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Since Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag last fall at Kansas Speedway – the 199th time a Rick Hendrick-owned car has won a Sprint Cup race – it seemed only a matter of time before Hendrick Motorsports scored its 200th victory.
But despite several close calls – including two weeks ago at Martinsville when Johnson and Jeff Gordon combined to lead 443 of the 515 laps completed, but wrecked two laps from the finish – that monumental win has continued to elude NASCAR's preeminent organization.
For much of Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, it appeared like number 200 was a near-certainty, as Johnson led a race-high 156 laps and was in the lead with less than 40 laps to go.
At the same time, Gordon – who had started 34th and methodically picked his way towards the front – was consistently one of the fastest cars on the track while Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were fixtures in the back half of the top-10.
But 31 laps from the finish, Greg Biffle powered underneath Johnson into Turn 3 to take the lead and drove off into the night to post his first victory since 2010. Johnson, who scraped the wall a few laps later, wasn't able to mount a challenge and was forced to settle for second.
Gordon, Kahne and Earnhardt never got the late-race caution they needed to close the gap on the leaders and finished fourth, seventh and 10th, respectively.
Consequently, Hendrick's quest for 200 wins continues for yet another week.
"I thought Jimmie had it tonight," Kahne said. "I wasn't worried about it, I thought it was over. Every time I looked up there the 48 was leading. Then I guess 15 (laps) to go I looked up and the 16 was leading. Then I thought, ‘Well maybe not today.' I don't know, those guys have been working hard since before I got here. They have been trying to get that 200th. It would be great to get it soon. Any one of the four, we need to get it done and get past that."
For Johnson, his runner-up finish accompanied with his near-miss at Martinsville left him feeling aggravated.
Martinsville bothered him more, Johnson said, "but they're both frustrating."
"The racer in me wants to win," he said. "We've been really close over the last five or six months. You look through last year even through different points, leading a lot of races and didn't execute at the end for whatever reason. It's nice to be running well. It's nice to be in this position. But I want to get back to our winning ways really soon."
Although none of the four Hendrick cars ended the night in Victory Lane, the Samsung Mobile 500 did represent the best weekend of the year for the team, as all four drivers finished the race inside the top 10 for the first time this season.
Johnson's runner-up finish moved him up to eighth in points; Gordon and Kahne were both finally able to put together a complete race where they weren't plagued by bad luck; and Earnhardt Jr. posted his fifth top-10 in seven starts and leaves Texas tied with Matt Kenseth for second in the standings.
But even all that positivity couldn't erase the fact that Hendrick hasn't won a race in 13 tries.
"To be honest, it hasn't played much on my mind because I just want to win and I know winning is what my job is about; winning is what Hendrick Motorsports is about, and if we win we'll take care of the 200th," Johnson said. "I seem to think about the 200th after the fact and think, 'Man, Martinsville could have been an amazing one-two-three. ... I think about it more after the fact, not leading up to or during the event."
As to whether to the pressure of getting that 200th win was affecting the team, Earnhardt Jr. was quick to dismiss such a notion afterwards.
"It doesn't bother me," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Everybody's been in this sport long enough to know that Rick's going to win a lot more races and all the drivers that he's got driving for him are going to win a lot, so we'll be fine. It does bring it into the spotlight when we get close like we have been, but we just need to be patient and keep doing what we're doing.
"We've got fast cars. We're a better company than we were last year. The speed is great and Jimmie has gotten better speed over the last couple of weeks. Jeff is just a win waiting to happen. I think you can say the same thing about Kasey."
The next opportunity for Hendrick Motorsports to finally get that elusive 200th win comes Sunday at Kansas Speedway, the site of its last victory.
"Yeah, I mean, whenever it happens is going to be very special for the company," Johnson said. "Again, I just want to win. I don't care where it is, whatever reason. There's 36, 38 of these things a year, and I want to take home a bunch of trophies. Second is nice, but winning is everything."
Greg Biffle extended his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead on Saturday night with a win at Texas Motor Speedway, boosting his advantage to 19 points over Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who are tied for second place
But the biggest winners of the night – at least in the point standings – were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, who moved up four spots apiece. Gordon is now 17th and Kahne is 27th.
Tony Stewart was the biggest loser of the night, dropping four spots to seventh place. Brad Keselowski, Regan Smith, Aric Almirola, Bobby Labonte and Dave Blaney all fell three spots each.
Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Texas:
As he does after nearly every race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed from his car and plopped down on the back step of his No. 88 team's transporter.
Crew chief Steve Letarte took a seat next to the driver to dissect the result – a 10th place finish on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – and then gave way to a group of reporters who gathered around.
Suddenly, in the middle of Earnhardt Jr.'s interview, the grinning face of Matt Kenseth appeared among the media.
