Texas: Series round eight preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Texas Gordon Returns To Site Of Most Recent Win So close, yet so far is the quick synopsis of Jeff Gordon's (No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Special Forces Chevrolet) 2010 season. Thwarted from a possible...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Texas

Gordon Returns To Site Of Most Recent Win

So close, yet so far is the quick synopsis of Jeff Gordon's (No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Special Forces Chevrolet) 2010 season. Thwarted from a possible three victories already (through seven events), he nevertheless approaches Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway with a new advantage: Karma.

Last April's victory at Texas marked the last time Gordon has visited Victory Lane -- a 35-race span. It also marked his first Texas Motor Speedway victory after 13 years of frustration, leaving Homestead-Miami Speedway as the lone track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule where Gordon hasn't won.

Returning to a conquered nemesis may help mitigate the sting of recent almosts.

"We're up in the points and we're knocking on the door for wins," Gordon said. "You can't ask for a whole lot more than that. And if you do that enough times, you're going to get yourself to Victory Lane. So that's what I'm excited about right now. And I think we have a lot to look forward to as the season goes on."

Gordon, fifth in the series standings heading to Texas, has been a contender for most of the young season. Though he has no victories, strong, consistent performances have tabbed him as a title threat and placed him comfortably within Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup range.

It's the "almost-grasped" that alternately prods and encourages him -- near wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and last Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway.

At Las Vegas, Gordon led a race-high 219 laps, only to see Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) pass him for the win after a late pit stop. At Martinsville, lastlaps jostling with Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford) allowed Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) to blast by Gordon for the win on a green-white-checker restart. At Phoenix, Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) overtook Gordon on a green-white-checker restart.

"Those are frustrating," Gordon said. "But I think we have a lot of positives that are happening right now. And I certainly feel like the fight is there in the whole team."

New Deck Fin, Spoiler Key Competitive Components

Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500 will be the third event with spoilers replacing the wing on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars. Drivers, teams and NASCAR officials also anticipate this weekend's event providing the truest feedback yet on how the spoiler will affect setups and handling.

Larger facilities -- like Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile layout -- are considered "downforce" tracks, where aerodynamics play a larger role in a car's performance. The new spoiler, which debuted March 28 at .526-mile Martinsville Speedway, graduated last week to one-mile Phoenix International Raceway. Both Martinsville and Phoenix are flat tracks; Texas not so, with 24-degree banking in its turns and long, fast straightaways.

"I don't think it's going to change who's going to be fast and who's going to run good and how your day is going to go," said defending race winner Jeff Gordon, of the spoiler. "I think if we're well-prepared and we've got the car dialed in then it'll be a typical challenging Texas for us that hopefully we can pull off a win at. I feel as confident about it whether we have the spoiler or the wing. "

Also new: Beginning at Texas, cars will sport a rear deck fin that will be 3.5 inches tall and can be the full length of the deck lid (25 inches). It must be a minimum of 17 inches starting at the front of the deck lid. This component will be used to regain rear sideforce, giving teams a tuning tool to adjust for it.

The wing replaced the more traditional stock-car spoiler on NASCAR's new car, which is now in its third fulltime season.

NASCAR Sprint Cup teams ran the wing for 93 races, beginning with the March 2007 event at Bristol Motor Speedway and ending with this season's March 21 event at Bristol.

The wing-to-spoiler switch was one of several rule changes announced on Jan. 21.

NASCAR Sprint Cup teams participated in two tests prior to returning to the spoiler at Martinsville. The first test was March 16 at Talladega Superspeedway, where attending teams worked on spoiler specifics for the April 25 event at Talladega, along with other mechanical issues.

The second test was March 23-24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track similar to Texas. Teams worked specifically on spoiler issues at that two-day test, in anticipation of this weekend's event, qualifying session and practices at Texas.

In The Loop: Texas The Perfect Place For Stewart's Milestone Start

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) will commemorate his 400th start at a track -- Texas Motor Speedway -- where he enjoyed one of his more dominant wins.

Through the first 399 starts of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Stewart has 37 victories.

But his win at Texas was arguably his most impressive.

In that event, in November of 2006, Stewart led 278 laps. That was the third-highest laps led total for Stewart in a victory (he led 333 laps at Richmond on 9/11/99 and 288 at Martinsville on 4/2/06).

