NASCAR Driver Capsules, April 2
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed back into first place in the Sprint Cup standings, which he had previously sat atop for the first three weeks of the season, after Sunday's race at Martinsville. He leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by nine points and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 10 points.
TEXAS RECORD: 23 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2000, his first career Sprint Cup win. Finished 29th in this race last year and was second in last year's fall Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt loves returning to Texas, where he earned his first career Sprint Cup win, having a memorable embrace with his late father in victory lane. After finishing second in last fall's race there, Sunday would be a perfect place for Junior to win his second race of the 2014 season. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "For whatever reason, when they built this racetrack, people really latched on to it. It's been a great market for us. It's been very successful. There's a great staff out there that does a lot of cutting-edge stuff and does a lot of unique promotion that you don't see at other places. It makes it a lot of fun to come here. Especially when the fans show their support to the track itself, it makes you want to race in front of them. It makes you excited to be here when they're, in turn, excited to see you."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt had a strong run at Martinsville, leading 25 laps and finishing third.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.4 percent (7,493) of the 7,693 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 11.3 and average finish is 13.7. He has two DNFs there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: For the second consecutive week, Matt Kenseth climbed three spots in the standings, going from eighth to second in that time period. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by nine points and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by one point.
TEXAS RECORD: 23 career starts, 2 wins, 13 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2002 and spring 2011. Finished 12th in this race last year and was fourth in last fall's Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: With 16 top-10 finishes in 23 races, Kenseth always seems to do well at Texas. He's still looking for his first win of the season and Sunday could be the right place and right time.
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led 36 laps and fell back near the end of the race to finish a still-good sixth. Here's what he had to say after the race: "It was up and down -- thankfully it ended on a fairly up note. ... Kind of disappointed because at the beginning of the race I thought we were going to have something we could race them with and just kind of lost it there in the middle of the race."
ETC.: Kenseth has completed an outstanding 99.3 percent (7,641) of the 7,693 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 15.6 and his average finish is 8.3. He has one DNF there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After leading the Sprint Cup points after Fontana, Carl Edwards' reign lasted just one week, as he dropped from first to third after Martinsville. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 10 points, is one point behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fourth-ranked Jeff Gordon by one point.
TEXAS RECORD: 18 career starts, 3 wins, 6 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2005, spring and fall 2008. Finished third in this race last year and was 37th in the fall Chase race there (after starting from the pole).
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is looking for his second win of the season at a track that he has a great record at. He also is looking to bounce back from last fall's race there.
LOOKING BACK: Edwards didn't have the greatest of cars at Martinsville. He overcame handling issues to finish 13th.
ETC.: Edwards has completed just 93.3 percent (5,618) of the 6,023 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 13.4 and his average finish is 15.4. He has four DNFs there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After two weeks in third place, Jeff Gordon dropped one spot to fourth after Martinsville. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 11 points, is one point behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Jimmie Johnson by seven points.
TEXAS RECORD: 26 career starts, 1 wins, 8 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2009. Finished 38th in this race last year and also 38th in last fall's Chase race there. He has six DNF's there.
LOOKING AHEAD: For whatever reason, Gordon struggles far too often at a 1.5-mile track like Texas. That can be seen by his six career DNFs, as well as his two disappointing finishes in both races there last year. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I always enjoy the trip to Texas Motor Speedway. It's a fast, high-banked track with multiple grooves. There should be a lot of tire wear and drop off of the speeds during the race which should lead to an exciting race. I can't wait to get there, especially with how well we ran at Fontana. We had a fast race car in California, and I hope to have another fast one in Texas."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon struggled with the handling on his car at Martinsville but ultimately finished a still respectable 12th.
ETC.: Gordon has completed just 88.0 percent (7,650) of the 8,695 total laps contested in 26 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 12.2 and his average finish is 17.8. But perhaps the most noteworthy stat of all is he has a surprisingly high six DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson regained the one position in the standings that he lost after Fontana, climbing back into fifth place after Martinsville. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. 18 points, is seven points behind fourth-ranked Jeff Gordon and leads sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by 20 points.
