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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Homestead-Miami

Jimmie Johnson, following his seventh victory of the 2009 season at Phoenix International Raceway, carries a 108-point lead into Sunday’s Ford 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The lead isn’t insurmountable as Mark Martin still can deny Johnson a record fourth consecutive championship — but all the leader has to do is finish 25th or better to lock up the title.


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Week 10: Johnson On Brink Of NASCAR History

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Only Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet) stands between Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) and arguably one of the greatest achievements in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.

Johnson, following his seventh victory of the 2009 season at Phoenix International Raceway, carries a 108-point lead into Sunday’s Ford 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The lead isn’t insurmountable — Martin still can deny Johnson a record fourth consecutive championship — but all the leader has to do is finish 25th or better to lock up the title.

Johnson, seemingly coasting to the championship before a 38th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway gave fresh hopes to his pursuers, proved at Phoenix that his Lone Star State “hiccup” wasn’t a momentum buster. He rolled over the opposition (Martin finished fourth) by leading a whopping 238 of 312 laps to win the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 for the third consecutive year.

The 34-year-old El Cajon, Calif. competitor also scored his fourth Chase victory for the third time, prompting team owner Rick Hendrick to remark, “Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and Jimmie have just been unbelievable. To watch them, I said this earlier today, I’m just glad I don’t have to race against them.”

Ironically, Hendrick does. Martin ranks second in the standings; four-time champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is third. Gordon will be eliminated when Johnson signs in for Sunday’s race.

Johnson knows there is no certain thing in NASCAR. He’s not ready to celebrate anything.

“We need to show up, blinders on, focused, (in) qualifying trim, get all that we can,” he said. “We just can’t coast. We can’t chill out. We have to stay focused and keep our heads down on the job at hand.”

Mark Martin’s Down But Definitely Not Yet Out

Mark Martin may trail Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 108 points entering Sunday’s Ford 400 finale but it’s not in his DNA to go down without putting every ounce of his skill and determination into the fight.

And who knows — witness the recent Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots game — what could happen.

If anyone can stage a comeback, it’s the veteran Martin who, on nine occasions, has gained more than 108 points on Johnson. It happened most recently two weeks ago in Texas, when Martin’s fourth-place finish coupled with Johnson’s accident-troubled 38th, resulted in a net gain of 111 points.

Regardless of how matters shake out, “I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done this season,” said Martin, only the second NASCAR Sprint Cup driver past the age of 50 to win five times in a season.
 
Loop Data Says: Johnson Superb, But So Are Chase Rivals

Jimmie Johnson continues to out-do himself.

Two years ago, in 2007, Johnson had a Chase for the ages, winning four consecutive races during one remarkable stretch. In that Chase, he averaged a Driver Rating of 114.1.

But one year later, he eclipsed that mark. In 2008, he won three races and went into the final race with a robust 141-point lead. That Chase, he bested 2007, posting a Driver Rating of 116.2.

Now this year, he’s even stronger. Johnson’s Driver Rating over the first nine Chase races is 117.2. If that stays true this weekend at Homestead, it will be the highest Chase Driver Rating since the inception of Loop Data in 2005.

Statistically, this has been a landmark Chase. Here are a few key Loop Data categories, and how 2009 compares to past seasons:

Average Running Position: In a testament to how stout this year’s Chase field was, the top two Average Running Position figures since 2005 are from the 2009 Chase – and neither are Johnson’s. They belong to Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. Over the first nine races, Martin has an Average Running Position of 7.9 and Gordon has an 8.1. The top season-ending Average Running Position belongs to Tony Stewart, which had an 8.5 in 2005. With solid Homestead races, both Martin and Gordon can eclipse that mark.

Fastest Laps Run: Like Driver Rating, Johnson’s name is peppered all over this category. Also like the Driver Rating, he has crushed previous benchmarks in 2009. In the first nine Chase races, Johnson has 547 Fastest Laps Run. That’s the highest number in the past five Chases, by a wide margin. The previous high for Fastest Laps Run in a Chase was also by Johnson, last season. In 2008, he had 379. In other words, Johnson has turned the fastest laps 168 more times in nine races than he did in 10 races last season.

Laps in the top 15: This is the rare category where Johnson doesn’t already hold the lead. In fact, if the season ended today, his Chase Laps in the Top 15 (2,356) number would rank 21st. A lot of that has to do with his Texas race, where he ran just two laps among the top 15. The 2009 leader in the category is Mark Martin, with 2,563. With a strong Homestead race, he can take the overall lead now held by Johnson’s 2006 mark of 2,773. If Martin runs 210 of Sunday’s 267 laps among the top 15, he’ll tie Johnson

Top 35 Owner Points Picture

There’s one spot up for grabs this week — 35th place –- and with it goes a guaranteed starting position in the 2010 Daytona 500.

The No. 34 team owned by Teresa Earnhardt currently ranks 35th with 2,667 points. The only team with a shot at taking the position is the No. 82 of Dietrich Mateschitz.

