Halfway to the Chase Cut-off En Route to Miami Championship

Martin Truex on the Chase Bubble

Martin Truex Jr. enters Race 13 holding down the 12th spot, but 2009 Chasers Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as three-time Chase participant Dale Earnhardt Jr., all are within striking distance (photo courtesy: Jason Smith, Getty Images Sport)

Twelve races down with 14 to go before NASCAR launches into the Chase for the Sprint Cup that culminates at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Ford Championship Weekend (Nov. 19-21). Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned go on sale to the general public July 3 (renewal deadline is June 15). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

This week, the Sprint Cup Series plays a “home game” in Charlotte with the running of the Coca-Cola 600, as drivers look to gain momentum towards a Nov. 21 Miami Championship. The Top 12 points leaders will qualify for the Chase, and entering Race 13 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in South Florida, just 112 points separate 12th place and 19th place in the Sprint Cup Standings.

For the Chase, drivers will be seeded according to the number of wins they accrue in the season's first 26 races; each victory is worth 10 bonus points. Martin Truex Jr. enters Race 13 holding down the 12th spot, but 2009 Chasers Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as three-time Chase participant Dale Earnhardt Jr., all are within striking distance.

Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, finds himself 43 points outside of the Top 12 Chase qualifiers—one of whom will claim the Championship crown at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.

“The 600 is a long race, and the track conditions change quickly,” he said. “You have to have a car that is adaptable. It's not as physically demanding as it is mentally. You have to keep yourself focused and the team focused."

Last year’s Championship runner-up in Miami, Mark Martin, sits in 11th place after the first 12 races and will be a factor in the coming weeks as the Chase field starts to formalize. The perennial fan favorite will drive the No. 5 car featuring a patriotic theme this weekend in tribute to the United States military.

“I'll give everything I possibly have to this race on Sunday, just like I do for every race,” said Martin. “I don't really think about how I feel physically during a race. There's just too much going on, and I'm too focused on all of that.”

In last year’s Coca-Cola 600, South Florida-resident Montoya finished a Charlotte career-best 8th, and he hopes that success will continue this weekend (see sidebar).

Montoya, Earnhardt Jr., Martin and all of NASCAR’s elite will look to gain momentum in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (5:45 p.m., FOX TV)—Race 13 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). Tickets to see NASCAR’s Champions crowned go on sale to the general public on July 3 (renewal deadline is June 15). For more information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

 

On the Move: South Florida’s Montoya

Montoya at Charlotte

With 14 races left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set, South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya sits 112 points outside the Top 12 points standings to qualify for the Chase “playoffs,” which culminate with NASCAR’s series-crowning finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.

 “Well we’re hoping for a better result than last weekend’s Showdown race,” Montoya said. “There is no doubt our cars are fast at Charlotte Motor Speedway; we realized that at the test session earlier this year, and with the strong qualifying and practice run last week. Now if we can get the results to back-up that performance, we’ll be in good shape. I know this Target team has it in them if we can just keep the bad luck away from us!”

This weekend marks the two-year anniversary for Montoya and No. 42 crew chief Brian Pattie, as the pairing first came together for the 2008 Coca-Cola 600. In 61 races together, the duo has two pole awards, 12 Top 5s, 25 Top 10s and seven Top 15 finishes. This weekend also will mark the 10-year anniversary of Montoya winning the Indianapolis 500 in his first and only start.

Said a reflective Montoya: “Now that I look back, it’s cool that we won it. It is a huge deal. Even when I won Monaco, you don’t think about it. You just get in the car and see what happens. It means more to me now than it did then. I wanted to show everybody that day. Isn’t that what I’m here to do?”

Montoya nearly became the first driver ever to win the Indianapolis Motor Speedway “doubleheader”—both the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400—when he dominated last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race, leading 116 laps only to get nailed for a speeding penalty on pit road late in the race.

Montoya enters Race 13 sitting 19th in the Sprint Cup Series Championship driver standings, 112 points away from the Top 12 NASCAR Chase qualifiers—one of whom will claim the Championship crown at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.

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