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Driver reports following Texas race

April 15, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver reports following Texas race
Roush Fenway Racing teammates join top five in points standings

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 269 points.
Last week: Sporting a white-dominant paint scheme, the No. 48 looked a bit different at Texas. But there was nothing different about Johnson’s performance. The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion started seventh and finished sixth in the Saturday night 500-miler. He leads the points standings for the second consecutive week, adding three points to the distance between him and second-place Brad Keselowski.
Next week: In 13 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Johnson has two wins, five top-fives, 11 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Kansas, Johnson ranks first out of 50 drivers with an average place of 7.2.
Last year: It took Johnson and his crew some time to get the No. 48 Chevrolet where it needed to be. Once that happened, though, Johnson was a threat to win, leading two laps and challenging Martin Truex Jr., who led 173 of 267 laps but ultimately finished second. In the end, Johnson didn’t have the horsepower to catch Truex, but he had enough to finish third.

What he said:
“We fought hard all day but we just didn't quite have enough to pull off a win. … We just came up a little short.”

2. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is second in the standings with 260 points.
Last week: Keselowski’s difficult day turned into an opportunity for the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to show the fortitude of, well, a champion. His No. 2 Ford failed pre-race inspection (as did teammate Joey Logano’s No. 22), and Keselowski was a lap down early. But he drove grittily throughout the night, and gained three spots over the final 14 laps to finish ninth.
Next week: In six career starts at Kansas Speedway, Keselowski has one win, two top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Keselowski ranks seventh out of 50 drivers with an average place of 12.8.
Last year: Keselowski had two top-10s at Kansas in 2011, and he nearly duplicated that feat in 2012. Although his blue No. 2 had some handling issues in the spring race, quick pit stops shot Keselowski up into the top 10 after he started 11th. When his car became too tight, Keselowski stayed out longer than the front pack to lead two laps (and record a bonus point). That set the stage for a later-than-usual pit stop, and a sprint to the finish in which he gained five spots in the final 30 laps to finish 11th.
What he said: “I have one good thing to say and that’s about my team and the effort they put in today.”

3. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is third in the standings with 251 points.
Last week: One day after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch doubled his efforts with a dominant showing in the first Sprint Cup night race of the season. The No. 18 led eight different times for 171 total laps (of 334) to win the race, his second of the season.
Next week: In 11 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Busch has two top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Busch ranks 16th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 16.8.
Last year: Busch experienced a wave of emotions in 2012. In a track where he had previously struggled, Busch had the fastest time during the first practice session and appeared to have a top-five car. Then came qualifying, where Busch ranked a disappointing 25th. Better news was to come, though, as Busch finished on an uptick by driving his No. 18 Toyota through the field despite tight conditions. His 10th-place finish was his first top-10 at Kansas since 2006.
What he said: “We’ve had a good start to the season. It feels amazing to keep this roll going. It’s so much fun to race with this group.”

4. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is fourth in the standings with 239 points.
Last week: Roush Fenway Racing has a rich history at Texas, and Biffle helped show why Saturday night, using a powerful No. 16 car to record his 10th consecutive top-10 at the track. Biffle finished fourth despite starting 35th in what was his first top-five of the season; he now has three consecutive top-10s.
Next week: In 13 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Biffle has two wins, seven top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Biffle ranks second out of 50 drivers with an average place of 7.6.
Last year: Biffle increased his points lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings by finishing fifth. It was Biffle’s fifth top-five showing of the season after only eight races.
What he said:
“Our car definitely wasn’t as good as it was last year here in the spring, but we battled back. … We’ve just got to keep working on it. We’re not quite as good as a few of those guys, but we definitely had a top-five car.”

5. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is fifth in the standings with 234 points.
Last week: Edwards thought he had a major engine problem when his No. 99 Ford couldn’t get up to max speed, and it showed on the track where he lingered around 20th place from Lap 120 to Lap 200. And then, during a restart, Edwards attempted to tighten his seatbelt just before the green flag flew, and the harness came undone. He lost valuable spots while putting it back on. Despite all that, Edwards charged through the field late and finished third, his third top-five through seven races. The turning point was when his team discovered that a cracked tail pipe -- not a bad engine -- was the cause of his lack of speed.
Next week: In 11 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Edwards has four top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Edwards ranks eighth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 13.0.
Last year: Edwards was all over the track in a wild showing, finishing in ninth place after starting 21st. The No. 99 Ford was up to sixth place through 45 laps, but lost 11 spots over the next 15 laps and spent the rest of the race rallying.
What he said: “Something broke or cracked in the tail pipes. I thought the engine was blowing up for the whole race. That got worse, and then on one of the restarts I tightened my belts and I unhooked my whole seatbelt system coming to the green. … Fortunately, we came home third. That’s a gift for us.”

