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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Daytona

Jeff Gordon trails Tony Stewart in the Race to the Chase points standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)  (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)
Jeff Gordon trails Tony Stewart in the Race to the Chase points standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)

Though not even halfway through the season, 2009 has seen 11 different race winners. That number is one short of the 12 different drivers who nabbed victory all of last season. The list of drivers who have yet to win in 2009 is an impressive one: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

One week down, nine more to go in the “Race to the Chase” which serves as the prelude to NASCAR’s “playoffs” – the “Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.”

The top 12 is thus the main focus as the schedule rolls on, with the start of the Chase, set for Sept. 20 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Race to the Chase features some of the most historic tracks in all of racing: Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Bristol – and this week, Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR’s premier facility in terms of both history and prestige.

Restrictor-plate racing throws a wild card into the deck that’s sure to be stacked with excitement for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Burger King Chevrolet) is the series points leader – and a two-time winner of Daytona’s summer race. Stewart leads Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) by 69 points but an even more intense battle rages further down in the top 12. From eighth place to 14th, the separation is only 71 points. From 10th to 14th, the gap is merely 17 points. “The heat is really on in that range,” said 11th-place Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet).

In the middle of that maelstrom is none other than Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet), holding down the tenuous 12th-place position for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, somewhat surprisingly. Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion and former Formula One star, is in his third NASCAR season and appears to be acclimating. This is the first year of a merger between the former Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates organization and Dale Earnhardt Inc.

“When I came here my expectations were not that high,” Montoya said. “I think the ability is there [now] and the momentum is there ... we’ve just got to keep the ball rolling.”

Get The Point(s): Drivers Trying To Boost Chase Seedings

Let’s use Mark Martin as a perfect example on why winning races is more vital than ever in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Martin is 11th in the series standings. But in terms of potential “seedings” for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he’s second.

To rehash: The 12 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their point totals reset to 5,000. They will then get 10 bonus points for each pre-Chase victory. Those new totals will create seedings to start the Chase. As it now stands, Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) and Martin, with three victories apiece thus far, would start the Chase with 5,030 points, atop the field. (Busch would get the distinction of top seed, via better race finishes beyond wins.)

Said Martin: “I wouldn’t trade our season for a consistent one that hadn’t won – that’s for sure.”

After Martin, the driver who stands to benefit most from the bonus-point rule is former series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 R&L Carriers Ford). Kenseth comes to Daytona 10th in points but also in line for the fourth Chase seed thanks to his two wins that started the year.

‘Double-File Restarts – Shootout Style’ Coming To Site Of The Shootout

The advent of “Double-File Restarts – Shootout Style” in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been greeted enthusiastically thus far as an obvious boon to competition.

Enthusiasm will get a further boost Saturday night when the series races at Daytona International, home of the Budweiser Shootout each February, a non-points event that long has used the double-file restarts.

In addition, double-file restarts will debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, in Friday night’s event.

Double-file restarts replace the previous approach of having lead-lap cars in one row on the outside and lapped cars in the other row alongside.

“I’m a big fan of this double-file restart stuff,” said Tony Stewart. “It’s so much fun restarting with the guys that you’re racing with and are used to running up front with and not having to deal with some of these other guys on the restarts that you sometimes have to deal with.”

Daytona’s high banks bring the added element of restrictor-plate racing, which Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/Scotchbrite Ford) says will mix well with the new restarts.

“I think restrictor plate racing will be the biggest beneficiary of double-file restarts,” Biffle said. “We’re already racing two-wide and three-wide all the time already, why not start them two-wide.

“It totally makes sense.”

Silver Anniversary Of A Golden Moment: Petty, Daytona Set To Celebrate July 4, 1984

July 4, 1984 at Daytona International Speedway was a day that surely crossed boundaries for many sports fans.

Whether you were a follower of stock car racing or not, you had to appreciate the scene of NASCAR’s most prolific and popular champion, Richard Petty, getting his milestone 200th victory, winning the Firecracker 400 in his iconic No. 43 STP Pontiac.

Likewise, no matter your political leanings, chances are you had to admit it was pretty cool that then-President Ronald Reagan gave the command to start the race from Air Force One, did a short stint in the MRN radio broadcast booth – actually giving the call for a few laps – and joined Petty for the post-race victory celebration.

“We got the President of the United States on the sports page, and the President of the United States got us on front page,” Petty said. “So it was a pretty good trade-off.”

Petty never won another race, although he tried for the rest of 1984 and eight more frustrating seasons after that. In retrospect, it seems almost as if fate intervened to have Petty get his last victory at the track where he built his legend, mainly via a record seven Daytona 500 victories.

Saturday, Petty will have a chance to celebrate. Daytona’s summer race, now called the Coke Zero 400, no longer is always held on July 4 but rather the Saturday closest to the holiday. The calendar, though, has fallen just right this year. Once again, NASCAR’s top series is racing on the 4th.

“Everything was perfect for that day for us,” Petty reminisced last week about 1984, during a NASCAR CAM video teleconference.

“The main thing was that we were prepared to do the best we could and we were prepared for what the circumstances were – and we were able to beat the circumstances.

