* Dale Earnhardt Jr. Holds 10th Place, Pursued by Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch * Bump and Run: Bristol's High Banks and Tight Half-Mile Configuration Could Shake Up Chase Field NEWS AND NOTES The Battle for 10th...
* Dale Earnhardt Jr. Holds 10th Place, Pursued by Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch
* Bump and Run: Bristol's High Banks and Tight Half-Mile Configuration Could Shake Up Chase Field
NEWS AND NOTES
The Battle for 10th Place Narrows ... Tenth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains the rabbit to those drivers chasing him, and now, perhaps only a handful of competitors have a shot at unseating him. The list begins with Kasey Kahne, a top-10 fixture for much of 2006, but the 11th-place driver for the past three weeks.
Below Kahne, desperation deepens.
Last season's runner-up, Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford) trails Kahne by 140 points. He trails Earnhardt by 189, losing nine points despite a seventh-place finish at Michigan. Biffle has three consecutive top-10 Bristol finishes dating back to the April 2005 event -- a series high -- and owns the second-best Driver Rating (113.1) there according to pre-race NASCAR Loop Data statistics.
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), who finished third in the 2005 Chase behind Biffle, trails his Roush Racing teammate by 55 points and Earnhardt by 279 points.
Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) wears the true underdog tag in 14th place, but the 2004 series champion has five Bristol victories (including the March event) and hopes for the 2006 sweep at his favorite track. He's also utilizing a weapon -- March's winning car that he christened "Rusty" in honor of retired 1989 series champion and Bristol standout Rusty Wallace, whom he succeeded at Penske Racing South this year.
"Rusty" the car hasn't competed since March. Busch, who tumbled two spots following a 40th-place finish at Michigan, trails Earnhardt by 244 points and knows Bristol could be his last shot at a significant point gain.
"There's no other place like it," he said. "There's a level of electricity in the air, particularly in the night race there, which is second to none. It's like a homecoming every time we go there."
Beating and Banging: Bristol May Upset Chase Standings ... Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford), a two-time Bristol winner and currently fourth in the series standings, compares racing at Bristol to jets roaring around indoor hangers. The track's concrete confines is a tough drive -- joyous to some, dreaded by others. Like mashing blender buttons, it could realign the standings. Here's why:
Staying out of trouble isn't easy. Expect door-to-door conditions for 500 laps and 266.5 miles.
Since contact and on-track trouble can trigger tempers, drivers who control emotions and reactions stand the better chance at finishing -- and excelling -- on Saturday night.
Mistakes are magnified: Martin's pit-road blunder during the August 2004 event nearly cost him a shot at making the Chase. Instead of gaining much-needed points, he remained 12th in the standings and had to race his way in during the cutoff event two weeks later at Richmond International Raceway.
Keys to Victory: Patience is Critical at this Famed Short Track ... Bristol Motor Speedway is a .533-mile short track where the intensity level can register off the chart. In the corners, the track features 36-degree banking, while the straightaways are banked 16 degrees. Both the frontstretch and the backstretch measure 650 feet in length. There are several keys to consider when developing a game plan for a Bristol night race:
Patience, Patience, Patience. A driver's patience is put to the test over the course of these 500 laps. The ebb and flow of the race will change multiple times during the evening and the driver must exercise control and patience when circling this oval.
Avoid Trouble and Keep Your Fenders On. Bristol lends itself to a lot of rubbing and bumping. It's imperative that you do your best to stay out of trouble, keep the car intact, and race to the end.
In The Loop: The Numbers Don't Lie -- Kenseth's Surge; Bristol Bests ... Can Matt Kenseth overtake current standings leader Jimmie Johnson? It's a valid question considering the results of NASCAR's Loop Data statistics. Although he trails Johnson by 58 points, Kenseth owns the top season-to-date Driver Rating (103.4). He's also completed 4,931 laps (78.6%) in the top 15, the best of any other driver.
Now, it's on to Bristol, where Kenseth is the defending race winner. He also claims the top Driver Rating (125.9) in pre-race Loop Data categories for Bristol and is Fastest on the Frontstretch.
And he's not without distinguished company. Several other drivers -- all Chase-eligible peers -- also excel on Bristol's high-banked surroundings.
Kenseth's Roush Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, is ranked in the top-five of seven pre-race Loop Data categories for Bristol, including second in Driver Rating and Fastest Early in a Run. Fourteenth-place Kurt Busch, who leads all active drivers with five Bristol victories, is in the top five of six Loop Data categories, including first in Fastest Late in a Run.
