The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the NRA 500 on Saturday night. It's the first night race of the 2013 season for the Cup Series, making it the first night race, ever, for the new Gen-6 race car.
With a new race car, past statistics at Texas may not be true indicators as to what will happen at TMS come Saturday night. But if they are, count on Roush Fenway Racing as the collective team to beat this weekend. RFR has a NASCAR-topping nine wins at Texas Motor Speedway, more than twice the tally of the team in second -- Hendrick Motorsports with four.
"I (attribute) it to good teams, good drivers and communication with equipment," Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, said.
Biffle heads into the weekend as the defending winner of the sprint race at Texas. A year ago, he took the checkered flag more than three seconds ahead of second place. It was his second Texas Motor Speedway win, but teammate Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford has more. Edwards is a three-time winner at Texas.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the No. 17 RFR Ford, is the newbie to the Roush Fenway Sprint Cup camp, but he'll have the benefit of two multi-time Texas Sprint Cup winners, Biffle and Edwards, as a teammate to lean on and learn from. Drivers accounting for four of RFR's wins in the Lone Star State -- Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin -- has moved on and are racing for different teams now, but more than half of those nine wins (five) are still within the RFR stable.
But while Roush Fenway Racing looks to continue its dominance of Texas Motor Speedway, a couple of Hendrick Motorsports drivers will look to commemorate individual milestones with trips to victory lane. Jimmie Johnson's (No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) milestone is an almost certain given, while Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) will take a little more work.
Johnson, a two-time winner at Texas, will mark Sprint Cup career-start 500 when he takes the green flag to start Saturday night's race. Johnson feels good about producing a good finish in his 500th race, considering he won the last time the series visited the track in the fall of 2012 and he ran well at the other mile-and-a-half the circuit has already raced at this season -- Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"We ran really good at Vegas (another half-mile track similar to TMS), and California didn't go as well as we wanted. But it's a much different race track than what we have at Texas," Johnson said. "We're still learning this car on the big tracks. Fontana we were certainly trying some things and smarter leaving there, and I know that these guys will work hard and give me a great car this coming race."
For his milestone, Gordon will have to do more than simply start the race at Texas. Gordon heads into this weekend's race with 299 career-top-five finishes at the Sprint Cup level. Career-top-five 300 could come at Texas. Whether Gordon achieves the 300 mark on Saturday night or has to wait another race or two, he'll become only the fourth driver to achieve the milestone. The three who have already surpassed the mark are all NASCAR Hall of Famers -- Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and David Pearson.
"You're always learning from your experiences and I think there are some things we learned in California that will make us better at Texas," Gordon said. "We're just going to stay focused on each race and continue to work on bettering our intermediate program."
Also worth noting, the NRA 500 will be the 300th-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start for Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.