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NASCAR Driver Capsules, Oct. 31

Published On: Oct 31 2013 09:36:45 AM CDT
Racing generic, winners flag

Caren Firouz/Reuters

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson went from a four-point lead in the standings to a tie with Matt Kenseth for first-place following last Sunday's race at Martinsville. The pair leads third-ranked Jeff Gordon by 27 points.

TEXAS RECORD: 20 career starts, 2 wins, 9 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in fall 2007 and fall 2012. Finished first in this race last year and was sixth in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson knows it's "go time" this Sunday at Texas if he hopes to win his sixth career Sprint Cup championship. Matt Kenseth is presenting a challenge that Johnson has rarely seen in previous seasons. Here's Johnson's thoughts on Sunday's race: "(Having won at Texas before) does bring confidence. It makes the weeks leading into that race easier and less stressful. You still have to go get on the track and get it done. You still have to work through the practice sessions and find speed. There will be challenges thrown at you regardless of past history at a track. And in the race, there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes and get in trouble, so you've got to be on your toes. In all honesty, it makes the week leading up - Monday through Friday morning - much more enjoyable, but then the pressure starts up as if you haven't run well there before. It kind of all goes out the window."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson led 123 laps at Martinsville and was seeking his ninth career win there, but trailed off in the closing laps to finish fifth.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 97.0 percent (6,487) of the 6,691 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Texas. His average start there is 8.8 and his average finish is an excellent 9.1. He has one DNF there.

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After being on top of the Chase standings through the first six races, Matt Kenseth fell to second after Talladega, but rebounded at Martinsville to end up in a tie with Jimmie Johnson for first place in the standings. The duo leads third-ranked Jeff Gordon by 27 points.

TEXAS RECORD: 22 career starts, 2 wins, 12 top-fives, 15 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2002 and spring 2011. Finished fourth in this race last year and was 12th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth goes from what historically had been one of his worst tracks (Martinsville) to one of his best tracks this weekend (Texas). He continues to keep the pressure on Jimmie Johnson, and there's no reason to think it won't continue. In fact, the championship race between those two drivers could mirror the battle down the stretch between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards in 2011. Here's Kenseth's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I think if you're within a race, anything can happen. If you're more than a race behind multiple drivers, I think that makes it tough. Whatever you can get in a race -- 48 points (maximum) -- if you're more than that behind more than one driver, more than two drivers, I think that's hard to overcome with three races to go. But, as we've seen through the years, you just never know what's going to happen."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had one of his worst career track records at Martinsville coming into last Sunday's race, but surprised everyone with a strong run, leading 202 laps, and finishing second to winner Jeff Gordon. A good job by Kenseth, indeed.

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 99.3 percent (7,307) of the 7,359 total laps contested in 22 career starts at Texas. His average start is 16.0, while his average finish is an outstanding 8.5. He has one DNF there.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping to fifth place after Talladega, Jeff Gordon bounced back in a big way this past Sunday at Martinsville. With his eighth career win there, he moved up to third in the standings, 27 points behind the tied series leadership of Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, and one point ahead of fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick.

TEXAS RECORD: 25 career starts, 1 wins, 8 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2009, his only win thus far there. Was 14th in this race last year and 38th (suffered suspension issues) in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon has two primary bits of motivation coming into this weekend's race at Texas: to avenge his terrible 38th-place finish there in the spring, and to build upon the momentum he earned from his win at Martinsville this past Sunday. Here's Gordon's thoughts on Sunday's race: "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so that puts us in a comfortable position as to how we approach each race. Less frustration and we're executing better. We're really in sync right now. ... We've had sort of a love-hate relationship with this track. This has always been a very challenging track and there were some years when we struggled. The last few times, though, we've been competitive and the last time we were here we were very competitive but had a failure. It's been a bit of love and hate. But with a lot more love recently."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon led 78 laps and regained the lead late in the race to win for the eighth time in his career this past Sunday at Martinsville.

ETC.: There's no question Gordon has struggled over the years at Texas, having completed just 89.7 percent (7,503) of 8,361 total laps contested in 25 career starts at the Fort Worth track. His average start is 12.4, but average finish is a mediocre 17.0 He also has an unsettling six DNFs there.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick fell from a tie for third with Kyle Busch to sole possession of fourth place after this past Sunday's race at Martinsville. He trails points leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth by 28 points, is one point behind third-ranked Jeff Gordon and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by eight points.

