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Qualifying the Chasers: Texas

November 04, 2011, Bill Kimm,

Four of top five in points to start in top 10 Sunday in Lone Star State

Matt Kenseth (Qualified third) -- Kenseth took a big hit in points at Martinsville thanks to an ill-timed feud with Brian Vickers. Now 36 points back, Kenseth is going to need a big points day at Texas if his title hopes are to stay alive. It's a good thing Texas is next on the schedule. Kenseth has the best average finish of Chasers at Texas at a stout 9.0. Kenseth has two victories and his nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and 669 laps led are all tops among active drivers. Since 2007, Kenseth has eight top-10s in nine races, including a win and three runner-up finishes and three thirds. That win came this spring, when Kenseth led 169 laps and cruised to victory.

Tony Stewart (Qualified fifth) -- Stewart is without question the hottest driver in the Chase, thanks to his Martinsville victory, his third victory in seven Chase races. He brings that momentum to Texas, a track that has been good for Stewart, but recently has posed some difficulty. In all, Stewart has a win, four top-fives and 10 top-10s, but most came at Joe Gibbs Racing. Since forming his own team, Stewart has a fourth, a sixth and three others outside the top 10. A plus for Stewart, in the six Chase races at Texas, he's finished no worse than 16th with a victory and two sixth-place runs.

Carl Edwards (Qualified seventh) -- Edwards battled for a ninth-place finish at Martinsville to keep him as the points leader, but only by eight points. With three races to go, Edwards heads to a track in Texas where he is the active wins leader with three, but don't let that fool you, he has had his share of problems in the Lone Star State as well. In 13 starts, he has his three wins, a third and a 10th. He also has four finishes of 26th or worse with three DNFs due to accidents. His third in the spring snapped a streak of three finishes outside the top 10 and he's led just three laps in his past four starts at the track.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified eighth) -- Keselowski went for a spin late in Martinsville and that put him in a 27-point hole heading to the Lone Star State. Keselowski will have to completely go against his Texas history if he is to stay in the hunt. In six starts, Keselowski has yet to finish in the top 10. In fact, Keselowski has yet to finish on the lead lap at Texas and he has an average finish of 23.7. But, there is a silver lining. In this year's spring race, Keselowski led 32 laps until struggling late and finishing 18th.

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified 11th) -- Time is running out for Johnson if he is to win his sixth consecutive championship. Johnson is 43 points behind with three races to go -- not an impossible feat, but definitely difficult. Good thing Texas is next, because he seems to always finish up front in the Lone Star State. Johnson has a victory, seven top-fives, 12 top-10s and an average finish of 9.94 at Texas. His lone win came in the 2007 Chase race and since then he's added three second-place finishes, but those were all in spring races. In his past three Chase starts, he's finished no better than ninth. But with 13 of 16 starts at 11th or better, this is definitely one of Johnson's best tracks.

Kurt Busch (Qualified 14th) -- While Busch was pretty consistent at Texas with Roush, things haven't been as easy since his move to Penske. That's not too say he's horrible, though, because that far from the truth. In 11 Penske starts at Texas, Busch has six top-10s including a victory in the 2009 Chase race. But Busch also has four finishes of 23rd or worse. Busch finished 24th in the Chase race last year, but showed what he was capable of in the spring, leading 50 laps and coming home 10th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 16th) -- Earnhardt's stats at Texas aren't horrible, but most of his success came while in the No. 8. Since adding the extra eight, Junior just hasn't found his mojo in the Lone Star State. Since joining Hendrick, Earnhardt has just two top-10s at Texas, both in spring races. He also has four finishes outside the top 20 and his two top-10s are his only lead-lap finishes in that stretch. One good thing for Earnhardt, he finds his way to the front. In five of seven Texas events in the No. 88, Earnhardt has held the lead. One little nugget worth mentioning -- Earnhardt's first Cup Series victory at came at Texas in 2000.

Kyle Busch (Qualified 17th) -- Busch is one of three Chasers without a victory at Texas and at 57 back, he's going to need to snap that streak if he wants to win the championship. Busch has two thirds, two fourths and a sixth in 13 starts at Texas, but the success has been hit or miss as Busch also has four finishes outside the top 20. In the Chase, Busch has just been a victim of bad luck. In 2009, Busch dominated by leading 232 laps, but he ran out of gas and finished 11th. In 2010, Busch had a myriad of problems, topped off with a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and he finished 32nd.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 21st) -- Harvick is one of three Chase drivers who haven't won at Texas but don't let that fool you, he's one of the top Chase drivers at the 1.5-mile track. His 12.88 average finish is fourth-best among Chasers thanks to three top-fives and eight top-10s. Harvick finished 20th at Texas in the spring, but before that had three consecutive races of seventh or better. One glaring weakness for Harvick is his ability to get out front. He's led just five laps in 17 starts at Texas, with those dispersed among four races. Most of his strong finishes have come in Chase races, though. Harvick has an average finish of 7.8 and hasn't finished worse than 16th.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 23rd) -- Texas is not one of Gordon's favorite tracks. In fact, Texas is Gordon's worst track when it comes to average finish at 17.3. Gordon has a victory, seven top-fives and nine top-10s at Texas, but he also six finishes of 30th or worse with five DNFs. It's been so bad at Texas, Gordon has actually finished last twice. Recently has been much better for the four-time Cup champ, as he has finished 23rd or worse in his past three starts at Texas. However, he has led a ton of laps recently, leading in five of his past six starts in the Lone Star State, twice for more than 100.

Ryan Newman (Qualified 24th) -- Newman isn't a Texas fan. That's not to say he doesn't like the state, he just doesn't like racing at the 1.5-mile track. Aside from the restrictor-plate tracks, Texas is Newman's worst. He has just three top-fives in 16 starts, all before 2009. Newman also has three DNFs and has led just five laps in the 14 races since his victory in 2003. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman hasn't been too bad. In five starts he has a respectable 14.4 average finish with finishes ranging from 11th to 20th.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 28th) -- Texas has been a great track recently for Hamlin, but it's coming too late for this season. But as the No. 11 builds for 2012, this could be a great momentum booster. Hamlin has two wins, five top-fives and eight top-10s in 12 Texas starts with an average finish of 9.3. Hamlin pulled off the season sweep at Texas last season and has finished first or second in three of his past four starts at the track. Of his four finishes outside the top 10, only one has been worse than 17th. Hamlin was 15th in this year' spring race and was never really a factor.