Stewart-Haas Racing rides momentum to Texas
By: By Bill Marx, Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
The big winner last week at Martinsville Speedway was Jimmie Johnson, who won for the fifth time in the past six races at the track.
But he wasn’t the only winner.
For the first time in its young history, Stewart-Haas Racing placed both of its drivers in the top 10. Owner/driver Tony Stewart finished third, and Ryan Newman finished sixth. For Newman, it was his second straight top 10, and he jumped nine spots in the standings to 18th. Stewart is seventh.
“Ryan has had two great weekends in a row, and we’ve had a great start to the season ourselves,” Stewart said. “I feel like we got a lot of momentum, and I feel like we expect big things this weekend.”
Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, the Samsung 500, is at Texas Motor Speedway, a track each has enjoyed success. Each has a win at the 1.5-mile track, and Stewart’s 103.1 driver rating is third best. Newman has two top fives in his past three races at the track.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence going into this weekend,” Stewart said. “Texas is a track that I really enjoy. It’s a lot of fun. I feel like we’re going to have a good run this weekend. I have that gut feeling. I don’t have any facts other than just my gut to support it on right now.”
Newman is feeling good about his chances as well.
“For me, personally, I know I can win there,” Newman said. “You have the confidence as a driver to do what you have to do to achieve your goal. Going back with a different team and different racecar you try to adapt the things you have learned in the past.”
Newman’s first 11 trips to Texas were with Penske Racing. Before becoming an owner/driver, Stewart raced for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I don’t think any of us knew exactly when this organization was really going to start hitting its stride and start clicking,” Stewart said. “But it has right off the bat from Daytona on. I mean, obviously with Ryan’s side, we had four weeks of bad luck in a row before he got on track. But he’s had a seventh- and a sixth-place run consecutively. We had three eighth-place runs in our first four races.
“I feel like we’re really getting on track. I think it’s clicked a little sooner than we all anticipated it would.”
Five to watch
Clint Bowyer, No. 33: Richard Childress Racing cars haven’t fared well at Texas. In 16 races, the organization has one win and has led 59 laps, its fewest among active Sprint Cup tracks. And when Jeff Burton won two years ago, he led only the final lap. Bowyer finished 10th and fourth in last year’s races.
AJ Allmendinger, No. 44: Allmendinger picked up his second top 10 of the season last week and moved up to 15th in the standings, 34 points behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth. In two races at Texas he has a DNF and 26th-place finish. More is expected from Allmendinger this time around.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48: Johnson is strong at Texas. He finished second to Carl Edwards in last year’s Samsung 500 and has finished outside the top 15 once in 11 races, when he crashed two years ago. He has a 9.1 average finish and eight top 10s in 11 starts.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88: Earnhardt has one win and seven top 10s in 13 starts but has struggled the past two years at the track. He has moved up to 16th in the standings, but more important, he is only 44 points behind Kenseth. The pressure is on the 88 team to continue its ascent in the standings.
Carl Edwards, No. 99: Despite being eighth in the standings, Edwards is off to a slow start. Texas has the potential to be a turning point: He won both races last year and has three wins overall. Texas is a good track for all five Roush Fenway Racing drivers.
1. David Ragan: “Texas is an extremely fast track. It’s really tight coming off of Turn 2 to the outside wall, and Turns 3 and 4 are really smooth. It’s unique in general and makes for a really good race. There are multiple grooves to pass, so when you combine that with the speed, it makes for a great race for the fans.”
2. Casey Mears: “Guys don’t run the middle or the top because they want to, it’s because they have to. You can’t run behind anybody. If you get within three or four car lengths of someone, the car starts pushing or gets really loose and you can’t get any closer. The optimum place to be at Texas, most of the time, is on the bottom, but there’s usually someone else there and you just can’t run down there like you want to all the time. We’re focusing on having a car that is really good on the bottom, but in practice, we’ll work on running the middle and the top because you’ll have to, at some point, during the race.”
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “Texas is tough—trying to get the car to turn down into Turns 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. The cars get really tight there because the track changes so much throughout the weekend. The exit off of Turn 2 is a real, real tricky corner. It’s a real strange exit for a mile-and-a-half racetrack. The track looks typical and looks normal from the single point of view, but when you race around it and work around it, it’s got a lot of oddities that are different from most tracks and they are a challenge.”
What: Samsung 500
Where: Texas Motor Speedway; Fort Worth
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Fox, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval
Race distance: 334 laps/501 miles
2008 winner: Carl Edwards
2008 polesitter: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Points leaders: 1. Jeff Gordon, 959; 2. Clint Bowyer, 870; 3. Kurt Busch, 827; 4. Jimmie Johnson, 817; 5. Denny Hamlin, 811; 6. Kyle Busch, 800; 7. Tony Stewart, 798; 8. Carl Edwards, 750; 9. Kasey Kahne, 745; 10. Kevin Harvick, 714; 11. David Reutimann, 710; 12. Matt Kenseth, 704.