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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Phoenix

Jimmie Johnson will need to average a fourth-place finish over the final two races, or fifth and a lap led in each of the final two races, or sixth and the most laps led in each of the final two races. If he does that, he will clinch the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship no matter what any other driver does.


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Week 9: Standings Get Tight With Two To Go

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Only two races are left in the 2009 season as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads west to Phoenix International Raceway for the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

The standings are tight after Jimmie Johnson’s (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) accident on Lap 3 last Sunday that relegated him to a 38th-place finish. Mark Martin (No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) were able to gain ground on Johnson by finishing fourth and 13th respectively. Martin is 73 points behind and Gordon is 112 points behind Johnson.

Catching Johnson is doable. The two largest comebacks to win the championship with two races to go happened in 1990 and 1992.

In 1990, Dale Earnhardt came back to win the title after being down 45 points with two races to go. Ironically, Earnhardt overtook Martin that season to win the championship.

In 1992, Alan Kulwicki set the series record for the largest comeback with two races to go. Kulwicki was third in the standings, 85 points down with two races left, and overtook Bill Elliott and Davey Allison to win the only championship of his career.

“I don’t know why everybody tries to cap this thing out and doesn’t just wait and watch,” Martin said. “There are still two races to go, and still things that can happen.”

Martin posted his second career win at Phoenix earlier this season after leading the most laps. Martin leads the series in top fives (10) and top 10s (16) at Phoenix. Gordon also has a win at the one-mile track.

Johnson, Knaus Look To Rebound Out West

The No. 48 team faced its first dose of adversity during the Chase last Sunday at Texas when Johnson was in an accident on Lap 3 that sent the entire team scrambling to salvage the day. Johnson ended up finishing 38th and the point lead the No. 48 team had accumulated going into Texas had shrunk to 73 points.

“It was definitely not the day we wanted,” Johnson said. “We did not want to lose points like that. Luckily we had a big margin. We’ve been saying all along that anything can happen, but we’re going to two great tracks (Phoenix and Homestead-Miami) for us and we’ll just keep racing.”

Calling Phoenix a “great track for us” is an understatement. Johnson leads the series in wins at Phoenix International Raceway with three. He dominated last season’s Chase event at Phoenix starting on the pole and leading 217 laps for the win.

While Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates are hoping to close the gap even more this weekend, NASCAR’s Pre-Race Loop Data shows Johnson on top of several key categories: Driver Rating (120.0), Average Running Position (5.479) and Lap In The Top 15 (95.2%).

In 12 starts, Johnson has posted three wins, seven top fives and 10 top 10s at Phoenix International Raceway.

Loop Data : Phoenix “The Perfect Track”

Phoenix International Raceway could be labeled The House of Dominance.

For whatever reason, when a team hits on a setup, that team is hard – and in some cases, impossible – to beat.

Two Phoenix race winners have scored perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0, making Phoenix and Pocono the only two tracks where multiple NASCAR Sprint Cup 150s have been scored.

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) did in 2005 and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) accomplished the rare feat a year later.

In his April 2005 perfect rating, Busch had an Average Running Position of 1.9, had 76 Fastest Laps Run, led 219 laps and spent all 312 laps running in the top 15.

In the November 2006 race, Harvick posted his 150 with an Average Running Position of 1.2, 72 Fastest Laps Run, 252 Laps Led and 312 of 312 Laps in the Top 15.

There have been 10 perfect Driver Ratings in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since the inception of the Loop Data statistic in 2005. A small lot, considering 178 races were run over that span.

But in this Phoenix race last season, Jimmie Johnson did something that has happened only once in those 178 events. He scored a Driver Rating of 149.9, just one-tenth of a point away from perfection. In that race, Johnson had an Average Running Position of 1.5, 66 Fastest Laps Run, 217 Laps Led and ran all 313 laps among the top 15. Still, he came up short. If Johnson had led just one more lap, or had one more Fastest Lap Run, he would have scored the perfect 150.0.

So the question remains, will it happen again this weekend? And if so, who are the prime candidates to realize perfection?

Johnson seems like the obvious choice. His stats outshine everyone else’s by a wide margin – especially lately. In the past six Phoenix races, Johnson has scored six top fives. Over that span, he has an average finish of 2.5 (which includes three victories), a Driver Rating of 126.2, an Average Running Position of 4.7, 537 Fastest Laps Run and 842 Laps Led.

Johnson’s prime championship rival, Mark Martin, is also a threat for the perfect 150. If he has another race like the one this past April, it could happen. Martin was just a tick off perfection. He had a Driver Rating of 145.6, an Average Running Position of 2.1 and 157 Laps Led in what was his first of five victories this season.

