Bristol II: Series off-week news 2010-08-25

* Two To Go: Chase Implications Hot With Postseason Nearing * Feud For Thought: Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski * Loop Data: Tough Luck The Story For Montoya, Kahne *? A Break For Some, Racing For Others All Things 'Chase' With Two Races To ...

* Two To Go: Chase Implications Hot With Postseason Nearing * Feud For Thought: Kyle Busch vs. Brad Keselowski * Loop Data: Tough Luck The Story For Montoya, Kahne *? A Break For Some, Racing For Others

All Things 'Chase' With Two Races To Go

There are clinch scenarios.

There are bonus points.

There are bubbles ready to burst.

With two races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, all focus is on NASCAR's "playoffs."

If you're already in -- how do you get a better seed?

If you're not locked in -- how do you make that happen?

If you're outside looking in -- it's go-time.

First up, clinch scenarios. Two drivers have locked up Chase berths: Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/ Pennzoil Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet).

The "magic number" for Atlanta: 196. Any driver 196 points ahead of 13th place after next week's Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway will officially clinch a spot in the Chase.

The most likely candidate: Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota). Currently 350 points ahead of 13thplace Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Shots Chevrolet),

Busch is a pretty safe bet.

Those with a comfortable top-12 spot are now chasing potential bonus points, which will likely lead to some "all-or-nothing" strategies.

After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 12 drivers will have their points re-set to 5,000, with an additional 10 bonus points tacked on for each victory over the first 26 races.

Currently, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) hold the bonus points lead, with 50 apiece. Busch and Harvick each have three wins, translating to 30 potential bonus points.

A quick note about seedings: If two drivers have the same bonus points totals, the tiebreaker is nextbest finish (seconds, thirds, etc).

But some spots are too close to call. Those on the Chase bubbles: Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/ Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) in 12th, McMurray in 13th, Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) in 14th and Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. ARMY Chevrolet) in 15th. Bowyer currently has a 100-point cushion over McMurray. That might seem safe, but it's anything but.

Just ask Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet). In 2006, after race No. 24, Stewart was in eighth place and enjoyed a 97-point lead over Kasey

Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford), in 11th (The Chase field was 10 drivers then). Two races later, Stewart's lead evaporated, and Kahne had made the Chase.

Of course, a comeback will take some stellar results from McMurray. As a guideline, in the two races prior to the Chase in 2006, Kahne won at Auto Club Speedway and finished third at Richmond.

Kyle Busch Joins Crowded List Of High Profile Keselowski Feud Partners

Denny Hamlin vs. Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Dodge) seems like a long, long time ago, doesn't it?

Remember that one?

Those two went at it for months during the 2009 season, trading not-so-niceties on a regular basis.

That battle royal ended in the NASCAR Nationwide Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Hamlin supposedly blinded by the sun while punting Keselowski.

But that feud seems like ages ago. Since then, Keselowski has had run-ins with two other marquee names: Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. Keselowski certainly knows how to pick 'em.

Between those three -- Hamlin, Edwards and Busch -- there's 48 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, 150 NASCAR national series wins, and two NASCAR Nationwide championships. No slouches there.

The latest just might turn into the greatest.

With 30 laps to go in last Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide race at Bristol, Busch spun then-leader Keselowski -- and went on to win.

After the race, Keselowski had some strong words for Busch. "It is what it is," Keselowski said. "I'm going to go to work -- and work on beating his [bleep]."

A day later, more fireworks.

Bristol stages a unique driver introductions process. Each driver enters to their music of choice, and says something to the crowd.

Keselowski's message to the fans: "I'm Brad Keselowski...and Kyle Busch is an [bleep]."

Busch's response was no response at all.

Just a subtle dig. Here's an exchange from the post-race press conference:

Reporter: What were your thoughts about Keselowski's little pre-race declaration?

Busch: Who?

Reporter. Brad Keselowski.

Busch: Yeah, I don't know who you're talking about.

Reporter. Okay. He drives the No. 12 car.

Busch: I saw it. But I passed it.

What's the next chapter in this budding rivalry? Championship implications are at stake, and Busch has WAY more to lose. Keselowski's NASCAR Sprint Cup career is still in its developmental stages. Busch, though, is a championship contender. Keselowski retaliation would be a title killer for Busch.

Stay tuned.

