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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Bristol

Any driver with a 391-point lead over 13th place after the Bristol race ends will clinch a spot in the 10-race championship battle.


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) are the only two drivers who can clinch a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Any driver with a 391-point lead over 13th place after the race clinches a spot in the 10-race championship battle. Second-place Gordon currently leads 13th by 437 points, Johnson leads by 418. In other words, Gordon can lose 46 points and Johnson can lose 27 points to 13th place and still clinch.

If the Hendrick Motorsports teammates do clinch Chase berths this weekend, they would join standings leader Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet), whose 17th-place finish at Michigan made him the first driver to clinch a spot in the 2009 Chase. The three are the only active drivers with multiple championships, boasting nine NASCAR Sprint Cup championships, total.

While Gordon and Johnson would certainly enjoy clinching their Chase berths, you can bet that both teams will be focused on their own results, not on where they compare to 13th place.

Using those guidelines, Gordon can clinch his spot by finishing sixth or better without leading a lap, seventh leading at least one lap or eighth leading the most laps, regardless of what any other driver does.

Johnson needs to finish second or better, third leading a lap or fourth leading the most laps, to clinch.

Busch Needs To Follow Vickers’ Lead To The Chase

There is a simple equation for drivers rallying to put themselves in position to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – the higher you finish, the more points you receive.

Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) fully embraced that concept last weekend in Michigan when he laid his Chase hopes on the line to go for the victory, and the accompanying 185 points. Vickers’ gamble worked out to a tee; he gained 115 points on 12th place and moved up one position in the standings. With only three races remaining before the Chase begins, Vickers is in 13th place, only 12 points out of Chase eligibility.

Are you listening Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)? Not that Busch’s style isn’t already do-or-die.

Busch was second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with eight wins last season. He currently occupies the same position, with three 2009 victories.

The difference, however is that Busch was the points leader for much of last year and is currently three positions on the wrong side of the Chase cut-off by 70 points. That could be due to the fact Busch has finished 22nd or worse more times this year (10) than he has in the top 10 (seven).

With only three races remaining to secure a berth in the 2009 Chase, Busch must do what he’s already done twice in his career – win at Bristol. Busch was dominate at the half-mile oval in March, leading a race-high 378 laps en route to Victory Lane and a near-perfect Driver Rating (149.2). A repeat performance would go a long way in bringing Busch’s Chase hopes closer to fruition.

 

If Busch wins the Sharpie 500 Saturday night and leads the most laps, he will earn 195 points. That would mean drivers in positions 12-14 must finish 12th or better (127 points) to remain ahead of Busch. Looking at history, the advantage would certainly go to Busch. Mark Martin (No. 5 Pop-Tarts/CARQUEST Chevrolet), currently in 12th place, has averaged a 13th-place finish in 41 career Bristol races and has only two top 10s in his last 13 attempts. Vickers’ average finish is 26th with two finishes higher than 20th in 10 career starts and 14th-place Clint Bowyer’s (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) average finish is 14th in seven races.
 

Bristol Three-Peat Would Boost Morale, Shore Up Chase Position For Edwards

Weathering a long winless streak is nothing new to Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford). After all, the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runner-up had to endure a 52-race stretch without a victory from Nov. 2005–June 2007 after bursting onto the scene with four wins in his first full season (2005).

His latest streak isn’t quite as long, but is just as puzzling.

Edwards last won at Homestead-Miami Speedway to close out the 2008 season. Despite falling short in the championship battle, Edwards won three of the final four races and finished with a series-high nine victories.

He was supposed to continue on the same path in 2009 and contend for the championship. While Edwards has kept himself in Chase contention the entire season, he has yet to find Victory Lane.

“From where I sit, I think I’ve done as good or better job this season than I had last season,” Edwards said. “We don’t have the results to show for it, but I feel I’ve done a really good job.”

Edwards pointed out three races that he felt he could have won if circumstances fell another way – Texas, where he had trouble on pit road, Talladega, which ended with a last-lap accident and Pocono, when his fuel strategy forced him to conserve fuel at the end of the race.

“It’s funny,” Edwards said. “As a driver, I go out and do the very best I can in every race. I mean I drive as hard as I can, I try to get everything I can. And at the end of the race, you get your result. If it’s a win, then that’s great. If it’s 20th and you did your job right, that’s all a person can do.”

This weekend is as good as any for Edwards to return to his back-flipping ways. He is the two-time defending race winner and is in the top 10 in several loop data categories at Bristol, including Average Running Position, Driver Rating and Fastest Laps Run. A win would give his team an extra confidence boost headed to the Chase, not to mention 10 bonus points.

“Trust me,” Edwards said. “If I win the Cup race, it’ll be no problem doing a backflip. I’ll have lots of energy.”

