Summer’s arrival means the “Race to the Chase,” the 10-race stretch that precedes the “Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.”
The Race to the Chase begins with this weekend’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — the same track that will host the first Chase event on Sept. 14.
In between, expect a compelling combination of events and tracks that will both boost and stymie drivers’ hopes of qualifying for the Chase.
A reminder: The top 12 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings compete for the series title during the season’s final 10 races — the Chase.
En route to eligibility, drivers must excel at two legendary tracks — Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway — plus shine in two of the nation’s top three media markets — Los Angeles (Auto Club Speedway) and Chicago (Chicagoland Speedway).
The season’s second of two road-course events, this time at New York’s Watkins Glen International, rolls around in August.
Then there’s the short-track component — demanding and rewarding all at once.
The night race at Bristol Motor Speedway high-banked half-mile comes first, following two weeks later by the final event in the “Race to the Chase” — or cutoff race — the
Chevy Rock & Roll 400 on Sept. 6 at the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway.
Five And Counting: Kyle Busch Looking For Sixth Win Of 2008
As Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) continues stockpiling trophies and points, he also continues inviting superlatives.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings leader won for the fifth time this season last Sunday at Infineon Raceway, completing a victory at each style of track on the series schedule. With the road-course win, Busch now has triumphed at least once at a short track, intermediate track and restrictor-plate track in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition.
His series-high fifth win extended his lead to 103 points over second-place Jeff Burton (No. 31 LENOX Chevrolet). Prior to Infineon, Busch had weathered a two-week “lull”, finishing 43rd at Pocono Raceway and 13th at Michigan International Speedway.
As for New Hampshire, Busch should be considered a winning threat again this weekend. Along with his series-high Average Running Position of 9.6 (per NASCAR Loop Data) he has one win and three top-fives in six starts there.
They All Add Up: ‘Race To The Chase’ Emphasizes Winning
Kyle Busch’s winning ways not only have placed him atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, they’re also wielding statistical heft.
As the Race to the Chase begins this week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the spotlight also brightens on “Emphasis on Winning.”
Which means Busch’s series-high five wins currently give him the top seed if the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began now.
Following the season’s 26th race (Sept.6 at Richmond) the top-12 drivers qualify to compete for the series title during the season’s final 10 events — the Chase.
Those drivers have their point totals reset to 5,000, and are awarded 10 bonus points for each victory during the first 26 races. As the top seed, Busch would begin with 5,050 points.
Each victory cannot be overestimated. The only other top-12 drivers with multiple wins — Carl Edwards (No. 99 DISH Network Ford) and Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) — would be seeded second and third, respectively.
That’s a big jump for both. Edwards currently is fourth in the series standings; Kahne is ninth.
One caveat: Edwards, who has three wins, will be docked 10 bonus points for failing post-race inspection at Las Vegas in March. He still would receive the second seed at this point because of more top-five finishes (six) than Kahne (three).
Another example: Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet) is 10th, with one win, but would be seeded sixth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet), currently third, also with one win, would be fifth.
On A Tear: Kenseth Hits Stride, Becomes Chase-Eligible
Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) has yet to visit Victory Lane in 2008, but no one has passed more competitors lately.
At least in the standings.
Rebounding from a slow start, the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has gone from after-thought to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup candidate in just six weeks — climbing from 22nd to 12th.
No one has gained more points (934) during that span, not even series leader Kyle Busch.
Kenseth’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards boasts the second-highest total (920 points), followed by Busch (913), who won three races during that six-week span.
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is fourth (885) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (865) is fifth.
“I don’t know if it’s ever too early to look at it,” Kenseth said of the series standings. “You always look at it on the way home, especially if you’re moving up, to see where you’re at and see what happened. But, the bottom line is really you do the best you can every week, and try to finish as high as you can and try to lead laps and do all that and the points take care of themselves — the higher you finish, the more points you get.
“So, really, it’s not a strategy, when you race hard and try to be smart and do the right things and hopefully get some good finishes and get back in it.”
Although he hasn’t won at New Hampshire, Kenseth has five top fives, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 10.5 in 16 starts there.
Martin Truex Jr. The Guest On This Week’s NASCAR Video Teleconference
On The Line: Martin Truex Jr., fielded media questions during Tuesday’s weekly session:
On His Future With Dale Earnhardt Inc.: “We’re just trying to get through the details. For me, it’s just trying to get comfortable and be comfortable in the position I’m in — what they’re doing and the direction they’re headed for the future, so I can make sure that we can be together for a long time.”
