NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series News & Notes - Texas
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Aiming For Texas-Style Victory
Jeff Gordon Seeking First Win At Texas; In 2007
Texas A Tough Place To Repeat
Hendrick Motorsports Seeks Fifth Consecutive Win
HMS, Joe Gibbs Racing Setting The Texas Standard
Texas Two-Step: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Primed For Breakout Race
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Down so far so early, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) has redefined “rebound” in recent weeks.
He’s climbed from 14th to fifth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings over the last three races, and this week’s SAMSUNG 500 at Texas Motor Speedway was the site of his first series victory in 2000.
“A lot of people made too much of the start of the season, but there was never concern or panic in the team,” Earnhardt said. “We knew we had run really well before we ran into problems, so we knew the finishes would come.”
He opened with two DNFs (did not finish) in the Daytona 500 and at California Speedway, dropping to 40th and prompting speculation about his Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup prognosis.
Then, the climb back: First, an 11th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, followed by a 14th at Atlanta that propelled him to 14th in the standings. That was followed by a seventh at Bristol and a season-best fifth two weeks ago at Martinsville.
Seeding Update: Potential Chase Bonus Points Already Showing Value
Winning races has never been more important in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.
This year, race winners get 185 points – an increase of five points from last season.
And, in an even more dramatic rule change, drivers who qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup will get 10 bonus points for each victory during the 26-race span leading up to the Chase, which consists of the last 10 races.
Drivers qualifying for the Chase will have their point totals “reset” to 5,000, whereupon bonus points will then be added, in effect creating a “seeding” to start the Chase.
Example: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), who has three victories thus far this season, would start the Chase with 5,030 points.
To understand the potential effect of this most significant change, one need only look at last year’s Chase. Kasey Kahne had five victories leading up to the Chase, and started NASCAR’s “playoffs” in 10th place. If the new system had been in place, he would’ve started the Chase in first place with 5,050 points.
With six races complete and coming into Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, Johnson has accrued the most potential Chase bonus points. Three other drivers have won one race apiece and thus secured possible bonus points – Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), Kyle Busch (No. 5 Cheez-It/ CARQUEST Chevrolet) and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/ Pennzoil Chevrolet).
Texas Motor Speedway Still Searching For Its First Multiple Winner
Consistent success – as in numbers of wins – is one of those “desirables” in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition.
At Texas Motor Speedway, however, it’s non-existent.
An explanation: TMS has hosted 12 series events since its 1997 debut and 12 different drivers have visited Victory Lane.
Could this week supply that first two-time winner? Or will another new victor don the traditional winner’s cowboy hat?
Three former series champions in Sunday’s SAMSUNG 500 have won at Texas – Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth and Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota).
The list of notables without a Texas win is just as interesting.
Four drivers currently ranked in the top 10 haven’t won there. They include two more champions – reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) – plus, sixth-place Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet) and 10th-place Kevin Harvick.
Texas is one of three tracks where Gordon hasn’t won; the others are Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Winning, which appears imminent, is Gordon’s mandate, particularly after his bumper-banging, runner-up finish to Johnson at Martinsville.
Though he’s led the standings since the season’s second week, he’d start the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in fifth place, if the Chase began now, because of no 2007 wins.
Second-place Jeff Burton (No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet) – who won the first Texas event – has similar motivation to become TMS’ first two-time winner. Also without a 2007 victory, he’d start the Chase sixth.
On A Texas-Sized Roll: Hendrick Motorsports After Fifth Consecutive Victory
With Jimmie Johnson seeking his fourth win this season and Jeff Gordon atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, Hendrick Motorsports holds the series’ hottest hands.
And though streaks are difficult to maintain at the sport’s highest level, owner Rick Hendrick’s stable is working on one with potentially historic ramifications.
Johnson has back-to-back wins once already – at Las Vegas and Atlanta. He’s also the series most recent victor – at Martinsville.