Tough Breaks, Not Poor Runs, Reason For Down Seasons By Kahne, Montoya

A quick scan of Kasey Kahne's race log shows why he'll likely miss this season's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

There are a lot of crooked numbers.

The ugliest of them all: five finishes of 30th or worse. Also bad: 10 finishes of 20th or worse. But a deeper look at those numbers suggest Kahne's struggles were not a product of bad performance, but of bad luck.

Take the Daytona 500 for instance. Kahne finished 30th that race, but had an Average Running Position of 10.0.

More recently, take a look at New Hampshire in June. He finished 36th, but had an Average Running Position of 10.2. His Driver Rating that event was tied for seventh-best: 104.8.

Lately, the finishes are a little more indicative of the performance. Kahne has finished in the top 20 in seven consecutive races. Over that span, he has scored the seventh-highest points total. The top six over that span are all relative

Chase locks: Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford), Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), and Jeff Gordon.

Same can be said for Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet). There's a difference, though. Montoya, 192 points outside the top 12, has had even worse luck. Here's the number that illustrates Montoya's season: 7. Montoya ranks seventh in season-to-date Driver Rating, with a 94.6. Yet, his points position is just 19th.

There were just too many bad finishes for Montoya to overcome.

This season, Montoya has had eight finishes outside the top 30. Many of those were not 30th-place performances.

Most recently -- and most notably -- was Indianapolis. Driving one of the few cars capable of winning the Brickyard 400, Montoya suffered a late-race accident and finished 32nd. His Average Running Position that race was 6.1; his Driver Rating was 119.5.

Montoya, too, has been strong lately. He has scored three consecutive top-10 finishes -- including a win at Watkins Glen -- and has scored more points over that span (487) than any other driver.

Tough Breaks For Kahne Eleven of Kasey Kahne's finishes are worse than his Average Running Position this year.

NSCS Etc.: Open Week Open To Interpretation

This blank spot in the calendar is an open week -- NOT an off week. The itineraries for some of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars prove that. This weekend, a number of drivers will do what comes naturally -- driving -- even if it's not in NASCAR's premier series.

For instance:

On Friday night at Chicagoland Speedway, Kyle Busch will race in the EnjoyIllinois.com 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. Busch, the defending champion at Chicagoland, will attempt to win four consecutive national series races.

On Sunday, at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Dodge), Max Papis (No. 13 GEICO Toyota), Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Kingsford Toyota), Carl Edwards, Michael McDowell (No. 55 PRISM Motorsports Toyota), Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota) and Paul Menard (No. 98 Menards Ford) will run the NAPA Auto Parts 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series event. Edwards is the defending winner.

Kasey Kahne will head to Alger, Wash., to run a sprint car in his foundation's Sage Fruit Showdown at Skagit Speedway. Kahne started racing at the high-banked, .300-mile dirt track when he was 15. Some drivers are taking time off to travel:

Juan Pablo Montoya is vacationing in Aruba and Jamie McMurray is flying to Italy.

Up Next: Race 25 @ Atlanta

Following this open week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action Sept. 5 with a new tradition: the second annual Labor Day race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Emory Healthcare 500.

The 2010 season is marks the 50th anniversary of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at Atlanta.

The first race, won by NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Fireball Roberts, was held in 1960.

The milestone falls perfectly, as the past meets present this weekend. The all-time wins leader at Atlanta: Dale Earnhardt, with nine. The current points leader entering Atlanta: Kevin Harvick, who inherited Earnhardt's ride after The Intimidator's passing. Harvick's first career victory came at Atlanta, on March 11, 2001.

Kurt Busch won at Atlanta early this season, his second victory there in the past three races.

A note to watch: Atlanta has historically close finishes. Two of the last three races had a margin of victory under a half second. It also boasts the fourth-closest finish since the inception of electronic scoring in 1993: .006 seconds in that 2001 Harvick victory (Gordon finished second).

Fast Facts

The Next Race: Emory Healthcare 500
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile tri-oval)

The Date: Sunday, Sept. 5
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 500.5 miles / 325 laps

TV: ESPN , 7 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: Martin Truex Jr.
2009 Winner: Kasey Kahne

Schedule Prior To Race Day:
Saturday
Practice, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1:45-2:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 4:40 p.m.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams NEMCO Motorsports