Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Texas

A big day for Jimmie Johnson. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
A big day for Jimmie Johnson. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

As series teams prepare for Sunday’s Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson is staring down some personal and historical benchmarks.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Reigning and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) is exactly where he likes to be in early November — at the head of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup class.

And as series teams prepare for Sunday’s Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, he’s staring down some personal and historical benchmarks.

No driver has won four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. Johnson could be the first.

But the 2009 Chase hardly is over. Beginning Sunday, three races remain, which means Johnson has plenty to do to cement his position and fend off pursuers.

The closest are a pair of Hendrick Motorsports teammates — Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), in second and third place, respectively, in the Chase standings.

One, Martin, is a four-time series runner-up. The other, Gordon, is a four-time series champion himself.

Neither will yield.

Aside from Gordon and Martin, another Texas threat comes in the form of 10th-place Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford), who swept both 2008 races there.

Gordon Looking To Complete 2009 Texas Sweep

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon did more than simply win this past April at Texas Motor Speedway. He excised 12 years’ worth of frustration, finally capturing a victory at one of the few tracks where he hadn’t yet triumphed.

Sunday, he’ll begin Sunday’s Dickies 500 with larger stakes. In third place in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Gordon trails leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 192 points and second-place (and teammate) Mark Martin by only eight points.

A rigorous climb? Yes, but Gordon does have the chops and stamina to capitalize should Johnson and Martin falter. The April win gave him seven top fives and nine top 10s in 17 Texas starts, plus the confidence to find his way to Victory Lane there.

Johnson isn’t the only Chase driver with momentum; prior to last Sunday’s 20th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, Gordon had amassed five consecutive top-five finishes.

“We had been so close in the past,” Gordon said of his Texas travails. “But, whether it was me hitting the wall late in the race while leading or an electrical issue while leading, we just never were able to win – so to get that first win here was great for us. To get another win, though, we’ll need to take another step forward. If we showed up this weekend with the same setup we used in April, we’d run 15th. That’s just the way the sport is. Everybody is constantly learning and the competition is constantly getting better and quicker.”

Loop Data Says: Look Out For Roush Fenway Racing At Texas

Last Sunday at Talladega, Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford) ended quite a few droughts.

First, he ended a personal 86-race winless drought that dated back to July 2007.

Second, he ended a Roush Fenway Racing drought that dated back to this year’s first Auto Club Speedway race, won by teammate Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford). That was 30 races long.

Third, he erased the slate on the non-Chaser race-win drought. That slump lasted 23 Chase races, all the way back to teammate Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M /Super 33 Tape Ford) at Kansas in 2007.

Well, good things might come in bunches.

Though McMurray doesn’t own the best statistics at Texas, his teammates – and a couple other non-Chasers – do.

Topping the statistical list is Kenseth, both a member of the Roush Fenway stable and a non-Chaser. Kenseth won at Texas in 2002, and has finished in the top 10 in five consecutive Texas races. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Kenseth has a series-best Driver Rating of 105.8, an Average Running Position of 9.0 (second-best), 143 Fastest Laps Run (sixth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 80.8%.

Also strong at Texas is Carl Edwards, who swept there last season, but is still looking for his first victory of 2009. In his nine-race Texas career, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 102.4 (fourth), an Average Running Position of 11.5 (fifth) and 260 Fastest Laps Run (second).

Biffle, who is coming off two consecutive top-five finishes at Texas, should factor into Sunday’s victory scenarios. Since 2005 at Texas, Biffle has a Driver Rating of 95.7 (fifth) and a series-high 263 Fastest Laps Run.

Also an interesting study this weekend is Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota), who will be with new crew chief Dave Rogers for the first time. Busch failed to make the Chase, and is looking to end a drought of his own: nine races without a victory.

Busch has yet to win at Texas, but he’s come close, finishing in the top 10 in four of the last six Texas races. In his nine-race Texas career, Busch has a Driver Rating of 94.8 (seventh), an Average Running Position of 12.9 (eighth), 127 Fastest Laps Run (eighth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 62.1% (eighth).