Tenth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. is Fastest in Turns 3 and 4 and third-Fastest in Turns 1 and 2. Another former Bristol winner, third-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), leads three categories -- Fastest Early in a Run, Fastest on the Backstretch and Speed in Traffic -- the most of any driver for Bristol's pre-race Loop Data.
On the Right Track ... Mark Martin leads all active drivers with 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 39 career starts at Bristol. ... Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch lead all active drivers with five wins each at Bristol. Gordon also leads all active drivers with a 4.962 starting average there. ... Greg Biffle's 9.857 average finish in his seven career starts at Bristol is the best of any active driver. ... A week after notching his 100th series start, Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet) is expected to make his 100th consecutive series starts this weekend.
Pit Crew Spotlight: Matt Kenseth's Spotter Heads Home to Bristol ... Roush Racing's No. 17 team likely views Saturday's race with a full quota of confidence thanks to last week's win at Michigan. But one team member anticipates the Bristol trip for reasons aside from his driver being the defending race winner. Matt Kenseth's spotter, Bob Jeffrey, is a Bristol, Tenn., native. And he's not the only local. Kevin Harvick's motorcoach driver, Jeff Smith, hails from neighboring Kingsport, as does Denny Hamlin's (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet) jackman, Chris Webb, and one of Scott Wimmer's (No. 4 Aero Exhaust Chevrolet) mechanics, Drew Neims. Other Tennessee natives include Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford (Morristown), and Clint Bowyer's (No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet) crew chief, Gil Martin (Nashville).
Chevrolet Extends Win Streak ... Matt Kenseth's victory at Michigan International Speedway gave Ford its fourth win of the season, ending Chevrolet's seven race win streak. Kenseth leads all Ford drivers with three victories.
Chevrolet has 14 wins on the season and leads the manufacturer's championship by 40 points over Ford, 174-134. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) leads all Chevrolet drivers with four victories. Kasey Kahne is tied for the series lead in victories with Johnson. His four are the highest among Dodge drivers.
Setting The Field: Top 35 in 2006 Owner Points "Locked In" ... Each week, teams ranked in the top 35 of the current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car owner point standings are guaranteed starting positions, creating a "bubble" between the top 35 and those teams outside of 35th, trying to reach that position. At this juncture -- early in the season's second half -- the bubble remains a precarious place.
Elliott Sadler finished 10th in his first race driving the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge for team owner Ray Evernham. That finish elevated the team from 36th to 34th and locks them into Saturday's race at Bristol. Bobby Ginn and the No. 14 Ginn Clubs & Resorts Chevrolet fell to 36th after Sterling Marlin's 29th-place finish and must qualify their way into the race.
Raybestos Rookie Update ... Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) finished eighth at Michigan to capture his fifth Raybestos Rookie of the Race Award of the season. He is third in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings behind Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet). Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet) and J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) wrap up the field.
Where in the World is Ken Schrader? ... Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) continues to be the busiest driver out there. In addition to the 23 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events thus far this year, Schrader has competed in 59 other events. ... Beginning Tuesday, Schrader will have a plate full of racing this week. He will run Tuesday at Tazewell Speedway in Tazewell, Tenn. On Thursday, he heads to Paducah International Raceway in Paducah, Ky. Friday and Saturday night, Schrader will compete in the NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events at Bristol Motor Speedway. He wraps up his week Sunday night with a race at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in DuQuoin, Ill.
On Deck: SONY HD 500 ... Race No. 25 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule will be Sunday, Sept. 3 (7 p.m. EDT, NBC) -- the SONY HD 500 at California Speedway. It's California's second NASCAR event weekend in 2006. Kyle Busch is the defending race champion. Carl Edwards was last year's pole winner.
The race: Sharpie 500 (Race No. 24 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)
The place: Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tenn.
The date/time: Saturday, Aug. 26, 7:40 p.m. (EDT)
TV: TNT, 7 p.m. (EDT).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $6,055,119
Race length: 266.5 miles, 500 laps
Track layout: .533-mile oval
2005 winner: Matt Kenseth
2005 polesitter: Matt Kenseth
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 3,365. 2. Matt Kenseth 3,307. 3. Kevin Harvick 3,048. 4. Mark Martin 2,970. 5. Tony Stewart 2,959. 6. Jeff Gordon 2,931. 7. Kyle Busch 2,922. 8. Denny Hamlin 2,920. 9. Jeff Burton 2,916. 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,881.
Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12:05 p.m. -- 1:35 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Final Practice, 6:30 -- 7:20 p.m.