Texas Story Lines

Jimmie Johnson

Although Jimmie Johnson has led the most laps in each of the past two Sprint Cup races, he remains winless this season. (Photo: Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, Texas - Six different winners in the first six NASCAR Sprint Cup races and Jimmie Johnson is not on that list?

How can that be?

What is wrong?

Is Johnson worried?

Such are the questions Johnson has faced as he looks for his first win of the season heading into today’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. It’s understandable. Johnson has scored at least one victory by the season’s seventh race in seven of the past 10 seasons.

A good sign for Johnson is that his last Sprint Cup victory came at this track in November on the way to the championship. He’s won two of the last three races at this 1.5-mile track.

Even so, is he worried he hasn’t won yet?

“I haven’t felt any pressure with the new format yet,’’ Johnson said. “Maybe I’m naive or stupid or something else, but the season takes on so many different changes, and I feel like we’ve had a few looks here recently at a victory. I feel like it’s coming and hope that it’s coming soon so that I don’t have to answer the question. But, I’ve won at different points in the year, some years a little later than I would have liked. But I haven’t felt like until (Auto Club Speedway) we had a legitimate opportunity to win. So, to go back-to-back weeks with an honest look at a victory is very cool.

“I firmly believe it’s pretty rare to have 16 winners in a season; especially 16 winners in 26 races. And I feel like points will still get somebody a berth into the first stage of the championship.”

Still, when Johnson wins is among the key story lines for today’s race. Here are other key issues:

Weather

Here we go again. NASCAR seems to be the best remedy for a region’s drought this season - even a recent Goodyear tire test at Sonoma was plagued by rain.

The National Weather Service’s forecast for today’s race calls for at least an 80 percent chance of rain through 6 p.m. CT before dropping to 40 percent the rest of the night.

NASCAR states that there are 16 Air Titans, including five of the newer models, at Texas Motor Speedway. Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's executive vice president of operations, responded on Twitter Sunday to a question about when the race could begin by stating “need to be drying by around 6 pm (CT).’’

Tires

Kurt Busch suffered a tire failure in practice Friday night but no one else has had such issues 

Jeff Gordon said after Saturday’s final practice that “there are issues ... but they haven’t been as severe as I anticipated.’’

Gordon wonders what will happen in the race with tires.

“I know how it works,’’ he said. “You start off conservative and then you don’t see any problems and you go a little lower (in air pressure), a little lower, a little lower and by the end of this race, that last run, if you make it to that point, it’s going to be the toughest run that we have. You’re going to push the limits.’’

Gordon also has concerns with the rain washing away the rubber on the track.

“A green race track is going to create some real challenges for us, but we’re going to try to do everything we can to have speed in the car and be a little bit more conservative than some of our competitors,’’ he said.

Stewart-Haas Racing

The only organization with two wins this season - Kevin Harvick at Phoenix and Kurt Busch at Martinsville - has Tony Stewart on the pole for today’s race.

Harvick could have multiple wins if not for some misfortune. The organization has had fast cars. Joining Stewart near the front of the field will be Harvick (third) with Busch 11th. Danica Patrick starts 24th.

“I don’t even think we’ve scratched the surface as a team,’’ Harvick said. “We’re still trying to get all the cars built, everything organized. We’ve got a few things to clean up and things will be even better.’’

Dynamic Duo

Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose have scored top-10 finishes each in two of the past three races. Both those races were at short tracks (Bristol and Martinsville). They didn’t fare as well at Las Vegas in the only other race on a 1.5-mile track this season with Ambrose 24th and Almirola 25th. 

Still, there’s a sense of enthusiasm at RPM.

“Performance has picked up and that adds a lot of confidence for me,’’ Ambrose said. “I think the path we are on is looking better and better.”

Does it continue today?

Austin Dillon

While Kyle Larson gained attention for his runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway, Dillon has been steady and is ninth in the points. Other than a 24th-place finish at Phoenix, Dillon has placed between ninth and 16th every race. 

Dillon wasn’t feeling well earlier this weekend and had younger brother Ty run a few laps in his car Saturday in case he’s needed today. Dillon suggested after Saturday’s qualifying that he won’t need his younger brother. If that's the case, can Dillon keep his streak of steady runs going?

 

 

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