall: Mark Martin
I don't know, seemed like a good idea while sitting in the dark. (Kelly was without power for some time following the disaster of Hurricane Sandy)
Billy Fellin: Matt Kenseth
Michael Hirshbein: Brad Keselowski
Christopher Leone: Kasey Kahne
Kind of down on Hamlin after last week. So there we go.
Kara Martin: Carl Edwards
Ryan O'Hara: Jimmie Johnson
Get me back in this championship hunt. Darn you!
Dustin Parks: Clint Bowyer
Originally, I had this race pegged for Matt Kenseth, but that changed a few weeks ago. The momentum of the 15 team has been absolutely incredible, both leading into the Chase and since it began. The win at Charlotte cemented that.
Texas is similar in size and banking, and MWR's intermediate track program is definitely improved, if not the best of all the Chase field right now. So I decided to switch it up and pull a 5-Hour Energy out for victory.
Let's face it, it's all or nothing right now in our standings. I've still got two bullets left in the gun, but the first I'm hoping will be enough of a warning shot to the field of writers for the final two races.
Patti Rodisch: NO PICK SENT
No driver chosen before the posting deadline.
Sal Sigala Jr: Matt Kenseth
Rob Tiongson: Matt Kenseth
Couldn't hurt to go with the two-time track winner. Bet part of him is going, "Am I really sure about leaving the 17 team?"
Standings following Martinsville:
Rob Tiongson (2279) Jeff Gordon finished 7th (4)
James Broomhead (2264) Jeff Gordon finished 7th (3)
Dustin Parks (2264) Jeff Gordon finished 7th (2)
Kelly Crandall (2259) Jeff Gordon finished 7th (4)
Sal Sigala Jr. (2259) Jeff Gordon finished 7th (3)
Ryan O'Hara (2247) Denny Hamlin finished 33rd (2)
Patti Rodisch (2242) Jeff Gordon finished 7th (2)
Christopher Leone (2240) Jimmie Johnson WON (4)
Kara Martin (2209) Denny Hamlin finished 33rd (3)
Misan Akuya (2209) Denny Hamlin finished 33rd (1)
Michael Hirshbein (2204) Tony Stewart finished 27th (1)
Billy Fellin (2202) Tony Stewart finished 27th (5)
Final Thoughts: Obviously with options becoming limited, the writers had to pick smart, but some have taken a gamble. It may not be Las Vegas, but Texas is known for being larger than life, so those wagers on non-Chase drivers could be huge or be a huge bust in the end.
Whatever the case may be, the six-shooters will be loaded for the driver that sees the checkered flag first on Sunday afternoon.
Clocks get set back an hour tomorrow night, so with ESPN set to start their broadcast at 2 p.m. ET, with the race beginning an hour later, this event will start in daylight but end under the stars.
Summary of Picks: