Johnson, Earnhardt qualify in top 16 at Texas
FORT WORTH, Texas -Jimmie Johnson scored the 11th starting spot during Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 16th. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates rounded out the top 30.
Sunday’s race will be televised on ESPN and is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet
At Texas: In April 1998, Martin earned his chance to wear the famed cowboy in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway when he started seventh and led the final 30 laps to the finish line. Along with his 1998 win, Martin has earned seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 21 career starts. He’s led a total of 208 laps at the Lone Star track and has a 13.5 average finish.
Most recently: In April, Martin started the race 21st in his No. 5 Chevrolet. On Lap 215, the veteran driver was trying to break into the top-15 when he was collected in an incident on the backstetch that sent him to the garage. Martin was scored with a 36th-place finish.
Martin says: “When we were at Texas earlier this year, we really struggled. We just couldn’t get the handling right and then ended up in a big wreck toward the end of the race. Since then, though, I think we’ve got our intermediate program headed in the right direction. The last few races have been really hard for us with unfortunate accidents at Martinsville (Va.) and Talladega (Ala.) and a part failure at Charlotte (N.C.). We need a good weekend.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
At Texas: During his 21 Cup starts in the Lone Star state, Gordon has earned one win, two pole positions (2008 and 2009), seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s. Gordon went to Victory Lane on April 5, 2009, after he started from the outside pole position and led a race-high 105 laps. Gordon was followed across the finish line by teammate Jimmie Johnson to earn Hendrick Motorsports’ only one-two finish at the Texas track.
Chase report: After finishing third last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Gordon maintained his 10th-place driver ranking.
Gordon says: “This place has really turned into a fantastic track. When we first came here, it was a really, really challenging racetrack. It was fast and the transitions were really abrupt. It was hard to just stay out of the wall. But as the surface has worn and as we’ve gotten the cars handling better, it’s become one of the premier tracks. It’s always been one of the premier facilities, but the racetrack itself has really come into its own and made great racing, as well.”
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 myLowes Chevrolet
At Texas: Johnson has earned one win, seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s during his 16 career starts at the Texas oval. The driver of the No. 48 myLowes Chevrolet took top honors at the 1.5-mile track in November 2007 when he took the lead with just three laps to go and held on for the win. Earlier this year, Johnson finished eighth at Texas during the April event.
Chase report: The five-time defending Cup champion ranks sixth in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Johnson is 43 points behind of the leader. Since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was implemented in 2004, Johnson has earned 20 wins, 43-top five finishes and 58 top-10s during Chase races, the most of any active driver on the circuit.
Johnson says: “Texas is a great track. It’s really challenging. The corner exits creep up on you and you are carrying a ton of speed and it’s a narrow transition from the exit of the turn onto the straights. The track has widened out a lot, so we can race all over. Texas Motor Speedway does an awesome job promoting our sport, and that race; and the fan base is there and they are excited to see us. So, I’m excited to go back to Texas.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. National Guard “Trained by Tradition”/AMP Energy Chevrolet
At Texas: In 18 Cup starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt has scored one win, two pole positions, three top-five finishes and nine top-10s. He has an average starting position of 10.9 and has led at least one lap in 13 of those starts for a total of 448 laps. Earnhardt earned his first career Cup win at Texas Motor Speedway during his rookie season in 2000. Then age 25, Earnhardt started the race fourth and led 106 laps on his way to Victory Lane. During this year’s spring event at the track, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet crossed the finish line ninth behind Johnson.
Chase report: Earnhardt currently holds the ninth position in the Chase after finishing seventh last Sunday at Martinsville. Earnhardt trails the leader by 73 points with three races remaining in the 2011 season.
Earnhardt says: “Texas has some bumps that you need to be able to get through. The exit of Turn 2 is very strange and getting the car to turn and get off that corner is really difficult. The entrance to (Turn) 3 is kind of tough, but you’ve got to be able to turn and go across the bumps without any problems.”