New twist in Race 5 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami
Dale Jr. and the No. 88 has improved in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and resides just one spot out of Chase qualification (photo courtesy: John Harrelson, Getty Images Sport)
The outcome of this weekend’s race could go a long way for drivers looking to be on stage for the crowning of NASCAR’s 2010 Sprint Cup Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.
What’s different about this weekend? At Bristol, the extension of the steel-and-foam energy-reduction barrier (SAFER) will narrow the short track by nearly 84 feet in Turns 2 and 4. The move was made in an effort to induce tighter racing for the fans.
One driver looking to slice into Kevin Harvick’s points lead is fan-favorite Mark Martin, who enters Race 5 of 36—culminating with Ford Championship Weekend in Miami—seventh in the Sprint Cup Series standings. At this time last year, Martin was 34th after suffering bad luck in the beginning of the season. In four races this season, he has scored two Top 5 finishes, two Top 10s and one pole.
…Speaking of, Martin has earned nine pole positions at Bristol, which is more than any other active driver and ties NASCAR‘s legendary driver Cale Yarborough for first all-time. Last year at Bristol, Martin swept both pole-position starting spots and earned four straight from 1995-96. His next Sprint Cup pole will be the 50th.
"Both times we went to Bristol last year, the guys gave me an awesome race car,” said Martin, who finished sixth in the spring race last year at Bristol and second there last August, which also happened to be his 1000th start. “It's so rewarding to see the guys’ faces when we're at the top of the chart. I didn't realize it at the time, but after intros and it being my 1000th start, and the way the fans reacted, and the music—it was just all really amazing. "
Martin’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is riding a wave of improved performance into Bristol. For the second week in a row, the No. 88 has improved in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and resides just one spot out of Chase qualification.
“Bristol is a pretty physically demanding track, but we’ve always been pretty good there,” said Earnhardt Jr. “Bristol is a tough track. I got to go there when I was growing up, and I always look forward to going back.”
After finishing 15th at Atlanta, Junior advanced two spots to 13th and trails 12th-place runner Scott Speed by seven points, 10th-place Kurt Busch by 27 points and fifth-place Clint Bowyer by just 83 points. It’s a tight race for the Top 12 spots serving as the cutoff spot for NASCAR’s Championship that will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.
Race 5 in the pursuit of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series Championship—to be crowned Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—is slated for Sunday, March 21, at Bristol, and will be broadcast on FOX at 1 PM.
All three of NASCAR’s premier racing series—the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series—again will crown Champions during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call toll free (866) 409-RACE.
Montoya’s Average Start up to 5.8
In Race 4 at Atlanta, South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya brought home a third-place finish after running in the Top 10 for all but 17 of the 341 laps completed. It was the first Top 5 of the season for the No. 42 and helped advance the Target Chevrolet five positions to 21st in the point standings. This week at Bristol, it’s on to Race 5 of 36 in NASCAR’s 2010 Sprint Cup season that will culminate with Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Montoya’s “home track.”
At the Race 5 mark this year, it’s deja vu all over again: After Montoya’s third-place finish at Atlanta, the No. 42 gained five positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship standings to currently sit 21st , 226 points behind points-leader Kevin Harvick. At this point last season, Montoya sat 21st in the point standings, 226 points behind then-points leader Jeff Gordon.
Last year at Bristol, Montoya finished a career-best ninth. The brash Columbian was in line to top that in the August race until a flat tire late in the race caused him to finish 24th. In the summer race, he held an average running position of eighth and spent 92.6 percent of the race in the Top 15—both better numbers than he compiled in March. Coming off a 2010-high third place in Race 4, Montoya has the momentum and the recent history to slide his way into a solid finish at Bristol.
“I actually enjoy racing at Bristol; it’s one of those tracks that is intimidating at first, but I caught on to it pretty quickly,” said Montoya. “You are on the wheel all the time, and it’s one of those tracks that you want to be running up front. It’s when you get into the back of the pack that it’s a nightmare and can make for a very long day. Our results have been strong there and I’m sure [crew chief] Brian Pattie and the guys will give me a strong Target Chevrolet for the race on Sunday.”
Montoya has been on a hot streak when it comes to his qualifying efforts in 2010: In the first four races of the 2010 season, he has qualified eighth (Daytona), second (Fontana), 10th (Las Vegas) and third (Atlanta). This gives Montoya an average starting position of 5.8 heading into Bristol this weekend.