Should he or any teammate triumph at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports would become the first team since Petty Enterprises in 1971 to win five consecutive races.
That’s a feat accomplished only five times previously – four times by Petty Enterprises with seven-time series champion Richard Petty.
Hendrick Motorsports’ current four-in-a-row includes Johnson’s three wins and teammate Kyle Busch’s Bristol victory three weeks ago.
If the team goes five-for-five, next up is six consecutive wins, accomplished twice by Petty in 1962 and ’63. Petty also won 10 consecutive races in 1967; the all-time record is 16, by Carl Kiekhafer in 1956.
Texas: Fast, Groove-y And Bump-Free
A 1.5-mile layout, Texas Motor Speedway is one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule, and is one stop anticipated by most series drivers. But the “fast” designation doesn’t pertain purely to speed.
Aerodynamics and handling are just as crucial as stopwatches at Texas, where all three variables must click for “fast” to matter.
Finding the right “groove” – or path – around the track is important because the fastest groove usually is the most comfortable for both car and driver.
Corners – or Texas’ four turns – also function as springboards. Maintaining speed as the car enters and exits the turns is crucial at a fast track like Texas, where hundredths of a second register on those stopwatches.
Crew chiefs ignore Texas pit strategy at their peril. Although pit-road speed limits are in effect, maintaining position and calculating the endurance for this season’s new, smaller 18-gallon fuel cell will be very important.
Finally, the Turn 2 “bump” was eliminated during the off season, promising a smoother transition onto the backstretch.
Locked In: Top 35 Guarantees Now Determined On Weekly Basis
The sixth race of the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago had significance far beyond the fact that it was the second-ever race for the Car of Tomorrow.
For the first five races of a new season, the weekly guaranteed starting spots for the top 35 teams in car owner point standings are based on the previous season’s final point standings.
After five races, the “locked-in” spots are based on current car owner points, creating a weekly drama for teams on the “bubble.”
Coming out of Martinsville, the 35th and final guaranteed berth this week goes to the No. 70 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet owned by Gene Haas and driven by Johnny Sauter.
In 36th heading into Texas, is the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford driven by Ken Schrader and Jon Wood and owned by Glen Wood, nine points out of 35th; two-time Daytona 500 winner and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Champion Dale Jarrett is 38th, driving the No. 44 UPS Toyota owned by Michael Waltrip; in 39th is the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota driven by Dave Blaney and owned by Bill Davis.
2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Owner Points – After 6 Races
Pos. Points Team Owner Driver
30th 494 No. 38 Ford Robert Yates David Gilliland
36th 426 No. 21 Ford Glen Wood Ken Schrader/Jon Wood
In The Loop: Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing The Teams To Beat At Texas
No single driver owns Texas Motor Speedway. The 12 winners in 12 races statistic cements that truth.
Together, they’ve combined for six wins at Texas and have won three of the last four races held at the track.
JGR drivers, especially lately, have found their groove there.
Tony Stewart won last November’s race and amassed a near-perfect Driver Rating in the process. Stewart earned a 149.7 Driver Rating, just three-tenths off a perfect 150.0. He leads all drivers in the all-encompassing category over the past four races at Texas with an average Driver Rating of 120.9 and is tops in Average Running Position with 5.233. That mark is far and away better than any other driver – second place is Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin at 10.349.
Hamlin, too, has had tremendous success at Texas. Though he has yet to win there, he has three top-10 finishes in his three starts at the track. He also has the second-best average Driver Rating at 101.3 and is sixth in Quality Passes with an average of 30 per race.
Three drivers from Roush Fenway find themselves in the top 10 in the Driver Rating standings. Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/Ameriquest Ford) is fourth at 98.9, Matt Kenseth is sixth with a 98.0 and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) is eighth at 95.8. Not coincidentally, all three have Texas wins.
Of those three, Kenseth holds the best Average Running Position, with a 12.022, which is seventh-best.