TEXAS RECORD: 21 career starts, 3 wins, 10 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in fall 2007, fall 2012 and fall 2013. Finished sixth in this race last year and was won the fall Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is still looking for his first win. It looked like he might do it at Martinsville, where he dominated, only to come up short to Kurt Busch. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race at Texas: "Texas is one of the more interesting racetracks we race on. The characteristics of the track - the bumps and the surface will make for an exciting race. So far with six winners in six races the racing in 2014 has been really exciting for the fans. We've run up front and led a lot but haven't been able to finish the job. I'm not too sure what the tire situation will be this weekend - if it will be the same tire as California or not - but it's been a good track for us in the past and it would be great to get our first win of the season this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson dominated at Martinsville, leading 296 of the event's 500 laps, only to come up short and finish second to Kurt Busch. It was the second straight race that Johnson dominated (he also did so the week before at Fontana), only to fail to reach victory lane.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 97.1 percent (6,821) of the 7,025 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Texas. His average start there is an outstanding 8.5 and his average finish is an equally outstanding 8.7. He has one DNF there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing seven spots after Fontana, Kyle Busch gained one more place in the standings after Martinsville, from seventh to sixth. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 38 points, is 20 points behind fifth-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads seventh-ranked Brad Keselowski by one point.
TEXAS RECORD: 17 career starts, 1 win, 6 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in spring 2013. Finished first in this race last year and 13th in the fall Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Texas has long vexed Kyle until he finally broke through with his first career Cup win there last spring. He's going for his second win in three weeks and also to extend the Busch family winning streak to three on Sunday (older brother Kurt won this past Sunday at Martinsville). Here's Kyle's thoughts on Texas: "Texas is a really fast mile-and-a-half racetrack. The asphalt is getting a little bit older but it's still really fast for a few laps and still kind of a pain sometimes because it is so aero-dependent, that when you do run the bottom, it's hard to pass. You've got to be able to move around a little bit and run the middle, run the top and show some ability to go all over the racetrack. We're getting closer each and every time, it feels like. Sometimes not so much - you kind of go forward and then you go backward and then you kind of come back forward some. Hopefully, Texas will be good to us this time around, also, and we can get a win with our Interstate Batteries Camry like at Fontana."
LOOKING BACK: Busch led 22 laps at Martinsville but subsequently faded, ultimately finishing 14th.
ETC.: Busch has completed 98.5 percent (5,603) of the 5,689 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 13.9 and average finish is 14.0. He has zero DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: For the second week in a row, Brad Keselowski dropped three places in the standings. He's now gone from first to seventh after the last two races. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 39 points, is one point behind sixth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Joey Logano by one point.
TEXAS RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: second in fall 2012. Finished ninth in this race last year and was sixth in last fall's Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Since his win at Las Vegas, Keselowski has had a rough go of it in the last three races, finishing 14th at Bristol, 26th at Fontana and a season-worst 38th at Martinsville. He's looking to turn things around this Sunday at Texas: "We realize that there will be days where things just don't go your way. Over these last three races, we ran through someone's oil, got a flat tire while running fifth with five laps to go and had a pit-lane crash. Those are things that happen to everyone over the course of the season. The way I look at it is our Ford Fusion's have been fast and we have had cars that are capable of running up front everywhere we've been. Of course, that win makes it easier to deal with the ups and downs. We're in excellent shape heading into this weekend, and we won't be surprised to be in even better shape when it's over."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski was involved in a pit road accident with Kurt Busch and Casey Mears just 44 laps into Sunday's race at Martinsville, and was forced to miss more than 30 laps while the damage was repaired. He eventually got back on track but finished 38th.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed 97.2 percent (3,572) of the 3,675 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 23.1 and average finish is 19.9. He has zero DNFs there.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping six places following the previous two races, Joey Logano regained two of those positions after Martinsville, climbing from 10th to eighth. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 40 points, is one point behind seventh-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads ninth-ranked Austin Dillon by eight points.
TEXAS RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in fall 2013. Finished fifth in this race last year and was third in the fall Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: After struggling for most of his previous nine starts at Texas, Logano finally broke through with two outstanding runs in his last two starts there. Plus, with finishing fourth at Martinsville, Logano believes that could be a prelude of even better things to come at Texas: "That was what this team needed. ... We got back to doing what we've actually been doing all year long, which was running up front and showing that we are fast. We have led laps in every race except one this season. That's an impressive stat. So we just need to keep doing what we are doing. The wins and the top fives will continue to take care of themselves."
