Fort Worth, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Six races, six different winners.
The 2014 season in NASCAR's premier series has begun in record fashion during the Chase for the Sprint Cup era. Not since 2003, the year before the championship Chase format began, has there been six different winners to start the season. The record for most different winners to begin the season is 10, which was set in 2000.
Last Sunday, Kurt Busch won at Martinsville after rebounding from a pit-road incident with Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne early in the race and then passing Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 11 laps to go. Busch held off Johnson at the finish by just 0.26 seconds to snap an 83-race winless drought in Sprint Cup. He also joined his younger brother, Kyle, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Keselowski as those drivers who have all but guaranteed themselves a berth in this year's Chase.
NASCAR has expanded the field of drivers/teams in the Chase from 12 to 16. The top-15 drivers with the most wins during the 26-race regular season will become eligible for the playoffs, provided they have finished in the top-30 in points. The 16th and final position will go to the driver who is the highest in points without a victory.
If there are more than 15 winners when the regular season concludes on Sept. 6 at Richmond, a race winner could be left out of the Chase. But that's not likely to happen.
There were 13 different winners after 26 races in 2000 and 16 different winners following 26 events in 2003. Matt Kenseth held the points lead and had one victory heading into the 27th race of the '03 season.
The seventh race this season takes place on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. The spring event at this 1.5-mile racetrack had been held on a Saturday night in the past three years, but this Saturday, the national semifinals of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (Final Four) is taking place at nearby AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Qualifying for the 500-mile race at Texas is scheduled for Saturday at 2:10 p.m. local time (3:10 p.m. ET).
Will we see another new winner this season on Sunday at Texas?
It's quite possible, particularly with Johnson, the six-time and defending series champion, and Kenseth, who finished second in points last year, not having been to victory lane yet this season. In 2013, Kenseth scored a series- season-high seven wins, followed by Johnson with six victories.
Johnson's most recent win came at Texas last November. Two weeks ago in Fontana, Calif., he led a race-high 104 laps but blew his left-front tire in the closing laps, which led to a 24th-place finish. Johnson finished second at Martinsville after leading the most laps there with 296.
"Texas is one of the more interesting racetracks we race on," Johnson said. "The characteristics of the track - the bumps and the surface - will make for an exciting race. So far with six winners in six races, the racing in 2014 has been really exciting for the fans. We've run up front and led a lot but haven't been able to finish the job."
Johnson and Edwards lead all drivers with three wins each at Texas. Kenseth has two victories here, with his most recent occurring in April 2011.
"Texas has been one of our better tracks, at least statistically, and how we generally performed here," Kenseth said. "Last spring, we didn't run particularly well. Last fall, we ran better. I got myself put to the back kind of toward the middle of the race and was able to work our way back to fourth or something like that.
"It's a fun track. It's one I've really enjoyed since the first time I came here. I'm looking forward to this weekend. There's a few different things with that new right-side tire and obviously the new rules on the cars and all that stuff."
Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart are two-time Sprint Cup race winners at Texas, and neither one of those drivers has scored a victory this season.
Forty-seven teams are on the entry list for the Duck Commander 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, April 6. Race: Duck Commander 500. Site: Texas Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 3 p.m. ET. Laps: 334. Miles: 501. 2013 Winner: Kyle Busch. Television: FOX. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.