If the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began now, Kyle Busch would be seeded first despite his current position of ninth in the standings. Mark Martin, currently 11th, would be seeded second. Those potential seedings are based on the number of victories each driver has achieved thus far in 2009.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The battle for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility is heating up, which means two things:
One — the thermometer says it’s summer;
Two — it’s time to head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
This Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 kicks off the “Race to the Chase,” the 10-race stretch that leads to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The Race to the Chase begins amid Granite State greenery and ends on a September Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway — Race No. 26 and the cutoff point for Chase eligibility.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams then return to New Hampshire the following week to begin the Chase, in which the top 12 drivers (following Richmond) battle for the series title during the season’s final 10 races.
The mix of tracks in the Race to the Chase presents a worthy challenge. Drivers begin with New Hampshire’s flat, tricky one-mile oval and proceed, in order, to Daytona International Speedway’s high-banked 2.5-mile surface, Chicagoland Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval, Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile tradition, Pocono Raceway’s triangular 2.5-mile layout, the season’s second road-course event at Watkins Glen International, Michigan International Speedway’s 2-mile oval, Bristol Motor Speedway’s high-banked half-mile, Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval and finally, Richmond’s .75-mile venue.
Atlanta is the only track new to the 2009 Race to the Chase; its second event of the season now takes place on Labor Day weekend.
First, however, a deceptively difficult New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“It’s a little bit unique and it’s one that makes us work hard, that’s for sure,” said 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), who’s seeking his first victory there.
Loop Data Tabs Stewart As The Driver To Beat
As the Race to the Chase begins, two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) leads the series standings heading into Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301.
If statistics hold firm, he may occupy that position when the Race to the Chase ends at Richmond.
That’s according to NASCAR Loop Data from 2005 through the current season at the 10 tracks featured in the Race to the Chase.
Per that Loop Data, Stewart owns the top Driver Rating (106.1).
He also claims the top Average Running Position (10.545) and the second-best Average Finish (12.5) behind Jeff Gordon’s (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) 12.2.
Stewart (75.3) again trails only Gordon (76.5) in Percentage of Laps in the Top 15.
Gordon, the four-time series champion, is right there statistically with Stewart.
Second in the standings (he trails Stewart by 84 points), Gordon leads all of the current top 15 drivers with 35 wins, 114 top fives and 164 top 10s in 266 career starts in the 10 tracks that make up the Race to the Chase. He also has the top average start (9.7), the highest percentage of laps led (12.2) and a top average of 136.3 points scored. Stewart ranks second in average number of points scored (134.8) in events at the 10 tracks included in the Race to the Chase.
Reigning and three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Chevrolet) has the third-highest driver rating at Race to the Chase venues — 130.8.
All That Matters: Emphasis On Winning The Goal As Race To The Chase Begins At New Hampshire
For the 12 drivers currently eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and those battling for eligibility, the beginning of the Race to the Chase means one thing — 100 points.
That’s the total number of bonus points available to Chase-eligible drivers, and while winning always is their goal, it becomes even more important during the Race to the Chase.
Each victory between now and the beginning of the Chase on Sept. 20 — also at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — means an extra 10 points for a Chase-eligible driver. Once the Chase begins, drivers are seeded according to the number of wins earned in the first 26 races.
That means Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) and Mark Martin (No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet) are in the driver’s seat headed into Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301. Both have a series-high three wins in 2009, which means 30 bonus points for each.
If the Chase began now, Busch would be seeded first despite his current position of ninth in the standings. Martin, currently 11th, would be seeded second.
Reigning and three-time champion Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth, the 2003 series champion and reigning Daytona 500 champion, both have two wins.
Johnson, third in the current standings, would be seeded third. Kenseth, currently 10th, would jump to fourth in Chase seeding.
The remaining drivers with wins, all with single victories thus far, would take fourth, fifth and sixth place in Chase seeding.
That means current standings leader Tony Stewart would drop from first to fifth. Second-place Jeff Gordon would drop from second to sixth and fourth-place Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) would drop to seventh.
NASCAR Loop Data paints a promising picture for Stewart at New Hampshire. He leads all drivers in pre-race Driver Rating there (115.6). He also has two wins, 12 top 10s and 15 top fives in 20 career starts at New Hampshire.
Among the current top 15 drivers, Gordon and Busch lead with three wins each at New Hampshire. Gordon leads with 12 top fives and 15 top 10s. Martin is second with 13 top 10s.
The remainder of the current top-12 roster is still searching for that first 2009 victory.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota), currently seventh in the standings, would be seeded eighth if the Chase began now. His average finish at New Hampshire (7.2) is tops among the current top 15 drivers.
Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet), currently sixth, would be seeded ninth.
Last year’s series runner-up, Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford), currently fifth, would be 10th. Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford), who won last year’s fall event at New Hampshire and is eighth in the standings, would be seeded 11th.
Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Dodge), currently 12th, would be seeded 12th.