LOOKING BACK: Logano had an excellent run at Martinsville, leading 39 laps and finishing fourth.
ETC.: Logano has completed 97.3 percent (3,577) of the 3,675 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Texas. His average start is 17.1 and average finish is 20.0. He has one DNF there.
3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing four spots in the standings and into the top-10 after Fontana, Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon dropped one position after Martinsville to ninth. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 48 points, is eight points behind eighth-ranked Joey Logano and leads 10th-ranked Ryan Newman by five points.
TEXAS RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 22nd in fall 2013. Finished 33rd in this race last year and 22nd in last fall's Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon is off to a strong start in his Sprint Cup rookie season. He's looking to continue that run and improve upon his two starts last season at Texas this Sunday: "I've been to Texas Motor Speedway a few times. I was fast there in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car last year, so I can't wait to get there. Our Las Vegas Motor Speedway run should lay over to Texas Motor Speedway for qualifying and hopefully we can better ourselves for the race. It's a fast, rough track and I enjoy those."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing 11th the week before at Fontana, Dillon had another good run at Martinsville, finishing 15th.
ETC.: Dillon has completed 98.4 percent (657) of the 668 total laps contested in two career starts at Texas. His average start is 16.5 and average finish is 27.5. He has zero DNFs there.
31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Ryan Newman dropped two positions, from eighth to tenth, after Martinsville. He trails points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 53 points, is part of three Richard Childress Racing drivers stacked back-to-back-to-back in the standings, five points behind ninth-ranked Austin Dillon and is six points ahead of 11th-ranked Paul Menard.
TEXAS RECORD: 21 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2003. Finished 10th in this race last year and was ninth in last fall's Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he has a win there, Newman more often than not struggles at Texas. That's unusual, as he likes fast 1.5-mile tracks like the Fort Worth layout. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Texas Motor Speedway is a good track race-wise. It provides drivers with a lot of options. You can move around and find a line that your car responds to and it's really versatile so you can get around somebody. It's also really fast so aero is also an important part of it and it's nice to have that ability to move around. With it being one of the older tracks on the circuit asphalt-wise, the racing will be good for both the drivers and the fans watching in the stands and on television."
LOOKING BACK: Newman had a rough day at Martinsville. While he completed all 500 laps, he was never a factor and finished 20th for the second week in a row.
ETC.: Newman has completed 94.6 percent (6,647) of the 7,025 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 17.0, and average finish is 19.2. He has three DNFs there.
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only six points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "Our 1.5-mile track program has been getting better and better since late last year. That's why I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do this weekend at Texas and keep our momentum going in the right direction. What can you say about Texas that hasn't already been said in regards to how fast it is around that place? We're going to need a good set-up under our Quaker State Chevrolet to get through the turns and great horsepower from ECR engines to be successful."
LOOKING BACK: Menard was all smiles after finishing 10th at Martinsville. "I'll take a top-10 at Martinsville any time," said Menard. "This team was on their game today on pit stops and bouncing back from the middle part of the race. We weren't as good as we were in the beginning, but Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and the crew did a great job on pit calls and pit stops. They just never gave up and it paid off with another top-10 finish. We will definitely take that and head to Texas."
ETC.: One of the biggest reasons why Menard feels so good about this weekend is because of the car he will be driving. It was last used at Las Vegas where Menard scored a season-best third-place finish. "We have a lot of confident in that car," said Labbe. "Paul really likes it, and we are hoping for the same kind of results as we had at Vegas."
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, nine points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Two wins and nine top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 16 starts. Finished seventh last November.
LOOKING AHEAD: After a very disappointing run at one of his favorite tracks, Hamlin hopes to bounce back this week at Texas. "We really felt good going into Martinsville, but things didn't work out like we expected," said Hamlin. "So we need to rebound this week. Texas is another track that has been real good to us so we have high hopes this weekend, too. Maybe this will be the weekend we get that first win (of the season)."
LOOKING BACK: On Friday, Hamlin said he was confident he was going to win the Martinsville race. But on Sunday, he struggled with an ill-handling race car as he finished 19th. "Set-up wise, we really could have used Saturday (when both practice sessions were rained out)," said Hamlin. "Thinking that as fast as we were on Friday that it probably would play into our advantage not having practice on Saturday, but there was a laundry list of things that we needed to try and didn't get to do it. This car and setup that we had was really good for 10 laps, but it just went away too much after that. We were a football field and then some away from the right setup today."
