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Teammates look to extend Texas streaks

April 15th, 2007 12:12 am by STEPHEN HAWKINS



FORT WORTH, Texas - Forget trying to explain them. Jimmie Johnson simply would like to extend a pair of streaks in Texas.


There have been 12 different winners in the 12 NASCAR Nextel Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway, which has gone longer than any other racetrack without a repeat winner.


That will be 13 in a row if Johnson or any of his teammates - Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch or Casey Mears - wins the Samsung 500 today (1:30 p.m., FOX).


Plus, if any of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers finishes up front, it will be the first time since 1971 that a team has won five consecutive races in the same season.


"Well, streaks come together and we can't explain why it goes on or what causes it," said Johnson, who has won three of the past four races. "But we certainly don't want to change anything in case it's something we don't notice. ... Sometimes things just click for a month or two."


Gordon, the season points leader even though he has not won a race, is 0-for-12 in Texas. He'll start his No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole after the field was set by owner points.


Qualifying was canceled because of severe storms Friday night. That put Johnson starting third and Busch fifth, though he will have to go to the rear of the field in a backup car after crashing during practice Saturday. Mears, the Hendrick newcomer, will start 33rd.


Before the Easter break, Johnson won at Martinsville with a hard-driving finish to hold off Gordon, who did everything short of wrecking his teammate while trying to pass on the final laps.


It was Gordon's third runner-up finish already this season - twice to Johnson - and he finished third in Busch's victory.


"It doesn't really matter to me that it's Hendrick that we're finishing second or third to, it's anybody," Gordon said. "I feel like we've been capable of winning already in a short period of time, and that's what I have to remind myself of. ... But it's good to be frustrated over finishing second. It's been awhile since we've been in that position."


The four-time Cup champion with 75 victories won his last series title in 2001. With a winless streak of 24 races, Gordon is still one victory short of tying the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth on NASCAR's career list.


Texas is one of three active tracks where Gordon hasn't won a race, but the 1½-mile, high-banked Texas circuit is the only one where he doesn't have any kind of NASCAR victory. He won Busch races at Phoenix and Homestead.


The only Hendrick Cup victory in Texas came in 1999 with Terry Labonte - the only former TMS winner not racing this weekend.


Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, Dale Jarrett and inaugural winner Jeff Burton - who starts second - all will try to become the first driver to do a Texas two-step.


But why hasn't anybody been able to do it before?


"I don't have an answer for that ... I don't even have a clue as to why that is," said Burton, who won the first TMS race on April 6, 1997. "I think it's cool there hasn't been a repeat winner. I think it would be even cooler if we could stop that this weekend."


When Richmond opened in 1953, there were eight races before inaugural winner Lee Petty became the first repeat winner in 1960. The Texas streak is already four races longer.


"It's always neat when you come to a racetrack and the winning seems to revolve around different people and different teams," Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick said.


"I don't think it will be 13; 12 is a lot of people," Kenseth said, then reconsidered when reminded that Johnson and Gordon were among those who haven't won. "I guess it could go a couple of more years."


Kenseth, the last non-Hendrick driver in victory lane this season, will start fourth in his No. 17 Ford. Kenseth and the No. 99 Ford driven by Carl Edwards, who has gone 44 Cup races since his last victory at Texas in November 2005, are the only non-Chevrolets in the top 12 starting spots.


After the first two races in the Car of Tomorrow on a pair of short tracks, Texas is the only track in a four-race span when the drivers get to drive their "old" cars.


"I think it will be kind of easy because we have driven these cars for so long," Earnhardt said. "I am just looking forward to getting on the track and going fast." Earnhardt finished seventh and fifth in the CoT races, his only top-10 finishes this year. At Texas, where he got his first Cup and Busch Series victories, his seven top-10 finishes (in nine Cup starts) are more than any other driver.

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