Texas: News of note, schedule

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebounding from poor 2005 showing * Hall of Fame Racing makes homecoming debut NEWS AND NOTES Locked-In Bubble ... The battle to get in the top 10 in drivers points is not the only one worth noting. Each race, the top 35...

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebounding from poor 2005 showing
* Hall of Fame Racing makes homecoming debut


Locked-In Bubble ... The battle to get in the top 10 in drivers points is not the only one worth noting. Each race, the top 35 teams in the car owner point standings are guaranteed starting spots.

This week's 35th-place team is the No. 55 NAPA Dodge team owned by Doug Bawel with Michael Waltrip driving. The team only has a six-point advantage over the No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge owned by Richard Petty and driven by Bobby Labonte, who must earn a starting position Sunday based on qualifying time. Although Labonte is currently 35th in the driver point standings, the No. 43 team is not locked into the field because the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet owned by Bill Saunders has more car owner points. The No. 96 team, currently 29th in owner points with 528, has started two drivers -- Terry Labonte and Tony Raines -- and has received points for both. Terry Labonte, who has started five races, is 36th in driver points with 428. Raines, who has started one race for the team, is 47th with 100 driver points.

The No. 14 CENTRIX Financial Chevrolet owned by Nelson Bowers and driven by Sterling Marlin was the only entry outside the bubble before Martinsville to lock in a position for Texas. The team finished 14th at Martinsville to climb three spots to 33rd in the current standings.

Earnhardt Jr. Back on Track ... Entering this season, one of the most intriguing stories was the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the team's chances of returning to title contention. Apart from a win at Chicago, nothing seemed to go right for the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team in 2005. Amid crew chief changes and rumors of Earnhardt contemplating leaving DEI, the team limped to a 19th-place finish -- the worst of Earnhardt's career. He also posted a career low in wins (1) and his worst totals in top fives (7) and top 10s (13) since his rookie season.

After six races of the 2006 season, the No. 8 team is where it believes it should be. Three top-10 finishes, including two top fives in the past three races, have put Earnhardt Jr. sixth in the point standings, 109 points out of first.

"I think people are finally seeing that we know what we're doing," Earnhardt said. "The guys are spending late hours there. I'm just so proud of the whole effort everybody's giving me this year. We had a hard year last year, but the company has bounced back. I can take credit for wheeling on the car, but you can't do it if the car doesn't work. This year, my cars have been working, and I think people are realizing that."

This week at Texas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has a good chance to continue building his team's momentum. His first win in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series came at Texas in 2000, a feat that was recently named one of the top-10 moments in the track's history.

"It was definitely one of my top moments, because it was a wake-up call to the world that the Bud team was officially on the premises," Earnhardt said. "That was a special day."

Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in six of his seven starts at Texas.

In the Loop -- Stewart takes over Driver Rating lead following win at Martinsville ... Coming off his first win of the season at Martinsville, Tony Stewart (117.0) has claimed the top spot on the season-to-date Driver Rating chart despite sitting eighth in series points. Matt Kenseth (110.8) fell to second in the Driver Rating category this week after a late race accident forced him out of the race. Series points leader Jimmie Johnson rounds out the top three with a Driver Rating of 104.1.

Casey Mears, who finished fourth in both events at Texas Motor Speedway last season, was on top of several loop data statistic categories at that track. Mears, currently 10th in series points, ranked second in Driver Rating last season at Texas with a 111.7. The Average Running Position statistic also saw Mears in the top five, ranking fourth at 8.558. Mears had one of the fastest cars on the track last season at Texas; this is evidenced by the Fastest Drivers Early in a Run and Fastest Drivers Late in a Run statistics. Mears ranked third (178.426 mph) early in a run and first (173.551) late in a run. More Loop Data statistics are available each week, providing in-depth analysis of each race, at www.nascarmedia.com.