“So, you know, although it's been 25 years ago, I still remember a lot of it. But [since] it's the last time I won a race driving, naturally that's going to be in your memory the most.”

Two weeks ago at Infineon Raceway, Petty, now a part owner in a first-year organization called Richard Petty Motorsports, returned to Victory Lane as an owner for the first time since 1999, thanks to Kasey Kahne’s (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) victory.

Whether Kahne can get “The King” back to Daytona’s Victory Lane remains to be seen. His average finish is 18th at the 2.5-mile track in 11 starts.

Daytona International Speedway has a variety of Petty-themed, fan-oriented activities scheduled for this weekend.

Petty pacing the 43-car field of the Coke Zero 400 prior to the waving of the green flag in a replica of the 1984 Daytona No. 43 Pontiac.

Appearances by Petty throughout the weekend at the speedway in the Sprint FANZONE, Coke Zero Club and Daytona 500 Experience.

Displays inside the Sprint FANZONE, Daytona 500 Experience and Coke Zero Club of race-winning Petty cars on loan from the Petty Museum in Randleman, N.C. The exhibit inside the Daytona 500 Experience will remain on display through the end of the year

A special $43 Coke Zero 400 ticket offer for the Oldfield and Lockhart Grandstands.

An exclusive ticket package that will put race fans in the suite on the frontstretch with Petty for Saturday’s race.

(Note to media: Last week’s NASCAR CAM video teleconference with Richard Petty is archived on, along with and audio file and written transcript of the interview session.)

NASCAR HOF Nominees To Be Announced On Thursday; Fans Getting ‘Sneak Peeks’ Via Social Media

The NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class will take a significant step towards realization Thursday night when the first 25 nominees will be revealed. The announcement will take place during an hour-long special on SPEED (8 p.m. ET) that will be hosted by long-time television broadcaster Ken Squier.

The Hall of Fame Voting Panel, which includes a fan-vote element, will then choose the first class of inductees – five NASCAR greats who will be honored next May at the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.

The elite 25 names were determined by a 21-person Nominating Committee that consists of officials from both NASCAR and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, plus owners/operators of major speedways and historic short tracks. The list represents many who helped build the sport, including drivers, owners and promoters.

This week, NASCAR is giving fans “sneak peeks” at the list of nominees, reporting a few select names via daily blogs on NASCAR.COM leading into Thursday (

Today’s blog revealed that both Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, long-time intense rivals during their careers, are both nominated for the HOF. Fans are asked to debate which one is likely to get into the HOF first. 

Thursday night’s SPEED show will count down all 25 nominees with background and footage of each. Immediately following the SPEED show, NASCAR.COM will go live with a gallery of all 25 nominees and will open registration for the fan vote.

Through 17 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season — halfway is next time by, meaning the completion of Saturday night’s race — there are a variety of statistics illustrating the close competition on the race track, week in and week out.

Start with the fact that there already have been 11 different race winners; there were a total of 12 in 2009. Look for last year’s total to be seriously surpassed; Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – all of whom won a race last season – have yet to win this season.

That stat is just a start.

Here are some more:

  • Eight different pole winners
  • 40 drivers have led at least one lap
  • An average of 11 different leaders per race
  • Average of 19 lead changes per race
  • Nine races with a MOV under one second
  • Average MOV of 1.110 seconds
  • Average of 2,921 green-flag passes per race
  • Average of 21 green-flag passes for the lead.

NASCAR will be well-represented this weekend (Friday-Sunday) in West Sussex, England, site of the 2009 Festival of Speed at the famed Goodwood Estate road course. Held since 1993, the Festival celebrates historic cars from all forms of racing. The three-day event, hosted by the Earl of March at his family’s estate, features a 1.16-mile hill-climbing competition for all classes and types of race cars and motorcycles, plus a 2.5-kilometer course for historic rally cars. This year’s Festival runs from July 3-5.

Four NASCAR teams will participate in the three-day event – Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Team Red Bull and Rusty Wallace Inc. Drivers slated to participate are Landon Cassill, Rusty Wallace, Mike Skinner and Taylor Earnhardt, the 20-year-old daughter of seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, who will drive the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing chassis that her father drove to his last career win in October 2000.

The group will be accompanied by Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications.

In one of the most intriguing “crossover” racing announcements in recent years, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch and Scott Speed will race in Saturday afternoon’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series event, the Brumos Porsche 250, at Daytona International Speedway. (The race will be televised live on SPEED at 2 p.m. ET.)

Busch and Speed will co-drive the No. 02 Waste Management Lexus Riley, a Daytona Prototype in the Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates stable. They thus become one-race teammates of the Rolex Series’ reigning co-champions, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.

"I am really looking forward to seeing Kyle and Scott in one of our Grand-Am cars," Ganassi said.

"Kyle is one of the best race car drivers in the world and Scott is a young talent with a lot of road course experience. Also, I think having the opportunity for them to work with a road course veteran like Scott Pruett should make for a great experience for them. It will be exciting to see what they can do.”