TEXAS RECORD: 21 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in fall 2006. Was ninth in this race last year and 13th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Texas has not been the most hospitable track to Harvick, given he has never won a Cup race there and has just three top-five finishes in 21 starts. He knows whatever hopes he has left in the Chase hinge on a good finish at Texas. Here's his thoughts on the race: "Qualifying is definitely very important on the 1.5-mile race tracks. Texas is one of those places where the tires wear out, but track position is so important to keep the handling on your car. We tested there last week and hope that the information we gathered will allow us to go back to the track with a good balance on our car. We tried some different things and I'm hoping we learned enough to not only make me comfortable in the race car, but to be able to put ourselves in a position to run in the top five and possibly even win the race."

LOOKING BACK: Even though he failed to lead even one lap, Harvick still managed to keep his championship hopes alive by finishing sixth at Martinsville this past Sunday.

ETC.: Harvick has completed 99.8 percent (7,011) of the 7,025 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Texas. His average start is 21.2 and average finish is 12.5. He has zero DNFs there.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch fell from a tie for third to sole possession of fifth place after this past Sunday's race at Martinsville. He trails points leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth by 36 points (was 26 points back before Martinsville), is eight points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads sixth-ranked Clint Bowyer by 19 points.

TEXAS RECORD: 16 career starts, 1 wins, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2013. Finished third in this race last year and a career-best first in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he won there for the first time in the spring, Texas has historically given the younger Busch brother trouble. He can have a good run or two or three in a row and then falls back to mediocrity. He has to be 100 percent on his game this Sunday and has to go for a second straight win there if he has any chance of keeping his Chase chances alive. Here's his thoughts on Texas: "It's a fast racetrack. Texas was really hard for me at the beginning with the Cup cars, for some reason. I took to it right off the bat in the Nationwide stuff. We've kind of correlated some of that information back and forth and, having the cars from Jason Ratcliff (former Nationwide Series crew chief and current crew chief of the No. 20 Sprint Cup team for JGR) and from Dave Rogers (Busch's Sprint Cup crew chief) being as good as they've been, we've been really fast there. And now that Jason is on the Cup side with Matt (Kenseth), I'm hoping they can bring back a little of that magic that helped us win five in a row there in the Nationwide car. ... It's an interesting facility. Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta all might look exactly the same, but they drive nothing alike. It keeps you on your toes."

LOOKING BACK: Busch could ill afford a mediocre, let alone bad, run at Martinsville, but ultimately wound up with such a finish, ending up 15th in a race he desperately needed to win or finish higher to keep his Chase chances alive.

ETC.: Busch has completed 98.4 percent (5,269) of the 5,355 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Texas. His average start is 14.4, while his average finish is 14.1. He has zero DNFs there.

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer climbed from eighth to sixth after this past Sunday's race at Martinsville. He trails points leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth by 55 points, is 19 points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by one point.

TEXAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in spring 2011. Was sixth in this race last year and 15th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer does okay at Texas, but just has never been able to mount a winning finish. He typically does better at 1.5-mile tracks, but for whatever reason has been just fair in his career at the Fort Worth track. He knows his Chase chances are just about done, but still has high hopes for Sunday's race: "I'm looking forward to getting down there and another solid run. We need a win bad (has not won a race in 2013 yet). Texas is one of the coolest places to win. I hope we can do that this weekend. ... Look at the two drivers that are tied for the points championship - unless they hand one of the other guys a bone, then there is no chance of anyone catching them. Those two teams have elevated themselves to championship level teams and that is your race for the championship."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had an outstanding run at Martinsville, a track he's struggled at in the past, leading 60 laps and finishing with a very strong third-place run.

ETC.: Bowyer has completed 99.5 percent (4,996) of 5,021 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Texas. His average start is 13.6 and average finish is 12.8. He has one DNF there.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing from ninth to sixth place following Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell back one spot to seventh in the standings after Martinsville. He trails points leaders Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth by 56 points, is one point behind sixth-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads eighth-ranked Greg Biffle by two points.

TEXAS RECORD: 22 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 12 top-10s and 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2000. Finished seventh in this race last year and was 29th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Texas is the site of Earnhardt's first career Sprint Cup win, back in April 2000. Who can forget the emotional celebration in victory lane between Junior and his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.? Unfortunately since then, Junior has been unable to win again at Texas. While he's still mathematically in the hunt for the championship, it's pretty clear Earnhardt once again will not earn his first career Sprint Cup title this season. Still, he likes racing at Texas and had this to say about this weekend's race: "I really enjoy racing at Texas, but it can be a challenge. It has got a pretty big bump in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, where the tunnels are. We had a good test there last week, and we are looking forward to having a good weekend, hopefully getting a win."

