Texas: Round seven preview

* Burton Seeking Third Texas Motor Speedway Win * Earnhardt Jr. On Fast Track Heading To Texas * In The Loop: Stats Favor Former Series Champions * The Bubble: Top 35 Movement Continues * To-Do List: Gordon Aiming For First Texas Victory *...

* Burton Seeking Third Texas Motor Speedway Win
* Earnhardt Jr. On Fast Track Heading To Texas
* In The Loop: Stats Favor Former Series Champions
* The Bubble: Top 35 Movement Continues
* To-Do List: Gordon Aiming For First Texas Victory
* Two-Time Texas Winner Burton Returns As The Series Leader

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla (April 1, 2008) -- He arrives atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, and as this week's defending event champion.

That's Jeff Burton's (No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet) good fortune heading into Sunday's Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Quite a distance from 2004 and '05, when Burton -- once considered a championship contender -- finished 18th in the final series standings for two consecutive seasons.

A move to Richard Childress Racing late in '04 laid the groundwork for revival, which materialized with a seventh-place finish in '06 and an eighth-place finish in '07. A Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participant both seasons, he also nabbed a win, each year, at Dover International Speedway in '06 and at Texas in '07.

A win two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway and last Sunday's third-place finish at Martinsville Speedway gives him a 39-point margin over second-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), his RCR teammate.

Plus, Burton has historical precedence. He's the only driver to win twice at Texas, last April and the track's first NASCAR Sprint Cup event in 1997.

Sunday's event also marks the first at Texas with NASCAR's new car.

"Corner speed is the key element to winning at Texas," Burton said. "The place is really fast and it's fast because the corners generate a lot of speed. Having a fast car and good track position is real important."

Earnhardt Jr. Looks To Continue Standings Climb At Texas

Texas-sized karma also exists this week for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet), who'll look to move further up the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings following Sunday's Samsung 500.

Earnhardt won his first series race at Texas Motor Speedway, in 2000. He also continues to climb the standings, jumping one spot, to fourth, following last Sunday's sixth-place finish at Martinsville.

The last time he ranked this high? Following the 34th race in November 2006 -- at Texas.

Earnhardt's the only driver with five top fives this season. He also has improved his place in the standings following five this season's six events.

Note: He hasn't led the series standings since Sept. 19, 2004.

But he has been the standard-bearer thus far for Hendrick Motorsports. All three of Earnhardt's teammates rank below Earnhardt, who joined Hendrick following the 2007 season. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is ninth and reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) is 10th. Casey Mears (No. 5 Cheez-It/CARQUEST Chevrolet) is 27th.

Earnhardt will do double-duty this weekend, driving the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for the Hendrick-affiliated JR Motorsports in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

In The Loop: Series Champions Have Stats Edge At Texas

Though only two of the last six races at Texas Motor Speedway were won by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions, the 1.5-mile track can make a case as the "House of Champions" -- at least as far as consistency goes.

Four of the top five drivers in Texas Driver Rating over the past six races have won series championships -- Tony Stewart-109.3 (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), Jimmie Johnson-104.1, Matt Kenseth-103.2 (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) and Kurt Busch-98.0 (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge). Only Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota), ranked fourth in the category with a 100.1, has not won a championship among the top five.

Past champions performing well at Texas is just about the only probable outcome at Texas -- other than that, it's anybody's guess.

Texas is the land of parity. In 14 races at the track, there have been 13 different winners -- only Jeff Burton has notched more than one victory.

The past champion with the best numbers at Texas is Stewart, winner of the fall 2006 race where he earned a near-perfect Driver Rating of 149.7 (maximum is 150.0). Overall since 2005, Stewart has the top Driver Rating, the top Average Running Position (7.7), the most Fastest Laps Run (195), and the highest percentage of Laps in the Top 15 (88.9%).

Two-time defending champion Johnson may finally get to Victory Lane in 2008. He won the last time the series came to Texas last fall, and since 2005 has an Average Running Position of 10.4 (fourth), 103 Fastest Laps Run (fourth) and spent 76.1% of the total laps running inside the top 15 (fourth).

But above all, this is a key race for Kenseth, who was runner-up in both Texas races last season. He has an Average Running Position of 10.4 (second), 92 Fastest Laps Run (fifth) and ran 72.5% of the Laps in the Top 15 (fifth).

A strong race would likely return Kenseth to the top 12 in the series standings, which could spell trouble for Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel/Samsung Dodge). Though Newman finished fifth in November, it was his first top 30 finish in the three prior races. He has the lowest Driver Rating (62.7) among those drivers in the top 12.