On Regaining Chase Eligibility: “We had a lot of bad luck. We made some mistakes. We had some problems with our cars as far as engine failures and things of that nature. So we really dug ourselves a pretty big hole that I don’t feel like as a race team we should be in.
“We’ve got a great team, and I think we’re more than capable of being in the Chase. But it’s all about results, and we haven’t got them. So we need to go out and get them now. We’re running out of time. There’s no time for excuses.”
On His Racing History At New Hampshire: “New Hampshire was the biggest race of the year for us every time we went there. It was like our Daytona. It was the biggest, fastest track we raced on. Most of the other places were half mile, three-quarter mile bull rings. When we go there, the Cup cars would be there or the (Nationwide) cars and the trucks.
“So we’d get to race in front of a lot of people that could give us a chance one day. That’s how it happened for me. It helped jump-start my career, had a lot of success there growing up. And that is the big reason why I’ve got the chances I’ve had and where I’m at today.”
In The Loop: Former Series Champions Seeking ’08 Wins
Eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship are spread among Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet).
Yet, the three have combined to win exactly one race in 2008.
That should change sooner then later — and it could come as early as this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Stewart has been the quietest of the three. Though in 11th-place, he has no wins and has had four finishes outside the top 30. The good news: Historically, he starts to heat up about now.
During the upcoming track in the Race to the Chase — the 10 races preceding the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup — Stewart’s number trumps all other drivers in the series. He has a Driver Rating of 107.2, an Average Running Position of 10.5 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 76.2%.
His first victory may very well come this weekend. Again, statistically, he’s at the top. In the last six New Hampshire races, Stewart has a win and four top-three finishes to go along with series-high marks in Driver Rating (117.9) and Fastest Laps Run (189).
He’s also ranked second in Average Running Position (7.1) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (82.0%).
Ahead of Stewart in those two categories is Jeff Gordon, who is also looking for his first win of 2008.
Gordon has run a series-high 88.5% of the laps in the top 15 and has a series-best Average Running Position of 7.1. He ranks second behind Stewart in Driver Rating at 108.7 and Fastest Laps Run with 162. Jimmie Johnson is the lone past champion with a win in 2008. A second wouldn’t be a shock at New Hampshire. He has an Average Running Position of 12.6 (seventh-best), a Driver Rating of 96.7 (seventh), 70 Fastest Laps Run (eighth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 78.7 (fourth).
New England Natives In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Garage
Six team members hail from Massachusetts this week: No. 44 car chief Steve Channing (Uxbridge), No. 2 engine tuner Darrin Russell (Sunderland), No. 24 and 48 pit-crew coach Greg Morin (Waltham), No. 22 tire specialist Steve Aspinwall (Southboro), No. 16 gas man Billy Manchester (Westport) and No. 88 rear-tire changer D.J. Richardson (Leomister).
From New Hampshire:
No. 42 car chief Mike Brill (Woodsville), No. 48 mechanic Joe Claridge (Barrington), No. 48 transporter driver Ken Gober (Manchester), No. 20 front-tire carrier Ira-Jo Hussey (Manchester), No. 16 rear-tire changer Kyle Power (Lyme) and No. 9 second gas man Jim Lynaugh.
No. 24 crew chief Steve Letarte (Portland), No. 07 mechanic Andrew Mason (South Bristol), No. 96 mechanic Kyle Coolidge (Poland), No. 20 shock specialist Dave Hansen (York) and No. 19 front-tire carrier Brett Morrell (Windham).
No. 10 engineer Phil Surgen (Elmore) and No. 88 jack man Rick Pigeon (Fairfax).
No. 22 car chief Phil Moran (Colchester), No. 20 car chief Jason Shapiro (Essex), No. 07 mechanic Mike Geato (Portland), No. 24 mechanic Aaron Kuehn (Berlin), No. 96 mechanic Don Tarantino (Stafford Springs), No. 19 mechanic Chris Moyher (Naugutuck), No. 31 pit-crew coach Matt Clark (North Haven), No. 42 gas man Mike Boddick (Norwalk), No. 20 jack man Jason Lee (Willimantic), No. 24 rear-tire changer Tim Ladyga (Norwich) and No. 20 crew chief Greg Zipadelli (Berlin).
Bowyer, Gordon Proving Consistency A Key Chase Factor
Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race, but it does make the Chase.
Witness the progress of two top-12 drivers heading into Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire.
Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer haven’t posted the headline-grabbing performances of standings leader Kyle Busch and have only one win between them (Bowyer at Richmond), but nor have they faltered in 2008. Gordon, who dominated the standings during the first half of 2007, may have made more headlines for not winning, yet perseverance has translated into consistency.
His third-place finish last Sunday at Infineon boosted him three spots to sixth in the standings. And New Hampshire represents another favorable stop on the schedule for him.
Gordon leads all active drivers with three wins, 12 top fives and 15 top 10s in 26 career starts there. He also has three poles, second only to Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge), who leads all active drivers with four New Hampshire poles.
Momentum also may be a factor for Bowyer at New Hampshire. Now in his third NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Bowyer participated in his first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last year, winning both his first career series race, also in his first Chase event, at New Hampshire last September.
“Since last fall, anytime anyone asks about my favorites race track, I tell them New Hampshire,” Bowyer said. “How can I not? That’s where I got my first win. Hopefully, we can go back there this weekend and be as fast as we were last time.
“I’m sure everyone else has gotten better since then but we’re hoping the same package we ran in September will be competitive again this Sunday and we can race for another win.”
The Top 35: Sorensen On The Bubble; Riggs Not Far Behind
The No. 41 Target Dodge owned by Chip Ganassi and driven by Reed Sorensen is 35th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner standings heading to New Hampshire.
Each week, the top-35 teams are guaranteed starting spots, with those outside the top 35 required to qualify on time.
Only 20 points separate the No. 41 from 36th place and the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet owned by Joe Custer and driven by Scott Riggs.
Another team teetering near the top-35 cutoff is the No. 7 Dodge owned and driven by Robby Gordon.
Both cars experienced difficulty last Sunday at Infineon Raceway, the No. 41, driven by road-course standout Scott Pruett in place of Sorensen, finished 38th following an accident.
The No. 7 finished 36th. Both teams dropped three spots in the owner standings — the No. 41 to 35th and the No. 7 to 34th.
Sorensen, who returns to his seat at New Hampshire, trails Gordon by only 11 points.
Gordon trails the 33rd-place Sam Hornish Jr., who drives the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge owned by Roger Penske, by only nine points.
Trailing the No. 66 in 37th is the No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota owned by Dietrich Mateschitz and driven by AJ Allmendinger.
In 38th is the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota owned by Jeffrey Moorad and driven by J.J. Yeley.
NASCAR Foundation Track Walk at New Hampshire … NASCAR takes to the track on Saturday, June 28th when The NASCAR Foundation Track Walk returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the third consecutive year.
The ‘Mile of Remembrance’ walk is a special event that allows fans to take to the track in memory of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr.
Funds raised will go to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, Kenny Irwin Jr. Foundation, Speedway Children’s Charities and The NASCAR Foundation. Joining fans will be NASCAR television analyst Larry McReynolds. Registration is $30 in advance online (WWW.NASCAR.COM/foundation) or $35 at the track. Children under 14 walk for free with a paying adult. Registration booth is located outside of Turn 2 near the pedestrian tunnel.
Kansas, Free Style MX Motorcyclists Headline Pre-Race Show … A mix of music, motorcycles and animals will entertain race fans prior to Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301.
The veteran rock group Kansas, celebrating their 30th anniversary, will perform on the frontstretch stage beginning at 12:20 p.m. ET.
Hits such as “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On My Wayward Son” are likely during the 50-minute set. So is material from Kansas’ newest work, “Two for the Show,” to be released July 1.
Motocross riders Brody Wilson, John Distler, James Carter and Derek Burlew — part of the Freestyle MX motocross tour will wow with stunts that include back flips and other airborne maneuvers. Elephants from All Star Animals also will entertain with a circus-style act.
Up Next: The Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola At Daytona International Speedway
Next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, July 5. It’s the 18th of 36 races on the 2008 schedule — the halfway mark.
Jamie McMurray (No. 26 IRWIN Ford) won dramatically last July, beating runner-up Kyle Busch and third-place Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) in a photo finish.
McMurray’s margin of victory (0.005 seconds) tied Dale Earnhardt’s over Ernie Irvan at Talladega Superspeedway in July 1993 as the second closest finish since the advent of electronic timing and scoring, also in 1993.
The Race: LENOX Industrial Tools 301
The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, June 29
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 1.058-mile oval
The Distance: 318 miles/301 laps
TV: TNT, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio
2007 Winner: Denny Hamlin
2007 Polesitter: Dave Blaney
Friday — Practice, noon-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.; Saturday — Practice, 9-9:50 a.m., Final Practice, 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.