ETC.: Hamlin was very upset with all of the rumors floating around after he was forced to miss the California race because of a piece of mental in his left eye. "People who think negatively of me or think that we side-stepped some sort of drug test or something is ridiculous," said Hamlin. "I'm in one of the top-three cars in NASCAR, I would have to be an absolute moron to risk that. Because I'm out there a little bit more people think I go out and party. I worked too hard to get here to throw it all away. It bothers me that my character is being questioned."
55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, nine points out of the top 10.
TEXAS RECORD: Finished a career-best eighth at the 1.5-mile track in the spring race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Crew chief Billy Scott feels Vickers should be much higher in the point standings. "We have run well this season, just haven't got the results so far that we expect. We've scored the 13th most points, but we feel we should be much higher. While it's disappointing it's better to know you have run well and had speed than it would be to run badly and get a lucky finish. We have high hopes for this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Vickers seemed headed for another top-10 finish at Martinsville when his car suddenly began battling "wheel chatter" during the closing laps of the race. As a result, Vickers finished 16th. "A very disappointing finish considering how we ran - we should have been better than that," said Vickers. "The guys did a great job in the pits all day. The Aaron's Dream Machine was really good on the long runs and good on the mid-runs. We would push a little bit on restarts. We just went too far there at the end and it got way too loose. It's a shame because we had a good car."
ETC.: Scott is only six races into his career as a crew chief. "It's been really good so far," said Scott. "The racing aspect has been about what I expected. I've learned to be more involved in the preparation of the cars ahead of time, but we have had some really good systems set up in place here at Michael Waltrip Racing. There's more to the job on the non-racing side than I was aware of. There's things I didn't know people would come to ask me about. Like what shirts are we supposed to wear or passing out itineraries, some of the logistical questions."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 12 points out of the top 10. Gained six spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 11 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Winning solves a lot of problems doesn't it. That is my mindset on the 9 team. If we win a race, we are close to locking ourselves in (to the Chase) and our year is changed. That is absolutely our focus. We made a decision at Martinsville after we got rained out on Saturday to stay aggressive and try some stuff we hadn't tested on Friday and it paid off for us. That is what we will keep doing."
LOOKING BACK: Despite racing with a heavy heart after the death of Lynda Petty, Richard's wife, earlier in the week, Ambrose was able to lead 22 laps as he finished a season-matching best of fifth at Martinsville. "We've had a really tough week," said Ambrose. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Petty family right now. We really wanted to win for them bad out there, but we'll take a top-five. I'm really proud of my team."
ETC.: With teammate Aric Almirola finishing eighth at Martinsville, it marked only the fourth time that the RPM duo had finished in the top 10 on the same day but the second time in three races. Almirola finished third at Bristol, while Ambrose ended up fifth. "We spent a lot of money and a lot of effort in getting Richard Petty Motorsports back on the map and I think you're seeing the results," said Ambrose. "We've been fast for about four weeks in a row, and we're just starting to hit our stride. We're going to win one of these (races) soon and lock ourselves in the Chase."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 20 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Two wins and 12 top-10 finishes in 23 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart said a driver has "to be comfortable" at Texas "or you're not going to go fast. The more comfortable I am, the faster we go. We've seen the track get wider, and it's made it to where you can move around on the race track and where you can run the top side or the bottom side. It's nice from a driver's perspective to be able to have that flexibility behind the steering wheel, knowing that if your car's not driving exactly the way you want it to, you can move around and a find a spot the car likes better."
LOOKING BACK: While Stewart's day was a long one, he was all smiles afterwards after stopping on the race track to congratulate teammate Kurt Busch on his Martinsville victory. "Really happy for Kurt Busch and everyone on the Haas Automation team," said Stewart. "For us, it wasn't the day we wanted for our Code 3 Associations/Mobile 1 Chevy by any means," added Stewart, who finished 17th.
ETC.: Stewart called Busch's victory "a big win for Gene Haas. He had a big hand in putting this all together. And for him and Haas Automation to get a win this early in the season, I think it says a lot about his vision." Stewart was also quick to praise Daniel Knost, Busch's crew chief. "He's in his first year as a crew chief and he's obviously doing a really good job. We knew he was capable and he's proving that."
