Several new twists have emerged recently in the year-long buyout dance between CSK Auto (NYSE: CAO) and O'Reilly Automotive (Nasdaq: ORLY). For a year, O'Reilly management tried to reach an amicable agreement with CSK Auto's board, then O'Reilly suddenly made a hostile bid to acquire CSK for $8 per share. CSK promptly responded by adopting a highly dilutive "poison pill." Finally, last week the two companies agreed to play nice again, and it looks as though they're headed toward a deal.

What does this have to do with Advance Auto Parts (NYSE: AAP)? Well, given that CSK is trading at nearly 20% over the $8 per-share offer, it seems investors believe Advance Auto Parts may step in with a sweeter offer. Advance Auto Parts and O'Reilly lack a strong presence in California, and both companies may believe it's cheaper to buy CSK's dominant share in that market than to open a lot of stores there themselves.

On top of this buyout speculation, Advance Auto Parts will report fourth-quarter earnings tomorrow. I expect to see a relatively wild ride this week for the stocks of auto parts retailers.

What Fools say:
Here's how Advance Auto Parts fares against its primary competitors in Motley Fool CAPS, our investor-intelligence database:

Market Cap (millions)

Trailing P/E Ratio

CAPS Rating (out of 5) 

Advance Auto Parts

$3,500

15.5

***

AutoZone (NYSE: AZO)

$7,460

13.3

***

O'Reilly Automotive

$3,420

17.7

*****

CSK Auto

$426

N/A

*

Data from CAPS and Yahoo! Finance as of Feb. 10.

While CAPS players rate the stock to outperform by a margin of 91 to 9, I don't sense much enthusiasm in the commentaries. Most of the bulls base their case on an economic downturn causing more consumers to save money by doing their own auto repair, which would favor auto parts suppliers.

While that may be true (and I don't know if there are real statistics to support it), I'm not hearing many arguments that Advance Auto Parts is particularly well-placed (compared with its competitors) to benefit from this trend.

What analysts say:
Wall Street analysts expect a 15% earnings pop to $0.38 per share for the quarter, splitting the difference on management's recent guidance of $0.36 to $0.40. Longer-term, consensus analyst estimates call for 13% earnings growth this fiscal year on a 7% sales increase.

One Fool says:
I'm less excited by the company's prospects. For the first nine months of the year, Advance Auto Parts was hardly hitting on all cylinders. Comparable-store sales growth was sluggish at 1.2% compared with 2.3% last year, and earnings per share advanced only 5.5%.

There have been several changes in top management over the past few months. In November, the company tapped Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) for its new president and CEO, Darren R. Jackson. Since then, it has added a new chief financial officer and a new vice president of supply chain and information technology. Then, just last week, we heard of a new branding campaign featuring the tagline "Keep the Wheels Turning."

Change can be good for a company that's experiencing sluggish results, and perhaps a combination with CSK Auto is just what Advance Auto Parts needs to jump-start growth. But too much change all at the same time can also create confusion and lack of focus. I'd like to see some more horsepower from Advance Auto Parts before jumping on the stock.

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Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He welcomes comments on his articles, but doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned here. The Fool has a disclosure policy.