NASCAR Reaches Halfway on Road to Miami Nov. 18-20

Kyle Busch Kentucky

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch led 125 of 267 laps to pick up his 22nd Sprint Cup Series victory last weekend at Kentucky, his 99th overall NASCAR win and the points lead for the first time since Phoenix — Race 2 of 36 on the Road to the Miami Championship Nov. 20 (photo courtesy: Sean Gardner, Getty Images Sport)

Kyle Busch rolled to victory in the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky last weekend, pulling away from Jimmie Johnson on a restart with three laps to go to collect his third victory of the season and jump into the points lead with two months to go before NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup begins. The winner of which will be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Ford Championship Weekend for a 10th consecutive season Nov. 18-20. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

''This is cool man,'' Busch said. ''This is right up there with the best of them.''

Busch moved into the points lead as the season reached its halfway point. He leads Carl Edwards by four points heading into this weekend’s race at New Hampshire with about two months to go before the Chase begins. The Chase will culminate with NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend for the 10th consecutive season at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 18-20. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

However, it was the first race of the season that got the ball rolling for the 2011 NASCAR season which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Trevor Bayne opened the story of 2011, a surprise winner in the biggest race of them all – an event which featured a track-record number of leaders and lead changes.

Acting as the perfect table-setter, the 53rd Annual Daytona 500 set a tone for the entire first half, one that featured three first-time winners – Bayne, Regan Smith and David Ragan – and the highest leader and lead change numbers in the 63-year history of the series.

"I would say that parity is really the first thing that comes to mind [when thinking about the first half],” said five-time defending series champion Johnson. “There have been some guys that have flexed muscle at times, but no one consistently has just schooled everybody. It's been very, very equal this year and unpredictable, if you will. A lot of first-time winners, which is great to have, and no runaways right now so it's been an exciting time for the fans I believe. And then also, we've been acting like fools out there at times so that's always spicing things up."

Intriguing storylines join the robust statistics, a combination that will soon usher in NASCAR’s playoffs – the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway. There are eight races left to determine those drivers eligible for the Chase For The Sprint Cup which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

Some of those first-half storylines:

• Jeff Gordon makes history. At Pocono in June, Gordon nabbed his 84th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, tying NASCAR Hall of Famer and Miami native Bobby Allison and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip for third on the all-time list.

• The new Wild Card rule ratchets up intensity. After Race 26 at Richmond International Raceway, the Top 10 drivers earn berths in the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Spots 11 and 12 go to those outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20. Currently, David Ragan and two-time Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart hold the two Wild Card spots. Ragan sits in 15th place and collected his wild card spot thanks to his Coke Zero 400 win at Daytona. Brad Keselowski and Regan Smith both have wins, but need to vault into the Top 20 for Chase consideration.

• Kyle Busch nears triple-digit victory numbers. Winning two-of-three at Kentucky last  weekend, Busch tallied NASCAR national series career victories 98 and 99. The win breakdown: 22 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 48 in NASCAR Nationwide Series and 29 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. With his next victory, Busch will join NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and David Pearson as the only drivers in NASCAR history with 100 or more national series wins.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoys a resurgent season. Though NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver has fallen from third to eighth in the points standings over the last three races, his numbers in 2011 already match those of 2010. Through 18 races this season, he has three Top fives and eight Top 10s – the exact same figures he amassed in all 36 races last season.

• Serious candidates emerge to end five-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s reign. Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined to lead the points after 16 of the 18 races. Harvick and Busch lead the series in victories, with three apiece. Busch has led 1,060 laps – compared to Johnson’s 473, which ranks second. Edwards was a popular preseason pick to unseat five-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson this fall when NASCAR crowns a Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

• A feud is lit, and simmers. At Darlington, Harvick and Busch engaged in a juicy post-race fracas. Both were put on four-race probation – a penalty that has since expired. The animosity is fascinating for two reasons: 1) Neither shies away from a skirmish; and 2) They’re both legitimate championship contenders.