Martin Stands To Gain The Most By Earning Chase Berth

Mark Martin’s performance at Michigan  this past Sunday epitomized what the No. 5 team has faced all season. When the team is on, they are one of the most unbeatable teams on the track. Martin’s series-high four victories easily confirms that premonition.

But when things don’t quite line up as planned, Martin’s performance plummets. He has finished 30th or worse seven times, including Sunday’s 31st-place finish, and worse than 40th three times.

The price of the fuel mileage gamble was approximately 80 points, as Martin was in line for a possible top-five finish. That difference would have given Martin breathing room in his quest to make his fourth Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Instead, he’s teetering on the Chase bubble, only 12 points ahead of 13th place.

Martin has three races left to step up his game and lock in a Chase berth. If he were to hold on, Martin’s four wins would make him the top seed entering the Chase and give him 40 bonus points.

The first remaining test is Saturday at Bristol, where Martin will hit a significant milestone, regardless of the outcome. Martin will be making his 1,000th start in NASCAR national series competition. He’s had 745 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 231 NASCAR Nationwide Series and 23 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts in his illustrious 27-year career.

“That’s a lot of races,” Martin said. “I didn’t realize that I was even close to that many. To me, personally, 1,000 starts is not that big of a deal. How many wins I have in those 1,000 starts would be a stat I would be more interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great, but I don’t view starting races as a huge accomplishment. I would say, the wins, poles, top-five and top-10 finishes in those 1,000 starts is a bigger deal.”

Those numbers are just as impressive.

In his first 999 starts, Martin has 94 wins, 375 top fives and 574 top 10s, not to mention 78 poles.

Despite recent struggles at Bristol, Martin has two wins, 15 top fives and 22 top 10s in 41 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts. It is also one of four tracks at which Martin has at least one win in all three national series (Dover, Auto Club, Talladega).

Loop Data Shows Stewart A Bristol Threat, Despite Poor Finishes

Only three races remain before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which means only 30 potential Chase bonus points are left to be had.

The top seed in the Chase is still up for grabs. Mark Martin, the current leader with 40 potential bonus points, is tip-toeing the cut-off line, 12 points ahead of 13th-place Brian Vickers.

That leaves Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Stewart, who clinched a Chase berth at Michigan, has three wins for 30 bonus points. Johnson also has 30 points, and has a solid shot at clinching at Bristol.

Statistically, Stewart is the favorite of the two for Bristol’s 10 bonus points. Though finishing in the top 10 in just two of the last seven races, Stewart’s results are deceiving.

In the last seven Bristol starts, Stewart has an average finish of 16.0. The numbers improve from there: a Driver Rating of 101.5, an Average Running Position of 11.8, 206 Fastest Laps Run and 769 Laps Led.

Much of the reason for the poor finishes is bad luck. In three of the last seven, Stewart has led more than 200 laps – and finished in the top 10 in none of them. In March of 2006, he led 245 laps and finished 12th. In March of 2007, he finished 35th after leading 257 laps. Finally, in last year’s March race, he led 267 laps in a 14th-place finish.

The same can’t be said for Johnson, who struggles at Bristol. Since 2005, Bristol is statistically Johnson’s worst track. His 78.7 Driver Rating makes Bristol his worst track – by a healthy margin. Johnson’s second-worst track in terms of Driver Rating is Infineon Raceway (80.4).

None of his key statistics rank in the top 10. Johnson’s Driver Rating is 18th-best, his Average Running Position of 16.8 is 18th-best, his 99 Fastest Laps Run is 14th-best and his Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 59.3% is 14th-best.

But, Johnson is coming off his best Bristol finish. In a third-place finish in March, he scored a Driver Rating of 123.6, an Average Running Position of 2.2, 37 Fastest Laps Run, 88 Laps Led and ran all 503 laps in the top 15.

Bowyer Inching Closer To Chase Goal

Clint Bowyer’s Chase hopes looked bleak leaving Indianapolis Motor Speedway three weeks ago. He was mired in 16th place, 151 points behind the important 12th-place Chase cutoff.

Worse yet, Bowyer had to tackle three difficult tracks – Pocono, Watkins Glen and Michigan – at which he had traditionally struggled.

No problem.

Bowyer stepped up his game, finishing third at Pocono, ninth at Watkins Glen and eighth at Michigan. All three finishes were career highs for Bowyer at each track. In that three week span, Bowyer nipped 93 points off his Chase deficit. He has moved up to 14th place and is only 58 points back.

“We did exactly what we needed to do,” Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “We needed a top-10 finish and that’s what we got. It was a good finish for us, point-wise. We’re still very much alive in the chase to get into the Chase. If we can keep picking up finishes like this and capitalizing on some of the misfortunes of some of the others, we’ll find ourselves in this thing come New Hampshire.” 

Look for Bowyer’s streak to continue – he has top-10 finishes in 11 of the 21 races he’s run at Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, the final three races until the Chase begins.