"You getting tired again?" Kenseth chided.
"No, I ain't tired!" Earnhardt Jr. replied.
"Oh, OK, just making sure," Kenseth said, his smile growing bigger.
"I'm talking, ain't I?" Earnhardt Jr. shot back.
"Just making sure you're OK!" Kenseth said before walking away.
Earnhardt Jr. was just fine physically, but he was somewhat disappointed to finish 10th at a track where he's won before and had high expectations. And that's not such a bad thing in itself, the driver said.
"I feel good about being disappointed in 10th place," he said. "We really didn't have a good car at the end of the race, and to finish 10th, I think that's a really good sign for our team. Last year, I think we might have finished 15th or 17th or something like that."
In an attempt to try something new, Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. decided on an "extremely unique" setup compared to the typical one run at a 1.5-mile track (which is what Earnhardt Jr.'s Hendrick Motorsports teammates had in their cars).
Earnhardt Jr. was game for the experiment, because he said "you've got to go out and try things" in order to get better and win races.
That said, some more testing will be required before they try it again, and Earnhardt Jr. said the team will likely return to a more conventional setup next week at Kansas Speedway.
At Kansas, Earnhardt Jr. will enter the weekend tied with Kenseth for second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings – 19 points behind leader Greg Biffle, who won on Saturday.
"I don't really know what happens to get you to Victory Lane, exactly what we need to do," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But we'll just keep showing up to the racetrack, keep trying to use our best judgment."
At one point, though, Earnhardt Jr.'s car was so bad that he lit up the team radio with some colorful language and declared it was the most ill-handling car he'd ever driven.
Looking back, was it really that awful?
"Oh, it's the worst," he said. "It's absolutely incredible. You know, I really feared I was going to wreck the car. There was a couple times the car was so sideways, it was near the point of no return."
And what of the curse words on the radio?
"I try to cuss to myself, but it really doesn't make me feel any better!" he said with a laugh. "So I had to tell somebody – you know, cuss at somebody or say something. It makes me feel a ton better, and I know Steve knows what the deal is."
"The only guys that you really worry about are the guys on the team that you're not as close to. I'm still building bonds and friendships with all these guys and they don't know me as well as Steve and some of these other guys. You've got to zip your lip every once in awhile and try to control yourself. I tried just to shut myself up and take it out on the car."
Earnhardt Jr. said he also had his hands full with the wind, which was gusting at 20-30 mph for most of the race.
"Oh man, the wind was something else!" he said. "It was terrible for me. Either that, or my car was really bad, I don't know. Down the front straightaway, it was weaving around and bobbing. You didn't know which way it was going to go."
Saving his equipment for the final green-flag run, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle finally put a win on the board, cruising to a 3.235-second victory over Jimmie Johnson in Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Biffle took the lead on Lap 304 of 334 and pulled away to win his first race since Oct. 3, 2010 (at Kansas), his second at Texas and the 17th of his career. Johnson, who led a race-high 156 laps, scraped the wall trying to run down Biffle in the late going.
Mark Martin came home third, followed by Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth. With Kasey Kahne finishing seventh and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10th, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers ran in the top 10, but Biffle denied them their most coveted prize, a 200th Cup victory for team owner Rick Hendrick.
From the moment he passed pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. for the lead on Lap 180, Johnson was dominant, as Biffle chased the five-time champion lap after lap through three cycles of green-flag pit stops.
Biffle frequently gained ground when Johnson hit traffic, but the margin would expand when Johnson got to clean air. The lead stayed at roughly one second -- give or take -- and by the time the race hit Lap 300, Martin in third at 7.8 seconds back was the only other driver within 10 seconds of the leader.
With 34 laps left, however, Biffle turned up the wick. On Lap 304, the series leader made the pass for the top spot, streaking to the inside of Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet as the cars approached the start/finish line.
The race featured only two cautions and ended with a green-flag run of 234 laps. That was a race record, as were the average speed (160.577 mph), fewest number of cautions and fewest number of caution laps (10).
Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series results from Saturday night's Texas Motor Speedway race:
Here are some storylines and favorites to watch heading into tonight's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway:
Carl Edwards looking to recapture last year's form
In the offseason, Carl Edwards was tabbed as one of the favorites to win the Sprint Cup Series championship. While he hasn't struggled to the level of Jeff Gordon or Kasey Kahne, Edwards thus far has yet to live up the preseason hype. Despite three top-10s in six races, the Roush Fenway driver is still searching for consistency – which was his trademark a year ago – and more glaring, he surprisingly has yet to lead a single lap.
Expect that to change tonight, as Edwards has a track-best three wins at Texas and finished second and third here last year.
Another win for Stewart-Haas Racing?