47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 22 points out of the top 10. Gained six spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 10 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger said, "I'm excited to go to Texas. That's because of the success we've already had and the speed we have shown at the mile-and-a-half's and the things the guys are doing at the shop right now. All of it makes me feel like what we have learned over the last couple of weeks will make our Texas car quicker. Some of the ideas we have come up with on our own and some with the RCR (Richard Childress Racing) alliance. I'm really looking forward to this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger finished 11th at Martinsville. "It was a really good race for us," said Allmendinger. "At times on the long runs, we maybe were the fastest car out there. It was fun. I had to be careful not to burn the tires off early on, which made me defensive and then we would get rolling and the Busch's Beans Chevrolet SS was pretty good. We've just to work on the mapping on pit road. When you are bucking all the way through pit road and you can't tell if you were at pit road speed or five below -- it was killing us. An 11th-place is a little disappointing, but to have another decent points day is not a bad day for us."
ETC.: Co-owner Tad Geschickter is quite pleased with how quick the changes the team made over the winter are producing results. "To see it come together in the first five to six races and start to get the finishes we deserve has been huge for us and definitely gives us more confidence in all the decisions we made," said Geschickter. "We have had really good speed this year."
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 24 points out of the top 10. Gained six spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Finished 10th last November for his ninth top-10 finish in 16 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer is another driver that hopes to bounce back after a frustrating end to the Martinsville race. "I can't wait to get to Texas and start working on getting that win that will put us in the Chase," said Bowyer. "We really had a good shot at one last week. Hopefully we'll have another real good shot at one this week."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had run down and passed Martinsville master Jimmie Johnson with 50 laps to go in the race. Bowyer led the next 11 laps before a caution was waved when Carl Edwards spun in turn two. The pit crew had trouble removing the right-rear tire and by the time Bowyer returned to the track he was 10th for the final restart. "We had the lead there at the end and had trouble in the pits and came out 10th," said a dejected Bowyer. "We just didn't have enough time to make it up. Just really disappointed. Felt we could have had the win." Instead, Bowyer had to settle for a ninth-place finish.
ETC.: Bowyer laughs when asked about the worst injury he ever suffered in a race car. "Believe it or not I've scrambled my marbles a few times - can you tell," said a smiling Bowyer. "I woke up in the infield car center at Charlotte a few years ago, clearly thought the wreck happened a lot different than it had. I was hollering at Richard (Childress, his car owner at the time) because I thought Kevin (Harvick, his teammate at the time) wrecked me. He was like 'No, he didn't do it.' We were in this argument and I'm looking over his shoulder watching the replay on TV and he (Harvick) didn't get into me. My head hurt that day."
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 25 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: 10 top-10 finishes in the last 11 races including one win and seven top-five's. His first win at the track came on April 17, 2005 when he led 219 laps.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle, who will make the 400th start of his Cup career on Sunday, can't wait to get to Texas "and put these last couple of weeks behind us. Texas has really been good to us the last four or five years. So we are really looking forward to this weekend. We would love to extend that streak of a different race winner every week. And we feel we've got a good shot at it."
LOOKING BACK: Biffle led once for 18 laps and seemed headed for a top-five finish when he ran into handling problems in the final 100 laps of the Martinsville race. "Restarting on the outside really hurt us, and then we got real tight there at the end," said Biffle, who ended up 18th. "Time and again I would be on the outside for the restarts and would lose eight to 10 spots. I really thought we were going to have a real good day. But the restarts and a tight race car left us outside the top 15."
ETC.: On Friday, Biffle will play host to 125 students and teachers from Our Lady of Perpetual Help elementary and middle school at Texas Motor Speedway as part of the "Give Kids a Smile" program. "This program is very special to me," said Biffle. "It helps bring awareness to kids and their families about having a good dental health plan."
42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 26 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Finished 23rd in his Cup debut last November.
LOOKING AHEAD: Larson said "After a tough track last weekend, I'm really looking forward to Texas. I enjoy the mile and a half tracks the best and have run pretty well on those tracks in the past. Our Target Chevy was really good in pre-season tests on the mile and a half track at Charlotte, so I think we should be able to unload with a really good car for this weekend's race and plan on being very competitive."
