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Keeping Pace

Wed., Oct. 14, 2009, 12:30 a.m.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Lowe’s

Jimmie Johnson has a 12-point lead over Mark Martin in the Chase standings. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Jimmie Johnson has a 12-point lead over Mark Martin in the Chase standings. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Heading into Saturday night’s NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson has grabbed the points lead with his sights squarely set on claiming his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title – an unprecedented accomplishment in the sport.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If there was ever any doubt that the contenders for the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup had to go through Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team, those doubts have been erased.

Heading into Saturday night’s NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Johnson has grabbed the points lead with his sights squarely set on claiming his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title – an unprecedented accomplishment in the sport.

Johnson’s win last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., marked his 16th win in the Chase, which far out-distances the six Chase wins each for Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) and Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford).

If any venue could be accurately described as “Jimmie’s House,” the 1.5-mile layout at Lowe’s would fit the bill. Johnson has won five times at LMS, tied with Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) for most wins among active drivers. One more victory and Johnson would join Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip with six wins there. Johnson’s Driver Rating of 116.6 also leads all drivers at LMS.

However, Johnson has suffered a dry spell of late. After winning four consecutive races there in 2004 and 2005 (a track record), Johnson has gone winless at Lowe’s in the last three-plus seasons.

“The last three years have been really special,” Johnson said. “Right now, we’re in a great position, but it’s way too early to start thinking about other things.”

Nearing Halfway Point, Drivers Are Bringing “A” Game To Chase

When Saturday night’s NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America is complete, it will mark the halfway point of the 2009 Chase. Through the first four races of the Chase, the top three drivers in the point standings – Johnson, Mark Martin (No. 5 Pop-Tarts/CARQUEST Chevrolet) and Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Lysol Chevrolet) have all brought their “A” game.

Johnson’s Average Finish over the first four races is 3.8. What is even more astonishing is that Martin and Montoya’s Average Finishes are even better than that – both at 3.5 – yet Martin trails Johnson by 12 points and Montoya is 58 points back. Montoya is the only driver to record a top-five finish in each of the four Chase races.

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) has taken advantage of some key strategy the past two weeks to stay in the championship hunt. A timely two-tire pit stop helped him win at Kansas two weeks ago and his team overcame a pit road speeding penalty to fight back from a lap down and finish fifth at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday. The two-time series champion heads into this weekend fourth in points. Stewart is 84 points out of first.

Gordon continues to inch his way up the point standings. The four-time series champion finished second in California last Sunday and moved up two spots to fifth. He now sits 105 points behind teammate Johnson.

Drivers Out To Protect “Home Turf” At Lowe’s This Week

Lowe’s Motor Speedway, with its close proximity to many of NASCAR’s race shops, provides a “Homecoming Week” to the drivers and teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The track is celebrating its 50th season of NASCAR racing, and for the teams, protecting their “home turf” has never been more important.  

Of the 12 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, only five have won series points races at Lowe’s. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lead the way with five wins each. Mark Martin is next with four victories, followed by Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) with three. Tony Stewart has won once at Lowe’s.

That means that seven Chase drivers will be gunning for their first win at Lowe’s this Saturday night. That in itself should make the competition and intrigue even more compelling.

The remainder of Saturday’s field has had solid success at Lowe’s. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) is the defending race winner and a three-time victor there. Former series champion Bill Elliott (No. 21 Warriors in Pink Powered by Ford Ford) is entered in this week’s event and has won twice at Lowe’s, as has 2000 series champion Bobby Labonte (No. 96 ASK.com/Search for the Cure Ford Fusion). Terry Labonte (No. 08 EM Motorsports Toyota), another former series champion, has one victory at LMS, and is likewise entered this week. Other former winners at Lowe’s include 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 CARHARTT Ford); Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Jeremiah Weed Ford); and Casey Mears (No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet) – all with one win each.

Martin has often said that Lowe’s is one of his favorite race tracks. Saturday marks Martin’s 50th points race at LMS. His 17 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes tops all active drivers there.

  • Lowe’s Creates Fan Guide to Fun – To enhance the fan experience during race week, Lowe’s Motor Speedway officials have created a Fan Guide to Fun for this week’s event. The guide provides comprehensive information on driver appearances, concerts, sponsor displays and pre-race infield race activities. It’s available online (lowesmotorspeedway.com) and at the track welcome center and information booths.
  • It’s All About The Fans – To help celebrate homecoming, NASCAR style, LMS will crown one fan as the official Homecoming Queen for Saturday night’s NASCAR Banking 500. In partnership with radio station WKKT FM (96.9) The Kat, LMS is holding an online contest to select one lucky lady to wear the crown. The grand prize winner will receive a VIP race package and participate in pre-race ceremonies. Ladies are invited to register at lowesmotorspeedway.com to sign up for the contest.

LMS will also randomly select fans in attendance for Bojangles’ Pole Night Thursday, Oct. 15 to wave the green flag during qualifying, scheduled to begin at 7:10 p.m.

Loop Data Says: Top Three In Chase Standings Bear Watching At Lowe’s

Statistically, this is the most competitive Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in its six-year history.