Mateschitz and driver Scott Speed, however, trail by 114 points. Speed, who has a single top five in his rookie season, will at least have to match his best performance of the year (fifth) to overcome the deficit.

How They’ve Performed In The Chase  
Driver                    Driver Rating  Pos.
Jimmie Johnson           117.2            1
Mark Martin                 105.7            2
Juan Pablo Montoya     105.7            6
Jeff Gordon                   105.4           3
Denny Hamlin               102.3           8
Tony Stewart                  94.2           5
Greg Biffle                      86.5           7
Kasey Kahne                  84.4         10
Ryan Newman                84.1           9
Carl Edwards                 76.6          11
Brian Vickers                 68.3          12
Note: Jimmie Johnson has led 33.2% laps. 
 
South Florida Activities Send 2009 Out With A Flourish

This will be a busy week leading up to the final weekend of the NASCAR season with something for everyone — both fans and media.

Wednesday’s activities include a hauler parade through downtown Miami and South Beach and driver autograph session at Luumis Park. Among drivers attending will be Kyle Busch, who will wrap up his first NASCAR Nationwide Series title on Saturday and Ron Hornaday Jr., who captured an unprecedented fourth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title last week.

Later that evening, at Jungle Island/South Beach, NASCAR President Mike Helton will host the Sailfish Cup Awards Gala, a benefit for the NASCAR Foundation and the Speediatrics unit at Homestead Hospital.

The annual NASCAR Championship Contenders press conference, featuring Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Hyatt/Coral Gables.

The Coke Zero Racefest will be held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood from 3-11:30 p.m. Thursday, featuring a kids’ fun zone, race cars and other exhibits and appearances by several drivers.

Two charity events, hosted by Juan Pablo Montoya’s Formula Smiles Foundation in Brickell and Operation Helmet benefiting U.S. service personnel in combat zones in Nikki Beach/South Beach, also take place Thursday night.

Saturday’s events include a fishing tournament on the speedway’s lake and enshrinement by Helton of the inaugural class of Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison and Jimmie Johnson in Homestead-Miami Speedway’s Hall of Champions.

Allison, the 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, will sign autographs from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at the Speedway Tower.

The Emmy-nominated host of “Dirty Jobs,” Ford spokesperson and grand marshal Mike Rowe will meet the media at 3 p.m. Saturday.

 
Joey Logano Nears Raybestos Rookie Of The Year Title

Points remain to be totaled but Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) is the prohibitive favorite to claim 2009 Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors with only Sunday’s Ford 400 left on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.

Logano, who grabbed his 25th rookie of the race award at Phoenix, leads rivals Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota) and Max Papis (No. 13 GEICO Toyota) by 36 and 88 points, respectively.

Logano won in mid-summer at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Connecticut native at age 19 years, five months, 29 days would become the youngest rookie of the year in the history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota) was age 20 years, six months, 13 days when he won the title in 2005.

Winning the rookie of the year title is a good indication of things to come. NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Richard Petty won the award in 1959; David Pearson was top rookie in 1960.

Since 1979 six Raybestos Rookies of the Year have gone on to win series titles including seven-time champion and Hall of Fame Inductee Dale Earnhardt (1979) and Jeff Gordon (1993).

Etc. & Quotable

Carl Edwards, No. 99 AFLAC Ford: “A Roush Fenway car has won (at Homestead) almost every year that I’ve been doing this at this level. I have real high hopes going in there. We’re just going to go until the last lap and give it a hundred percent with guns blazing. We’re going for the win. Hopefully we’ll get a shot at it.” With three victories, Roush Fenway Racing is suffering its leanest year since 2001 when the team won just twice. The team won 11 races a year ago. Roush Fenway drivers have won six of the past seven races at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Homestead-Miami Speedway is the only active NASCAR Sprint Cup track at which Jeff Gordon has failed to win. Gordon marked Texas Motor Speedway off his to-do list in the spring leaving just the 1.5-mile South Florida speedway in the way of a noteworthy sweep. “A win, you know, is huge, especially at Homestead, because it is the final race. It would be huge for us. We’ve never won there before. I think that everybody feels that way,” said Gordon.

This week’s race marks the eighth consecutive year the season has ended at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Atlanta Motor Speedway hosted the finale from 1987-2000. In 2001, the finale was held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of the 9/11 attacks. From 1974 through 1986, the season ended on the West Coast at now-shuttered tracks in Ontario and Riverside, Calif. The last time the season ended on a short track was 1970 at Langley Field Speedway in Virginia.

NSCS Etc.

Homestead-Miami Milestones

A number of streaks are in jeopardy this week — none longer than Greg Biffle’s (No. 16 3 M Ford) run of six consecutive seasons with at least one victory.

Also needing a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway to preserve a streak is Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), who has victories in three consecutive seasons. A runner-up finish in Sunday’s race at Phoenix suggests the Richard Childress Racing driver might be close.

Winless in 2009 after posting victories a year ago are defending Ford 400 winner Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet) and Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet).

Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) continues to chase a Coors Light Pole to extend his consecutive fast qualifying streak to six seasons.
 
