Texas: Round seven preview

One back-to-back leads to another: Texas and Phoenix offer consecutive early-season challenges DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 12, 2005) -- Fresh off back-to-back short-track races for the first time since 1999, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams ...

One back-to-back leads to another: Texas and Phoenix offer consecutive early-season challenges

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 12, 2005) -- Fresh off back-to-back short-track races for the first time since 1999, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams are ready for another back-to-back challenge -- this time at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.

Both tracks are more recent additions to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule than Bristol Motor Speedway's and Martinsville Speedway's historic half-miles, but pose no less a challenge. Texas' 1.5-mile surface, where horsepower and reliability are premiums, boasts 24-degree banking in the turns. Phoenix's flatter one-mile, layout demands precision, as does a sometimes-tricky doglegged backstretch.

But here's the other variable: Both Texas and Phoenix also host two events for the first time this season, and the second race at both occurs during the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup," the season's final 10 races.

Following Race No. 26 at Richmond on Sept. 10, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 and any drivers within 400 points of the leader will vie for the series title in those last 10 races, which means plenty of data-mining during the next two weeks; the challenge begins with Sunday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas.

"We're excited to get there," said Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge). "We tested there and learned some things that will hopefully make us better. It's a big race for a lot of people."

Here's why: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) currently leads the standings -- and second-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Post-it Ford) -- by 160 points. But from Biffle to the 20th-place Dave Blaney (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), the biggest margin between one driver and the peer ahead of him is 55 points -- the total separating 13th-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) from 14th-place Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet).

Twelve of the top 20 drivers hold their spot by 10 points or less. Biffle leads third-place Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) by 22 points. Sadler leads fourth-place Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) by 16 points.

Seventh-place Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Kodak/Miller Lite Dodge) leads his Penske Racing South teammate Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) by 18 points. Only 14 points separate ninth-place Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford) from 10th-place Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), and 12 points divide Riggs from 15th-place Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge).

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Rusty Wallace , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Elliott Sadler , Dave Blaney , Mark Martin