With wins in 50 percent of the races ran this year and both its drivers comfortably inside the top 10 in points, no team has performed better this season than Stewart-Haas Racing. There is little reason to think that success won't continue this evening on the 1.5-mile track.
At least that was the thinking before Tony Stewart wrecked on his very first lap during Friday's practice session. It was a serious blow considering that was the same chassis he won with last year at Chicagoland and a few weeks back at Las Vegas – not so coincidently both tracks are of mile-and-a-half variety just like the one they'll be racing on tonight.
Perhaps the SHR banner will again be carried by Stewart's teammate Ryan Newman, who is coming off a victory two weeks ago at Martinsville. Newman has struggled here recently, but he does have a Texas win under his belt (2003) and registered top 10 finishes earlier this year at Vegas and Fontana.
The time is now for Kahne, Gordon and others
We've stated it many times, but it continues to be a theme through the early part of the season as many a big name are off to slow starts and need to kick things into high gear. Primarily, we mean the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, both of whom have been saddled with serious bouts of back luck. But this also applies to Kyle Busch, who is 16th in points with two finishes in the 30s in his last three races; Jamie McMurray, 24th overall; and Kurt Busch, just one top-10 on the year and 26th in the standings.
A happy return to speedway racing for Greg Biffle
If any driver is happy to put Bristol and Martinsville in his rearview mirror, it has to be Greg Biffle. The series points leader has only finished outside the top 10 twice this season and in both instances it came on the two short tracks. But with a return to a bigger track and the style of racing he has had much success on throughout his career, the driver of the No. 16 Ford should be a constant presence up near the front of the field. And don't be surprised if Biffle, who qualified third, scores his first win of 2012 and his second Texas win overall.
• Nine of the last 12 races at Texas Motor Speedway have been won by a driver starting in the top 10. According to Denny Hamlin, this is because the faster speeds run in the cool evening air make it harder to pass, putting a premium on starting up front.
• Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin are the only four drivers to have started all 22 Texas races.
• Both Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s first career Nationwide Series win (1998) and his first career Sprint Cup win (2000) occurred here.
1. Matt Kenseth
Over the last 10 races at Texas, no driver has scored more points than Matt Kenseth – who in that same span has one win, seven top-fives, nine top-10s and gaudy average finish of 5.7.
2. Tony Stewart
Before wrecking his primary car in practice Friday, Tony Stewart would have been P1 on my list of favorites. But despite having to go to a backup, we'll still give the defending Sprint Cup champion the benefit of the doubt and assume he will be a contender once again. Especially considering he'll now be wheeling the same car he led 173 laps with here last fall and in the process drove to Victory Lane.
3. Jimmie Johnson
Sooner or later, Jimmie Johnson is going to break through and find his way back to Victory Lane – a place he hasn't been since Kansas last October, which has to seem like an eternity for team accustomed to success. With four top-10s in his last six Texas starts and speed in the No. 48 machine, my suspicion is Johnson could easily return to his winning ways tonight.
Brad Keselowski admitted Friday he doesn't have a great feel for what it takes to get around Texas Motor Speedway. Considering he hasn't finished better than 14th in seven starts on the high-speed oval, it's easy to see why he feels the way he does.
But let's call this hunch, as Keselowski and his Penske Racing team seem to have a better understanding of the intermediate tracks than they have in years past as indicated by the speed he showed at both Las Vegas and Auto Club Speedway (Fontana).
Assuming no mechanical gremlins crop up like they did in Vegas, and there are no issues on pit road like there were at Fontana, expect to see the blue deuce somewhere in the top 10 by race end.
The weather forecast for Saturday and Saturday night for the Sprint Cup Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway looks mostly dry with just a small threat of an isolated thunderstorm late into the evening.
A powerful upper level storm system will approach the region Saturday and bring a chance of severe thunderstorms during the afternoon and evening....generally from Oklahoma through Nebraska. Thunderstorms will move into North Texas after midnight with storm chances increasing from west to east through the day Sunday.
The threat of severe weather for Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday evening has nearly disappeared. Most of the severe storm activity and development is northwest into Oklahoma, Kansas and eastern Nebraska. Timing also appears to be later, with the best chance for storms across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex arriving after midnight into early Sunday morning.
With the just the smallest threat of a rogue storm developing Saturday evening or random lights going out around Texas Motor Speedway, I don't see any weather-related issue to delay the start or finish of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Saturday night.
There is a wind advisory in effect for north Texas including the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. CDT Saturday. Winds out of the south will be sustained 20 to 30 mph gusting to near 40 at times during the late morning, afternoon and evening. Most of the day will be dry with a mixture of sunshine and clouds and high temperatures in the low 80s.
