March to Miami: Harvick Leading, Hamlin Improves Seeding

The No. 48 is Hauled Away at Darlington

Jimmie Johnson's car is hauled off the track at Darlington after A.J. Allmendinger lost control of his brakes and slammed into the No. 48 at Darlington (photo courtesy: John Harrelson, Getty Images Sport)

Kevin Harvick heads to Dover this weekend—for Race 12 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami (Nov. 19-21)—leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship standings by 110 points over four-time reigning Champion Jimmie Johnson. For ticket information to see the NASCAR Champions crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 19-21, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

With a 38th-place finish last weekend, Johnson lost 100 points to Harvick, who he had trailed by just 10 points entering Darlington. That said, Johnson leads all active drivers with five Dover wins, and he swept both Dover events in 2009.

"I don't think there is a clear-cut answer [for my success there],” said Johnson. “Maybe confidence has something to do with it; when you win the spring race, you have a good starting point with your setup to come back in the fall and you're very confident about what you're feeling and the direction the car is going."

Denny Hamlin entered the 2010 season as the driver many felt would unseat the No. 48 as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, which will be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21. A slow start and knee surgery quelled those expectations, but after having arthroscopic surgery six weeks ago Hamlin has revved up rather than slowed down.

Hamlin has won three of the last six events—including Martinsville, Texas and last weekend at Darlington—and fulfilling pre-season predictions as a Championship contender now seems reality. He and Johnson lead all drivers with three wins so far this season, which translates into 30 Chase bonus points. The Top 12 Chase drivers—one of whom will claim the Championship crown at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21—are seeded according to the number of wins they accrue in the season's first 26 races; each victory is worth 10 points.

Said Hamlin following last weekend’s victory: "I didn't want to give up a bunch of bonus points to Jimmie if we did make the Chase—him having 80 bonus points. He's hard to beat anyway. But when you give somebody a 70- or 80-point bonus, that's a free bad race you can get. Seems like you can only afford one of them. For us it's about keeping even keel with them right now."

Hamlin, who won the Ford 400 during NASCAR’s 2009 crowning weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, sits in sixth place just 164 points behind leader Harvick.

NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., currently sits in 12th-place in the Sprint Cup Series Championship standings. The driver of the No. 88 car is only 39 points away from 10th-place fan-favorite Mark Martin. The third of these three Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Jeff Gordon, sits in fourth-place.

"Dover is a fast track, and it's bumpy. For a mile-long racetrack, it generates a lot of speed,” said Earnhardt Jr. “You have to make your car turn good to run on the bottom. The guy that runs the bottom the fastest is going to have a good day."

The next stop for Earnhardt, Johnson, Hamlin, Harvick, South Florida’s own Juan Pablo Montoya (see sidebar) and all of NASCAR’s elite is Dover on Sunday, May 16 (1 p.m., FOX TV). It’s Race 12 of 36 en route to crowning the Sprint Cup Champion in Miami Nov. 21. For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

All three of NASCAR’s premier racing series—the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series—again will crown Champions at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). For Ford Championship Weekend ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call toll free (866) 409-RACE.

On the Move: South Florida’s Montoya

Montoya at Dover

South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya climbed to 17th-place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship standings after a Top 5 finish in Race 11 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami (Nov. 19-21). Montoya is only 54 points away from the Top 12 points-standings Chase cutoff.

The driver of the No. 42 will be making his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this weekend at Dover, where he recorded his track-best fourth-place finish last fall.

“Dover is one of the easiest tracks for me because it has a lot of grip. So you can feel like you are driving the car like what I’ve been use to with my open-wheel background,” said Montoya, who has an average starting position of 15th and an average finishing position of 21st at Dover.

Said Montoya: “Dover typically has long green-flag runs so you work on the handling throughout the day and prepare for a lot of cautions in the end. A good spot in the pits helps, staying out of the fence and making a final charge at the end is the way to survive at Dover.”

Montoya and Team Target will use the same car that raced at Bristol, where the No. 42 qualified sixth and finished 26th after being involved in a 13-car incident. He raced this chassis twice last year—Michigan in June and Chicago in July—where it netted finishes of sixth and tenth, respectively

South Florida’s NASCAR hometown’er continues his pursuit of the Sprint Cup Series Championship—to be crowned Nov. 21 on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway—on Sunday, May 16, at Dover. The race will be broadcast on FOX at 1 PM.

Follow Juan Pablo Montoya
http://twitter.com/JPmontoya

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