FORT WORTH - Jimmie Johnson smiled when he realized Sam Hornish Jr. was in front of him on the outside of the first two rows for today's Sprint Cup race in Texas.
The four-time defending series champion wasn't quite as amused the last time he was bumper to bumper with Hornish at Texas Motor Speedway. That was last fall, when their wreck on the third lap sent Johnson to the garage for more than an hour and took a huge chunk out of his seemingly insurmountable points lead.
It worked out fine for Johnson, who won the next week to all but wrap up his unprecedented run of Sprint Cup crowns. He got over the wreck, too, later taking back some criticism when he realized the crash wasn't Hornish's fault.
Perhaps the outlook is brightening for Hornish too. The IndyCar Series' only three-time champion still hasn't come close to winning on NASCAR's top circuit, but Hornish is coming off consecutive career-best qualifying runs early in his third full season. He has the No. 2 spot behind Tony Stewart, with Greg Biffle and Johnson on the second row. A week ago, he qualified third at Phoenix.
"I feel like I've learned the tracks enough now, and I've got a pretty good idea of where I need to be and what the car needs to be like," Hornish said. "I'm just able to express it a little easier than I was a year ago."
KAHNE CHATTER: With Kasey Kahne's 2011 ride up in the air, some wonder whether future Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. would try to field a Sprint Cup car with Kahne under his JR Motorsports operation.
Earnhardt didn't rule out such a move but said it was unlikely. JRM operates only in the Nationwide Series, with no expansion plans in the works.
Kahne is leaving Richard Petty's team after this year to drive Mark Martin's No. 5 for Rick Hendrick in 2012, so whatever he does in 2011 will be a one-year plan.
"I'm afraid that if we do that, it could leave me out to dry financially on that deal once Kasey would leave and we'd have to find another deal both with a driver and a sponsor," Earnhardt said. "There are no guarantees, so it's just too much of a risk."
Martin says he won't retire after his deal runs out with Hendrick, so he'll be looking for a ride in 2012.
INTERIM OR NO? Matt Kenseth has risen to No. 2 in the points since Todd Parrott took over as crew chief just one race into the season. Parrott still has the "interim" tag, and Kenseth says he doesn't know when that will change. He's not thinking much about it, either.
"I'm really happy with Todd," Kenseth said. "He's been having a lot of fun, so I can't see any reason at all why anybody would want to do anything different."
Parrott, who won a Cup championship as Dale Jarrett's crew chief in 1999, went from heading the Roush Fenway team's superspeedway program to the top of Kenseth's pit box.
RAINY DAY: Kyle Busch's drive for five at Texas Motor Speedway was delayed by rain.
The wet weather and more forecasted showers led to the postponement of yesterday's Nationwide race at Texas, where Busch is trying to join two-time series champion Jack Ingram and Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers to win five consecutive races in NASCAR's second-tier series at the same track.
The race, which was called off more than three hours after it was supposed to start, was rescheduled for tonight after the Sprint Cup race.
If both races are run, Nationwide points leader Brad Keselowski and Busch are among 15 drivers scheduled to do double duty. That would mean 800 miles behind the wheel at the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track - 500 miles for the Cup race and 300 more in the Nationwide race.
Earnhardt won the season-opening race at Daytona from 1990-94. Ingram, the second-tier series' champ in 1982 and 1985, won five times in a row at South Boston Speedway in Virginia during the 1986 season. Since a runner-up Nationwide finish to Kevin Harvick in 2007, Busch swept both races at Texas in 2008 and again last year.