Floridians In The Garage

From David Reutimann’s No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota team: driver David Reutimann (Zephyrhills).

From Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet team: gas man Preston Cordell (Middleburg), and spotter Joey Meier (Marathon).

From Mark Martin’s No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet team: crew chief Alan Gustafson (Ormond Beach) and transport driver Dean Mozingo (Tampa).

From Casey Mears’ No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet team: front tire changer Ryan Pepe (Orlando).

From Kasey Kahne’s No. 9 Budweiser Dodge team: crew chief Kenny Francis (Jacksonville).

From Greg Biffle’s No. 16 3M Ford team: pit support Bobby Bakeeff (Fort Lauderdale).

From Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&Ms Toyota team: shock specialist Charlie Orr (Mountverde).

From Elliott Sadler’s No. 19 Best Buy Dodge team: mechanic Allen Mincey (Fort Lauderdale).

From Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team: media relations representative Christine Brownlow (Miami Springs).

From Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet team: crew chief Tony Gibson (Daytona Beach); engine tuner Jay Nolan (Jacksonville); and driver support Jay Guarneri (Naples).

From Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 42 Target Chevrolet: crew chief Brian Pattie (Zephyrhills); jack man Mark Jacobs (Fort Walton Beach) and spotter Tab Boyd (Pensacola).

From AJ Allmendinger’s No. 44 Ford Drive One Ford: spotter Shawn Reutimann (Zephyrhills).

From Scott Speed’s No. 82 Red Bull Toyota: mechanic Scott Kilbury (Fort Lauderdale).

Hendrick Nears Owner Record

Based upon owner championships won, Hendrick Motorsports is the New York Yankees of NASCAR.

Drivers in Rick Hendrick-owned cars and trucks have won 11 NASCAR national series titles. Either Jimmie Johnson or Mark Martin will add a record 12th championship on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The record currently is shared by Hendrick and Richard Childress Racing.

Four drivers — Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte and Jack Sprague — have won NASCAR national owner championships for Hendrick. Gordon, Johnson and Labonte won NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. Sprague is a three-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.

Rick Hendrick’s NASCAR Championships
Yr.    Driver              Series
1995 Jeff Gordon       Sprint Cup
1996 Terry Labonte    Sprint Cup
1997 Jeff Gordon       Sprint Cup
1997 Jack Sprague    Camping World Trucks
1998 Jeff Gordon        Sprint Cup
1998  Jack Sprague   Camping World Trucks
2001 Jeff Gordon       Sprint Cup
2002 Jack Sprague    Camping World Trucks
2006 Jimmie Johnson Sprint Cup
2007 Jimmie Johnson Sprint Cup
2008 Jimmie Johnson Sprint Cup
2008 Jimmie Johnson Sprint Cup
        or Mark Martin

Up Next: Champion’s Week Comes West, To California And Las Vegas

Champion’s Week heads west next month with activities beginning Sunday, Nov. 29 in San Diego where the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will attend the NFL game between the hometown Chargers and the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

On Monday, it’s on to Camp Pendleton, the West Coast home of the U.S. Marines, where the champion will meet with hundreds of service personnel. SIRIUS-XM personality Mojo Nixon will host the appearance.

Tuesday’s activities include an appearance before fans and ticket holders at Auto Club Speedway and visits to a number of West Coast-produced television shows.

Then it’s on to Las Vegas.

Wednesday’s Chasers for Charity and Roast is a first for Champion’s Week and takes place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during afternoon and evening hours.

The awards trail begins in earnest on Thursday, Dec. 3 with such traditional activities as the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers 2009 Awards ceremony at the Venetian Hotel.

That’s followed by the popular Victory Lap, which begins at 1 p.m. and this year follows the famous Las Vegas Strip. An additional activity — After the Lap Q&A — will be held at 4:30 p.m. in the Hollywood Theater at the MGM Grand.

Wynn Las Vegas hosts the traditional Champion’s Awards Ceremony beginning at 6 p.m. Friday Dec. 4. Ceremonies will be broadcast live by SPEED 9 p.m.-1 a.m. ET with re-airs at 1-5 a.m. on Dec. 5 and 1-5 p.m. on Dec. 6.

Fast Facts

The Race: Ford 400

The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway (1.5-mile banked oval)

The Date: Sunday, Nov. 22

The Time: 3:15 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 400.5 miles/267 laps

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

Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128; (WCTH-FM 100.3 local)

2008 Winner: Carl Edwards

2008 Polesitter: Jamie McMurray

Schedule: Friday: Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday: Practice, 1:30-2:15 p.m. and 2:50-3:50 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                       Points
 1 Jimmie Johnson          6,492
 2 Mark Martin                6,384
 3 Jeff Gordon                 6,323
 4 Kurt Busch                 6,281
 5 Tony Stewart              6,207
 6 Juan Pablo Montoya    6,203
 7 Greg Biffle                  6,171
 8 Denny Hamlin             6,140
 9 Ryan Newman            6,081
10 Kasey Kahne             6,016
11 Carl Edwards             5,972
12 Brian Vickers             5,826


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

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