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Driver Reports: Previewing the Texas race

NASCAR.com

Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 227 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Martinsville, 12th at Auto Club, 24th at Bristol, 2nd at Las Vegas, 2nd at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 14.4 and his average running position is 11.5 over the past nine years. In 23 career starts at Texas, he has one win, four top-fives, 13 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Junior's first start at Texas resulted in his lone victory in the Lone Star State, and he's been searching for his second in the following 22 starts. Earnhardt has finished better in the Texas fall race (day) than the spring race (night) for the past three years, so maybe running in the daytime on Sunday is to his advantage.

2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is second in the standings with 218 points.
Past five races: 6th at Martinsville, 4th at Auto Club, 13th at Bristol, 10th at Las Vegas, 12th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Texas, Kenseth's average finish is 6.5 and his average running position is 9.0 over the past nine years. In 23 career starts at Texas, he has two wins, 13 top-fives and 16 top-10s.
Quick hit: Kenseth's two wins here aren't the most among active drivers, but check out those top-fives -- a staggering 13 in 23 starts, meaning Kenseth has finished in the top five in 57 percent of his career starts here. His average finish at Texas over the past seven races is 4.6, with six top-five finishes. He's the favorite to become the seventh different driver to win this year.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is third in the standings with 217 points.
Past five races: 13th at Martinsville, 10th at Auto Club, 1st at Bristol, 5th at Las Vegas, 8th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Edwards' average finish is 15.6 and his average running position is 12.3 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Texas, he has three wins, six top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Edwards once won back-to-back races here, and he was on the pole last fall before running into engine issues. This is one of Roush Fenway Racing's best tracks, too, so the company as a whole should put forth a good -- and sorely needed -- effort.

4. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon is fourth in the standings with 216 points.
Past five races: 12th at Martinsville, 13th at Auto Club, 7th at Bristol, 9th at Las Vegas, 5th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Gordon's average finish is 17.8 and his average running position is 14.8 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Texas, he has one win, eight top-fives, 11 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: For all his talent and experience, this is one track Gordon has yet to master. Sure, he's won here, but his average finish ranks outside of the top 10 among current drivers, a rarity for Gordon. He finished 38th in both races last year and has four finishes outside the top 30 since 2010.

5. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is fifth in the standings with 209 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Martinsville, 24th at Auto Club, 19th at Bristol, 6th at Las Vegas, 6th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Johnson's average finish is 8.9 and his average running position is 10.3 over the past nine years. In 21 career starts at Texas, he has three wins, 10 top-fives, 16 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Johnson is -- again -- among the favorites this week. He's won twice in the past four races at Texas (and also has a runner-up during that span) and his Chase performance last year was an absolute masterpiece -- 255 laps led in a victory that defined his sixth championship.

6. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is sixth in the standings with 189 points.
Past five races: 14th at Martinsville, 1st at Auto Club, 29th at Bristol, 11th at Las Vegas, 9th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 win, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Texas, Busch's average finish is 14.0 and his average running position is 11.0 over the past nine years. In 17 career starts at Texas, he has one win, six top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Busch's victory last year in the spring race was the first at the 1.5-mile track for Toyota. That bodes well for 'Rowdy' entering Sunday. In 2013, Busch also won at Auto Club to give Toyota its first victory at that track. Busch won again at Fontana this year, so if the trend holds true, Busch will be in Victory Lane at Texas -- again.

7. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is seventh in the standings with 188 points.
Past five races: 38th at Martinsville, 26th at Auto Club, 14th at Bristol, 1st at Las Vegas, 3rd at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Keselowski's average finish is 19.9 and his average running position is 19.5 over the past nine years. In 11 career starts at Texas, he has one top-five and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Keselowski has a lot going on this week. He exchanged words with Kurt Busch last weekend, and he's returning to the race in which his car continually failed pre-race inspection in 2013 and eventually resulted in a massive penalty. The bet here is that the outspoken veteran compartmentalizes that and rises to the occasion with one of his best showings of the year.

8. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Logano is eighth in the standings with 187 points.
Past five races: 4th at Martinsville, 39th at Auto Club, 20th at Bristol, 4th at Las Vegas, 4th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Texas, Logano's average finish is 20.0 and his average running position is 20.6 over the past nine years. In 11 career starts at Texas, he has three top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Three times this year, Logano has finished exactly fourth place. His three top-fives this year are second best in the series, along with Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski. Couple that with the knowledge that the No. 22 was among the best cars at the only previous race this year at a 1.5-mile track, and you have a driver with a real shot at winning.

9. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is ninth in the standings with 179 points.
Past five races: 15th at Martinsville, 11th at Auto Club, 11th at Bristol, 16th at Las Vegas, 24th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: At Texas, Dillon's average finish is 27.5 and his average running position is 29.3 over the past nine years. In two career starts at Texas, his best finish was 22nd in 2013.
Quick hit: Six races into the season, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender has been among the most consistent drivers on the circuit. A Richard Childress Racing driver hasn't won here since 2007, though, so Dillon is a better bet to record another top-15 than he is to breakthrough for his first top-five.

10. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is 10th in the standings with 174 points.
Past five races: 20th at Martinsville, 20th at Auto Club, 16th at Bristol, 7th at Las Vegas, 7th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Newman's average finish is 18.0 and his average running position is 20.4 over the past nine years. In 21 career starts at Texas, he has one win, three top-fives, five top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Newman has steadily improved at Texas over the past three races, going from 12th to 10th to ninth. His previous single-digit finish before last fall's race was in 2008, and he finished seventh earlier this year at another 1.5-mile track in Las Vegas.

11. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Menard is 11th in the standings with 168 points.
Past five races: 10th at Martinsville, 9th at Auto Club, 21st at Bristol, 3rd at Las Vegas, 23rd at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Menard's average finish is 20.6 and his average running position is 20.8 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Texas, he has one top-five and two top-10s.
Quick hit: Menard has finished on the lead lap at Texas just once in the past four races, and his Loop Data stats rank him outside the top 20 drivers over the past nine years. RCR's consistency this year though -- its drivers are ranked ninth, 10th and 11th in the points standings -- might mean that Menard finishes above expectation.

12. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 12th in the standings with 165 points.
Past five races: 19th at Martinsville, DNS at Auto Club, 6th at Bristol, 12th at Las Vegas, 19th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Texas, Hamlin's average finish is 10.7 and his average running position is 12.7 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Texas, he has two wins, five top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Hamlin is another driver that has won back-to-back races here before. But following that feat in 2010, his average finish in the seven races since is 14.8 -- four spots worse than his Loop Data performance over the past nine years.

13. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Vickers is 13th in the standings with 165 points.
Past five races: 16th at Martinsville, 7th at Auto Club, 9th at Bristol, 13th at Las Vegas, 25th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Vickers' average finish is 23.6 and his average running position is 22.5 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Texas, he has one top-10 and one pole.
Quick hit: Vickers only has one top-10 here, but that at least came in the 2013 spring race in a part-time role with Michael Waltrip Racing. The bigger issue, though, is that Vickers' full-picture numbers aren't very good, and in the Cup Series' past four races here, Vickers has started in just one.

14. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Standing: Ambrose is 14th in the standings with 162 points.
Past five races: 5th at Martinsville, 30th at Auto Club, 5th at Bristol, 24th at Las Vegas, 21st at Phoenix.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Ambrose's average finish is 19.5 and his average running position is 14.6 over the past nine years. In 11 career starts at Texas, he has one top-10.
Quick hit: Ambrose has improved mightily since breaking into the Sprint Cup Series in 2007. Ovals still give him problems, though, and Texas can be tricky with its high banks and old pavement. A top-15 -- of which he has five in 11 starts here -- would be a good finish for the No. 9 team.

15. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Stewart is 15th in the standings with 154 points.
Past five races: 17th at Martinsville, 5th at Auto Club, 4th at Bristol, 33rd at Las Vegas, 16th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Stewart's average finish is 12.7 and his average running position is 10.8 over the past nine years. In 23 career starts at Texas, he has two wins, six top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Stewart ended his two-race streak with a top-five finish at Martinsville, but still climbed in the standings. He appears to be getting more comfortable in the car, but his performance this Sunday is more dependent on the work crew chief Chad Johnston and the No. 14 team have put in on the intermediate package since Las Vegas.

16. AJ Allmendinger (No. 47)

JTG Daugherty Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Allmendinger is 16th in the standings with 152 points.
Past five races: 11th at Martinsville, 8th at Auto Club, 25th at Bristol, 18th at Las Vegas, 26th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Texas, Allmendinger's average finish is 21.6 and his average running position is 21.9 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Texas, he has two top-10s.
Quick hit: Allmendinger last raced at Texas in 2012, and his two starts that year came for two different teams. His renaissance is among one of the more intriguing story lines so far this year, but his lack of recent experience at the 1.5-mile track is a detriment.

20. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 20th in the standings with 146 points.
Past five races: 1st at Martinsville, 3rd at Auto Club, 35th at Bristol, 26th at Las Vegas, 39th at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Busch's average finish is 22.8 and his average running position is 16.7 over the past nine years. In 13 career starts at Texas, he has one top-five, three top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Busch's best finish in the first four races was 21st at Daytona. Now he has consecutive back-to-back top-five efforts. His Texas history isn't sterling (one top-10 in the past five races), but expect an improvement this year now that he has a more reliable machine under him.

25. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 25th in the standings with 135 points.
Past five races: 7th at Martinsville, 36th at Auto Club, 39th at Bristol, 41st at Las Vegas, 1st at Phoenix.
Season stats: 1 win, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Texas, Harvick's average finish is 11.7 and his average running position is 14.8 over the past nine years. In 22 career starts at Texas, he has three top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Quick hit: Harvick is consistently good at Texas but rarely great. His best finish of third came in 2006, but his last four races produced three top-10s and a 13th-place finish. Given how good his cars have been this year, don't be surprised if he's in contention for a top-three run.

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