On The Bubble: Regan Smith In 35th; Hornish, Franchitti On Outside Looking In

Short-track action guarantees shake-ups, and last week at Martinsville Speedway delivered.

Heading into Sunday's Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the top-35 teams in current NASCAR Sprint Cup car owner standings are guaranteed starting berths. And those teams teetering on the "bubble" read differently than they did a week ago.

The Teresa Earnhardt-owned No. 01 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet driven by Regan Smith sits in 35th place, only three points behind 34th place and the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet owned by Margaret Haas and driven by Jeremy Mayfield.

Two former Indianapolis 500 champions and current Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates find themselves outside the top 35 thanks to last Sunday's Martinsville finishes. Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge) slipped from 35th to 36th in the owner standings. He's only three points behind the DEI No. 01. Dario Franchitti (No. 40 Kennametal Dodge), the reigning IndyCar Series champion, was unable to boost his position; he remains 38th.

Hendrick Motorsports' Casey Mears parlayed a seventh-place finish at Martinsville into a four-spot jump in the top-35 rankings, from 33rd to 29th. After dangling only 12 points out of 35th, he now has some breathing room -- 76 points.

Speaking of breathing room, Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Cask 16 Ford) created some with a fifth-place qualifying effort at Martinsville, followed by an eighth-place finish. He jumped five spots in the owner standings, from 36th to 31st.

David Reutimann's debut in the No. 44 UPS Toyota driven by now-retired series champion Dale Jarrett and owned by Michael Waltrip, was not as successful. A frustrating day at Martinsville dropped the No. 44 from 34th to 37th in the owner standings. Heading to Texas, Reutimann must qualify on time for Sunday's Samsung 500. He's currently 20 points out of 35th.

And lastly, veteran Kyle Petty -- remaining 40th -- will put Chad McCumbee in the No. 45 Marathon American Sprint Motor Oil Dodge this weekend. McCumbee subbed twice for Petty in 2007, due to broadcast obligations.

"Everyone at Petty Enterprises believes in Chad and his abilities," Petty said. "Texas gives us a chance to get another good look at Chad without throwing him to the wolves. He should be relaxed because he knows he can get the job done there."

On The Line: Kasey Kahne On This Week's NASCAR Teleconference ... This week's NASCAR Teleconference guest was Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge), who heads to Texas in seventh place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. He addressed several topics during Tuesday's media call.

On his rebound from a disappointing 2007 ... "I think the biggest thing has been that I've been able to sit back and look at everything and think about it. You know, we had a little bit of time to regroup over the off-season. We're still running basically the same car we ran last year on the (new) car side. I just think maybe the setups are a little bit better. We've just been able to put more time into this car because of working with it for a longer period."

On learning how to pace expectations ... "It's been really hard for me. ... If I don't win, I'm mad, there's something wrong. When you get to the level we're at now, it's so easy to not win races because there's so many great teams, great drivers, crew chiefs, owners and sponsors. I mean, there's so much going on."

On anticipating winning ... "So far this year as a team we've been very consistent and we've done everything we can to get the best finish possible, finish as many laps as we could, just try to do everything possible to get points.

"You know, we're going to keep doing that. As time goes, we're going to be ready to win races, hopefully sooner than later. Hopefully within the next couple months we'll be ready to win."

On working for the best results possible ... "I just need to do the best I can, regardless. If the car is capable of finishing 30th, I need to finish 30th. If it can run 20th, I need to finish 20th. That's all I can do."

NASCAR CAM: Penske Racing crew chief Roy McCauley ...

This week's NASCAR Cam guest is Penske Racing's Roy McCauley, the reigning Daytona 500 champion crew chief for the No. 12 Alltel/Samsung Dodge and driver Ryan Newman.

McCauley's team currently is 11th in the series standings.

Forgotten No More: Hamlin's Breakout Win Reaffirms His Contender Status

Prior to last Sunday's victory at Martinsville Speedway, third-year NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin seemed the invisible element in Joe Gibbs Racing's star-studded lineup.

With teammates Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) dominating races and headlines, Hamlin was soldiering through bad luck and frustrating finishes.

Last week's win, however, capped a mini-comeback through the season's first six events.

Sitting 32nd in the series standings following the season's second event at Auto Club Speedway, Hamlin -- the '06 Raybestos Rookie of the Year -- now sits eighth heading to Sunday's Samsung 500 at Texas, a gain of seven spots.