Kahne’s Infineon Win The Perfect Precursor To Owner Richard Petty’s 25th Anniversary Of 200 Wins
For the first time since 1999, “The King” returned to Victory Lane as a car owner last Sunday at Infineon Raceway, and NASCAR legend Richard Petty’s timing couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Driver Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) claimed the first victory for the new Richard Petty Motorsports — the organization that melded teams from Petty Enterprises and Gillett-Evernham Motorsports during the winter — and Petty’s towering, trademark hat, sunglasses and mega-watt smile were a welcome addition to the celebration.
The victory, the first at a road course for Kahne, also struck the perfect-timing note.
Next week, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Daytona International Speedway, Petty will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his 200th and final series victory. It came on July 4, 1984, during the series’ traditional Independence Day weekend at Daytona, before an audience that included then-President Ronald Reagan. It also sealed Petty’s status as the sport’s all-time leader in victories.
“I told him, ‘We got the President of the United States on the sports page, and the President of the United States got us on the front page,’” Petty said of the day’s honor “So it was a pretty good tradeoff.”
Now, Petty functions as the namesake and at-track inspiration for the fledgling RPM team, which remains co-owned by George Gillett.
“Sometimes it gets kind of aggravating but overall it's really what I want to do and it's what I have always done,” Petty said, “and I always feel like as long as I can do it, I want to keep doing it, because if I ever pull over to the side of the road, somebody is going to go by me and I don't like that part.”
Loop Data: Watch Out For Stewart-Haas At New Hampshire
Tony Stewart has little left to prove this season.
Any questions about his decision to co-own a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team have mostly been answered. His goals checklist is full – almost.
He already has a points race victory (as well as a win in the prestigious NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race). He has the points lead. He has put both his cars in the top 12 in points through 16 races.
For one, Stewart would love to see his teammate – and employee – Ryan Newman visit Victory Lane before the season’s through.
Two, another win of his own would make him the first driver-owner with multiple wins since Ricky Rudd in 1997.
And three, a championship.
One of those goals can be checked off the list this weekend at New Hampshire, where Stewart and Newman have combined for four wins and five poles.
Stewart is strong there, posting some series-best statistics since the inception of Loop Data in 2005. He led a race-high 132 laps in last year’s summer New Hampshire race and seemed like a sure winner, but rain snatched victory away.
Since 2005, Stewart has a series-high Driver Rating of 115.6, a third-best Average Running Position of 9.9, a series-high 235 Fastest Laps Run, a series-best average Green Flag Speed of 124.308 mph and a fourth-best Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 78.7%.
Despite a DNF in last season’s September NHMS race, Newman is also solid at the Loudon track. Since 2005, Newman has a Driver Rating of 92.7 (ninth), an Average Running Position of 14.7 (12th), 96 Fastest Laps Run (ninth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 67.8% (seventh).
A strong New Hampshire race is especially important for Newman, who is looking to break out of a mini-slump. After finishing in the top 10 in six consecutive races (and the top five in five out of six), Newman has failed to crack the top 15 in the last two events. A win at New Hampshire would end a 51-race winless drought.
A Different Year For Defending New Hampshire Winner Kurt Busch
Ask Kurt Busch which year he prefers — 2008 or 2009 — and he’ll pounce on the latter.
The defending winner of Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301, Busch is faring better in present times. Although he reveled in last June’s victory, it was one of the few bright spots in a season that saw him miss the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, plus finish an uncharacteristic 18th in the final standings.
A quick recap: Thanks to good fuel mileage and a timely final pit stop, Busch had surged to the lead when NASCAR officials called the race at Lap 284 of the scheduled 300 because of an approaching thunderstorm.
The celebration came in an empty garage building amid a lightning-spiked downpour, but Busch said his team earned every moment.
“When everybody pitted with, I don't know, 30 laps to go — when I was told, ‘You're in the lead, there's 26 laps to go’ — that's the most motivation a driver could ever ask for,” Busch said, “because you want to hold it off and bring it home for your team.
“So we were gonna have our work cut out for us. I felt we could have held off some the guys right behind us, and our pit strategy worked out perfect.”
Busch’s fourth season at Penske Racing appears to be working out, too. A year ago he was 22nd in the standings, trailing then-leader and brother Kyle Busch by 804 points, and 12th place — the final eligible spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup — by 288 points.
This year, Busch is fourth, 280 points behind leader Tony Stewart. He has one win — at Atlanta Motor Speedway — plus four top fives and eight top 10s. Busch also led the standings for one week, following the eighth race of the season, at Phoenix International Raceway.
New England Natives In The NSCS Garage
From New Hampshire: Bill Plourde (Barrington) – No. 18 mechanic; Kyle Power (Lyme) – No. 16 rear tire changer.
From Vermont: Shane Wilson (South Royalton) – No. 33 crew chief; Phil Surgen (Elmore) – No. 43 engineer; Erik Pringle (Sharon) – No. 33 rear tire carrier.
