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Notes from NASCAR Nation

by David Grayson
Friday, September 26, 2008

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"KANSAS CITY HERE I COME."

Round three of NASCAR's Chase For The Championship moves to the Kansas Speedway this Sunday. Carl Edwards sits on top of the Chase standings but is only ten points ahead of Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle while Jeff Burton remains in shouting distance just 82 points back.

But all eyes will be on Kyle Busch, and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, this Sunday. Much to everyone's amazement this operation, who so dominated the regular season with eight wins, has completely fallen apart during the first two races in the ten round Chase due to hard to explain mechanical failures. Busch has plummeted from first to 12th in the rankings. Mathematically speaking none of the 12 drivers has been officially eliminated from the Chase going into this Sunday but Kyle Busch is hanging on by his fingernails and one more round of bad luck, like the last the past two Sundays, and it's over.

The key here is the fact that this team needs to find its mojo magic again and return to the aggressive domination that put them in victory lane an astonishing eight times during the first 26 races of the regular season. As bad as it looks right now a comeback here is not without precedent. In 2006, with five races completed and five to go, Jimmie Johnson was seventh in the standings, and 146 points back, when the team caught fire and eventually won the championship that year. Busch and Gibbs Racing can still do the same thing but the process absolutely has to begin this Sunday at the Kansas Speedway.

Needless to say, between Busch's free fall and Greg Biffle's two wins in a row, the betting odds of the Chase For The Champion has undergone some major changes since last Sunday. Again, NASCAR does not condone making wagers on their races but, again, if you're going to do it you may as well have access to the latest information and this week we're consulting the World Sports Exchange-WSE who believes that the safe bet for NASCAR's new champion is Greg Biffle and his Roush Fenway Ford. Biffle and company have just been phenomenal. When they started the Chase their odds were rated at 35/1. After starting the Chase with a win at New Hampshire those odds dropped to 8/1. Last Sunday's second consecutive Chase win at Dover now has Biffle going to Kansas as a 3/1 favorite to win it all.

The WSE believes that Jimmie Johnson has a chance of winning a third, consecutive, title and has set his Chase odds this week at 7/4 while Carl Edwards has a 9/5 rating this week. Other Chase For The Championship hopefuls include Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kyle Busch-18/1, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart-20/1, Richard Childress teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton come in a 30/1 this week while Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer are locked in at 40/1. The one eyebrow raiser here is the WSE's belief that Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin is not going to be a factor. Hamlin's odds this week are set at 50/1.

Regarding the winner of Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 400 the WSE has a lot of faith in Roush Fenway Racing and has set the odds for Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards at 5/1. They are followed by Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson-9/2 along with Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Denny Hamlin at 12/1. Four time champion Jeff Gordon is set at 18/1 while the WSE believes that Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer has a 20/1 chance of winning the race.

Here are some more facts regarding Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 400:
  • The race has 45 entries and will be aired on ABC Sports at 1 pm eastern/10am pacific. The race is 267 laps on a 1.5 mile banked oval.
  • Greg Biffle is the defending race champion.
  • Matt Kenseth set the track's qualifying record in 2005 with a lap of 180.856 MPH.
  • Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are tied with the most wins at two each. Chevrolet has the most manufacturer wins at four. 
  • NASCAR's top 35 in Owner Points has A J Allmendinger, at +11, and Robby Gordon, at +8, in the bubble positions this week while Michael McDowell is on the outside looking in at the 36th spot but only eight points out.
  • The NASCAR Nationwide Series race, the Kansas Lottery 300, has 48 entries and can be seen on ESPN2 beginning at 3 pm eastern/12 noon pacific.


A VERY IMPRESSIVE TEST.

NASCAR held their last official test of the season last Tuesday and Wednesday, at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, and it was teams representing Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports that topped the speed charts. Dale Earnhardt Jr, in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, topped the Tuesday afternoon charts with a lap of 182.642 MPH. But it was Greg Biffle's Roush Fenway Ford that garnered a lot of attention by being the fastest on Tuesday evening, 185,605 MPH, and then turned in the fast lap, 181.928 MPH, following the Wednesday afternoon session. Apparently NASCAR's COT cars, and the Goodyears they were running on, preferred the cooler track temperatures from the evening session because Jeff Gordon, in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, turned in the fastest time of the two days,  Wednesday evening, with a lap of 187.233 MPH.

THE SILLY SEASON CONTINUES.