Saturday night, the southerly winds will diminish to 10 to 20 mph with occasional gust near 30 mph. Variable cloudy skies are expected with temperatures during the race to range from 79 degrees at the start to 74 by the checkered flag.
7:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Partly cloudy, windy, slight chance of an isolated thunderstorms – temp: 79
It's NASCAR race night at Texas Motor Speedway and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about tonight's race for you below.
What time does the race start tonight? Grand marshal Travis Pastrana – yes, that Travis Pastrana – will give the command to fire engines at 7:38 p.m. Eastern time (6:38 p.m. local time). Then, at 7:46 p.m., the green flag will wave and the race will get underway. So if you want to skip all the pre-race stuff and just tune in for the race itself, flip on your TV sets at 7:46 p.m.
NOTE: If you're unable to watch the race, I'll be providing Twitter updates here -- @jeff_gluck
Race name/distance: The Samsung Mobile 500 is 334 laps around the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, which gives it a total of 501 miles. They just call it "500" because "501" doesn't sound right.
TV and radio: Tonight's race can be seen on FOX. Every Sprint Cup Series race through May will be on the FOX network. Unfortunately, there is no live streaming of the race – but you can listen on the Performance Racing Network's Web site (just click the red link). You can also check PRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.
National anthem: Kelly Hansen, the lead singer of the rock band Foreigner, will sing the anthem tonight. The flyover is being performed by F-15s based out of New Orleans.
Tickets: The Texas race is not a sellout, so if you want to make a last-minute trip to the track, you should be able to find face-value tickets.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, predicts high winds and warm temperatures but anticipates the race will not get rained out by thunderstorms in the area. The storms are expected to stay north of the track, he said.
Last time: Matt Kenseth dominated the spring Texas race last April to break a 76-race winless skid, and Tony Stewart then won the fall Texas race as part of his run to the championship.
Starting lineup for tonight's NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway:
Streaking away from Denny Hamlin and pole-sitter Paul Menard after a restart with six laps left, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The victory was Stenhouse's second in six starts this season and the fourth of his career. It was also the fourth straight Nationwide win at Texas for Roush Fenway Racing.
Menard finished second, with Kasey Kahne passing Hamlin for third in the closing laps. Austin Dillon ran fifth, and series points leader Elliott Sadler faded to 12th during the final short run.
The middle third of the event featured scintillating racing that mirrored the action from Fontana, Calif., three weeks earlier. Menard started fifth on a restart on Lap 104 but quickly regained the lead, after Blake Koch's No. 15 Chevrolet bounced off the inside wall on the backstretch to cause the third caution.
Throughout the ensuing green-flag run, Menard kept Stenhouse at bay, with the margin fluctuating between .2 and 1.5 seconds. On Lap 143, Sadler passed Stenhouse for the second position but couldn't gain ground on Menard, as the lead-lap cars began a round of green-flag pit stops.
After the pit stops cycled through, Menard held a 2.188-second lead over Stenhouse, who surged past Sadler for the second spot on Lap 151. Menard maintained an advantage of more than two seconds until the caution flag flew for the fourth time on Lap 162, when track lighting failed on the inside of the backstretch for the second time Friday night.
Dillon and David Ragan stayed on the track under the yellow, while the rest of the leap-lap cars came to the pits for tires and fuel. NASCAR red-flagged the race after Lap 169 as track workers replaced the faulty breaker that proved to be the source of the light failure.
After the race restarted on Lap 173, Stenhouse blew past Dillon into the lead on Lap 177, with Menard in pursuit. Stenhouse stretched the margin to more than a second before the engine blew in Kurt Busch's No. 54 Toyota on Lap 187, necessitating the fifth caution of the evening.
Here are the full NASCAR Nationwide Series results from Texas Motor Speedway:
Martin Truex Jr. picked up his first pole position of the year on Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway and will lead the starting lineup for Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500.
The pole was the first at a 1.5-mile track for Truex since 2009 and just the seventh overall in his NASCAR career.
"We've come a long way," said Truex, who enters Texas tied for third in points. "We're starting to gel as a team. We're not there yet."
Roush Fenway Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle qualified second and third, followed by Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.
Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10.
Three drivers failed to qualify for Saturday's race: David Stremme, Joe Nemechek and Stacy Compton, who was attempting to make his first Cup race since 2003.
Here is the starting lineup for Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway:
One week after the release of swimmer Amanda Beard's autobiography in which she portrayed ex-boyfriend Carl Edwards as controlling, self-absorbed and jealous, the NASCAR driver met with the media Friday at Texas Motor Speedway to discuss Beard's comments.
Though he doesn't recall everything that happened between the two during their time together, Edwards disputed Beard's account of their relationship.
"I don't know if I am supposed to talk about the psychology of feelings and opinions when you have a relationship that doesn't work out, or if I am supposed to talk about the strategies to sell books or whatever," Edwards said. "To be honest with you guys, it is just weird. I don't know how to address things that I don't even remember happening. That is tough.