Best Single Race Driver Ratings (2005-Present)
                                                            Driver
Driver                  Track              Date   Rating
Kurt Busch           Phoenix          4/05       150.0
Kurt Busch           Pocono           7/05       150.0
Tony Stewart        W. Glen          8/05       150.0
Kevin Harvick        Phoenix         11/06      150.0
Kurt Busch           Pocono           8/07       150.0
Clint Bowyer         New Hamp.     9/07        150.0
Jimmie Johnson    Auto Club        8/08       150.0
Kurt Busch           Atlanta            3/09       150.0
Jimmie Johnson    Dover               5/09      150.0
Denny Hamlin       Richmond        9/09      150.0
Jimmie Johnson    Phoenix           11/08    149.9
Matt Kenseth        Bristol              8/05     149.8
Matt Kenseth        Homestead      11/07    149.8
Tony Stewart         Texas             11/06    149.7
Greg Biffle             Texas              4/05     149.2
Tony Stewart         New Hamp.      7/05     149.2
Kyle Busch           Bristol              3/09     149.2
Jimmie Johnson     Dover               9/09     149.2
Jimmie Johnson     Martinsville       10/08    149.1
Denny Hamlin        Pocono            7/06      149.0

Clinching Scenarios: What Johnson Can Do To Lock Up The Championship

With two races left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson leads the standings by 73 points over second-place Mark Martin and 112 points over third-place Jeff Gordon.

With the standings tight as the season comes to a close, everyone wants to know what Johnson has to do to clinch the title.

For Johnson to clinch at Phoenix International Raceway, he will need to lead by 195 points after the race. Currently up 73 points, he’ll need to gain 122 points by the race’s end. If he does that, he will clinch no matter what any other driver does.

For Johnson to clinch at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he will need to average a fourth-place finish over the final two races, or fifth and a lap led in each of the final two races, or sixth and the most laps led in each of the final two races. If he does that, he will clinch no matter what any other driver does.

“Yeah, it’s an exciting time for sure,” Johnson said. “There’s still a lot of racing left, and things can go wrong. But I’m really trying to keep my head down and keep this team focused on doing the job the next two weeks.”

“What got us in 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 that we can.”

If Johnson does win the title, he will make NASCAR history by becoming the first driver in 61 years of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition to win four consecutive championships. Chad Knaus also will become the first crew chief to win four consecutive titles.

On The Line: Juan Pablo Montoya

Here are some excerpts from this week’s media interview with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Q: What is the outlook for moving up in the final standings over these last two races?

Montoya: “Yeah, it’s been a great season. It’s been a great Chase. We’ve just been involved in too many accidents, you know. I see two of them not even being our fault. You can understand the Talladega one. We had Mark Martin run over us in Charlotte. And last week, you know, Carl ran really close to me, took the air out of the car, and I just got really loose. You know, he came later and apologized and everything. But it just happens. It’s what racing is all about. But overall it’s nice to see how good the performance of our cars are. To be honest with you, we didn’t have a great car over the weekend. But even like that we were running fifth, sixth place. And even with a car that was pretty bad balance‑wise, we had a good chance to finish in the top five again and scoring great points.”

Q: What do you think of the negative responses NASCAR has received this season?

Montoya: “To tell you the truth, I think people that complain about a NASCAR race, they haven’t watched any other motor racing. Honestly, if you don’t like what you’re seeing, you shouldn’t be seeing it because it’s the greatest racing you can have in any motorsport scene. It doesn’t get any better than this, I’ll tell you the truth. I’ve been in Formula 1. I’ve been in IndyCars, I’ve been in CART. And the best racing is right here. I’m not saying this because I’m here. I’m saying this because I’ve lived all of them, and nothing compares to this.”

Q: Do you feel you’ll be one of the top contenders next year?

Montoya: “The key for our team is to be able to match the performance that we have this year next year. Of course we want to win races, and of course we want to do better. But if we can match what we did this year, I think the whole team is going to settle as a top team, and I think that’s the key.”

Kyle Busch, Dave Rogers Look Like New Force To Be Reckoned With

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Pedigree Toyota), has been one of NASCAR’s most electrifying competitors this season posting four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s, but when the No. 18 team failed to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, owner/team management decided to make a change to the team.

Steve Addington had been the crew chief for Busch for the last two years, but this past Sunday at Texas, Dave Rogers became the new crew chief.

Rogers and Busch have worked together in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and were familiar with each other, but this past weekend was the first time the pair worked together in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Busch and the No. 18 team dominated most of the day at Texas, leading 232 laps of the scheduled 334 laps, but ran out of gas a few laps short of the finish, placing 11th.

Rogers joined Joe Gibbs Racing in July of 1998 and in 1999 he joined Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli on the No. 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. He worked side-by-side with Zipadelli from ’99 until 2005, when he became the crew chief of JGR’s third NASCAR Nationwide Series team, the No. 11. He moved to the No. 20 NASCAR Nationwide Series team in 2008.

