Six different races. Six separate winners.
After the first half-dozen races of the year, there have been no repeat visitors to Victory Lane. With the next race set to take place at Texas Motor Speedway this Sunday, could another driver emerge to take the top spot for a seventh straight week?
Huge names like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth still haven't claimed a checkered flag to this point, and each is eager to claim a spot at the top of the standings.
For now, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits atop the points rankings after his fourth top-three finish in the first six races. But with the likes of Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, dominating the last two races but not finding a way to win, it's easy to see why the last 20 races could be much different from the opening six.
Before the drivers take to the track for qualifying and the green flag gets waved Sunday, here is a look at the Duck Commander 500 information along with the latest team news and top drivers for the race.
Site: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas
Date: Sunday, April 6
Start Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
|2014 Sprint Cup Standings|
|Pos.||Driver||Car||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||227||1||4||4|
Latest Team News
As much as this season has been perceived as a down year for Stewart-Haas Racing, the team earned its second win of the season and virtually clinched a second driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kevin Harvick won the second race of the season at Phoenix, and Kurt Busch followed that up just four weeks later with a win at Martinsville. Busch suffered damage early in the race during a brush-up with Brad Keselowski, but he got the last laugh by celebrating in Victory Lane.
As for Harvick, he navigated the No. 4 car into a seventh-place finish, while team co-owner Tony Stewart wound up in the top 20 at 17th. Danica Patrick once again struggled and had to settle for 32nd at the short track where she's normally had success during her career.
If SHR is a team on the rise, the crew already at the top of that mountain is clearly Hendrick Motorsports, as it has been for years. Earnhardt reclaimed the top spot in the standings; then there's Gordon and Johnson sitting just behind him in fourth and fifth, respectively.
With Johnson in search of his seventh points championship and Gordon as dominant as any at Martinsville during his career, Busch spoke in the video above about how important it was to out-duel the Hendrick drivers last weekend.
At Texas, the top three drivers from Hendrick have a combined five wins while Busch and Stewart have three checkered flags between the two of them. After the rivalry once again started taking shape in the Lone Star state.
So close, yet so far away.
After two straight weeks in which Johnson has dominated a race, he came away without the victory and still remains without a win on the season.
But racing was the last thing on Johnson's mind this week, as tragedy struck for his wife Chandra Janway over the weekend. Janway's brother, Jordan Janway, was killed in a skydiving accident, as NASCAR on Fox reported on Twitter:
The 48 driver also released a statement on Twitter about the passing of his brother-in-law:
On the track, Johnson has been blistering the rest of the drivers with his pace in the Lone Star state, with two wins in the last three races. Out of his 21 starts at the track, JJ has three total wins, 10 top-fives and 16 top-10s.
With a heavy heart and no doubt a great car from Hendrick, expect to see Johnson at the front of the pack once again in Texas.
Who's ready to see a backflip?
Well, with three wins at Texas, Carl Edwards is tied with Johnson for the most wins among active drivers at the track and has done so in three less races.
Though he hasn't won at the track in recent years—his last came back in 2008—Edwards has been near the top or in contention in nearly every race. On top of that, he is also one of just three drivers to finish on the lead lap at every track thus far, as Dustin Long of the Motor Racing Network points out:
But while Edwards has been on the track when the checkered flag waves, he's admittedly taken on a more conservative approach in recent weeks after winning at Bristol. Nate Ryan of USA Today shared Edwards' thoughts on driving for the win this season:
Regardless of whether he wins or not, look for Edwards at the top of the pack for the entire Duck Commander 500. The No. 99 machine has been fast in Texas, and will do so again this Sunday.
He may not have a win in 2014, something he did seven times last season, but Kenseth is still one of the best drivers on the Sprint Cup circuit.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver sits second in the standings after six races, but he could take over the top spot with a great race at Texas.
Kenseth has claimed two wins at the track, and when he's not celebrating in Victory Lane, he's taking top-fives or top-10s. In 23 races, Kenseth has never taken a DNF and has an average finish of 8.30, the highest of any active driver at the track.
With a total of 13 top-fives and 16 top-10 results, look for Kenseth to once again claim one of the top spots at a track where he's normally dominant.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter. He's got grease under his fingernails.
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