It means all three JGR drivers now are in the top 12, with Busch fifth and Stewart sixth.

And the future could get brighter: Hamlin has one top five and four top 10s in only five series starts at Texas. He finished 29th there last November following an accident, after having led twice for 45 laps -- the event's second-highest total.

According to pre-race NASCAR Loop Data statistics, Hamlin also boasts the fourth-best Driver Rating (100.1) for Texas, and an average finish of 11.8.

Could Be Time: Amid Hendrick Revival Talk, Gordon Seeks First Texas Motor Speedway Win

With four NASCAR Sprint Cup titles in hand, it's odd to realize Jeff Gordon hasn't conquered two tracks on the current series schedule.

Texas Motor Speedway is one, with Homestead-Miami Speedway being the other.

Two years ago, that total stood at four, until Gordon won at Chicagoland Speedway (2006) and Phoenix International Raceway (April 2007).

Now, the target is Texas, where he started on the pole and led a race-high 173 laps last April before finishing fifth.

Gordon has five top fives and seven top 10s in 14 career starts at Texas. His average finish there is 15.2.

The focus also is on his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, who appeared to overcome their collective slow start with stellar performances last week at Martinsville Speedway.

Newcomer Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried the banner as the only Hendrick driver in the top 12, until Gordon muscled in at ninth and Jimmie Johnson in at 10th. Casey Mears, beset by early poor luck and problems, jumped to 26th.

Johnson won last November's race at Texas, in a stirring last-laps duel with Matt Kenseth.

Mears has two top fives and four top 10s in eight career starts at Texas. Johnson has one win, four top fives and seven top 10s in nine starts. Earnhardt has one pole, one win, three top fives and seven top 10s in 11 starts at Texas.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame ... Two new members will be inducted into the Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday night. They are four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runner-up Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet) and former open-wheel standout Jim McElreath.

In addition to inductions, other drivers will be recognized during the evening's festivities.

Current Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate and former IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. will receive the TMS Sportsmanship Award. Jimmie Johnson will be honored as TMS Racer of the Year, and another former open-wheel standout, Arie Luyendyk, will receive the Bruton Smith Legends Award.

Honorary Officials ... One NASCAR fan, Kerrie Rogers of Forney, Texas, will get a Lone Star thrill this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. She's scheduled to serve as Grand Marshal of Sunday's Samsung 500, after winning the Samsung 500 Ultimate Fan Sweepstakes.

The 36th Infantry Division Band, Texas Army National Guard, from Austin, will perform Sunday's National Anthem.

McMurray Hosts Special Fans ... Jamie McMurray will welcome two NASCAR fans to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, all for a good cause.

Chris Dake and Dawn Litteken from Springfield, Mo., were the top bidders in a charity auction that benefits autism research.

Their more-than-$4,200 bid gets them a VIP weekend at Texas, with McMurray -- a fellow Missouri native -- as their host. The auction helps kick off National Autism Awareness Month.

RCR To Field Fourth Team ... Richard Childress Racing announced Tuesday that it will run a fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup team in 2009 with primary sponsorship from General Mills -- the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet.

A driver announcement will take place later.

General Mills currently sponsors the No. 43 Dodge owned by Petty Enterprises and driven by 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte.

The 2009 season will be RCR's 40th anniversary in NASCAR.

Pre-Race Entertainment ... The Doobie Brothers will perform during Sunday's AMDRO Firestrike pre-race show. Country-music singer James Otto also will perform.

Up Next: Subway Fresh Fit 500 At Phoenix International Raceway

The eighth race of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season takes place at Phoenix International Raceway, the Subway Fresh Fit 500, set for Saturday, April 12.

Jeff Gordon, the race's defending champion, won from the pole last April. He also made history -- both personal and professional -- by notching his first Phoenix victory in 14 starts.

More significantly, the victory (then his 76th) tied him with seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt for sixth place on NASCAR's all-time wins list.

Gordon won six races in '07.

The Race: Samsung 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, April 6
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 1.5-mile oval
The Distance: 334 laps/501 miles

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

2007 Winner: Jeff Burton
2007 Polesitter: None (weather)

Pre-Race Schedule:
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 11:00 a.m.-11:45 a.m.; Final Practice, 12:20 -1:20 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Arie Luyendyk , Dario Franchitti , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , David Reutimann , Regan Smith , Jim McElreath , Denny Hamlin , Chad McCumbee , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , JR Motorsports