Busch heads to Phoenix this weekend with quite the resume, having posted one win, one top five, six top 10s and a pole in nine starts at the famed one-mile raceway.

Spoiler Role: Richard Childress Racing Teammates Could Be Holding The Hot Hand

If you’re looking for “spoilers” outside the 12-driver Chase field at Phoenix, consider Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton (No. 31 CAT Financial Chevrolet).

Harvick has the best pre-race Driver Rating (99.0), Average Running Position (10.441) and Laps in the Top 15 (75.2%) ranking of drivers not in the Chase field.

In 13 starts at Phoenix, Harvick has posted two wins, three top fives and six top 10s.

Also keep an eye out for Harvick’s RCR teammate. Burton’s season hasn’t been up to his usual par, but this weekend he could post his first win of the season. Burton has made 20 starts at Phoenix, having posted two wins, five top fives and 11 top 10s.

One stat not in favor of the spoilers this week is that five of 12 Chase drivers [Jimmie Johnson (3), Mark Martin (2), Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch] have won at least once at Phoenix International Raceway.

NSCS Etc.

Two Going For The Triple This Weekend

Two drivers will be aiming to make history this weekend by becoming the first to win in all three NASCAR national series at Phoenix International Raceway — Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

Busch came close to scoring the feat last weekend at Texas when he won both the NASCAR Camping World Truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series races, but fell just short when he ran out of gas a few laps short of the checkered flag in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, relegating him to a 11th-place finish.

Both Busch and Harvick have won at Phoenix in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

FanCar Gives Fans The Opportunity To Sponsor A NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Car

FanCar announced that it will sponsor two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte and Carter/Simo Racing at the Ford 400 on Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Fans are invited to visit www.fancar.com and invest $20 to be a sponsor of Terry Labonte’s No. 08 Toyota.

“We started FanCar to support drivers like Terry Labonte, a former Cup champion and an old-school, no-nonsense competitor,” said Matt Ferguson, founder of FanCar.

“Now it’s up to the fans to get behind Terry and Carter/Simo Racing at Miami and join the FanCar team.”

“It’s a great honor and a privilege to be the first driver of the FanCar,” said Labonte. “NASCAR fans have given me so much in my career, but FanCar takes that fan support to a whole new level.”

2009 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Update

Pos.    Driver           Points

1.       Joey Logano    237
2.       Scott Speed    201
3.       Max Papis      140 

After the 34th race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule at Texas Motor Speedway

Two Races Left To Lock Up Top 35 Spot

As the season comes to an end, much focus is on will win the championship. But at the other end of the standings is another important battle. It’s the race to get into the top 35, which guarantees the teams a starting spot in the first five events of the 2010 season, including the Daytona 500.

Three teams are susceptible to falling out, or moving into, the top 35 with two races to go. The two teams trying to hold on to the bubble spots are Robby Gordon Motorsports and the No. 7 Robby Gordon-owned/driven Chevrolet which is 34th in the standings, 41 points ahead of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing and the No. 34 Teresa Earnhardt-owned Chevrolet driven by John Andretti in 35th.

Team Red Bull Racing and the No. 83 Dietrich Mateschitz owned Toyota driven by Scott Speed is currently 36th — 117 points behind 35th.

Up Next: The Season Finale At Homestead-Miami Speedway

Homestead-Miami Speedway hosts the 10th and final race in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup — the Ford 400 — next Sunday, Nov. 22 (2:30 p.m. start on ABC).

Carl Edwards is the defending race winner. His win last year capped off a series-high nine wins in 2009.

Last year’s victory at Homestead-Miami was Edwards’ first time winning at the famed 1.5-mile track. It also was car owner Jack Roush’s series leading sixth win there.

Chase participant Greg Biffle leads all drivers with three wins at Homestead–Miami Speedway.

Fast Facts

The Race: Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil

The Place: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile Paved)

The Date: Sunday, Nov. 15

The Time: 3:15 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 312 laps/ 500 Kilometers

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

Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128; (Local: KMGE/910 AM)

2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

2008 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

Schedule: Friday—Practice, 12 p.m.-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:45 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.; Final Practice, 12:50-1:50 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                       Points
 1 Jimmie Johnson          6,297
 2 Mark Martin                6,224
 3 Jeff Gordon                 6,185
 4 Kurt Busch                 6,126
 5 Tony Stewart              6,119
 6 Juan Pablo Montoya    6,061
 7 Greg Biffle                  6,050
 8 Denny Hamlin             5,975
 9 Ryan Newman            5,973
10 Kasey Kahne             5,898
11 Carl Edwards             5,857
12 Brian Vickers             5,777


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

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