Race-Best Driver Rating at Texas
Driver               Date        Rating
 1. Tony Stewart     11/06         149.7
 2. Greg Biffle        4/05          149.2
 3. Carl Edwards    11/08        146.7
 4. Carl Edwards    4/08          139.8
 5. Jeff Gordon         4/07          136.3

Race-Best Average Running Position
at Texas (2005-Present)
     Driver                Date      ARP
 1. Tony Stewart      11/06      1.9
 2. Jeff Gordon         4/07        2.1
 3. Jimmie Johnson  4/08        2.3
 4. Carl Edwards    4/08        2.4
 5. Carl Edwards    11/08      2.6

Bold: Roush Fenway Racing drivers.

On The CAM: Jimmie Johnson

Three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was this week’s guest on the NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference.

Johnson, speaking to a national media audience from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., answered a variety of questions, many regarding the possibility of him setting a NASCAR record by winning a fourth consecutive series championship. Following are some highlights from the teleconference.

The full transcript is available at, along with a video file and audio files.

Johnson: “This is an exciting time for sure, and there’s still a lot of racing left. And, things can go wrong but we’re in as good a position we could’ve ever hoped to have been in.

“I’m really trying to keep my head down and keep our team focused as well in doing the job the next three weeks. Not only do I feel like that’s important for the championship’s sake, but also because we have some good tracks coming up for us.

“I feel like we could win one or two races at the tracks left on the schedule. What got us into this position was racing hard and going for every point and until it’s mathematically locked up, we’re going to keep that mindset and try to get every point we can.

"I'm not sure what I would compare [four straight championships] to, but I didn't think it was possible.

“I looked at what Jeff Gordon had accomplished – the race wins and four championships – and thought that was probably the last we'd see something like that with how competitive the sport is.

“I’m blown away and honored and enjoying every minute of what we're doing here and hopeful that we can do it right these next three races and do something that's never been done before.

So I'm excited about the potential that's out there and there's no way I thought it was possible, let alone with my situation.

“I know that people may find it hard to believe, but I've only been in a stock car for 10, 11 years and then in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, this is my eighth season now.

“So to have all this take place, it's pretty shocking to me … I've worked very, very hard to get to this point and so has this team. And we're enjoying every minute of it."  

Watch Out For Carl: Defending Dickies 500 Winner Could Be A Factor

It’s been a quiet season for Carl Edwards, who was pursuing reigning and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson this time last year.

The 2008 series runner-up, Edwards won a series-high nine races, eventually finishing 69 points behind Johnson in the Chase standings.

This season? No wins for Edwards, who’s also had a very quiet Chase. He heads into Sunday’s Dickies 500 in 10th place in the standings, with a Chase-best finish of sixth at Auto Club Speedway four weeks ago.

But here comes Texas Motor Speedway, where Edwards swept both events in 2008.

Instant turn-around? Could be.

His win in last year’s season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was the last time he visited a Victory Lane. Drought makes good motivation, not that the upbeat Edwards requires it, but Texas has emerged as a special place for the 30-year-old, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on him on Sunday.

If you require proof, Edwards also leads all drivers with three wins at Texas, more good karma. But just flipping ignition switches isn’t sufficient preparation.

“It takes a really, really good race car to win at Texas,” Edwards said. “That’s the bottom line. You have to have a very powerful engine and you’ve got to have a great aerodynamics package.

“Your crew chief and engineer have to have the car put together really well and sometimes you need great fuel mileage on top of that. It takes a lot to win in Texas.”

He finished 10th in this year’s spring event at Texas, with the three wins, three top fives, four top 10s and an average finish of 13.4 in nine series starts there.

Keselowski Gets Jump On 2010; Replaces Stremme For Final Three Races

Three races remain in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, but for most teams, 2010 preparations have been underway for some time.

Penske Racing made one of the more visible moves this week with its announcement that Brad Keselowski will take over the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge for the rest of the season.

