Bristol: News of note, schedule

* Teams Vie For Top 35 Positions In Owner Points * Mark Martin's Streak Of 621 Consecutive Starts To End * Jimmie Johnson Looks For Third Straight Win Teams Vie For Top 35 In 2007 Owner Standings Sunday's Food City 500 is the fifth race of...

* Teams Vie For Top 35 Positions In Owner Points

* Mark Martin's Streak Of 621 Consecutive Starts To End

* Jimmie Johnson Looks For Third Straight Win

Teams Vie For Top 35 In 2007 Owner Standings

Sunday's Food City 500 is the fifth race of the 2007 season and the last event where the top 35 drivers in the 2006 final owner standings will be guaranteed a starting spot. The following week at Martinsville, top-35 status reverts to the 2007 owner standings, which turns up the pressure on teams battling for those spots.

Heading into this weekend's action, only the top 18 in owner points are guaranteed a starting spot at Martinsville. All other drivers can fall out of the top 35 after Bristol. (Note: The cutoff for the calculation above is 159 points over 36th place in owner points, which is the maximum someone can gain on another car that starts the race. For calculation, presume the drivers start the race).

The difference between making the race (eighth fastest of the non-35) and not making it (ninth fastest of the non-35) last year in August was .056 seconds on a qualifying lap.

Translated to feet, that means the car that made the race beat the car that didn't by just 10 feet during that one-lap shootout. The bottom line is that 56 one-thousandths of a second in qualifying can make or break a team's season.

Heading into Bristol, several noteworthy drivers are battling for those top 35 spots. Jeff Green (No. 66 Best Buy Chevrolet) is currently 35th, while Kyle Petty (No. 45 Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil Dodge) is 34th. Former series champion Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota) is 33rd. Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Paul Menard (No. 15 Menard's Chevrolet) is 36th, while Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is 37th. Kahne had a series-high six victories in 2006 and ranked second in the standings this time a year ago. Kahne finished eighth in the final standings last season.

In The Loop: Kurt Busch Looks For Sixth Bristol Win; Keep An Eye On Kenseth

When analyzing the Loop Data prior to Sunday's Food City 500, the similarities between the Car of Tomorrow and what Kurt Busch has called the "Car of Right Now" can come into play. Busch's five wins at Bristol tie him with Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) among current drivers with the most wins at the infamous .533-mile oval.

While the new car has some distinct features, there are many similarities. A comparison between last month's testing times and the final practice session during last year's spring race at Bristol shows the speeds are quite comparable. For instance, during last year's final practice, Busch had the fastest speed -- 123.818 mph. During last month's Day 1 morning test session, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Chevrolet) had the fastest speed -- 122.170. The drop is barely noticeable, which is great news for Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Arby's Ford).

Kenseth's success over the last two years at Bristol is unfathomable. In four races (two of which he won), Kenseth has an Average Running Position of 3.464. He has run 2,000 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race laps at Bristol over the last two years and has spent an overwhelming majority -- 1,782 laps to be exact -- of his time in the top five.

Kenseth tops the following Loop Data categories: Driver Rating (127.7), Fastest on the Frontstretch, Fastest on the Backstretch, Fastest Laps Run (195), Fastest Green Flag Speed and Laps in the Top 15 (1,912).

Kenseth isn't the only driver who excels at Bristol. Stats-wise, Gordon and Kevin Harvick take a back seat to Kenseth, but their numbers can't be overlooked. Gordon has an impressive Driver Rating (106.2), as does Harvick (102.1). Both have solid Average Running Positions, with Gordon at 7.684 and Harvick at 11.173.

Harvick's speed figures also are exceptional -- if not for Kenseth, they would be the top in two instances. Harvick has the second-fastest average Speed on the Frontstretch and Backstretch (Kenseth leads both of those categories). He also has an impressive Pass Differential at Bristol.

Harvick has made 97 green-flag passes over the last two years at Bristol, but only has been passed 25 times. His Pass Differential of 72 is the highest over the past four Bristol races. Harvick won the 2005 Food City 500.