At first glance, it would be easy to envision Speed being more comfortable in the exotic prototype machine. Prior to moving to stock cars, Speed raced in Formula One, making 28 starts in 2006 and 2007.

“It’s certainly a lot easier for me to get used to this type of car,” Speed said Tuesday during the weekly NASCAR Teleconference.

”But Kyle — with how quickly he can adapt and how well he analyzes the data and learns by seeing what we are doing and how we are able to take the corners — by the end of Daytona, he's going to be just fine, no question.”

The two drivers tested the Lexus Riley earlier this week.

“I loved it,” Speed said. “I think both of us loved it. I think it was very cool for me to drive it. It was much more similar to what I've grown up doing. So it was really kind of a flashback for me, it's been almost two years since I've driven a car like that, and it was a lot of fun,

Suffice to say this will be a busy Saturday for the two competitors. The Brumos Porsche 250 runs from 2-4:30 p.m., approximately; the Coke Zero 400 starts at 8 p.m.

(Note: For a complete transcript and/or audio file of Tuesday’s NASCAR Teleconference with Scott Speed, go to

Daytona Data: Earnhardt, Other Marquee Drivers Could Be ‘Banking’ On First Win Of 2009

Though not even halfway through the season, 2009 has seen 11 different race winners.

That number is one short of the 12 different drivers who nabbed victory all of last season.

The list of drivers who have yet to win in 2009 is an impressive one: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer.

Almost all of the above have had success at the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. So, it’s certainly possible that there will be 12 different race winners at the exact halfway point of the season.

The most likely candidate, statistically, is Earnhardt.

A winner of two Daytona races, Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in 11 of his 19 races there. Since 2005, he has racked up some of the most impressive statistics in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Over the last nine Daytona races, Earnhardt has a Driver Rating of 91.9 (fifth-best), an Average Running Position of 13.6 (fifth), 46 Fastest Laps Run (third) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 68.1% (sixth).

Harvick is also an intriguing choice at Daytona. Winner of the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick is suffering a career-worst season, and needs a strong Daytona finish for a return to prominence.

After winning the preseason Budweiser Shootout and finishing second in the Daytona 500, Harvick’s season went downhill fast. He is currently mired in a slump that has seen 13 consecutive finishes outside the top 10.

Harvick does have strong numbers at Daytona, though. Over the past nine Daytona races, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 83.5 (11th-best), 1,804 Green Flag Passes (second) and a series-high 53 Fastest Laps Run.

Also watch for a strong run from Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 champion. Also struggling through a slump (though his is much shorter than Harvick’s), Newman has failed to crack the top 10 in the last three races. All season long, though, Newman has seemed on the edge of victory, finishing in the top 10 in eight of the 17 races.

That win may come at Daytona, where Newman has a Driver Rating of 89.1 (eighth-best), an Average Running Position of 15.4 (eighth), 37 Fastest Laps Run (eighth) and an average Green Flag Speed of 185.212 mph (third).

Edwards’ absence from Victory Lane this season might be the biggest head-scratcher of them all. After winning a series-high nine races last season, Edwards has navigated an inconsistent season in 2009. Along with four top fives and eight top 10s, Edwards also has four finishes outside to top 20.

This weekend, he’ll look for the Daytona victory that eluded him by inches last season. In last season’s July race, Kyle Busch’s front bumper barely edged Edwards when the yellow flag came out during a green-white-checkered restart. So, Edwards should be considered a favorite at Daytona. He has a Driver Rating of 80.7, an Average Running Position of 17.1 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 56.5%.

Up Next: Saturday-Night Spectacle In Nation’s Third-Largest Market

Chicagoland Speedway will host a night-time NASCAR Sprint Cup event for the second straight year next Saturday (July 11). Kyle Busch will be the defending champion for the 400.

Here’s someone else to consider as a favorite — or at least a dark horse. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), in need of a boost to his disappointing season, could get it at Chicagoland.

Harvick won the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup races the track hosted in 2000 and ‘01.

He and Tony Stewart (a winner in 2004, ‘07) are the only drivers with multiple Chicagoland victories.

He is tied for the lead in top-10 finishes at the track; he, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Chevrolet) all have six.

Harvick has the best average finish at Chicagoland: 7.375.

Harvick is tied with Matt Kenseth for the most laps completed at Chicagoland, 2,138.

Harvick is one of five drivers who have run all eight Chicagoland races, and posted no DNFs.

Fast Facts

The Race: Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola

The Date: Saturday, July 4

The Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval)

The Time: 8 p.m. ET

The Distance: 400 miles/160 laps

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

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Paul Menard

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

2009 Top 12
    Driver                      Points
 1 Tony Stewart             2,524
 2 Jeff Gordon                2,455
 3 Jimmie Johnson         2,355
 4 Kurt Busch                2,254
 5 Carl Edwards             2,157
 6 Denny Hamlin            2,132
 7 Ryan Newman           2,127
 8 Kyle Busch               2,108
 9 Greg Biffle                 2,106
10 Matt Kenseth            2,054
11 Mark Martin              2,052
12 Juan Pablo Montoya  2,049

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Keeping Pace

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