It's now official that A J Allmendinger will not be returning to the #84 Red Bull Racing-RBR Toyota and will be replaced by Scott Speed from the Formula One racing ranks. Allmendinger is scheduled to be in the car on Sunday in Kansas but it's not clear if he will be returning after that race. There's been some talk that NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Mike Skinner, who helped this team get back into the Top 35 Owner's Points earlier this year and drove the car during this week's test at Lowe's Motor Speedway, might make a return appearance for a few races with Speed expected to take over the ride later this year. Speed can run up to six races this year and still be eligible to compete for the Rookie Of The Year title in 2009. Meanwhile Allmendinger is saying that he has at least one offer, for a three year deal, from another team. The rumor mill states that this offer is coming from Chip Ganassi Racing who is looking for a driver to replace the departing Reed Sorenson in their #41 Target Dodge.

Meanwhile NASCAR veteran Jeremy Mayfield reportedly has his sites set on Ganassi's soon to be available ride. Target Stores is returning next year so the ride is well sponsored and Mayfield believes that the team has a lot of potential. Driver Reed Sorenson is expected to remain with the team through the end of the season in November despite reports that his relationship with team owners Ganassi and Felix Sabates has become so strained that he would love to leave early and launch an early start with his new team at Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Mayfield drove the car during this week's tests at Lowe's Motor Speedway which reportedly made Sorenson less than happy. In the event that Mayfield cannot secure the Ganassi ride he's reportedly also looking at starting his own NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team and is even considering drag racing.

At a point in time when NASCAR teams are beating down the bushes and looking under the carpet for sponsors here's a rare story about a company looking for a race team. State Water Heaters, who is sponsoring Haas CNC Racing's #66 Chevrolet this season, has already announced that it will not be back next year when that operation becomes the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing. They are presently looking for a team to invest in and are reportedly talking with Yates Racing and their #28 and #38 Fords currently driven by Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland.

Robby Gordon is a shining example of how difficult it is being a single car team owner and driver in NASCAR during this modern era. Robby Gordon Motorsports-RGM began this year campaigning a Ford Fusion and then, in the middle of the year, switched to Dodge after forming a merger alliance with Gillett Evernham Motorsports-GEM. This merger allegedly called for businessman George Gillett to buy Gordon's operation and inventory for a reported $23 million, sign Gordon on as a GEM driver for four years at a reported $3 million per year and Gordon was to be named as a member of the GEM Board Of Directors. Somehow this deal mysteriously fell through and Gordon was reported to be surprised by a recent announcement that said GEM was going to sue him for breach of contract. Gordon was surprised again this past Friday when GEM announced plans to drop the pending lawsuit.

Now the rumor mill states that Gordon is seriously looking into a merger with Dale Earnhardt Inc-DEI for next year but it appears there are some massive details that would have to be worked out before this new alliance could happen. First off DEI campaigns Chevrolets while Gordon is technically committed to Dodge. Dodge Motorsports so far is being quiet about Gordon's status with them. Also the new NASCAR mandate coming next year that establishes an owner cap to four teams could play a role here because, at this writing, DEI may, or may not, already have their four teams set for next year.

Martin Truex Jr is already re-signed and will anchor the DEI effort next year. Aric Almirola, who has been sharing DEI's #8 with Mark Martin this year, will take over the ride full time in 2009 after Martin leaves to join Hendrick Motorsports. Driver Regan Smith is expected to be back for his sophomore year in the #01 if DEI can find him a sponsor. But the big DEI question mark is driver Paul Menard in their #15. Menard has spent the last few months negotiating a new contract with DEI and, at the same time, is talking to Yates Racing. DEI earlier this week acknowledged that there is a bidding war between themselves and Yates for Menard's services.

Menard is close to completing his second season in the Sprint Cup Series with DEI. He only has two top ten finishes in 66 Cup starts which raises the question why is he the center of a bidding war between two teams? The answer is quite simple: he comes with guaranteed rock solid sponsorship. That would be the chain of Menard's Home Improvement Stores a family owned business operated by the driver's father John Menard. The elder Menard is also a long time friend and part time sponsor of Robby Gordon. It's an interesting note of irony that says it make take Paul Menard moving to Yates Racing for Gordon to secure a merger with DEI.

Some good news from Michael Waltrip Racing-MWR. First off there is the highly noticed on track improvement their teams are making especially from driver David Reutimann. There's also good news for Reutimann's sponsorship program. Aarons Stores has already signed on to be the primary sponsor for 18 of the 36 races next year. Now expect an announcement soon that says Dow Chemicals will sponsor the remaining 18 races. There's also a rumor that states MWR may expand to a fourth Toyota team next year and the driver is Marcus Ambrose with sponsorship from Little Debbie Snacks.

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