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt is sixth in the standings with 234 points.
Last week: Earnhardt struggled for the second consecutive week, finishing 29th and four laps down, losing three spots in the points standings in the process. The crucial moment came when Junior was running third and his engine cut off. The battery was dead, but the driver made a snap decision to enter pit road -- which cost him greatly. After diagnosing the problem, Earnhardt switched to his backup battery, but was busted for speeding on pit road and had to take a pass-through penalty. Crew chief Steve Letarte ordered fresh tires on the pass-through, which was a violation, meaning Earnhardt had to pass through -- again -- the next lap.
Next week: In 13 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt has one top-five, six top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Earnhardt ranks 16th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 16.7.
Last year: Following a three-race stretch of struggles at Kansas, Earnhardt took steps to solve his team’s malaise, finishing seventh in the 2012 STP 400. Junior ran in the top 10 all day and held his position late despite a race car that gradually lost its rear grip.
What he said: “I don't know what else we could have done different aside from me understanding better what was going on with the car and diagnosing it on the race track and switching to the second battery and not losing any laps. That was just my mistake.”

7. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is seventh in the standings with 232 points.
Last week: Kahne drove in the top 10 through the middle portions of the race, but a series of late caution flags, pit stops and restarts dropped him into 15th place at Lap 300. He gained four spots over the final 34 laps and finished 11th.
Next week: In 11 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Kahne has two top-fives, five top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Kansas, Kahne ranks 12th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 14.3.

Last year:
Kahne continued to drive strong at Kansas, which helped continue to put behind a horrendous start to the season. Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet was among the fastest on track, running as high as second for a period. With a new crew chief overseeing them, the No. 5 crew didn’t put together well-synced pit stops. That put Kahne down to 16th through 105 laps (of 267), but he finished strong in eighth place.

8. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is eighth in the standings with 208 points.
Last week: Bowyer has made big leaps up the standings, and has had big falls down the standings due to some inconsistent showings. Bowyer was consistent in Texas, leading to a 15th-place finish that keeps the No. 15 driver at eighth in the standings.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Bowyer has two top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Bowyer ranks 14th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 16.1.
Last year: A Kansas native, Bowyer didn’t have quite the homecoming he wanted in the 2012 STP 400. Although Bowyer qualified eighth, a blown engine sent him to the garage early. He logged only 125 of 267 laps and finished 36th.
What he said: “We were hoping for a better finish … it just didn’t break our way tonight. We struggled with a loose car and never got it where we needed it.”

9. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford

Where he stands: Logano is ninth in the standings with 207 points.
Last week: Not only did Logano’s No. 22 Ford fail pre-race inspection, but it took so long to get the car right, the team was late to the starting grid. So Logano, who had qualified 18th, was sent to the back of the field. He slowly worked his way through the pack, then caught a fortuitous caution flag that vaulted him 11 spots into third place by Lap 280. Logano held on to finish fifth, putting him back into the top 10.
Next week: In seven career starts at Kansas Speedway, Logano’s best finish is 15th in 2012. In the past eight years at Kansas, Logano ranks 29th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 23.0.
Last year: Logano had to switch out his engine before even the first practice session started at Kansas; so although he qualified third, the climb was tough as Logano was sent to the back of the field. With a fast car, Logano gained 11 spots after just three laps and slowly climbed throughout the race, finishing 15th.
What he said: “It was one of the toughest races I think we’ve ever dealt with, and to come home with a top-five out of something like that, we couldn’t be more excited about that.”

10. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is 10th in the standings with 206 points.
Last week: Timely pit stops throughout Saturday night put Menard in ninth with just two laps remaining. It appeared the hot-starting driver was in line for his fourth top-10 of the season, but rear suspension failure relegated Menard to 17th place. Still, it was a rare bit of bad luck for the No. 27, which has run well this year and remains in the top 10.
Next week: In eight career starts at Kansas Speedway, Menard has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Menard ranks 17th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 18.3.
Last year: Menard was plagued with handling issues, but he closed strong to salvage an 18th-place finish. According to NASCAR Loop Data, Menard gained three spots in the final 10 percent of the race (27 laps), among the best of the day.
What he said: “We had a fast Chevrolet SS at the end of the race, and it's unfortunate we had mechanical issues with just a couple of laps to go. We'll keep our heads up and head to Kansas Speedway looking for better results.”

11. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is 11th in the standings with 204 points.
Last week: Texas is one of Matt Kenseth’s best tracks, so the driver was a bit disappointed with his nothing-to-be-ashamed-of 12th-place effort. The No. 20 Toyota ran in or around the top five from Lap 50 to Lap 270. An ill-timed caution came as Kenseth was entering pit road late in the race, dropping the driver back into 13th place. He finished 12th.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Kenseth has one win, five top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Kenseth ranks fourth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 10.1.
Last year: Kenseth recorded his second consecutive fourth-place finish at Kansas in the 2012 STP 400, starting 18th and blowing through the field. It was his best showing at the track -- at least until later in the year, when he won the Hollywood Casino 400.

12. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is 12th in the standings with 192 points.
Last week: Harvick continued his string of finishes out of the top 10, notching his fourth consecutive such finish at Texas. In fact, Harvick finished in 13th-place for the third consecutive week. While Harvick hasn’t been exceptional, he’s become more consistent, which is why he’s climbed to 12th place in the standings.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Harvick has one top-five and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Harvick ranks ninth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 13.2.
Last year: Harvick had better finishes at Kansas before, but last year’s sixth-place effort may have been his most impressive. The No. 29 Chevrolet ran out of gas during a green-flag run, and Harvick was 26th coming out of the pits following Lap 90. His team rallied for a top-10 showing. Interestingly, Harvick has six top-10s at the track, five of which are sixth-place showings.
What he said: “It seems like we just can't catch a break these days. All the odds were against us this weekend. We had engine issues that forced us to start from the back of the pack and then went a lap down when the caution came out during green-flag pit stops. Hopefully, our luck will change soon and we can start collecting the finishes this team deserves.”

13. Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: McMurray is 13th in the standings with 190 points.
Last week: McMurray had a strong car once again, and he finished with a 16th-place showing. The No. 1 team received a one-lap penalty on Lap 129 for pitting outside the pit box, which hindered the driver’s chances of a top-10.
Next week: In 12 career starts at Kansas Speedway, McMurray has two top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, McMurray ranks 23rd out of 50 drivers with an average place of 21.0.
Last year: McMurray’s two top-10s at Kansas came in 2003 and 2004, so it’s been a slog since then for the driver. Last year’s showing was strong, though, as McMurray rallied from starting 36th to finish 14th.
What he said: “Tonight was a tough test for our team. We had a really fast car again. After the penalty on pit road we all had to dig deep to overcome and work hard to get position back on the lead lap.”

14. Aric Almirola (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Almirola is 14th in the standings with 186 points.
Last week: Almirola got the finish he has been seeking and earned his first top-10 of the year with Saturday’s seventh-place effort. The No. 43 had plenty of speed, as evidenced by his starting place on the grid (third), and gained nine spots over the final 54 laps.
Next week: In two career starts at Kansas Speedway, Almirola’s best finish is 23rd in 2012. In the past eight years at Kansas, Almirola ranks 18th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 18.4.
Last year: In Almirola’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, he started 26th and finished 23rd.
What he said: “We kept making adjustments on the car all night, getting it better and better. I felt like we were a solid top-five car at the end of the race, but we just didn’t make that happen. Still, it was a great day, a great points day for us, and I feel really good about it.”

15. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolett 

Where he stands: Gordon is 15th in the standings with 171 points.
Last week: The good luck ended quickly for  Gordon, who had climbed into the top 12 in the points standings following the STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Gordon, running third at the time, had a flat tire on Lap 307, turning a potential second consecutive top-five finish into a 38th-place showing.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Gordon has two wins, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Gordon ranks third out of 50 drivers with an average place of 8.9.
Last year: This was one of the only times in  Gordon’s career the veteran driver was pleased with a 21st-place finish. Gordon’s team missed on the setup, and he had an issue with his valve train, but still managed to earn decent points.
What he said: “We’ll learn what happened and we’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Most importantly, we know we have a fast race car and we know we can put another fast race car out there on the track.”

16. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Truex is 16th in the standings with 169 points.
Last week: Truex Jr. vaulted nine spots up the standings following a near-brilliant showing at Texas in which the No. 56 Toyota was the class of the field. Truex nearly earned his second win at NASCAR’s highest level after leading 142 of 334 laps, but a late series of cautions allowed Busch to beat Truex off of pit road and take over first on Lap 315. Truex’s spot in the standings is tenuous, though. His car failed post-race inspection (the front of his car was too low), and he may be docked points.
Next week: In nine career starts at Kansas Speedway, Truex has two top-fives and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Truex ranks 10th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 13.8.
Last year: Truex was one of the best drivers last season on 1.5-mile tracks, and it was evident at Kansas. He finished second at both of Kansas’ races, including the spring STP 400.
What he said: “We definitely had a car worth -- you know, capable of winning. Man, I’m just tired of finishing second. It’s getting old.”

17. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is 17th in the standings with 169 points.
Last week: Newman was the standard bearer for struggling Stewart-Haas Racing. The No. 39 finished 10th for his fourth top-10 of the season. Only four other drivers have more top-10s than Newman, who has struggled with consistency.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Newman has one win, three top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Newman ranks 24th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 21.6.
Last year: In the STP 400, Newman started 13th and finished 20th.
What he said: “We never got the car balanced quite right, but the guys did a good job of coming back. We were probably our best at the end of the race there.”

18. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Ambrose is 18th in the standings with 169 points.
Last week: Ambrose started in the top five for the second consecutive week, but couldn’t turn that into a top-five -- or top-10 -- finish. Coming back onto the track on Lap 282 following a pit stop, Ambrose spun out and hit the wall while trying to avoid David Gilliland. That relegated the No. 9 team to a 19th-place finish.
Next week: In seven career starts at Kansas Speedway, Ambrose has one top-10. In the past eight years at Kansas, Ambrose ranks 27th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 22.5.
Last year: Ambrose started 28th, but steadily climbed through the field to finish 16th.
What he said: “We had such a good car for this race, and it is just a shame that we couldn’t have the results to prove it. … It seems like this is what our season has been. We’ve had good cars but haven’t really had the finishes to show for it.”

19. Mark Martin (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Martin is 19th in the standings with 166 points.
Last week: Martin was back in the No. 55 Toyota after a one-race stint in Denny Hamlin’s No. 11, and he looked comfortable all race to finish 14th.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Martin has one win, two top-fives, five top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Martin ranks sixth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 12.3.
Last year: Martin ran well at Kansas and was angling for a top-10 finish after qualifying fifth. Unfortunately for the No. 55 team, Martin had engine issues late, sending him to the garage after 255 laps of the 267-lap race.
What he said: “We worked hard. Nobody gave up and we got a decent finish. We were just a step off all weekend. We’ll get it back.”

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Stenhouse Jr. is 20th in the standings with 162 points.
Last week: In the midst of an impressive rookie campaign, Stenhouse ran into trouble twice in Texas. First, he cut a tire early in the race and lost crucial ground. Then he came back onto the track, but ran into additional problems and took his car back to the garage. Stenhouse finished 40th, his worst showing of the season and dropped five spots in the standings.
Next week: Stenhouse has no starts at Kansas Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
What he said: “It’s kind of tough to go straight when you lose a left-rear tire. I really would have liked to have seen how our car was gonna drive when the sun went all the way down. I felt like it was pretty good where the sun was already down and the track was shaded.”

Five in the rearview mirror …

Casey Mears (No. 13)

Germain Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Mears is 21st in the standings with 159 points.
Last week: Mears couldn’t maintain his spot in the top 20 of the points standings. Starting 24th at Texas, he quickly slipped to 35th and had a hard time recovering. His 31st-place finish was the worst of the season.
Next week: In 12 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Mears has two top-fives and three top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Mears ranks 32nd out of 50 drivers with an average place of 24.4.

Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 22nd in the standings with 158 points.
Last week: Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, remains outside the top 20 in the standings. His 21st-place showing at Texas was his sixth this year outside the top 10 through seven races.
This week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Stewart has two wins, six top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Stewart ranks fifth out of 50 drivers with an average place of 10.4.

Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 24th in the standings with 151 points.
Last week: Running in the top-five in a fast No. 78 Chevrolet, Busch appeared to be in position to challenge for a spot in the top five, and perhaps a win. A fuel pressure problem, though, halted his progress and relegated Busch to a 37th-place finish.
Next week: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Busch has three top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Busch ranks 13th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 14.7.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Hamlin is 25th in the standings with 145 points.
Last week: An injured Denny Hamlin watched Brian Vickers drive his No. 11 Toyota to an eighth-place finish.
Next week: Hamlin is the defending race champion, but will miss this race with an injury. His substitute Vickers has one top-10 at Kansas Speedway in seven career starts. In the past eight years at Kansas, Vickers ranks 20th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 20.5.

Danica Patrick (No. 10)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where she stands: Patrick is 26th in the standings with 135 points.
Last week: After surprising skeptics at Martinsville by battling for a top-10 spot, Patrick did as expected in her first foray to Texas, finishing 28th.
Next week: In one career start at Kansas Speedway, Patrick finished 32nd. In the past eight years at Texas, Patrick ranks 38th out of 50 drivers with an average place of 32.0.

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