In terms of speed, both teams are the benchmark. Stewart has 188 fastest laps over the past two years at Texas, while Biffle has 152. Those numbers are 1-2.
But one driver worth watching this Sunday doesn’t belong to either of those teams – Casey Mears (No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet).
Though now with Hendrick Motorsports, Mears could open some eyes this weekend, especially if he can continue the Texas success he enjoyed while with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Over the past four Texas races, Mears has a fifth-best Average Running Position of 11.899, the fifth-best Driver Rating of 98.3, 72 Fastest Laps Run (fifth-most) and 238 Green Flag Passes, which is second-most. He also has the sixth-fastest Green Flag Speed and 868 Laps in the Top 15, which is eighth-most.
Ragan Takes The Lead In Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings
David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford) has taken the lead of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings following the Goody’s Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Ragan leads Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/ Havoline Dodge) by one point. Ragan has raced at Texas Motor Speedway before, in 2005 in the NASCAR Busch Series, but did not finish due to an oil pump failure. David Reutimann (No. 00 Domino’s Toyota) has moved into third only three points ahead of fourth place, Paul Menard (No. 15 Menard’s Chevrolet), after finishing 33rd at Martinsville. AJ Allmendinger (No. 84 Red Bull Toyota) is currently in fifth but still is 12 points back from fourth place.
-- DJ Takes The Mic: Former series champion (1999) Dale Jarrett is set for an unusually busy – but exciting – weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Jarrett will serve as an ESPN2 booth analyst during Saturday’s NASCAR Busch Series event, the first of 10 scheduled appearances this season. He’ll join lead announcer
Marty Reid and analyst Andy Petree.
-- NASCAR Day Around the Corner: With primary sponsor The Home Depot serving as the exclusive retailer of this year’s NASCAR Day pins, Tony Stewart’s No. 20 Chevrolet will do its part Sunday by running a NASCAR Day-themed paint scheme.
Pins will be available at all 1,900 Home Depot stories on Monday, April 16. NASCAR Day is a one-day celebration of the NASCAR spirit and fans. In exchange for a $5 donation, participants receive the special pin.
-- Jeff Burton To Receive Texas Award: On Wednesday, Jeff Burton will receive the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Sportsmanship Award during annual ceremonies at Texas Motor Speedway’s Grand Ballroom. Stewart also will be honored as the Texas Motor Speedway Racer of the Year.
-- Dickies, RCR Teaming Up: Fort Worth-based Williamson-Dickie Mfg. Co. – makers of DickiesŪ, the leading global workwear brand – are pairing up with Richard Childress Racing to offer the 2007 Race to the Riches promotion.
It begins May 1, with entrants hoping to win a NASCAR dream weekend in November. The lucky finalist will enjoy dinner with an RCR driver of choice, a garage tour, a pit-crew member experience and a $500,000 prize.
-- Texas Luminaries: Pro wrestling star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin will serve as Sunday’s grand marshal. Samsung Telecommunications America President Dale Sohn, will be the honorary starter. The contemporary Christian rock group MercyMe will perform the national anthem.
Chevrolet Leads Manufacturers Standings
Overall, Chevrolet has five wins in six events, and the early lead in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Manufacturers Championship standings.
Ford is second, 14 points back, with one victory thus far.
On Deck: Subway Fresh Fit 500 at PIR
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series travels west to Phoenix International Raceway for Race No. 8 on Saturday, April 21 for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 (FOX, 8 p.m. ET).
Kevin Harvick, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, is the defending champion for PIR’s spring event. He also won the fall event.
Sweeps appear a recent PIR theme, including familial ones. Brothers Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) and Kyle Busch won the 2005 spring and fall events, respectively.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won both 2004 PIR events.
Ryan Newman is the leading Budweiser Pole winner at PIR, among active drivers. He has three there. Jeff Gordon was last spring’s pole winner.
Next Race: SAMSUNG 500
Track contact: Mike Zizzo, (817) 215-8520;
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