Through four races, the top three drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya – are averaging a finish better than fourth. That has never happened by one driver through four races in any of the previous five Chases, let alone three in one year.

Coming into this season, the best average finish after four Chase races was Johnson’s 4.3 last season and Kurt Busch’s (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) 4.3 in 2004. Both drivers won the title that year. After four Chase races this season, Johnson has a 3.8 average finish, Martin has a 3.5 and Montoya has a 3.5.

Same goes for Driver Ratings over 100.0.

Currently, a record six drivers have a rating over 100.0 through the first four Chase races. The previous high since the inception of Loop Data in 2005 was four drivers, last season.

Also, after four 2009 Chase races, five drivers have an Average Running Position in the top 10. That is the highest number in the Chase’s history. The previous high was two in 2005, when both Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth did it.

So, the margin of error in this year’s Chase is miniscule. This weekend’s race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway presents a unique challenge for all the Chasers, but especially the top three.

Overall, Johnson ranks as the statistical favorite. Since 2005 at Lowe’s, Johnson has a series best Driver Rating of 116.6, a series-high 292 Fastest Laps Run and a series high 2,862 Laps in the Top 15 (90.3%).

Lately, he’s fallen off the LMS pace that saw four consecutive victories from 2004-05. His average finish over the last four races, which includes just one top 10, is 18.0. But statistics suggest Johnson ran better than he finished. Over that span, he had a Driver Rating of 111.1 and an Average Running Position of 6.3.

Martin is statistically strong at LMS as well, despite his last win coming in 2002. Since 2005, Martin has a Driver Rating of 91.7 (fifth-best) and an Average Running Position of 12.1 (fifth).

Montoya’s run could be the most interesting of the bunch. His LMS Driver Rating of 58.0 makes it his second-worst track in the series (Darlington is his worst in terms of Driver Rating, at 51.0). But, this is a career year for Montoya. Overall, he does have a 58.0 Driver Rating and an Average Running Position of 25.8. But in his eighth-place finish at Lowe’s in May, he had a Driver Rating of 106.2 and an Average Running Position of 6.9.

Top Chase Driver Ratings (After 4 Races)
 
                              Driver
Driver                    Rating            Year
Jimmie Johnson       133.4              2009
Juan Pablo Montoya 123.8              2009
Jimmie Johnson       114.4              2008
Mark Martin             113.0              2009
Tony Stewart           109.6              2005

On The Line: Kasey Kahne

Kasey Kahne was the guest on this week’s NASCAR CAM video teleconference. Currently 11th in points, he hopes to improve his track record at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where he has three wins, four top-fives and six top-10 finishes.

Following are some excerpts from the videoteleconference.

Q: How does the pressure of a team being in the Chase affect both your racing as far as preparation going into the event and what transpires on the track. What does the pressure of the Chase do?

Kahne: The two months leading into the Chase, the points are so close from fifth to 15th this year, that the pressure was intense and that's where the team was bringing great race cars. I couldn't make any mistakes and we had to be really on top of our game to make the Chase and we did that. Now being in the Chase it's the same thing. So really we have been doing that for a while now, and you know, just trying to get every point we can, the best finish as possible, and I think the final practice leading into each race is really critical for the following day.

Q: Did you expect the level of competition in the Chase this year to be so tight?

Kahne: I expected that's how the whole Chase would be ran. So, yeah, it just makes it tough. So you know, we'll just have to see what happens, but I knew it would be close for the first half of the Chase and I imagine it will the last half, too.

Q: What do you do to stay focused, to keep calm, stay positive when you have a problem in a competitive Chase like this one?

Kahne: Well, I think the biggest thing for me is how much I love to race and how much I love to drive cars. We have Charlotte coming up, we have Texas and we have some tracks that we have ran really well at in the past. So it's pretty easy for me to get over that and knowing that I have these next races coming up, we still have opportunities to win. I'm excited about that.

Inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame Class Announced Oct. 14

The inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be announced Wednesday, Oct. 14 at the Charlotte Convention Center.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel, consisting of members of the Nominating Committee along with 29 others representing NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, major race track ownership groups, retired drivers, owners and crew chiefs along with motorsports media representatives, will meet Wednesday in a closed-door session in Charlotte to vote on the 2010 induction class.

The class is chosen from the 51 votes cast by the panel and the nationwide fan vote conducted through NASCAR.COM. The accounting firm of Ernst & Young presided over the tabulation of the votes.

The Class of 2010 will be officially inducted in a ceremony on May 23 at the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte.

Five members will be inducted.

The nominees include many of the sport’s legendary names: Bobby Allison, Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Dale Earnhardt, Richie Evans, Tim Flock, Bill France Jr., Bill France Sr., Rick Hendrick, Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, David Pearson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts, Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Darrell Waltrip, Joe Weatherly, Glen Wood and Cale Yarborough.

Jail & Bail Charity Event Benefits Brienne Davis Scholarship Fund

The second annual Official Jail & Bail charity event supported by Best Buy and Insignia to benefit the Brienne Davis Scholarship Fund at The NASCAR Foundation is set for Weds., Oct. 14 at the Brickhouse Tavern in Davidson, N.C.

