Things are shaping up for an interesting battle as three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson has overcome his trademark "slow" start and climbed to fourth in the points standings. His win at Martinsville last Sunday gained him five spots. At this same time last season Johnson was 10th in the standings. Currently, he's 142 points behind his teammate and standings leader, Jeff Gordon.
Johnson won the fall race in 2007 at Texas and finished second twice there, including last season's spring race.
Gordon continues to run well, but can't find victory lane. His winless streak is now up to 47 races dating back to his last win at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2007. This season, Gordon has four top-five and five top-10 finishes in the first six races.
There's no place that would be more perfect for Gordon to get his first win of 2009 than this weekend at Texas. That's because it's one of two tracks where Gordon hasn't won in his career. He's run well at Texas otherwise, posting two poles and a series-leading six top fives and eight top 10s in 16 starts. He finished second last season in the fall event at Texas.
Maybe this will be Carl Edwards' week. Edwards swept both Texas races in 2008 and has a series-leading total of three victories there.
Roush collected one of those Texas wins from driver Jeff Burton. A two-time winner at Texas, Burton is currently 13th in the standings, seven points behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth. Burton won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997 while driving for Roush. Then, after 10 years, 12 races and 11 different winners, Burton became the first driver to repeat as a Texas winner. However, by then he was in his current ride for Richard Childress. Burton finished sixth last season in this event.
But someone else is knocking on the door. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished eighth at Martinsville, moving up three spots to 16th in points. His season hasn't got off to the start he wanted, but Texas Motor Speedway could be the jump he and the No. 88 team need. Texas is where Junior got his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. While he hasn't been able to repeat the win, he's had success, posting three top fives, seven top 10s and two poles in 13 starts. Earnhardt finished 12th in this event last season.
Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog, "Pitting Outside the Box," at the Blogzone at yorkdispatch.com.