From Maine: Steve Letarte (Portland) – No. 24 crew chief.
From Massachusetts: Kevin Manion (Boylston) – No. 1 crew chief; Greg Morin (Waltham) – No. 24 pit crew coach; Billy Manchester (Westport) – No. 16 gas man; Michael Moore (Springfield) – No. 39 gas man; Mike Arning (Lunenburg) – No. 14 media relations.
From Connecticut: Joey Logano (Middletown) – No. 20 driver; Greg Zipadelli (Berlin) – No. 20 crew chief; Gary Putnam (Vernon) – No. 1 car chief; Chris Moyher (Naugatuck) – No. 43 mechanic; Matt Clark (North Haven) – No. 07, 31, and 29 pit crew coach; Andy Flynn (Oakdale) – No. 33 tire specialist; Aaron Keuhn (New Britten) – No. 14 tire specialist; Peter Jellen (Stafford Springs) – No. 18 transporter driver; Mike Bodick (Norwalk) – No. 42 gas man and Tim Ladyga (Norwich) – No. 24 rear tire changer.
Milestones At New Hampshire: Regan Smith (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet), the 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will make his 50th career start Sunday if he qualifies for the LENOX Industrial Tools 301.
Kahne, Newman Doing “Double-Duty”: Two NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will participate in this weekend’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at New Hampshire.
Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman have entered Saturday’s New England 100, scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET start. Audio for the race will be streamed live on NASCARHomeTracks.com.
Newman, who made his modified debut last September at New Hampshire (he won the pole for that event) will drive the No. 7 Aggressive Hydaulics Chevrolet Modified.
Kahne will drive the No. 96 Mohawk Northeast/N.E. Race Fuels Chevrolet Modified.
“Any racer will tell you that when they get the chance to race, they are going to,” Newman said, “so I’m looking forward to getting back into the modified at New Hampshire this weekend. I have good equipment, and I have some more experience in the car, so I am excited about Saturday’s race.”
Kahne’s team is overseen by veteran NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief and new team owner Tommy Baldwin, who grew up the son of modified legend Tom Baldwin.
Kahne also plans to compete in the September modified event at New Hampshire, plus the NASCAR Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified Tours’ August events at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I love to race, so any chance that I have to drive a different type of car is a cool opportunity,” Kahne said. “The modified race at New Hampshire is always competitive. Those guys run pretty hard and it is going to be fun to be part of it.”
Off Track News This Week:
Infield Improvements At New Hampshire:
Teams and fans present this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will benefit from several significant renovations to the infield.
Track officials and workers reconfigured the infield to gain additional usable space — expanded from one-and-half acres to nearly seven.
New, black chain-link fencing now defines the space, and a redesigned Victory Lane awaits the winner of Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301.
Construction took two months, but planning has been underway for nearly 18 months, since Speedway Motorsports Inc., Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith purchased the facility from the Bahre family in 2008.
Also ready for competition will be 3,400 feet of new and enhanced safety fencing along the grandstand sides of the 1.058-mile track.
The lower portion is reinforced with six strands of 5/8-inch, high-strength cable, while the upper portion consists of sixteen strands of 3/8-inch cable. Arch posts raise the overall height of the safety fence to over 21 feet.
Track President Jerry Gappens said this specific project wasn’t related to Carl Edwards’ April accident at Talladega Superspeedway.
“Bruton Smith, our chairman, put this project on the top of our priority list for 2009 facility improvements,” Gappens said, “utilizing the improved technology and engineering used at other SMI facilities and installing it here.”
Up Next: Daytona International Speedway
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors return to Florida next week for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Superspeedway.
The Saturday, July 4 event will be televised by TNT. The pre-race show starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with the race starting at approximately 8 p.m.
Kyle Busch is the defending champion of the Coke Zero 400. Last year’s victory marked his first at the 2.5-mile venue.
Paul Menard (No. 98 Moen/Menards Ford) is the defending pole winner. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Daytona.
Next Race: LENOX Industrial Tools 301
The Date: Sunday, June 28
The Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway; 1.058-mile oval
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
The Distance: 318.46 miles/301 laps
TV: TNT, 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius Satellite
2008 Polesitter: Patrick Carpentier
2008 Winner: Kurt Busch
Schedule: Friday—Practice, noon-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 9-9:50 a.m.; Final practice, 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
2009 Top 12 Drivers
1 Tony Stewart 2,364
2 Jeff Gordon 2,280
3 Jimmie Johnson 2,207
4 Kurt Busch 2,084
5 Carl Edwards 2,051
6 Ryan Newman 2,046
7 Denny Hamlin 2,009
8 Greg Biffle 1,992
9 Kyle Busch 1,962
10 Matt Kenseth 1,957
11 Mark Martin 1,926
12 Juan Pablo Montoya 1,917