The event will feature country music artist Rodney Atkins in concert.

A host of NASCAR drivers, including Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Stremme (No. 12 Penske Dodge), Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota), Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota), Paul Menard (No. 98 Johns Manville/Menards Ford), Reed Sorenson (No. 43 Super 8 Motels Dodge), Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Clorox-Kingsford Toyota), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne and more will have their day in “court” when they get “locked up” and must solicit bail in an effort to raise funds for the scholarship fund.

Davis, a Universal Technical Institute (UTI) graduate and NASCAR Sprint Cup official, died tragically in April, 2008 at the age of 28. This scholarship was created in her honor to encourage women to seek automotive industry careers.

The Brienne Davis Scholarship Fund is intended to provide an opportunity for a qualified female student to attend one of 12 UTI campuses across the U.S., including the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C.

Tickets for the event are on sale for $10 and available at the door the night of the vent. To register for tickets or learn more, visit WWW.NASCAR.COM/foundation.

NSCS Etc. Celebrity Chase Tracker In Full Swing—Rock Band Foreigner The Early Leader

Foreigner Leads Celebrity Chase Tracker

Jimmie Johnson may be in the points lead for the first time in 2009, but for legendary rock band Foreigner their time spent in first place only “Feels Like the First Time.” The band tops the 2009 Celebrity Chase Tracker standings for the second straight week after picking up a weekly-high 17 points at Auto Club Speedway.

Foreigner is one of 22 participants in this year’s Celebrity Chase Tracker, a game in which contestants make predictions on the Chase standings and race winners. All predictions are submitted before the first Chase race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Foreigner’s 36 total points leads “Inside Golf Magazine” TV host Jessica Marksbury (29), Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo (28), Professional Bull Rider Matt Bohon (27) and United States Congressman Patrick McHenry (26).

Foreigner correctly predicted the race winner for the second straight week and was one of six participants to correctly predict Johnson’s win on Sunday. They are the third different celebrity entrant to lead the standings – and the first to do it for two straight weeks – following Miss USA Kristen Dalton and O.A.R. drummer Chris Culos.

Congressman McHenry, whose District includes the areas around Lowe’s Motor Speedway, is looking to move up the standings with the field heading to his home track. Also looking to gain ground on home turf is United States Senator Kay Hagan (N.C.), who is currently in 13th place with 20 points.

Milestones For Lowe’s Race Weekend
 
Jeff Burton will be making his 850th career NASCAR start in Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Lowe’s, driving the No. 29 Holiday Inn/Holiday Inn Express Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Since his NASCAR debut at Martinsville Speedway on March 13, 1988, Burton has made 541 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, 304 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts and four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts.

Burton has claimed 21 victories in NASCAR’s premier circuit and that ties him with Bobby Labonte, Benny Parsons and Jack Smith for 28th on the all-time series wins list.  Over the course of his 849 NASCAR starts, Burton has racked up 48 wins, 17 poles, 209 top-five and 372 top-10 finishes. He has finished in the top 10 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings in eight of the 15 years he has run the series full time.

“It’s hard to imagine I’ll be making my 850th NASCAR start,” Burton said. “I’m not one to count how many starts I have made but I can certainly say that I have a lot more starts in my future. Competing in NASCAR’s top levels of racing is something I have dreamed of since I was five years old.

“Thirty-seven years later, I still have a passion for what I do and I look forward to capturing more trophies and, hopefully, a championship along the way.”

AJ Allmendinger (No. 44 Dassault Systemes Dodge) is set to make his 75th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start Saturday night at Lowe’s.

Up Next: Martinsville Speedway

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup  heads to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 25 for the Tums Fast Relief 500 (ABC, 1 p.m.)

For the first time in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history, all fans attending the event will serve as ‘Grand Marshals’ for the race. It’s certainly a “back to basics” approach at one of NASCAR’s deep-rooted traditional race tracks.

Jimmie Johnson is the defending race winner. He ranks second among active drivers with six wins there and has won five of the past six races there, including this year’s spring event.

Other multiple Martinsville winners include Mark Martin (2) and Tony Stewart (2). Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) are the other Chase drivers to win at Martinsville, once each.

Fast Facts

The Race: NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America

The Place: Lowe’s Motor Speedway(1.5-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, Oct. 17

The Time: 7:25 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 501 miles//334 laps

TV: ABC, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128; (WSOC FM 103.7 local)

2008 Winner: Jeff Burton

2008 Polesitter: None (weather)

Schedule: Thursday: Practice, 3-4:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 7:10. Friday: Practice, 5-5:45 p.m. and 6:20-7:20 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers
    Driver                     Points
 1 Jimmie Johnson         5,728
 2 Mark Martin               5,716
 3 Juan Pablo Montoya   5,670
 4 Tony Stewart              5,644
 5 Jeff Gordon                5,623
 6 Kurt Busch                5,607
 7 Greg Biffle                 5,540
 8 Carl Edwards             5,536
 9 Denny Hamlin            5,509
10 Ryan Newman           5,505
11 Kasey Kahne            5,422
12 Brian Vickers            5,377




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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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