"It is pretty far out there out of left field for me."
In her memoir In The Water They Can't See You Cry, the Olympic swimmer chronicled the numerous personal issues she's faced – including bulimia – but also wrote her relationship with Edwards ended after nearly a year together due to a lack of communication and jealousy.
Beard also detailed that Edwards disapproved of her talking with other drivers while she was at the track and often made little to no time for her.
"I appreciate you asking the questions, but the hard part is to even talk about it because it just really caught me off guard and is kind of sad in a way for me to read that," Edwards said. "It made me feel a little bit sad for Amanda that she was going through all that.
"All the correspondence we have had between 2006 and now has all been good. Like I said, I considered us friends. I want to be very clear that I am not going to stand up here and bash her or say bad things about her because I didn't know all that stuff was going on. She is a mother and a wife and someone that I cared about. If down the road she ever needs something from me, she's got it."
Edwards, now married and the father of two, did make it a point to say that if he had known what Beard was going through, he would have gone out of his way to help.
"I guess all I can say is that I considered us friends and I didn't realize that she had all those problems," Edwards said. "I would have done anything in the world to have helped her with those. As always, regardless of what she writes in her books and things like that, if she ever needs something from me I would be there to help her out. I don't know what else to say about that."
Tony Stewart knew exactly where to place the blame after he hit the wall during Friday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway.
"I just got loose and didn't have enough race track to get it gathered up," he said. "So, driver error."
The rare mistake by Stewart forced his No. 14 team to pull out the backup car it brought to Texas and load its primary car – which had just won at Las Vegas last month – back onto the transporter.
Fortunately for Stewart, the backup car isn't too shabby, either. It's the same car that dominated the Texas race last November and went to Victory Lane with the eventual Sprint Cup champ.
"I think we feel better with this one so far," he said. "It's doing everything that we were trying to get the other one to do."
Stewart had struggled with his primary car, which was surprising given his previous performance at Texas.
The reason, he said, was because Stewart-Haas Racing was experimenting with setup elements it believed would help the car after it participated in a tire test at Texas.
"I think we thought we were better with some things that don't seem to be better with these conditions the way they are," said Stewart, who noted the tire test was held in cooler temperatures. "I think when we were here, the stuff we learned was definitely productive, just maybe not for 40 degrees warmer."
NASCAR may have been off last week, but Denny Hamlin still found a way to experience the thrill of winning, courtesy of good friend Bubba Watson.
Hamlin was pulling hard for Watson, who won the Masters on Sunday in a thrilling sudden death playoff.
"It's just one of those days when you're proud to be someone's friend," Hamlin said. "It's no different than when I was watching Jay White in the Truck race with two laps to go with a chance to win: I'm nervous because it's my friend.
"It's just a great feeling; I felt like I won it myself."
Hamlin and Watson's friendship can be traced back a couple of years when the two were introduced and played a round of golf in Phoenix. From there, their friendship blossomed as the two not only shared a love of golf but racing as well.
Watson even allowed Hamlin to caddy for him last week during the annual Par-3 Tournament held the Wednesday before the Masters. It was then, Hamlin joked, where he taught Watson the remarkable shot that won the Masters in a playoff.
"I don't know what it is about our personalities, but we seem to get along," Hamlin said. "Right from the get go, we met on the golf course and have played probably 10 rounds together since then. You learn a lot about his personality and the way he does things."
Hamlin has even gone as far to have a custom driving suit made for Watson featuring a similar scheme to that of the famous General Lee car which Watson had purchased earlier in the year at an auction. A helmet is in the works to complete Watson's outfit.
"He's not going to do it halfway," Hamlin said.
Added Hamlin: "It's not too often you get to caddy for the 2012 Masters champ."
Motorsports editor Jeff Gluck contributed to this story.
After the Martinsville NASCAR race two weeks ago, Brad Keselowski was so fired up in the moments after the checkered flag that he called for David Reutimann's suspension.
"The 10 car stopping on the racetrack was chicken shit," Keselowski said after Reutimann brought out a race-altering caution by trying to limp his damaged car to the finish. "To me, he should get a week off for doing something like that."
In the aftermath of the race, Reutimann said he was staying on track in an attempt to stay in the top 35 of the owner point standings and was told by team owner Tommy Baldwin to finish the race.
On Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, Keselowski was asked whether he still felt as strongly about Reutimann's actions after hearing the driver's explanation.
"When it comes to situations like that, I always try to put myself in that person's position and say, 'What would I do?'" Keselowski said. "And I sure as hell would not have done what he did."