LOOKING BACK: It was an up-and-down day for Larson. After running as high as eighth at the midway point of the race, the rookie driver ran into all kinds of problems in the final 250 laps including spinning out in turn two to bring out the 11th of 14 caution flags. As a result, Larson finished 27th. "Not the finish I was hoping for," said Larson. "I knew this was a tough track, but thought we had a decent chance to get a good finish in the Target Chevy after running upfront midway through the race. I thought we did alright on our short runs, but just didn't do as well on the long runs."
ETC.: Larson feels his previous Cup experience at Texas will be of a huge benefit this weekend. "There is a big difference between the Cup and Nationwide cars at a place like Texas," said Larson. "So I feel good that I have experienced that difference. There are just different things you need to work on to make both cars fast."
41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 28 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: One win and 12 top-10 finishes in 22 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch admits "the adrenaline of winning and accomplishing something special as a team carries over, but Martinsville is a half-mile track that is very different from the mile and a half of Texas. The way we struggled at Vegas earlier this year we definitely need to rebound on the mile and a half's. The key to winning there in my mind is carving through the center of the corners through the bumps. If you can do that and hold it wide open through there you are going to be the car to beat."
LOOKING BACK: Busch did the unthinkable Sunday at Martinsville - he beat Jimmie Johnson at a track where he had dominated. As Busch himself noted, "the 48 (Johnson) is king here." After swapping the lead with Johnson, Busch got back by Johnson with 11 laps to go and led the rest of the way to end a 83-race winless streak. The victory was Busch's 25th of his Cup career. "It's a dream come true to have Gene Haas call you and tell you he wants you to drive his car and he wants to go for trophies and wins," said Busch. "It's unbelievable feeling to deliver. We are a winner. We're not guaranteed in the Chase but we have a win and we're moving forward. Now our next objective is just to build more consistency in our Haas Automation Chevy."
ETC.: While Busch was enjoying "the awesome feeling" from his Martinsville victory, he was not pleased with all the questions about his run-ins with Brad Keselowski during the race. "We're not worried about any of that nonsense right now," began Busch. But when the questions kept coming, Busch got more than a little irritated. "I can't believe he overreacted and he's as upset as he is (for the first incident on pit road that sent Keselowski to the garage area for repairs)," said Busch. "He targeted us, he was aiming for us. He tried to flatten all four of my tires. That's a punk-*** move and he will get what he gets back when I decide to get it back."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 29 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Finished fifth last November. Overall has one win and six top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne hopes to become the seventh different winner in the first seven races of the season. "We had a really good car there last fall, and hopefully we will be as strong this weekend," said Kahne. "We are bringing a new car this weekend and Kenny (Francis, crew chief) feels really good about it. The start of the year hasn't gone as we had hoped so we need a good run this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne rallied from an early-race accident to run in the top five with less than 50 laps to go. But then he ran into major handling problems and ended the day in 22nd spot. "The day certainly didn't end as we had hoped," said Kahne. "The car got really tight at the end and we didn't get another caution to fix it. It was a real handful after that last restart (with 35 laps to go)."
ETC.: Kahne said his workouts include the "things that I feel make me better throughout the race and after the race. And I feel better mentally because of working out, being prepared and being in great shape. Some tracks can be tough on your neck and arms, and other tracks, not so much. I think there's a lot there (while in the car) that definitely takes some athletic ability, and I think that it helps being athletic and being prepared. It (the workouts) helps me for sure."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 34 points out of the top 10. Lost 11 spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Six top-10 finishes in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray feels "Texas is like most mile-and-a-half tracks where track position is key, maybe even more at Texas because it is tough to pass. We will try to qualify well and keep track position throughout. Texas seems like it has been one of those tracks where you have long green-flag runs and the track gives up a lot of grip."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray seemed headed for a top-10 finish when he was clipped by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and sent hard into the turn-two wall. McMurray took his badly-damaged car to the garage area for repairs before returning to the race to finish 42nd. "There was a lap car holding up our pack," said McMurray. "I thought the 88 (Earnhardt) would be a little more patient with me. I had gotten by him in lapped traffic. Then he got on my inside. When he got into me it was like he couldn't get off and spun me around and I just got into the wall. Really unfortunate, as we had a good car today."
