Chase to the Championship: The pressure mounts for Daytona

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The 12th-Place Plot Thickens

One week down, nine to go, in the Race to the Chase — the 10-week stretch that precedes the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

And as NASCAR’s “playoffs” approach, the pressure mounts for drivers patrolling the “bubble” area on either side of 12th place in the series standings.

Only the top 12 make the Chase, which encompasses the last 10 races of the season. Coming into Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 Presented by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway, the five drivers immediately outside the top 12 are within merely 128 points of 12th-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Reese’s Chevrolet).

Included in that group:

Former series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 R&L Carriers Ford) is 13th, 15 behind Harvick;

Two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) in 14th, 71 out of 12th;

This year’s Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge), now  down to 15th in points, 111 behind Harvick.

Those all are surprises — but so are these: In 16th you’ll find Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) 113 behind Harvick, while David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford) is 17th, 128 back.

Of those five, the best bet to advance this week appears to be Newman, with his career-defining victory this past February only part of the reason.

Newman actually has the second-best Driver Rating at Daytona at 98.6, trailing only the 108.1 of Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota). This key Loop Data statistic is based on the last seven events at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. During that span Newman’s average DIS finish has been 14.4.

In addition to winning the 500 this season, Newman finished third in 2006. His best finish in Daytona’s July race: 11th in ‘06.
 
McMurray Returns To Daytona As A Defending Champion

You have to give Jamie McMurray (No. 26 IRWIN Weldtec Ford) some credit. Granted, he only has two NASCAR Sprint Cup victories in his career, but both have been major events. And major surprises.

Back in 2002 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s fall race, McMurray got the first win in only his third series start. That put him into some elite company. Only 11 drivers have won in either their first or second start in NASCAR’s top series — and three of those did so in NASCAR’s first season. McMurray is the series’ first driver since 1963 to win so quickly.

Last summer, McMurray pulled another significant upset by winning at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR’s most-storied track. The inherent drama received a boost by the minute margin of victory: McMurray’s .005-seconds edging Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) is tied for the second-closest finish since electronic timing and scoring went into use in 1993. (Dale Earnhardt nipped Ernie Irvan at Talladega in July 1993 by the same scant margin.) Closest ever: .002, Ricky Craven over Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Darlington spring race in 2003.

face="Arial" size="2">McMurray needs another boost. He comes into Daytona 24th in the series standings.

“I seem to have been more successful at the [restrictor plate] races, whether it's at Daytona or Talladega. I tend to get with the right guys [to draft].

“I'm not down at all [about this season]. If anything, I’m probably more upbeat, because we've gone to a lot of different-type race tracks and we've had cars that were really fast. Things are really things are good right now. We just haven't been able to get the finish out of it.”

Tony Stewart Serving Up A Restrictor-Plate Resume, Built Mainly At Daytona

Tony Stewart’s near-victory in this year’s Daytona 500 should’ve surprised no one.

Even though Stewart has yet to win NASCAR’s most-famous race, he’s had plenty of success at NASCAR’s most-famous track.  Which is why no one should be surprised if he ends his 31-race winless skein Saturday night.

Stewart, third in the 500 this year, has 12 wins at Daytona International Speedway — NASCAR point-paying races, non-point events and the now-defunct IROC Series — including two (2005-06) in the Coke Zero 400.

The breakdown for the other 10 is as follows:

Gatorade Duel at Daytona – 2
Budweiser Shootout – 3
NASCAR Nationwide Series – 3
International Race of Champions – 2

Over the last three-plus years — seven races total in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series — Stewart has compiled a series-leading 108.1 Driver Rating. Driver Rating results from a combination of numerous Loop Data statistics.

As far as a specific stat goes, Stewart has led a series-high 415 laps over the last seven DIS events. That amounts to 32% of all laps run, and dwarfs the second-best total of 150 by Kurt Busch.         

Loop Data Telling At Daytona: Look Out For Newman

A NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver has not swept both races at Daytona International Speedway since 1982, when Bobby Allison pulled the impressive feat.

The 25-year sweep-less streak may end this Saturday, as Ryan Newman attempts to make it two-in-a-row at the “World Center of Racing.”

Statistics suggest a possible “two-for-two.”

Over the past seven races, Newman has racked up some of the most impressive stats in the series at Daytona. In addition to this second-best Driver Rating (98.6), he ranks second in Average Running Position (11.3) and second in Laps in the Top 15 percentage (76.5%).

Another driver looking to make it back-to-back wins – albeit on a different scale – is Kurt Busch. Busch, who became the 10th different winner of 2008 after his win at New Hampshire, has been solid at Daytona. Though without a Daytona win, Busch has finished in the top three in three of the last four Daytona races.

