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.