ETC.: McMurray admits the wreck at Martinsville will have a long-term effect on his ability to qualify for the Chase for the Championship. "You just wish you weren't racing for points because that is the hardest part to swallow is the point loss," said McMurray. "It's fun to run well but that (the accident that resulted in a next-to-last finish) is what you will think about." McMurray entered the Martinsville event in 12th place, but left the track 23rd in the standings.
17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 38 points out of the top 10. Lost nine spots last week.
TEXAS RECORD: Best finish in two starts is 16th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "Texas is one of my favorite tracks. The past two weekends have been tough for our team, but I think we are all looking forward to getting to Texas and being competitive. We had a solid run at Las Vegas earlier this year, another mile-and-half track. I am really looking forward to this weekend and seeing the new big TV (screen on the backstretch)."
LOOKING BACK: A bad vibration forced Stenhouse to the garage area for repairs with 143 laps to go. When he returned to the track, he was 38 laps down as he finished 40th. "I'm proud of my team," said Stenhouse. "We didn't give up and we finished the race. We will have to go back and see what broke. The past two weeks have really hurt us in the point standings so we have to get better. It's early in the season so we have plenty of time to rebound."
ETC.: Both Stenhouse and crew chief Mike Kelley knows the team needs a good run this weekend if they want to get back in the hunt for a spot in the Chase for the Championship. "Hopefully we can rebound this weekend and have a solid top-10 finish," said Kelly. "Ricky and I had success there (Texas) in the Nationwide Series so we hope to build on that this weekend."
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 39 points out of the top 10.
TEXAS RECORD: Will be shooting for his fourth top-nine finish in the last five races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick expects Texas to offer "a few more challenges" than normal. "As we've seen the first part of the year, the cars are very fast with the new ride height rule, the new spoiler height and everything that comes with it. We're going to be taking the bumps at a much higher rate of speed with a lot more load on the left-side tires than we've had there before. So, I think we're going to see some new challenges pop up."
LOOKING BACK: Despite problems on pit road caused by a part failure, Harvick finished seventh at Martinsville. During a caution flag on lap 219 of the 500-lap event, the team discovered that the chain that keeps the rear-end housing from dropping when the car is jacked up had broken, making it difficult to jack the car up during a pit stop. The team attempted to fix the problem, but they were unsuccessful as the broken chain hindered the team on each of its subsequent trips to pit road. "Once again we had a real good car," said Harvick. "But we lost too much ground on pit road to allow us to really show how good it was."
ETC.: Harvick decided to stop by the Oak Ridge (NC) Fire Department on his way to Martinsville last week to again thank the firefighters that helped save his home. "If it weren't for these guys, I wouldn't have a home," said Harvick. "Chief Simmons (Steve) knew exactly what to do and they were able to contain a small mess that could have been a very big mess. We're very fortunate." With the help of thermal imaging cameras, the firefighters were able to local the fire, which was in between the basement ceiling and the main level of the house.
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 42 points out of the top 10
TEXAS RECORD: Finished seventh in the spring race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola knows he can't afford any more "bad days" if he wants to make the Chase. "For us on the 43 team our chips are pretty well cashed in as far as points are concerned," said Almirola. "We got caught up in a wreck at Daytona and then getting wrecked at California makes it hard to make up that many points on the guys in front of us. We need to keep running like we have been running. We have 20 races before the Chase begins and if we put ourselves in position enough times I promise you we will win a race."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished eighth at Martinsville. "I'm really proud of all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports," said Almirola. "It was been a tough week for everyone on team (with the death of Lynda Petty, Richard's wife). Marcos (Ambrose, his teammate) had a really good run as well, so we're doing things right. If we keep running like this, we'll get to victory lane. All in all, it was a really good day for the 43 team and everyone at RPM."
ETC.: Almirola feels racing at RPM is like being part of a family. "I have raced at a lot of places and every place I have raced has been very business oriented and very corporate, if you will," said Almirola. "This is the one place I have come to drive a race car that made me feel like part of the family. Richard comes in here and puts his arm around everybody and makes them feel like they are a part of the Petty family. So to lose Lynda, it certainly feels like we all lost a huge part of our family. Obviously on my race team specifically, my crew chief, that was his aunt. Trent Owens' aunt passed away. It was a huge part of our racing family along with being Richard's wife."
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