Race To The Chase, Week 5
The conclusion of Sunday’s Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 marks the fifth event in the 10-event “Race to the Chase” which leads into NASCAR’s playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Pocono Raceway was pivotal during the first half of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign, and more of the same can be expected Sunday.
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Swagger Chevrolet) led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings upon arrival at and departure from Pocono in the series first appearance of the season in June.
Since that first Pocono race, three drivers have fallen outside the coveted top 12 in the 2009 point standings. They include Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota), Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), and David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota).
Drivers who have moved into chase-eligible spots since completion of the first Pocono race of 2009 include Mark Martin (No. 5 Cheez-It/CARQUEST Chevrolet), Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) and Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet).
In addition, four drivers who appeared in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup currently find themselves outside the top 12. They include Kyle Busch (now 14th), Clint Bowyer (No. 33 The Hartford Chevrolet) now 16th, Burton now 17th, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) now 22nd.
They have been replaced in the current standings by Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, now fourth), Ryan Newman (No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet) now seventh, Martin, now ninth, and Montoya, now 10th.
There was one in-out swap in the Race to the Chase standings after last week’s event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. Due to his 38th-place finish, Kyle Busch moved from 10th to outside the top 12, to 14th. On the strength of his fourth-place Brickyard finish, Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) moved from 13th in points to 11th.
Indianapolis winner Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) moved from third to second place in the standings after his third win of the season, dropping Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) to third in points.
Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) is on the “bubble” points position of 12th entering the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono, 68 points ahead of 13th place Reutimann.
In June’s Pocono 500, Stewart won the event after talking the lead from Gordon on Lap 164, then held on for a 2.004-second margin of victory over Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford).
Next Goal For Stewart, A Pocono Season Sweep As A Driver/Owner
Owners have swept Pocono Raceway’s Victory Lane in single seasons, and so have drivers. But no owner/driver has produced a single season sweep at Pocono Raceway.
Tony Stewart, winner of June’s Pocono 500, is halfway to that unlikely goal.
Drivers who have swept both Pocono victories in a single season include Bobby Allison (1982, DiGard), Bill Elliott (1985, Melling). Tim Richmond (1986, Hendrick), Bobby Labonte (1999, Gibbs), Jimmie Johnson (2004, Hendrick) and Denny Hamlin (2006, Gibbs).
Other owners have swept Pocono with different drivers. They include Jack Roush (2005, Carl Edwards & Kurt Busch) and Roger Penske (2000, Jeremy Mayfield & Rusty Wallace).
One owner/driver, Darrell Waltrip, posted wins in consecutive seasons at Pocono over the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Over those same two seasons, owner/driver Alan Kulwicki recorded the same feat at Bristol Motor Speedway’s half-mile.
Stewart can go those two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion drivers one better this week if he can repeat at Pocono as an owner/driver.
If Ryan Newman wins Sunday, Stewart joins Roush and Penske in an owner’s sweep.
Stewart’s June win at Pocono was his first points-race win as an owner/driver and the first for an owner/driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since Ricky Rudd in 1998.
The Hartford Highlights Richard Childress Racing No. 33 With Online Contest
The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., is promoting its NASCAR Sprint Cup car sponsorship with a five-day national online scavenger hunt this week.
The company is sponsoring Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33 Hartford Chevrolet driven by Clint Bowyer at Pocono this week.
The contest opened Monday, July 27 and concludes on Friday, July 31. Each day The Hartford will tweet clues on www.twitter.com/TheHartford. The clues, which will also be posted on http://thehartfordracing.com/, will prompt fans to search online to find the daily answers.
The first 10 fans to submit the correct answer to each day’s clue at thehartfordracing.com/ will win a Clint Bowyer prize pack that includes a limited edition Bowyer-signed canvas print, a Bowyer-signed die-cast No. 33 and other items. All who participate also will be entered into the grand-prize drawing that includes a meet-and-greet with Bowyer in Ft. Worth, Tex., round trip airfare, lodging for two, prize money and race tickets.
The Hartford also will host an in-person scavenger hunt this weekend at Pocono Raceway. On Sunday, fans will have a chance to win signed sheet metal, crew shirts and an infield meeting with Bowyer. The tweets at www.twitter.com/TheHartford will continue with opportunities to win all weekend.
Most Popular Driver Voting Exceeds 1 Million Mark; Social Media Providing Boost To Ballot
More than one million votes have been cast for the 2009 NASCAR National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Chex Most Popular Driver Award. Fans now have just seven more weeks to help vote their preferred drivers into the field of 10 finalists.