In some cases, the first half boasted numbers previously unseen in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. Here are some of the statistics gleaned from the first 18 races:

• 12 different winners. Last time there were more through 18 races was 2003. Last year, there were seven different first-half winners
• 12 different Coors Light Pole winners
• An average of 14 different leaders per race, most through 18 races in history
• An average of 31 lead changes per race, most through 18 races in history
• 44 different drivers have led at least one lap
• 30 drivers have scored at least one top 10
• Average Margin of Victory of 1.552 seconds
• 9 races with an MOV under one second
• Average of 3,940 passes per race, the most through 18 races since the inception of Loop
Data in 2005.
• Average of 39 green flag passes for the lead (all around the track), second-highest total through 18 races since the inception of Loop Data in 2005

There are eight races left to determine those drivers eligible for the Chase For The Sprint Cup which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Though this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver field remains at 12, the makeup has changed a bit. After race No. 26, the Top 10 drivers in the series standings will qualify for the 12-driver 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

But don’t forget the potential Chase bonus points. After race No. 26, all 12 Chase drivers will have their points reset to 2,000, but only the Top 10 drivers earn three bonus points for each win tallied over the course of the regular season.

Eight unique tracks make up this vital portion of the upcoming schedule, and the roster befits the importance. No two tracks are alike, be it in distance or in layout.

A rundown of the upcoming tracks, a list that includes some of the most historic and interesting venues in motorsports:

New Hampshire Motor Speedway (one-mile oval): A preview of the second Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup event. Wild Card Implication: There have been six different winners in the last six races.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile oval): Ever since the series’ inaugural race at the legendary track in 1994, the Brickyard 400 was immediately slotted as one of the sport’s “Crown Jewels.” Wild Card Implication: Defending champion Jamie McMurray likely needs a Wild Card-spot to land a Chase berth. Same goes for his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate, Miami’s own Juan Pablo Montoya, who has run well there – and boasts an Indianapolis 500 victory.

Pocono Raceway (2.5-mile triangle): Simply put, there’s no track like it in NASCAR racing. Three unique turns give way to three straight-aways of varying length. Wild Card Implication: Denny Hamlin, currently in 11th, has four Pocono victories. Another would likely lock him into the Chase.

Watkins Glen International (2.45-mile road course): One of two road courses on the series schedule (and the only one during the Race to the Chase), new faces often appear in The Glen’s Victory Lane. Wild Card Implication: Montoya won last year’s event. Also, road-course savvy Marcos Ambrose could immediately become a Chase contender with a victory.

Michigan International Speedway (2-mile tri-oval): Wide open and multi-grooved, the visit to the Irish Hills of Michigan often results in big passing numbers. Wild Card Implication: Four of the last five races have been won by drivers currently outside the top 10 (Denny Hamlin, two; Brian Vickers and Mark Martin, one apiece).

Bristol Motor Speedway (.533 oval): The first of two short tracks during the Race to the Chase, the “Bristol Night Race” is considered one of the must-see-live events for any sports fan. Wild Card Implication: Tight Bristol confines could wreck – literally – any contender’s chances.

Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile tri-oval): Considered one of the fastest tracks in the series, this race has become an anticipated Labor Day tradition. Wild Card Implication: The last two winners of the Labor Day Weekend event – Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart – both currently sit outside the top 10.

Richmond International Raceway (.75-mile tri-oval): It all comes down to this, the Chase cut-off race. Once the checkered flies, the 12-driver Chase field will be set. Wild Card Implication: This one occasionally comes down to an all-or-nothing strategy. That blueprint should be the case again – even more so – with the Wild Card in play.

The Events:
July 17 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
July 31 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Aug. 7 – Pocono Raceway
Aug. 14 – Watkins Glen International
Aug. 21 – Michigan International Speedway
Aug. 27 – Bristol Motor Speedway
Sept. 4 – Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sept. 10 – Richmond International Raceway

Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click here or call (866) 409-RACE.The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

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