The win was his third during that year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- a playoff he failed to make.

He finished the season 11th in points. The following year, the Chase expanded to the top 12 drivers.

Additionally that Texas race, Stewart had a near-perfect Driver Rating of 149.7 (a perfect rating is 150.0), an Average Running Position of 1.8, 118 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 97.9%.

That is the highest Driver Rating at Texas Motor Speedway since the inception of the Loop Data statistic in 2005 (a span of 10 races).

Texas comes at a good time for the driverowner.

Stewart's 2010 season may not be unfolding exactly as hoped for the two-time champion. Though he has three top-10 finishes through the first seven races, he also has three finishes outside the top 20.

But at Texas, his statistics rank supreme. He owns series-best numbers in overall Driver Rating (106.1) and Average Running Position (8.5). He also has 239 Fastest Laps Run (thirdmost), a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 82.9% (second) and 328 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green (sixth).

Despite the 2010 inconsistency, Stewart sits ninth in the points standings, a familiar spot.

In eight of the last nine seasons (including 2010), Stewart has been in the top 10 in points after seven races. The only year he was outside the top 10: his championship winning 2005, when he was 11th after seven races.

Change The Norm In Current Top 12 Standings

Last weekend's event at Phoenix International Raceway jumbled the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' top 12 standings, with nine drivers assuming new positions.

Three drivers are new to the top 12 this week, ahead of Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, while three drivers have tumbled out of the top 12.

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Scotts Ford) leads the list of those drivers regaining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility. A seventh-place finish at Phoenix boosted him six spots to eighth in the current standings. He also leads all drivers with three series wins at Texas.

Second-year driver Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) bounces back in the top 12, thanks to last week's 10th-place finish at Phoenix. He gained two spots and is now 11th.

And although Logano's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) had to settle for an eighth-place Phoenix finish after leading a race-high 113 laps, Busch also jumped back in the top 12. He's now 12th, a gain of four spots.

On the other end of the scale, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Paul Menard (No. 98 Quaker State/Menard's Ford) and Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) seek to regain their top-12 status at Texas.

All three -- off to strong 2010 starts -- endured a tough weekend out west. Menard fared the best of the trio, finishing 29th last Saturday. It was costly, dropping him four spots to 15th in the standings.

Kurt and Vickers had it a bit rougher; both were involved in on-track incidents that necessitated extensive repairs. Kurt finished 35th, dropping eight spots to 14th in the standings. Vickers finished 37th, dropping five spots to 17th.

On The CAM: Jeff Burton

Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) was Tuesday's guest on the weekly NASCAR Cam video teleconference.

Burton holds the distinction of winning the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997. His other Texas victory came a decade later, in April 2007. He's also seventh in the standings heading into Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500.

Q: What's your sense of how the spoiler will affect racing at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend?

Jeff: "I didn't see any evidence at the Charlotte test that the cars were that much harder to drive. I did think they were a little bit looser on the exit of the corner, but I thought they entered the corner with a lot of security. I think if they enter the corner well, that's a really big thing to making all the drivers comfortable."

Q: Could you analyze the path of the RCR team this year?

Jeff: "The thing that we have this year that we haven't had in the past is speed. We have enough speed to be winning races, and what we haven't had is the consistency in executing and finding a way to take a fifth-place car and finish third, not take a fifth-place car and finish 15th with it, which is what we've been doing. We've even been taking cars that were capable of winning and finishing 23rd with them.

"We've got to find a way to be better than that, and that's where my experience should come in, and I've made a few mistakes this year. We collectively have made more mistakes than we need to. But I feel like the performance is there."

Q. Talk about the difference between Texas from when you won there in 1997 until you won there ten years later?

Jeff: "Today we've seen the upper grooves really work out. The year the last race that I won there, Matt Kenseth and I had a great battle. He was running the second lane, I was running the bottom. We see a lot of people running the top at Texas.

"So Texas has matured a great deal. It's still a difficult racetrack because the entries to the corners are just really odd there, because of the way the banking progresses is different there than anywhere else, and in the middle of the corner, especially 1 and 2, is very rough. It's a difficult racetrack to get around."