Keselowski said even knowing why Reutimann was trying to stay on the track – with a spot in the top 35 at stake – he still wouldn't have risked causing a late caution like the No. 10 car did.
"I don't understand it," Keselowski said. "I don't know what he was thinking. I don't care who tells you what (on the radio) – at the end of the day, you hold the steering wheel and push the pedals, you make the decision."
For all the star power and remarkable consistency that he showed during last season's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Carl Edwards still had one thing missing -- his customary trips to Victory Lane.
Edwards' losing streak stands at 39 races, a stretch of just more than a year since he last performed his signature celebratory backflip. But his history and his team's past performance suggest that may change this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
After a rare idle weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Edwards enters Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 (FOX, 7 p.m. ET) as the Fort Worth track's winningest driver, with three victories in his 14 efforts there. His Texas win tally is equal to his three triumphs at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a similar 1.5-mile layout, giving him another reason for optimism.
"Those mile-and-a-halves have been great for us from day one," Edwards said. "Texas is always fun, just a fun event to go to. It's been a great race track for us."
As long as his current dry spell is, it's not the biggest drought of Edwards' career. He also endured a 70-race skid that spanned all of 2009 and most of the 2010 season.
Perhaps the same champing at the bit feeling is why Edwards would've preferred not to have an off weekend over Easter.
"Truly for me, I feel like I've run half as many races as normal by this point of the season. I'm used to running the Nationwide Series so much," Edwards said ahead of the one-week break. "So I don't need a weekend off right now as a driver. You know, I need to keep racing. I'm ready to race."
Another source of hope for Edwards is the level of success his Roush Fenway Racing team has had at Texas. The multicar stable has a series-record eight Fort Worth wins, the most recent one coming in this race last season with Matt Kenseth besting Clint Bowyer down the stretch.
Even with the history of Texas dominance on his side, team owner Jack Roush said his organization's on-track progress at intermediate-size tracks this season has left him wanting more.
"I'm guardedly optimistic and a little apprehensive," Roush said. "We didn't run as good as we'd hoped to at Fontana and we're a little disappointed with the result at Las Vegas. I hope we're back on track to do what we did last year at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. Texas, we won with multiple drivers in all three series, and I just hope we can get back and keep that dream alive."
SADLER STILL OUT FRONT IN NATIONWIDE
After two weeks off, Elliott Sadler finds himself in the same position as he has been all season -- on top of the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings.
Sadler will remain on point as the tour resumes at Texas Motor Speedway with Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m. ET).
The 1.5-mile track has been the site of special moments in Sadler's racing career. He won at Texas in Sprint Cup Series competition and has two Nationwide Series pole positions there. Sadler also turned the first test laps to christen the track in 1996.
"So to say that I like Texas is definitely understated," Sadler said. "It's a place I look forward to. It's a place I feel like we're going to run good at and we have a chance to win even before we unload. We're taking a very good race car with us there this weekend, the same car I had at Vegas that we sat on the pole with, and hopefully we'll go there and be fast and have a good weekend."
Sadler has won two of the series' five races so far this season, helping to keep full-time Sprint Cup drivers from poaching Nationwide victories on a part-time basis. Cup drivers were shut out in the 2012 Nationwide tour until the series' most recent race, when Joey Logano won from the pole March 24 at Auto Club Speedway.
"I just think all the Nationwide guys have definitely been faster this year compared to last year," Sadler said. "I think everybody is getting more and more used to this race car."
TRUCKS MARK RETURN TO 'THE ROCK'
It's a new venue for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but one that reaches back to stock-car racing's roots.
Rockingham Speedway returns to the NASCAR schedule for the first time since 2004, when the Sprint Cup Series last competed on the mile track. Former ARCA champion Andy Hillenburg bought the track at auction in 2007 and revived the facility as a base for his race-driving school and other touring series events.
Now Rockingham is back with Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 (SPEED, 1 p.m. ET), stirring memories that date all the way back to Curtis Turner winning the first NASCAR race there on Halloween 1965.
"It's pretty exciting to go back to a track which really made the NASCAR world," said four-time truck series champion Ron Hornaday Jr., ". . . I'm glad Hillenburg and everybody down there, the whole staff, got this thing going."
Ty Dillon might be new to the truck series, but the impressive rookie -- currently fourth in the points -- has some recent experience at Rockingham; he prevailed in the most recent ARCA race held there, in 2010.
"It's going to be tough to dial (in) a truck compared to an ARCA car there, but I feel like I've got a good understanding of the race track," Dillon said. "It will be somewhat of an equal playing ground for the only time this year, I believe, that everybody's going there for the first time in a long time. We've been there earlier than anybody else has, so I feel like we might have a little bit of an advantage."
The risk for a severe weather outbreak Saturday night during the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway continues to remain low.