Keselowski already was to succeed David Stremme in that seat in 2010. Doing so now was deemed important for momentum’s sake.

“Penske Racing wants to give Brad an opportunity to work with the team and get to know the race car as we prepare for the 2010 season,” owner Roger Penske said. “These three races will provide a good base for both Brad and the team as we head into next year. Penske Racing also thanks David Stremme for his contributions to the team this year. We wish David the very best moving forward.”

Stremme, who finished 22nd last Sunday at Talladega, ends his tenure with 33 Penske starts.

Keselowski, who won the spring NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega for owner James Finch, has run 12 series races this season, five for Finch and seven for Hendrick Motorsports.

He’s currently in third place in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, running a full schedule for the Hendrick-supported JR Motorsports.

Next year marks the first full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup season for Keselowski.

“I am very excited to begin working with the Penske Racing team and I look forward to competing in the No. 12 Penske Dodge in the final three races of the year,” Keselowski said. “We all have high expectations for next season and beyond, and being able to race with the team this year will only help us as we look toward 2010.”

Triple Threat: Kyle Busch Set For All Three Texas Races

It’s a busy week for Kyle Busch, whose NASCAR Sprint Cup team is in the throes of transformation.

New crew chief Dave Rogers takes over for Sunday’s Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, succeeding Steve Addington. It’s a process of regeneration for Busch, who missed this season’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

That’s a significant enough attention-getter, but Busch isn’t limiting himself to the Dickies 500. He’s also competing in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event and Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event.

In fact, he’ll do so for the remaining three NASCAR national-series weekends — triple-header schedules at Texas, next week at Phoenix International Raceway and the season finale for all three at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“It’s fun for me,” Busch said. “I’d rather be out there on the race track trying to learn something, trying to learn what happens to the race track when it gets more rubber put down, seeing if I can’t figure something out that’ll make me better than the rest of the guys out there.

“Instead of sitting in your motorhome watching the race on TV, anyway, you might as well be out there participating in it.”

He also has serious business in both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events.

Busch leads the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings by 215 points over second-place Carl Edwards. If he prevails, he’ll win his first national-series title and the first NASCAR Nationwide Series driver title for Joe Gibbs Racing.

In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Busch is trying to help team owner Billy Ballew win his first series owners title.

“To me, it’s fun, it’s challenging,” Busch said of triple-header weekends. “I don’t get tired anymore doing it. I used to in the beginning when I first started running all three.

“Now, I’m so used to it, it’s pretty easy and simple and I can just get through the weekend pretty easily. Of course I’m hoping we can compete for some wins too.”


Texas Milestones

Casey Mears (No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet) will make his 250th series start Sunday. Corpus Christi, Texas native Bobby Labonte (No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet) could earn his 200th series top 10, becoming the 26th driver to do so. Those who have are:

Year    Date   Track                Driver
2008    7/12    Chicagoland       Tony Stewart
2008    4/12    Phoenix             Jeff Burton
2003    6/15    Michigan            Sterling Marlin
2002    6/16    Michigan            Jeff Gordon
2001    6/17    Pocono              Dale Jarrett
1997    8/31    Darlington           Mark Martin
1996    7/21    Pocono              Rusty Wallace
1993    10/3    N. Wilkesboro     Harry Gant
1992    3/29    Darlington           Bill Elliott
1991    8/24    Bristol                Ricky Rudd
1990    8/25    Bristol                Terry Labonte
1989    6/18    Pocono              Dale Earnhardt
1984   10/21   Rockingham       Dave Marcis
1984     2/26   Richmond          Darrell Waltrip
1979   10/14   N. Wilkesboro    Benny Parsons
1978    3/19   Atlanta               Cale Yarborough
1977    10/9   Lowe’s               Buddy Baker
1974    7/20   Nashville Frgds   Bobby Allison
1971    7/18   Trenton              James Hylton
1969    6/26   N.C. Frgds         David Pearson
1966      9/5   Darlington          Jim Paschal
1966     4/9    Greenville           Richard Petty
1965   5/15    Winston-Salem  Ned Jarrett
1958   7/25    Monroe              Buck Baker
1957   6/15    Tenn.-Carolina    Lee Petty