Q. After you've been on a couple of short tracks, do you look forward to just getting going and going as fast as you can?

Jeff: "I love to compete. What I do love about the series that I'm lucky enough to run in is that we run a lot of different kind of racetracks.

"And Texas, even though it may look just like Atlanta and it may look just like Charlotte, it's nothing like those racetracks, nor is Atlanta like Charlotte. To me the variety of racetracks that we go to, that's what makes it fun and that's what makes it interesting. So I like going to different kinds of racetracks because I think it shakes the year up and kind of keeps you fresh and makes you think, and before every race you've got to refresh yourself about the racetrack you're going to, and that's why I really enjoy the series that we're racing in."

Q. If you could talk about your first win at Texas again, maybe some of the special memories you have from that win?

Jeff: I remember winning there. It was really a special day. I lost my wedding ring in Victory Lane. We found it. I remember that.

Q. You've worked with a lot of different crew chiefs. Do they have different styles on how they approach making decisions?

Jeff: "Well, what I prefer to do is I prefer for us to recognize the situation we're in and make the call based on that and live and die by that. I don't think you can go into every race and say, caution comes out with ten to go, we're putting two tires on it, end of story. I don't think you can do that. I think you have to look at the situation you're in and make the decision that's best for what you're doing right then."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

• Milestones: Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will make his 400th career start in Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500. He has one win (fall of 2006) at Texas.

Two other drivers also approach milestones. David Gilliland (No. 37 Taco Bell Ford) will make his 125th series start if he qualifies. And first-year driver Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Abyss Dodge) will make his 25th start.

NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Fan Vote: An update on early returns for the process, which allows fans to place a driver in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint All-Star race: As of April 5, AJ Allmendinger (No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford) is the current leader, followed by Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Scott Branded Products/ Kingsford Toyota), Greg Biffle (No. 3M Post It Ford), Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/ Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) and Jeff Burton.

Voting continues until one hour prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, scheduled for Saturday, May 22 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

To be eligible for the Sprint All-Star Fan Vote, drivers must be approved by NASCAR for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition and have met all other eligibility requirements. Those include, but aren't limited to, competing in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points event during the 2009 season; finishing in the Top 50 of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings or attempting to qualify for a 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points event as of Feb. 15, 2010.

The driver with the most votes, who also finishes the Sprint Showdown qualifying race, will earn a spot in the All-Star field. The Sprint Fan Vote winner will be announced immediately following the completion of the Sprint Showdown.

Harvick Top Five In Three Series: Kevin Harvick's days and likely many weekday evenings are given over to the business of competing in all three of NASCAR's national series -- a busy schedule that's paying off.

Heading to Texas, Harvick ranks fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver standings.

Harvick competes for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), where he's led the standings after four of seven events thus far.

He campaigns his own Kevin Harvick Inc. equipment in NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition, where wife DeLana also plays a crucial ownership role.

In fact, DeLana Harvick leads the NCWTS owner standings thanks to her husband's early efforts (two wins in three starts, to date) in their No. 2 truck. The Harvicks also own the No. 33 team of defending and four-time NCWTS champion Ron Hornaday.

Up Next: Race 9 @ Talladega

Next stop on the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule: Talladega Superspeedway.

The Aaron's 499 is Sunday, April 25, always an anticipated event. Talladega's 2.66-mile layout is the largest non-road course venue on the series schedule. Its high banks and wide straights provide pure speed, the reason NASCAR mandates the use of carburetor restrictor plates on engines there and at 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.

Talladega has produced some of the sport's most memorable racing. Seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt leads all drivers with 10 wins, top fives (23) and top 10s (27) there.

Another series champion, Bill Elliott, leads all drivers with eight Talladega poles. He also holds the qualifying record (212.809 mph and 44.998 seconds), set on April 30, 1987.

Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six Talladega victories. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/ National Guard Chevrolet) is second with five Talladega wins.

Brad Keselowski is the defending winner of the Aaron's 499, his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) is the defending polesitter.

Fast Facts

The Next Race: Samsung Mobile 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, April 18
The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 334 laps / 501 miles

TV: FOX , 2 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: David Reutimann
2009 Winner: Jeff Gordon

Schedule prior to race day:
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40.
Saturday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 12:50-1:50 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing