Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup News & Notes

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

The lastest news and notes regarding the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heading to the April 18, 2009 event in Phoenix, Arizona.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 7, 2009) — The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns on Sunday, April 18 in Phoenix, Arizona for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. With seven races complete, 2009 has set the stage for one of the most anticipated championship races in years. Four of the top five in the point standings are previous series champions with a combined total of 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. This is about as good as it gets this early in the season.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), the standings leader, has four series championships (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001) and 82 career series victories; fifth on the all-time wins list, one behind Cale Yarborough. His win at Texas last week extended his lead to 162 points over second.

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), second in the standings, has three consecutive championships (2006-08) and 41 career series victories. His win two weeks ago at Martinsville and his second-place finish last week at Texas moved him up six spots in the standings. Johnson has won the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Phoenix International Raceway.

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), third in the standings, has one championship (2004) and 19 series victories. Busch has one win this season (Atlanta) with two top fives and four top 10s. Busch won at Phoenix in 2005.

Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet), fourth in the standings, is the odd man out when it comes to championships, but has two career series victories. Bowyer’s momentum has been built on consistent finishes this season, three top fives and four top 10s.

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet), fifth in the standings, has two series championships (2002, 2005) and 33 series victories. In his first season as an owner/driver, Stewart has posted two top fives and five top 10s. He won in his first start at Phoenix in 1999, starting 11th.

In total, 191 points separate first from fifth in the point standings after the season’s first seven races.

Gordon Has Chance To Settle Some Unfinished Business

Jeff Gordon is back on his game after capturing the checkered flag at Texas Motors Speedway last Sunday, officially ending his 47-race winless streak that dated back to Oct. 13, 2007.

Gordon has done a lot over his 18-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, but he is using this season to settle some unfinished business.

Gordon leads all active drivers in wins at different tracks, including 21 of 22 tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. The one track left on the active schedule where he hasn’t won is Homestead-Miami Speedway. Winning there would be big, but Gordon has set his eyes on a bigger prize.

Most notably on his list of “have yet to dos” is winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in the Chase format.

His two highest finishes in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup were third in the 2004 Chase, and second in the 2007 Chase.

Gordon leads the standings after the first seven races of 2009.

“It's great to be leading the points,” Gordon said. “But you want to be the guy to beat for the championship. If you're going to win this championship, you've got to show that you're strong, you're consistent and you can win.”

Drivers With The Most Wins At Different Tracks

Below are the active leaders for wins at the 22 different tracks currently on the NSCS schedule.

Rank   Driver                Number of Tracks
1.        Jeff Gordon          21
2.        Tony Stewart       19
3.        Jimmie Johnson   16
4.        Mark Martin         16
5.        Kyle Busch          13

Standings Shuffle: Big Names Knocking On Top 12’s Door

The standings continue to shuffle like a deck of cards and last Sunday was no exception. Jeff Burton (No. 31 CAT Chevrolet), driving for Richard Childress Racing, finished ninth at Texas Motor Speedway and moved up to 12th in the standings, the cut-off spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.  

Burton has posted one top five and three top 10s so far this season. When the series returns to Phoenix, Burton will use his previous experience of two wins, five top fives and 11 top 10s in 19 starts to continue his momentum in the standings.

Currently, 67 points separate positions 12th - 16th so don’t be surprised if the following drivers are right on Burton’s bumper.

Juan Pablo Montoya (No 42 Target Dodge), driving for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, is 13th in the standings, 16 points behind Burton.

Montoya has posted two top-10 finishes this season, including a seventh at Texas last Sunday, his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top-15 finish and a NASCAR career-first for him.

Montoya has four starts at Phoenix International Raceway with his best finish coming last season in the Subway Fresh Fit 500, where he placed 15th.

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), driving for Richard Childress Racing, is 14th in the standings, 39 points behind his teammate Jeff Burton in 12th.

This season Harvick has posted two top fives, three top 10s and one DNF (did not finish).

Harvick has made 12 starts at Phoenix with two wins (he swept the two events in 2006), three top fives and six top 10s.

Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford), driving for Roush Fenway Racing, is 15th in the series standings, 60 points behind Burton in 12th. His third-place finish at Texas moved him up nine spots in the standings.

Biffle has posted two top fives, three top 10s and two DNFs in the first seven races of the season.

Biffle has made 10 starts at Phoenix, posting two top fives and three top 10s. He finished ninth in last year’s spring event.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/ National Guard Chevrolet), driving for Hendrick Motorsports, is 16th in the standings, 67 points behind Burton in 12th.

Earnhardt hasn’t started the season like he had hoped having posted two top-10 finishes and one DNF.

A two-time winner at Phoenix, Earnhardt heads to PIR looking to rebound. He has posted four top fives and seven top 10s in 13 starts at Phoenix.

When asked what he would be doing during the off week Earnhardt responded, “I’m going to go to Whiskey River and I’m going to go on vacation during Easter and take it easy, man.”

Johnson And Knaus: A Combination Not To Ignore

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48, have been the most dynamic duo in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage for the past three seasons, and this season is proving to be no exception.

Johnson and Knaus have been working together for the past eight years in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But the past three years they have been dominant, posting three consecutive championships, 22 wins (eight of which were Chase races), 48 top fives and 70 top 10s.

In 2008 Knaus became the first crew chief in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships.

In 2009, Johnson and Knaus are at it again. With much of the focus placed on his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and standings leader Jeff Gordon, Johnson has been able to move up to second in the standings after finishing second at Texas Motor Speedway.

In the first seven races of 2009 Johnson has posted one win (Martinsville), three top fives and five top 10s.

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action at Phoenix International Raceway, watch for Johnson to be up front. He has won the last three races (2007 fall event and both 2008 events) for a series-high at Phoenix.

Johnson has the chance to become the only active driver to win four consecutive races at two different tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Lowe’s Motor Speedway is where Johnson has four consecutive wins.

NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data for Phoenix has Johnson on top of several key categories: ranked first in Driver Rating (122.0); first in Average Running Position (4.9); and first in Laps In The Top 15 (95.4%).

Loop Data: “Four-Time” Leader of the Statistical Pack

Entering last Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon put his name in the discussion of “who is currently the sport’s best driver?”

He had all the statistics to make a strong case, except one. Gordon hadn’t won in 47 races, a strong counterpoint to any argument involving Gordon’s candidacy in the discussion.

Well, now there’s no argument. Gordon has his long awaited win – and is lapping the field in almost all other key statistics:

  • Percentage of Laps in Top 15: 97.5% (second place: Jimmie Johnson, 87.6%)
  • Driver Rating: 121.6 (second place: Johnson, 108.5)
  • Average Running Position: 5.175 (second place: Johnson, 7.935)
  • Mid-Race Average Running Position: 2.6 (second place: Denny Hamlin, 6.9)

Fastest Laps Run: 230 (second place: Greg Biffle and Johnson at 163).

Gordon also has a hefty 162-point lead on second-place Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

Statistically, three drivers are in Gordon’s stratosphere: Johnson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.

In most categories, Johnson ranks second when Gordon ranks first – including the points standings.

Kyle Busch leads the series in Laps Led, heading the field 519 times (22% of the laps). The Loop Data box score also points out a reason why Busch has led so many laps: He’s really hard to pass.

Busch has been past fewer times than any driver who has competed in all seven races this season – 281 times. He is the only driver under 300 in that category. Gordon has been passed 312 times. While Johnson and third-place driver Kurt Busch have been passed 423 and 456 times, respectively.

Also a pass king in the early going is Edwards. He leads the series in Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green) with 379. Edwards also has the highest Pass Differential (passes minus times passed), with 103. He has made 473 passes, but has been passed only 370 times.

Rookie Logano “On The Bubble” Of The Top 35 In Owner Standings After Seven Races

Each week the teams outside the top 35 in car owner points have to qualify on time, which makes the 35th and last spot “on the bubble” in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner standings highly coveted.

Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and Joe Gibbs currently are 35th in car owner points — 21-points behind Robby Gordon (No. 7 Jim Beam Toyota) in 34th.

Logano’s best finish of the season (13th) came at Las Vegas.

Logano has not made a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Phoenix, but has one start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series where he finished 10th.

David Gilliland (No. 71 Capital Window Chevrolet), driving for Kevin Buckler, is 36th in car owner points — 23 points behind 35th.

Gilliland posted his best finish (14th) at Las Vegas this season.

He has made four starts at Phoenix, posting a best finish of 15th last season in the spring event.

Phoenix could be the weekend Gilliland gets back into the top 35 in car owner points.

NASCAR Season-To-Date Loop Data has Gilliland ranked higher in Average Running Position with (29.083) than Logano’s Average Running Position (29.137). Gilliland also edges Logano in season-to-date Driver Rating with Gilliland posting a 51.4 driver rating and Logano a 49.0.

Aric Almirola (No. 8 Guitar Hero Metallica Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi are 37th in car owner points — 59 points behind 35th.

Driving for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing he posted a best finish of 21st at Atlanta.

Almirola has only one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Phoenix in 2007. He finished 26th.

Reutimann Continues To Hold Strong In The Top 12 In Points

David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) is 11th in the series standings after posting an 11th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. Reutimann won the pole for last Sunday’s Samsung 500, his first series pole of the season and second of his career.

Reutimann is six points behind 10th-place Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) and 309 points behind the standings leader Jeff Gordon. The 2009 season has been the best start of Reutimann’s four-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. He has one top five and one pole in the first seven races. His average finish in the first seven races is 15th.

He has made three starts at Phoenix International Raceway, having posted a best finish of 18th last April.

Reutimann is ranked 11th in NASCAR’s season-to-date Driver Rating with (82.8).

NSCS Etc.

Double-Duty Drivers Go For “Dash for Cash” in Nashville: Five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota), David Ragan (No. 6 Discount Tire Ford), Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota) will not be taking the weekend off, but instead are competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Nashville Superspeedway.

This week Edwards and Busch have even more of an incentive to win in Nashville because it’s Nationwide’s inaugural “Dash 4 Cash” event.

The Nationwide “Dash 4 Cash” provides an additional payout to NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers – $25,000 to the eligible winner of each of the four races and a $50,000 bonus to the driver who accumulates the most NASCAR Nationwide Series championship driver points during the four stand-alone events within the program.

The program is open to all NASCAR Nationwide Series regulars and up-and-coming drivers, regardless of whether they have a full-time or part-time ride in the series. Drivers who have a full-time ride in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series must enter, qualify for and compete in every NASCAR Nationwide Series event to be eligible for the bonus cash.

Should an eligible driver not win the opening race at Nashville and collect the “Dash 4 Cash” bonus, the $25,000 prize will roll over to the next race, June 13 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky. The two remaining races in the first-of-its-kind program are August 1 at Iowa Speedway and October 24 at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Off Track News This Week:

Ex-Football Star Michael Strahan Named Grand Marshal for Subway Fresh Fit 500 at PIR:  Former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan – who holds the NFL’s record for most sacks in a single season – has been named Grand Marshal for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, April 18. .

Strahan, a Subway® national spokesperson and an NFL analyst for FOX, will work in conjunction with the track in welcoming fans, drivers, and teams to Phoenix for the first official night race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

NASCAR Weekly Teleconference: This week Brad Keselowski and Scott Wimmer fielded questions from the media on the Tuesday call. For a full transcript and downloadable audio visit NASCARMedia.com.

Jeff Gordon Contributes Off The Track: Each year The Jeff Gordon Foundation hosts a very special raffle to support the many programs dedicated to helping children. Tickets purchased for this raffle benefit their fight against pediatric cancer, as well as their support of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital and the Texas Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities.

“So many children rely on the generosity of our donors to ensure that they will have access to the most promising research and treatment programs available,” said Gordon.

Purchase your tickets and be among the select few who have a chance to drive home in Gordon’s personal 2008 Z06 Corvette. The winner will be announced on Sunday, Nov. 8. Only 5,000 raffle tickets will be sold and can be purchased online at www.jeffgordonfoundation.org for $100 each through October 18, 2009.

Up Next: Phoenix International Raceway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series journeys west to Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

The Sunday, April 18 event will be televised by FOX. The pre-race show starts at 8 p.m. ET with the race starting at approximately 8:30.

Jimmie Johnson has won the last three races at Phoenix. His three victories leads the series in wins there.

Ryan Newman is the defending pole winner for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. Newman leads the series with the most poles at Phoenix with four.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Subway Fresh Fit 500

The Date: Saturday, April 18

The Track: Phoenix International Raceway; 1 mile tri-oval

The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

The Distance: 500 kilometers/312 laps/312 miles

TV: FOX , 8 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Ryan Newman

2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

Schedule: Friday—Practice, 10:10 a.m.-12 p.m.; Final Practice, 12:30-2 p.m.; Qualifying, 4:10 p.m.




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.




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