My thinking and the local National Weather Service office in Dallas-Fort Worth seems to be on the same page. Here is what they have to say about the image above:
A moderate risk of severe storms will occur across central Oklahoma into southeast Kansas by Saturday evening. The tail-end of the forcing will work along an approaching dryline near northwestern North Texas to provide the best lift for scattered severe storms containing large hail, damaging winds, isolated tornadoes, and frequent lightning late evening and overnight Saturday.
Even though most of the activity on Saturday takes place west and northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there could still be a stray or isolated shower or storm during the afternoon and evening. It is even possible, given how close the threat for severe weather is to Texas Motor Speedway, that any storm that may form could potentially be severe.
Forecast for Saturday night is for just isolated showers and storms with most of the time being dry. I know it only takes one shower or storm to move over the track and ruin the party for everyone but the odds are in NASCAR's favor and I think we see a full race Saturday night. Just know that I will be monitoring radar and updating any weather information that is needed Saturday night.
11:00 a.m. EDT
Nationwide Final Practice – Partly sunny, windy – temp: 71
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Partly sunny, windy – temp: 77
5:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Partly sunny, windy – temp: 78
6:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Partly sunny, windy – temp: 77
8:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Race – Partly sunny, windy – temp: 75
7:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Partly cloudy, chance of scattered to isolated thunderstorms – temp: 79
How concerned is Danica Patrick about the possibility of having to qualify on speed at Darlington?
Not enough to have considered a backup plan if the No. 10 Chevrolet she shares with David Reutimann remains outside the top 35 in owner points.
Patrick is scheduled to run 10 Cup races this season. Her first was the Daytona 500, where she fell victim to a crash on Lap 2. Her second scheduled race is the May 12 Southern 500 at Darlington.
When Patrick drives the Cup car, Stewart-Haas Racing prepares it. When Reutimann drives the No. 10 Chevy, the car is fielded by Tommy Baldwin Racing, the idea being that Reutimann will keep the car in the top 35 in owner points and thereby exempt from qualifying on speed.
On April 1 at Martinsville, however, the car fell one position outside the top 35 despite Reutimann's controversial efforts to nurse a wounded car to the finish -- controversial because the car lost power, stopped on the frontstretch and caused a caution that changed the complexion of the race.
Because the No. 10 is only one point behind the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota driven by Landon Cassill, Patrick isn't particularly concerned about her car's owner points position -- for now.
"I feel pretty confident in the car and Tommy Baldwin to get it in the top 35," Patrick said Thursday before practice for Friday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. "They're a great group, and they're working really hard.
"We haven't talked about a backup plan, but there's always that backup plan that, if you have to qualify, that's what you do."
At Darlington, the task of keeping the car in the top 35 rests on Patrick's shoulders, if she hopes to stay exempt from qualifying on speed for the next Cup points on the schedule -- and her third planned start -- the May 27 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
A new interview set in the Texas Motor Speedway media center seemed to intrigue the NASCAR drivers who were shuffled through the press room on Thursday afternoon.
In keeping with the "Everything is bigger in Texas" theme, the track recently unveiled a new desk and studio set that looked as if it came straight from ESPN (a typical NASCAR media center dais consists of a portable table and a tablecloth).
The set features three large HD TV screens that can be changed to show the logo of each race, as well as a background with photos of past races.
On the whole, it's as nice – or nicer – than the sets used by TV networks, and several drivers couldn't help but comment on the display.
"I feel like I'm going to anchor a news show or something," said Sam Hornish Jr., who christened the new set as the first interview.
"I feel like we should be doing SportsCenter," said AJ Allmendinger, who came next.
As each driver walked in, a sound technician fastened a microphone to the interviewee's shirt instead of having the subject speak into a traditional mic. But it didn't seem to provide enough volume.
"I'm seeing a lot of THIS," said Matt Kenseth, who demonstrated what THIS was by making thumbs-up hand gestures toward the ceiling. "They want you to turn me up. I can't yell any louder."
When Kevin Harvick experienced the same problem, the microphone was scrapped in favor of a more traditional version that sat on the table.
The set also gave some drivers the opportunity to channel their inner newsperson skills – or fake newsperson skills, in one case.
Danica Patrick, a huge fan of the movie Anchorman, looked at her surroundings and said, "I'm Ron Burgundy?" She placed an emphasis on the question mark, as Will Ferrell's character did in the movie when he read a mistake in the teleprompter (see video below).
"Who's excited about Anchorman 2?" Patrick asked the media, raising her hand in the air. "Can I get a hand?"
Before the season began, NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell told a small group of reporters the sanctioning body was looking at ways to make weekends more cost-effective for its race teams.
To accomplish that goal, NASCAR targeted several events in the first half of this year to try and tinker with a more effective schedule.