Since 2005, Busch has a Driver Rating of 93.0 (fifth), an Average Running Position of 15.1 (ninth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 65.8% (seventh).

One driver

who came .005 seconds from victory last season – Kyle Busch – has an excellent chance at redemption Saturday. Last year’s July race saw Busch nipped at the line by Jamie McMurray, and with a fourth-place finish at this season’s Daytona 500, Busch now has three top-five finishes in the last four Daytona races.

Over the last seven races there, Busch has a Driver Rating of 95.3 (fourth), an Average Running Position of 12.6 (fourth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 73.6% (third).

But arguably the three favorites this weekend are three drivers who have racked up a total of eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships – but only one win in 2008: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Tony Stewart.

All three rank in the top seven of the pre-race Driver Rating. Stewart has a series-best 108.1, Johnson ranks third at 95.5 and Gordon ranks seventh at 91.9.

60 Years Of NASCAR: Friday Marks 60th Anniversary Of A True NASCAR Tradition

Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway — the Winn-Dixie 250 Powered by Coca-Cola — will mark the 60th anniversary of the very first NASCAR race held on July 4.

That event was run in NASCAR’s very first season, 1948, at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Fonty Flock was the winner; NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. finished eighth.

Saturday’s event is all about tradition as well. Just as the Daytona 500 was held for the 50th time earlier this season, Saturday will be the 50th running of Daytona’s summertime NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona, which was always held on July until 1988 when it was moved to the first Saturday in July.

The Coke Zero 400 Presented by Coca-Cola was originally known as the Firecracker 250 from 1959-62, then became the Firecracker 400 starting in 1963 when the race was lengthened.

Fittingly, Daytona Beach hometown hero Fireball Roberts won both of those “Firecrackers.”

Racing To Win: As Chase Approaches, Victories Vital, Pressure Intensifies

There are a couple of dynamics operative, as the Race to the Chase proceeds into its second week, with the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola, at Daytona International Speedway.

In addition to the obvious battle to secure a top-12 spot when the Race to the Chase ends and the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins, there’s the fight for bonus points and resulting seedings for drivers who make the Chase.

It’s all about winning — and racing to win.

In today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a victor’s spoils includes 10 bonus points for each win.

A quick review of this landscape:

Prior to the Chase, all 12 drivers have their point totals “reset” to 5,000.

They then receive 10 bonus points for each victory they had leading up to the Chase.

Those “adjusted” totals create, in effect, seedings to start NASCAR’s “playoffs.”

Kyle

Busch’s first-half excellence this season has him in prime position to grab the Chase’s top seed. He has five victories thus far — and 50 potential bonus points.

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) has a leg up on the second seedings — even though he lost 10 bonus points because of a rule infraction following his victory in Las Vegas. Edwards has 20 bonus points socked away, as does Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge); currently, Edwards is listed as the potential second seed due to overall best finishes beyond race victories.

Coming into this week, five other drivers inside the current top 12 have won events and earned a potential 10 bonus points — and a Chase starting total of 5,010.

Based on overall best finishes beyond their victories, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet), Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Kinko’s Toyota) and Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) are the potential 4-8 seeds.

This increased emphasis on winning has likewise increased the pressure on teams.

“If you’re a team that hasn’t found a way to win, you are not having the success that you need to have,” said Burton.

“That has an effect on you. We race to win. We race to finish the best we can. When we can’t win ... and the pressure starts, [you ask yourself] what are we going to do? How are we going to get better? What do we have to do?

“The workload gets higher and it just snowballs. Then when you work harder and you don’t have success because you worked harder. The pressure just builds and builds and builds.”

Top 35: Tight 60-Point Margin Surrounds The ‘Bubble’

When Sam Hornish Jr.  (No. 77 Penske Truck Rental Dodge) left Daytona International Speedway in February, he was a surprising 15th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings — via a 15th-place finish in the Daytona 500.

He returns to DIS this week in a bit of a predicament. The former Indianapolis 500 champion has mostly struggled this season — he has yet to post a top-10 finish — and as a result his team comes in 34th in car owner points.

The top 35 in owner points each week get guaranteed starting spots. Hornish, whose team is tied with 35th-place Michael McDowell’s (No. 00 Champion Mortgage Toyota) at 1,294 points, needs a good run at the season’s second Daytona event.

So do these guys:

Regan Smith (No. 01 Principal Financial Group/DEI Chevrolet) owned by Teresa Earnhardt, 32nd in owner points but only 51 ahead of McDowell;

Robby Gordon (No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Dodge), whose self-owned team stands 33rd in owner points, only 35 ahead of Hornish and McDowell.

Scott Riggs (No. 66 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet), owned by Joe Custer, 36th in points but only 25 out of 35th.