When Double Duty Driving Isn’t Enough – Newman To Attempt Bristol Grand Slam

Life is good if you’re a Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet) fan in Bristol this week. The eight-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran will be attempting the Bristol “grand slam,” adding the Friday night NASCAR Nationwide Series race and both halves of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series/NASCAR Whelen Modified Series doubleheader on Wednesday night to his schedule.

It will be the first time that a driver will be competing in all three national series races plus a touring series event in the same week.

Newman will kick off his week Wednesday evening driving a modified for a team owned by Kevin “Bono” Manion, crew chief of the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops-Tracker Boats Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Newman will be making his third appearance in a modified, all three for Manion. He finished 20th at New Hampshire in 2008 and 34th there earlier this season.

Newman will be joined in the Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified combination race by Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge). Kahne finished 31st in this year’s New Hampshire Whelen Modified race.

In addition to the duo racing modifieds, three drivers – Newman, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola (No. 09 Miccosukee Indian Gaming & Resort Dodge) – will be racing in Wednesday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and 12 will be competing in Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Newman has 21 career Bristol starts, 15 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and six in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. His only victory there came in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2005.

Where To Next? A Fan’s Guide To Bristol-Area NASCAR Happenings

Plenty To Do Thursday Despite Dark Track

For those looking to keep occupied in the Tri-Cities area on Thursday, don’t wander far from the streets of downtown Bristol. Food City Family Race Night returns to Bristol with a full day of driver autograph sessions, racing simulators and live entertainment.

The action kicks off at 1 p.m. on State Street in downtown Bristol. Tickets are available in advance for $5 at area Food City locations or for $6 at the event with proceeds benefiting The Paramount Center for the Arts. Children 12-and-under are admitted free.

The event runs until 9 p.m. but is immediately followed by the popular Ford Presents the BMS Transporter Parade.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series transporters that carry cars and equipment to each race will parade down the 10-mile stretch from the Bristol Mall to Bristol Motor Speedway for the 13th consecutive year.

Thousands of fans line the route each year to watch the haulers make the stretch-run to BMS. Inside, hauler drivers will help in making dreams come true as many of them will carry a child from either the Make-A-Wish Foundation or the Children’s Miracle Network.

Fans Have Options Inside, Outside BMS

Despite approximately 10 hours of on-track activity on Friday, Bristol Motor Speedway has offered outside alternatives to the 160,000+ fans expected in “Thunder Valley” this weekend.

An example is the new Scotts Turf Builder Cornhole Classic, matching fans in the popular bean-bag tossing game often seen in track infields.

Tournaments are being held at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday for a $40 entry fee. All proceeds benefit the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities. Top prizes include BMS season suite tickets for 2010 and a free camping space for the 2010 season.

On Saturday morning, fans can start their race day with a walk around the famous half-mile race track as part of the NASCAR Foundation/Speedway Children’s Charities Track Walk. Information is available Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Gate 9 Registration Location in the fan zone area.

Loyal Fans Extend Sellout Streak To 55

While the race is always unpredictable, one thing you can always count on at Bristol Motor Speedway is a full house.

Track President and General Manager Jeff Byrd announced the track’s 55th consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sellout on Aug. 11.

The streak began Aug. 28, 1982 when Darrell Waltrip edged Bobby Allison by less than a second before an estimated crowd of 30,000. The track now holds 160,000 fans.

The crowd will try to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the “World’s Largest Group Karoake” attempt. The track, which has pulled off similar stunts in the past, will ask fans to sing Garth Brooks’ 1990 hit “Friends In Low Places” before the race.

Up Next: Atlanta Motor Speedway

Teams have one final weekend off to work on their cars before hitting Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Pep Boys Auto 500 on Sept. 6. The race was moved from it’s previous October date to Labor Day weekend during the off-season. The race will be the 25th of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, making it the penultimate event before the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Carl Edwards held off polesitter Jimmie Johnson in last year’s race to extend his championship hopes another week.

Fast Facts

The Race: Sharpie 500

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile concrete oval)

The Date: Saturday, Aug. 22

The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 500 laps/266.5 miles

TV: ESPN, 6:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN and Sirius Satellite (Local)

2008 Winner: Carl Edwards

2008 Polesitter: Carl Edwards

Schedule: (All times local ET) Friday—Practice, 12-1:30 p.m., 2-3:30 p.m. Qualifying, 5:40 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                      Points
 1 Tony Stewart              3,500
 2 Jeff Gordon                 3,216
 3 Jimmie Johnson          3,197
 4 Carl Edwards              2,995
 5 Denny Hamlin             2,986
 6 Kurt Busch                 2,957
 7 Juan Pablo Montoya    2,887
 8 Kasey Kahne              2,884
 9 Ryan Newman             2,845
10 Greg Biffle                  2,821
11 Matt Kenseth              2,811
12 Mark Martin                2,791


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

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