LOOKING BACK: For a place where he's struggled at in his career, Earnhardt had a decent run this past Sunday at Martinsville. Although he didn't lead any laps, he still wound up with a decent eighth-place finish.

ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.3 percent (7,159) of the 7,359 total laps contested in 22 career starts at Texas. His average start is 11.5, while his average finish is 14.3. He has two DNFs there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 58 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.

TEXAS RECORD: Will be shooting for his 11th straight top-10 finish. Overall has two wins and 12 top-10 finishes including eight top-five's in 19 starts. Finished fourth in the spring race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle will be making the 400th start of his Cup career this weekend. "I'm real excited about Texas, and the 400th start seems like a lot, but I remember them (the news media) talking about Ricky Rudd's 700th start, so we're a little over halfway to that mark. I can still get to third (in the point standings) with a couple good runs. If I win Texas and have a good run at Phoenix and Homestead I'm looking at standing there third in points. And I think we can win Texas."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle rallied in the final 100 laps to finish ninth at Martinsville. But he was livid after the race as he felt Jimmie Johnson had ruined his chances of finishing in the top five. Biffle grabbed Johnson by the collar on pit stop as he shouted "you knocked my... rear bumper off. You...ran into the back of me." Biffle shook his finger at Johnson as Johnson said, "I was inside of you. If you want to talk about it, we can talk about it." A few moments later Biffle told the media "we had a top-five car. I just wish that wouldn't have happened (being forced to pit to have the flapping rear bumper removed)." A few hours later, Biffle tweeted an apology to Johnson. "I apologize for the way I acted toward Jimmie Johnson after the race, hard racing and I (now) know the bumper had damage already."

ETC.: Biffle, as a former teammate of Matt Kenseth, said he "like to see Matt win it (the 2013 Sprint Cup championship) I think he deserves it. He's worked hard and made a big decision to make a change (from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing). He had been at Roush for a long time like me and I'm happy for him. He's gonna be tough to beat. He may not need any help or encouragement because you saw last week (at Martinsville). Matt finished second and led a lot of that thing and beat the 48 car (Johnson) by four or five spots."

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 75 points out of first place.

TEXAS RECORD: One win and 12 top-10 finishes in 21 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "Texas was the turning point of our season back in April. We felt like we had a whole different swagger about the team with the setup we brought there. We qualified second and ran up front. Unfortunately, we had a mechanical problem (fuel regulator) and didn't take advantage of the setup. I'm looking forward to going back to Texas and trying to clean up some spilled milk from before."

LOOKING BACK: Busch finished 18th at Martinsville. "We didn't qualify well (19th), didn't practice well and obviously didn't race well," said a frustrated Busch. "I don't know what it is but there's something about this track that doesn't suit me. It was a very disappointing performance today. I had one really good run, but couldn't keep it up. We weren't good on restarts and I was just trying to survive out there."

ETC.: Busch admits "we haven't had much success at the last three Sprint Cup races, so it's time to turn that around. I feel Texas has the potential of being one of our better Chase races." Busch hopes to win a race for car owner Barney Visser and the Furniture Row team before he moves on to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. "It sure would be nice to give this team a win," added Busch.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 76 points out of first place.

TEXAS RECORD: Finished third in the spring race for his fourth top-eight finish in the last five races including a second and two third-place finishes. Won both races in 2008. His third triumph came in Nov. 2005.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is looking forward to this weekend. "There couldn't be a better track for us to go to (than Texas)," said Edwards. "We had a great test there the other day. It's a fast race track. It's aged a little bit, so it has some character and you can drive the car into the corner really aggressively and slide it around a lot. That makes it really fun to drive and when you have success at Texas the folks there really make it special."

LOOKING BACK: Edwards finished 12th at Martinsville. "It was a really tough race," said Edwards. "Our car was a middle-of-the-pack car and we made it to 12th, so we salvaged something. I caused the first two cautions when the car was real hard to drive on entry (into the corner), so that was pretty frustrating. I felt bad about that. The car was real, real loose in and that was the reason I hit Kvapil (Travis) there like that (in turn four). It was kind of embarrassing to do that but that's how it goes I guess. I'm going to apologize to him right now."