This weekend at Texas Motor Speedway is a start. Though the event is technically a Thursday-Friday-Saturday show, the Sprint Cup Series garage didn't even open until 11:30 a.m. local time today, which allowed crew members to fly in from North Carolina this morning and save teams an extra night of hotel stays.
The first practice of the day isn't even until 4:30 p.m. here, and so there was no reason for drivers to arrive Wednesday, either.
Here's a look at the somewhat-funky schedule for NASCAR's weekend at Texas Motor Speedway (all times EASTERN; track is on Central time):
5:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (two hours)
7:40 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (one hour, 40 minutes)
11 a.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (one hour)
3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (one hour, 30 minutes)
5:05 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying
6:40 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying
8:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (200 laps, 300 miles)
7:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (334 laps, 501 miles)
It's the most-asked question in NASCAR. It's asked of drivers, of the media and amongst fans: "When is Dale Earnhardt Jr. going to win again?"
That's a question which has been continually raised ever since Earnhardt Jr. last visited the winner's circle nearly four years ago, on Father's Day weekend 2008.
After a strong start to the 2012 season which has seen him finish in the top 10 four times in six races, lead more laps than he did all of last year and has him second in points, it would appear there might soon be an answer to the most pressing question in NASCAR.
That strong start has many pundits declaring Earnhardt Jr. is "back," meaning back to the form he showed from 2000-06 when he won 17 races and three times finished fifth or better in the championship standings.
But before we collectively walk down that road, let's remember something.
Six races don't define a season.
Earnhardt Jr. has shown in the past a penchant for starting off a year strongly only to backslide considerably as the season moved to its conclusion.
Just last season, for example, the same stories that are being written now about Earnhardt Jr. were being written then. At that time, Earnhardt Jr. sat third in points through 15 races and had come close to winning on a couple of occasions.
The most notable was at Martinsville, when with five laps remaining Kevin Harvick worked his way under Earnhardt Jr. and went on to collect the checkered flag with Earnhardt Jr. finishing second. And then a few weeks later in the Coca-Cola 600 when Earnhardt Jr. was leading on the final lap only to run out of fuel coming out of Turn 4.
However, this early-season success was soon followed by a return to the mediocrity that has engulfed Earnhardt Jr. for much of the past five years. In the remaining 21 races, he posted just four top-10 finishes, and while he did make the Chase, he ended the 2011 campaign seventh in points and winless for the fourth time in five years.
But to return to the question du jour, if Earnhardt Jr. is to win again, will it perhaps be Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway?
After all, it would somehow seem fitting that his now 135-race winless streak would finally come to an end on the same high-speed oval that was not only the site of his first Sprint Cup victory back in 2000, but at the place where two years earlier Earnhardt Jr. scored his first Nationwide Series win.
If not this weekend, maybe the streak will be snapped at Talladega, Richmond, Charlotte, Dover or Michigan – all tracks the Sprint Cup Series will visit in the next couple months, and all tracks where Earnhardt Jr. has found prior success.
But until that happens, and until Earnhardt Jr. is celebrating his 19th career Sprint Cup win – and only then – can we really declare that the sport's most popular driver is "back."
The top question and comments I've received on Twitter this week from NASCAR fans has been about the potential threat of severe weather this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
This is very understandable, given what transpired back on April 3 around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, when 17 confirmed tornadoes touched down.
The risk for a severe weather outbreak Saturday night during the NASCAR Sprint Cup race is low. Most of the forecast for Friday night and Saturday night looks mostly dry. All the reports you are seeing from other outlets are correct – there is a severe weather threat this weekend for north Texas, including Dallas/Fort Worth – but it appears that threat is later in the weekend going for Sunday not Saturday.
Just because the worst and main severe threat is on Sunday, it doesn't mean there the threat of severe storms on Saturday is nonexistent. There is a threat of severe storms in Texas on Saturday, but at this point it appears to be more west and northwest of Fort Worth extending into Oklahoma.
The threat is close enough, though, that storms could stray into the area and would need to be monitored.
5:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Practice – Partly sunny, and windy – temp: 78
7:30 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Practice – Partly sunny, and windy – temp: 76
11:00 a.m. EDT
Nationwide Final Practice – Partly sunny, breezy – temp: 70
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Partly sunny, breezy, isolated storm – temp: 77
5:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Partly sunny, breezy, isolated storm – temp: 78
6:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Qualifying – Partly sunny, breezy, isolated storm – temp: 77
8:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Race – Partly cloudy, breezy, isolated storm – temp: 75
7:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Partly cloudy, chance of scattered to isolated thunderstorms – temp: 79
Marketable young driver Trevor Bayne and veteran Kenny Wallace come out of their cars this weekend due to sponsorship issues.
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