The 10 drivers currently pulling in the most votes: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson. The five drivers just outside the top 10 are Kyle Busch, Elliott Sadler, Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon and Mark Martin.
Fans have been voting at 2ww.chexmostpopulardriver.com/ since the NASCAR Sprint Cup season began in February. The full field of 44 drivers will remain eligible for votes until after the Richmond International Raceway event on September 13, when the 10 drivers with the most votes will be announced as finalists. At that time, the vote count will reset to zero and fans will have 10 race weeks to cast their votes to determine the 2009 NASCAR NMPA Chex Most Popular Driver.
Voting will conclude Nov. 23 at 11:59 p.m. CT and the winner will be announced at the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Luncheon in Las Vegas in December.
Pocono A Career-Long Puzzle For Martin
Mark Martin’s four wins so far in 2009 have brought his career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win total to 39.
But Pocono is one of five series tracks where Martin hasn’t won. The good news? He’s placed as high as second six times, most recently in 2004. Still, Martin’s Pocono win record stands at 0-44.
Martin has a pretty good trend going in 2009. He broke through for his first win in eight attempts at Chicagoland Speedway on July 11, and posted an Indianapolis-best finish of second place last Sunday.
Other tracks where Martin has yet to win: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (0-24); Daytona International Speedway (0-48); and Homestead-Miami Speedway (0-9).
Loop Data: Feast or Famine for Marquee Drivers
On one side of the success spectrum, you have Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. The two past series champions own some of the top statistics in the series and sit one-two in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings.
On the other side, you have Kyle Busch. He also owns some gaudy statistics, but his 14th-place points position is much lower — suggesting that his troubles are a mix of bad runs and bad luck.
Johnson has a series-high Driver Rating of 110.8, while Stewart is second with a 106.4. Kyle Busch’s 99.3 Driver Rating is fourth best, a 10-position difference from his points standing.
Stewart and Johnson are also at the top of the Pocono Raceway pre-race Loop Data statistics. The same can’t be said for Busch this time around, though.
Busch, who has finished outside the top 20 in the last three Pocono races (including a last-place DNF in last season’s June race), has consistently struggled at the unique 2.5-mile track.
In his nine-race career, Busch has a Driver Rating of 78.5, an Average Running Position of 17.9, 19 Fastest Laps Run, two Laps Led and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 52.6%. None of those numbers rank in the top 10. His Driver Rating makes Pocono his third-worst track behind Homestead and Kansas.
Johnson and Stewart, on the other hand, almost always succeed at Pocono. Each have two wins there and own stats that rank in the top five in key categories.
Johnson, who has finished in the top 10 in each of the last four races and swept in 2004, has a Driver Rating of 102.5 (fourth-best), a series-best Average Running Position of 10.4, 76 Fastest Laps Run (fifth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 77.6% (third).
Stewart nabbed his first victory as a driver-owner earlier this season at Pocono. The win boosted already impressive stats: a Driver Rating of 104.6 (third), an Average Running Position of 10.5 (second), 61 Fastest Laps Run (ninth) and a series-high 1,362 Laps in the Top 15 (79.6%).
Up Next: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips At The Glen
Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International hosts the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the 23rd consecutive year and 26th time overall on August 9.
The 2.45-mile road course presents the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips At The Glen on August 9. The 90-lap, 220.5-mile event is scheduled to start at 2 p.m., and will be telecast live on ESPN.
Kyle Busch is the defending champion of the event. He won 2008′s annual stop at The Glen from the pole. It was his first career Watkins Glen victory, after posting his first career road course win six races earlier at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
Busch’s 2008 Watkins Glen win was his eighth trip to Victory Lane last season. That win locked up the top-seed in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for Busch.
This year, Busch is fighting for a top-12 spot in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Current series point leader Tony Stewart, a two-time winner in 2009, is tied with Jeff Gordon with four Watkins Glen wins. Stewart has one win from the pole at Watkins Glen in 2005.
Mark Martin has three Watkins Glen wins, all of them from the pole. He’s the only driver to have won from the pole more than once at The Glen.
Martin and the late Dale Earnhardt lead the all-time Watkins Glen pole winner’s list with three each.
Martin’s team owner, Hendrick Motorsportsports, is Watkins Glen’s all time leading race winner with six.
The Race: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500
The Date: Sunday, August 2
The Track: Pocono Raceway ( 2.5-mile triangle)
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 laps/500 miles
TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite; (Local WSJR 93.7 FM)
2008 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
2008 Winner: Carl Edwards
Schedule: (All times local ET)
Friday — Practice, 12-1:30 p.m., Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday — Practice 10-10:45 a.m. and 11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.