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  He won Texas last spring. Can Matt Kenseth do it again? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Or, wow!
   While buddy Greg Biffle was sunning himself in the Bahamas, on one of the stock car tour's few breaks this season, Matt Kenseth was giving Michigan's new asphalt a good workout.
   And it's fast.
   Like Faaaassst.

   The two-mile Michigan track is one of several repaved for this season, and speeds at Michigan, Pocono and Kansas are all expected to be considerably faster than last year. What that means for NASCAR officials and any rules tweaks is so far unclear.
   Kenseth, the Daytona 500 winner and one of the favorites here in Saturday night's Texas 500, says speeds in Michigan's June 400 will be "pretty fast.  I think we saw 215 or 216 on the straightaways.
    "It's definitely going to be fast."
   That's with 18-degree banking.

   So when guys here start complaining about how bumpy Texas Motor Speedway is, well….


Tony Stewart (R) and his guys are still hot, 8 for 16 now with teammate Ryan Newman's Martinsville win. And Stewart kicked butt at Las Vegas (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Jimmie Johnson, still looking for his first tour win of the season, says this 1-1/2-mile track, for whatever reason, lends itself to long green runs.
   "As it ages, the bumps get bigger, the surface has less grip," Johnson says. "The thing that comes to mind for me is the long green-flag runs we have.
   "Any small problems you have with the balance of the car are magnified and add up. It's hard to ever catch the leader because there is just so much green-flag running."
   Tony Stewart showed 'em how it's done, winning here last fall in that 5-win stretch.
   Stewart hasn't cooled off either.
   Teammate Ryan Newman, for so long dubbed Mr. Friday for his qualifying prowess, finally broke out of teammate Stewart's shadow last week at Martinsville, with a perfectly executed bump-and-run, leaving Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Clint Bowyer steaming.
   With that Newman ran the team's record to a stunning 8-for-16.
   And at that rate, the odds of another Jack Roush victory here, by either Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth or Biffle, might be a little longer than usual.

   Jimmie Johnson: time to win? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Roush men have dominated this track over the years. Kenseth won this race a year ago, in a rout.
   But Denny Hamlin swept both 500s during his 2010 title charge.
   It has been Stewart's runs at the tour's mid-sized tracks since last September that has been remarkable, and his run at Las Vegas a few weeks ago may show him as the man to beat here too.
   Biffle arrives here still atop the Sprint Cup standings, though his last tour win was in the fall of 2010 at Kansas.
  And Kenseth won the season opener at Daytona.
  However some mystery continues to swirl around Edwards and his team, winless for over a year now…and this is the perfect track for him to dispel the questions. Edwards is a three-time winner here, and a good run Saturday is expected.
   Edwards didn't expect much at Martinsville, and that's about what he got.
   But this track has been one of his best.

   Yet as this track opens for practice, it may be the Michigan speeds and the anticipated speeds at Pocono that dominate conversation.
   The speeds Kenseth saw at Michigan could mean even faster speeds at the end of the frontstretch at Pocono, where the test of new asphalt comes April 24th and 25th.    
   Denny Hamlin, who has been a consistent winner at both Michigan and Pocono, had fretted before the tire testing began that speeds into turn one at Pocono, at the end of the sport's longest straight, could hit 215.
   Looks like that estimate was a tad low.
   The change in asphalt and speeds could turn the Michigan race into a decidedly different show, Kenseth says:
   "It was pretty slick before.  You would run real fast and slow up on old tires, and the groove was all over the place."
   The new asphalt might not provide a better show, but certainly a thriller: "I think qualifying is going to be real exciting," Kenseth says.
    "I think the race will be real exciting, like it always is, but I think you're probably going to see a little different race, at least for a year or two, until it gets more worn out. 
     "We're running at least three seconds faster than race runs the last time; that's going to change the racing a little.
     "I think most drivers probably like old pavement. But certainly the new pavements lately -- everybody has been doing a good job of making it smooth…and Goodyear has been giving us a tire that has some grip. The racing has been pretty good at the new pavement tracks."
   But the tires?
   While Kenseth is diplomatic, and while Goodyear has done a good job developing durable tires for repaved tracks the last few years, there are likely going to still be complaints.
    "The tire is always the biggest factor in the speeds, no matter where we go or what kind of pavement we're racing on," Kenseth says.
    "Goodyear has done a really good job with all these new repaves the last four or five years.  They've brought a tire that doesn't fail, and we can drive and maneuver on it. 
     "In the past, when they paved these places, they'd bring a tire that was so hard we couldn't drive the cars for 20 or 30 laps."

   Carl Edwards: some still doesn't seem quite right here. But he's a three-time winner at Texas (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR) 


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