Hall of Fame Racing Set for "Home" Debut ... When Tony Raines (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet) takes the track this weekend, he will be representing more than just the folks in the Hall of Fame Racing shop. Raines, an Indiana native, is about the only cog in the team with no ties to the Lone Star State. Team owners Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach are both NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks who spent their entire careers with the Dallas Cowboys. Crew chief Philippe Lopez is from San Antonio and gas man Alex Whitman hails from Dallas. Texas-born Terry Labonte piloted the car for the first five races of the year, and will return for road courses at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International. Even the team sponsor, DLP HDTV, is a brand of Texas Instruments which is based in Dallas.

Raines is certainly aware that he will have the eyes of Texas on him come race day.

"I think there is going to be a little bit of pressure there because we have a lot going on," Raines said. "That's OK. I knew [Martinsville] would be a tough race to start at and then go right on to Texas, which will have extra pressure because of all the additional activity. I think once we get through these first two races in good shape, the rest of the schedule will be a lot of fun because we will be going to tracks that we are going to repeat at later in the season. We can start building up our information and momentum. I am excited to be here but like I said, I am a little nervous because there is a lot at stake. At the same time, I would much rather be here than not be here."

Raybestos Rookie Update ... Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) finished 12th at Martinsville to capture his second Raybestos Rookie of the Race Award of the year. Sorenson moved up to fourth in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, eight points behind leader Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniels Texas Pride Chevrolet). Bowyer has held the top spot every week since his sixth-place finish at Daytona. J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) passed Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet) for second, five points out of the lead.

Pit Crew Spotlight: No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet ... Hall of Fame Racing is not the only team with ties to Texas. Two of the seven over-the-wall members of the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick call Texas home. Josh Mick, fabricator and front tire changer, is from Austin and Nick Terry, mechanic and jack man, is from Houston. Team engineer John Goodwin also hails from Houston.

Chevrolet Leads Manufacturers Standings ... Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) gave Chevrolet its third victory of the season, extending its lead in the manufacturers standings to seven over Dodge (43-36). Ford is ranked third with 35 points.

From the Archives: Foyt Enjoyed NASCAR Success ... Houston-born A.J. Foyt had a driving career that saw him excel in every form of auto racing. In addition to his open-wheel championships and sports-car wins, Foyt also is the most accomplished open-wheel driver to compete in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. His seven wins give him the lead among other open-wheel drivers who have competed in NASCAR.

Foyt's first two victories came at Daytona with back-to-back wins in the 1964 and 1965 Firecracker 400 in a Ray Nichels Dodge and a Wood Brothers Ford, respectively. He is one of only two Daytona 500 champions to win the Indianapolis 500. Foyt won a NASCAR road-course event at California's Riverside Raceway in 1970 driving Jack Bowsher's Ford, then won back-to-back events at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1971 and 1972. A win at Atlanta Motor Speedway also is in Foyt's resume, while five of his seven victories came in cars provided by the Wood family.

A.J. Foyt retired from NASCAR competition in 1994 after 128 starts and 10 poles. He also had 36 top-10 finishes to go with his seven victories. Today, Foyt's grandson, A.J. Foyt IV, carries on the family tradition as a competitor in the NASCAR Busch Series.

Fast Facts

Next race: Samsung/RadioShack 500 (Race No. 7 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)

The track: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas
The date/time: Sunday, April 9, 2 p.m. (ET).

TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite

Posted awards: $7,096,079.

Race length: 501 miles, 334 laps
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.

2005 winner: Greg Biffle
2005 polesitter: Ryan Newman

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 933, 2. Mark Martin 874, 3. Matt Kenseth 873, 4. Kasey Kahne 832, 5. Kyle Busch 832, 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 824, 7. Jeff Gordon 814, 8. Tony Stewart 791, 9. Elliott Sadler 735, 10. Casey Mears 724.

Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12:05-1:35 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 10:30-11:30 a.m. and 12:05-12:50 p.m.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , A.J. Foyt IV , Tony Raines , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Reed Sorenson , A.J. Foyt , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Alex Whitman
Teams Hall of Fame Racing