ETC.: Edwards is featured in the new music video put out by recording artist Sara Evans. "Sara was as nice and down to earth as she seems," said Edwards. "She amazed me with how much heart she put into this song ("Slow Me Down"). We had a lot of fun shooting the video and I hope everyone enjoys it." Evans, a Columbia, Mo., native as is Edwards, said, "Carl blew us all away, both on and off camera. He nailed the acting parts and was so much fun to have around on set especially during the fighting scenes in the apartment. We're both from Missouri and share the same sense of humor, so it was easy to joke back and forth, we had the entire crew cracking up, but on camera it looks like we literally hate each other. I hope the fans love the video for 'Slow Me Down' as much as I do."

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 85 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.

TEXAS RECORD: Finished fifth in the spring race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said, "We want to go out there and contend to win all three of these races. I feel like we have a good shot at winning all of them for sure. We've been really good on the 1.5-mile tracks this year and two of the final three are mile-and-a-halves. That has been our strong point this season. And then you add Phoenix on top of that and we ran top-10 all day there in just our second race together earlier this year before we had fuel issues late in the race."

LOOKING BACK: Logano was not pleased with his 14th-place finish at Martinsville. "That was not the type of finish that we envisioned coming out of practice on Friday and Saturday," said Logano, who started sixth. "I felt like we had a car that was capable of winning or at least running in the top five. We were looking good early. We got off a bit on our adjustments, but we went back on them and the car was pretty good. Then about halfway through the race we got off sequence with our pit stops and that really hurt us. We got stuck out on the track with older tires and never got the yellow flag that we thought would come. So we fell back and lost all of our track position and spent the rest of the day trying to get it back."

ETC.: Like most kids, Halloween was one of Logano's favorite "holidays" when he was growing up. He said one of his favorite memories was when he and his roommate and friend Coleman Pressley dressed up as the lead characters from the movie "Dumb and Dumber." Logano laughs as he adds he also used to dress up as a race car driver when he was a kid.

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 106 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.

TEXAS RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes in 20 starts including a 10th in the spring race.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "I always look forward to racing at Texas. I love the speed at Texas. It's a fast race track. Texas is actually one of the fastest tracks we go to all year, so you have to be at the top of your game because things can happen pretty quickly. It's a track I've always liked, although it doesn't necessarily show in my finishes."

LOOKING BACK: On the restart with 185 laps to go, Newman dived underneath Kevin Harvick. But as Newman moved up the race track, he was not clear of Harvick. The two made contact with Newman spinning backwards into the first-turn wall. The damage was severe enough that Newman was forced to go to the garage area for repairs. He returned 65 laps later to finish 38th. "We were making progress," said Newman. "We didn't start out the day too strong, but I felt like we had a chance to come out of it with a good finish. I don't know what happened there with the 29 car. The next thing I know, I'm in the wall."

ETC.: In looking back at the 2013 season, Newman feels "we've been good at times this season, but not as consistent as we needed to be to be a contender for the championship. Having said that, we aren't just going to give up on the rest of the season. Our goal is to get back into the top-10. I think we're 30 points out of the top 10 heading into Texas. I want to be one of the drivers getting up on the stage at the (championship) banquet in Las Vegas."

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 124 points out of first place.

TEXAS RECORD: One win and five top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 18 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne believes the new Gen-6 car makes it easier for drivers to run well at 1.5-mile tracks like Texas. "As a driver, it just gives you more overall grip so you can just push harder. You can push harder on entry (into the corner), pick the throttle up, be underneath another car and not be so worried about losing it, getting loose, sliding, spinning out or any of that stuff. I think it just gives you just a little bit more security with what you are doing."

LOOKING BACK: On a restart with 320 laps to go, the inside line got jammed up behind leader Jeff Burton, who spun his tires as the green flag was waved. Kahne slowed but was hit from behind by Denny Hamlin. The contact sent Kahne spinning into the second-turn wall. He was four laps down by the time he returned to the track as he finished 27th. "We had a pretty decent car," said Kahne. "I thought we might end up with a pretty good day. But everything got jammed up on that one restart and I got the worse of it. Just another frustrating day."

ETC.: Kahne will be racing of his favorite cars this weekend at Texas. Kahne finished third in the car at Indianapolis and seventh at Michigan. He also drove it at Chicagoland Speedway in September and finished 12th. "We just have a lot of confidence in this car," said crew chief Kenny Francis. "We have high hopes for it this weekend. We want to finish the season on a high note, beginning with Texas."

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