The margin between Gordon and Riggs: 60 points. Which means a lot could change this week.

Qualifying for the Coke Zero 400 is set for Friday at 4:10

p.m.

Meet The Press Club: Two-Time Defending Champion Johnson Headed To D.C.

Jimmie Johnson, the reigning and two-time defending champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will speak at a National Press Club luncheon on Tuesday, July 8.

The luncheon is scheduled from 12:30-2 p.m. in the press club ballroom, 529 14th Street NW, 12th floor in Washington, D.C.

The luncheon will begin at 12:30 p.m., with remarks by Johnson beginning just after 1 p.m., followed by a question-and-answer session.

This will mark the fourth NASCAR-related appearance at the National Press Club, which was founded in March 1908 by 32 newspapermen meeting at the Washington Chamber of Commerce.

The late Dale Earnhardt was the first NASCAR speaker to visit the NPC, giving a memorable talk in June 1998 — four months after he finally won the Daytona 500.

In October 2003, two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and then-NASCAR Chief Operating Officer George Pyne both spoke.

The NPC hosts an average of 70 luncheons yearly. Membership in the club is open to all active journalists, former journalists, government information officers and people considered by journalists to be regular news sources.

Reservations for Johnson’s appearance can be made by telephoning Pat Nelson at the National Press Club, (202) 662-7501. Media interested in attending should indicate they are a guest of NASCAR and Johnson, to get tickets at a reduced rate of $26.

NSCS — On The Track And Off

Carpentier Gets Second Shot At DIS

Riding the momentum of his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole, Patrick Carpentier (No. 10 Auto Valve Dodge) is ready for Daytona redemption.

The former CART/Champ Car open-wheel star failed to qualify at the Daytona 500 to open the season.

But that’s old news. Carpentier has qualified on time for 12 consecutive events.

“The pole last week was a great shot in the arm for this team,” Carpentier said. “This is exactly what this team has been waiting for. But now it’s time to put that behind us and look ahead.

“I’ve learned a lot about the drafting since we last visited Daytona. I think I can credit the Talladega race weekend for that. I ran both the Cup and Nationwide races. Even though the cars differ a little bit in how they handle in the draft, there’s a lot you can take between the two series.

“I was able to sit back and watch some of the best drafters in the series. I watched a lot of how Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon handled themselves in the draft and I tried to make mental notes of that.”

NASCAR Foundation Giving, Receiving

Prior to Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400, Betty Jane France, chairwoman of the NASCAR Foundation, will present a check for $80,000 to the Speediatrics children’s care unit located at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. That amount was donated via NASCAR Day on May 16, by the Daytona Beach area business

community.

France also will be on the receiving end, accepting a $410,000 donation to the Foundation from The Home Depot. Those funds were raised through a national in-store promotion to sell NASCAR Day pins.

The NASCAR Foundation was launched in January 2006. It supports a wide range of charitable initiatives. For more information on The NASCAR Foundation, please visit the website: www.nascar.com/foundation.

Pit Crew Champs Donating, Too

In addition, the pit crew of Brian Vickers’ No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, recent winners of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge, will visit Speediatrics at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

As part of the team’s reward for winning the Pit Crew Challenge, they were able to donate $23,793.25 to a charity of their choice. The team ultimately chose Speediatrics, and will present the check to the NASCAR-themed unit.

Up Next: Race To The Chase, Week 3 At Chicagoland Speedway

Racing in the nation’s third-largest market goes under the lights next week.

The LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speed- way will be held Saturday night, July 12 at 8 p.m. The move to the evening follows seven years of racing on Sunday afternoons at the 1.5-mile track located in Joliet, Illinois.

Tony Stewart is the race’s defending champion; he also won at Chicagoland in 2004. Kevin Harvick is the only other two-time winner in the event’s short history, as he won the race the first two years it was held.

The Race: Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, July 5
The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 400 miles/160 laps
TV: TNT, pre-race @ 6:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio
2007 Winner: Jamie McMurray
2007 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Series Standings
 Driver  Points
 1 Kyle Busch              2,496
 2 Jeff Burton                2,432
 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr.     2,352
 4 Carl Edwards            2,262
 5 Jimmie Johnson        2,220
 6 Jeff Gordon               2,171
 7 Denny Hamlin           2,150
 8 Greg Biffle                2,119
 9 Tony Stewart            2,042
10 Kasey Kahne           2,031
11 Clint Bowyer            2,021
12 Kevin

Harvick           2,016
Pre-Race Schedule: Thursday— Practice, 4-5:20 p.m. and 6:35-7:45. Friday—Qualifying, 4:10 p.m.

[story courtesy of NASCARmedia.com]

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