Statistically Speaking
With three races remaining, these numbers illustrate this season’s close competition:

  • 14 different race winners
  • 10 different Coors Light Pole winners
  • 42 drivers led at least one lap
  • 35 drivers have scored at least one Top 10 this year
  • Average Margin of Victory of 1.138 seconds
  • 16 races with an MOV under one second
  • Average of 10 leaders per race
  • Average of 20 lead changes per race
  • Average of 25 green flag passes for the lead all along the track
  • Average of 3,131 green flag passes per race
  • 53% of the cars finished on the lead lap
  • 83% of the cars were running at the finish

Texans In the NSCS Garage

From Greg Biffle’s team: catch can man Ryan Dextraze (Wichita Falls) and pit support Eric Wallace (Austin).

From Kevin Harvick’s No. 29  Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet: engine tuner John Goodwin (Houston).

From Kasey Kahne’s No. 9 Budweiser Dodge: transporter driver Chris Sweeny (Haslet).

From Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet: front-tire carrier Josh Mick (Houston).

American Worker Of The Year Honored

Michael McGee, an agricultural teacher and horse training business owner from Broken Bow, Okla., will be introduced as the 2009 Dickies American Worker of the Year at 9:30 a.m., Sunday in the Texas Motor Speedway infield media center.

McGee was chosen for the honor on Oct. 30 during the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals in Las Vegas, Nev., after thousands of contest candidates were narrowed to six finalists.

As the winner, he receives $50,000 and an all-access VIP trip to this weekend’s race.

On Saturday morning, McGee will randomly select one of the 12 Chase participants in Sunday’s Dickies 500. If that driver wins, McGee will take home $1 million.

“I feel so fortunate to be recognized by Dickies out of all the hard-working men and women in this country,” McGee said. “Hopefully this will gain some attention for agricultural farmers across the country and remind everyone of the industry’s importance to our nation.

“It’s great Dickies supports that, (and) I want to tell everyone no matter who you are or what you come from, through hard work and determination, you can accomplish anything.”

This marks the 17th year Dickies has honored hard-working men and women through its “American Worker of the Year” contest, which recognizes exceptional workers in fields often overlooked in today’s society – farmers, builders, mechanics, teachers, roughnecks, electrical lineman and soldiers, among others.

Up Next: Phoenix International Raceway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads next to Phoenix International Raceway for next Sunday’s Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil (ABC, 2:30 p.m.)

It’s also the ninth and penultimate event in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Jimmie Johnson is the defending race winner. He also won last year’s pole.

Johnson has won three of the last four series races at Phoenix, including a sweep of both events last season. He leads all drivers with those three wins there. Ryan Newman leads all drivers with four Phoenix poles.

Mark Martin, who won there in April, leads all drivers with 10 top fives and 16 top 10s at Phoenix.

Fast Facts

The Race: Dickies 500

The Place: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5- mile tri-oval)

The Date: Sunday, Nov. 8

The Time: 3:15 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 501 miles//334 laps

TV: ABC, 2:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128; (1080 KRLD AM local)

2008 Winner: Carl Edwards

2008 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Schedule: Friday: Practice, 12-1:30  p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday: Practice, 8:45-9:30 a.m. and 10-11 a.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                      Points
 1 Jimmie Johnson          6,248
 2 Mark Martin                6,064
 3 Jeff Gordon                 6,056
 4 Juan Pablo Montoya    6,009
 5 Tony Stewart               5,969
 6 Kurt Busch                 5,936
 7 Greg Biffle                  5,908
 8 Ryan Newman            5,846
 9 Kasey Kahne              5,834
10 Carl Edwards              5,811
11 Denny Hamlin             5,800
12 Brian Vickers              5,692

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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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