Whether it's an unpredictable tire compound or a weather forecast predicting rain, there is no shortage of storylines for Monday's rain-delayed NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway.
It's all about the tires
Whether Texas will evolve into a replay of what transpired two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway has been the topic on everyone's mind this weekend. It was at ACS where an excessive amount of left-side tire failures created a chaotic race that left some drivers/teams pleased, while many others loudly voiced their displeasure.
Goodyear is running a different compound tire at Texas than it did at ACS, and both the tire company and NASCAR have been adamant they don't expect durability to be an issue Sunday. Thus far their analysis seems to be correct. Only one driver, Kurt Busch in practice Friday, experienced an issue, and even Jeff Gordon, the most vocal of Goodyear's critics, conceded there have been fewer problems than anticipated.
"There are issues, they're there," Gordon said. "But they haven't been as severe as what I anticipated; especially when we rolled out there yesterday and as fast as we were going. I definitely was anticipating on some of the long runs seeing more issues.
Lucky No. 7?
Through six races six different drivers have paid a visit to the winner's circle, which has made some wonder if winning is no longer a surefire way to gain Chase eligibility. It's a notion that gains credence when you realize names like Johnson, Gordon, Hamlin, Kenseth, Stewart, Biffle, Logano and Kahne are among those who still have a zero in the win column.
Yet beginning a year with a variety of winners isn't uncommon. In fact, each of the last two years has opened with five different winners in five races, and in 2013 there were 16 different winners all year. All of which means Monday's winner is still virtually guaranteed of qualifying for the Chase.
"I firmly believe it's pretty rare to have 16 winners in a season; especially 16 winners in 26 races," Johnson said. "And I feel like points will still get somebody a berth into the first stage of the championship."
Day race presents challenges
Since 2011 Texas' spring race has been run at night. But with the men's Final Four in town and wanting to avoid a conflict, speedway officials elected to move the Duck Commander 500 to Sunday afternoon (and since Monday due to rain). This creates a new dynamic for teams, as the track conditions will be vastly different than years past. Which team can best adjust to a track that will be hot and slick -- and possibly devoid of rubber if it rains as expected -- will likely be the team celebrating in Victory Lane.
Stewart-Haas Racing re-emergence
In less than a month's time, Stewart-Haas Racing has transformed from an organization seemingly poised for a frustrating and disappointing season to NASCAR's top performing team. With Kurt Busch's Martinsville triumph last week, SHR is now the only group to record multiple victories so far and likely multiple bids into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. And the surge continued at Texas, as Tony Stewart blazed to the No. 1 position in qualifying with a lap in excess of 195 mph. Also qualifying well were teammates Kevin Harvick (third) and Busch (11th), and each is expected to be a contender Monday.
1. Jimmie Johnson
Despite qualifying 16th, Johnson is quite pleased with his Chevrolet and the speed he's shown throughout the weekend. Fast all year (no one's led more laps) but still without a victory, that could easily change at Texas, a track where he dominated and won at last fall.
2. Kevin Harvick
In a race without an inordinate amount of cautions the fact that the No. 4 car was fastest over long runs in final practice can't be ignored. But the question about Harvick isn't about speed; it's about reliability, an issue which has hampered him all season.
3. Denny Hamlin
At Fontana, which shares similar characteristics with Texas, Hamlin was thought to have the best car. An eye injury kept him out of the race, though he appears to be just as strong this weekend as he was two weeks ago.