Points Leader Mark Martin's Streak Of 621 Consecutive Starts To End

Mark Martin, the standings leader for the past four weeks, will step aside the next two races and let newcomer Regan Smith (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) take the driver's seat for Ginn Racing. As a result, Martin's streak of 621 consecutive starts in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- the longest active streak and the fifth-longest all-time -- will come to an end.

When Martin announced last October that he would leave Roush Fenway Racing after 19 years, he made it known he would race a partial schedule in 2007, serving as a mentor for Smith. Owner of 35 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victories, Martin is a four-time series runner-up. After a thrilling second-place finish at the Daytona 500 in February, Martin took over the standings lead the following week at California and has been out front ever since.

"I feel good," said Martin, after his 10th-place finish at Atlanta last Sunday. "It's really cool and kind of a story book ending to go out leading the points like this. It's the way to do it and I'm just so proud of this team to finally get the recognition they deserve. I am looking forward to next weekend."

There have been several instances of the standings leader not starting the next race -- most involving a driver who led after winning the season's first race and not competing in the second. The most recent was in 1983 when Cale Yarborough won the Daytona 500, but didn't run the next week at Richmond. The last time it happened this deep into the season was in 1971, when Richard Petty was the leader going into the next-to-the-last race of the year at Macon, Ga. Petty and several other drivers high in the points boycotted the race due to a dispute with a promoter over appearance money. Despite missing the race, Petty still won the championship by 364 points over James Hylton.

Keys To Victory

Car of Tomorrow -- The debut of the new car means finding the right setups is even more critical than ever. The configuration of the new car means setup packages used in years past at Bristol may not be the answer this time. The teams that benefited the most from last month's test session could have an advantage on the competition.

Final Practice -- Saturday's final practice takes on even more importance. The teams that hit the right setup for the long runs on Saturday could be the teams to watch on Sunday.

Taking Care Of The Equipment -- Bristol is Bristol and that means a lot of close racing on the race track. It's imperative for the driver to take care of equipment and keep the car as clean as possible heading down the stretch run of this 500-lap race.

Making The Right Pit Calls -- A bad pit call at Bristol can put a team in a hole that's too deep dig out of. Pit strategy is huge here, as there is such an emphasis on track position.

Johnson Seeking Third Consecutive Victory

If Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) is to win his third consecutive NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race this weekend at Bristol, it will have to come at a track where he has never visited Victory Lane. Johnson won his 24th and 25th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races the past two weekends at Las Vegas and Atlanta. That ties the reigning series champion with Joe Weatherly and Jim Paschal for the most victories since 1949 -- 23.

In 10 races at Bristol, Johnson's best finish is third, coming in the second race of the 2004 season. He finished 30th and 10th, respectively, in the two races at Bristol a year ago. His average Bristol finish is 15.5.

The Car of Tomorrow could help make Johnson a Bristol believer, however. During the test session two weeks ago, he ranked fifth fastest in the first day's morning session and was the fastest in the evening session. Johnson ran ninth fastest in the second day's only session.

"Well, right now it's easy to feel good about things and there's no doubt the championship is what's on our minds," Johnson said. "We're doing the right things, but it's just way too early to get excited. We've got to stay focused on the goals and that is making the Chase and then once we are in the Chase, deal with the circumstances at that point."

Johnson says he's anxious to see how his team performs at the first Car of Tomorrow race this Sunday at Bristol.

"Right now it's a rat race to figure out what that car wants and the first team that finds it is going to have a nice advantage," Johnson said.

He has won three consecutive races one other time in his career, winning three in a row in October, 2004 (Lowe's, Martinsville, and Atlanta).

On Deck: Martinsville Speedway

For the second straight week, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will be featured at a short track when the circuit visits Martinsville Speedway, a .526-mile oval in southwestern Virginia. The Goody's Cool Orange 500 is set for Sunday, April 1. FOX will televise beginning at 1:30 p.m. (ET). Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) is the defending race champion, while Jimmie Johnson is the defending polesitter.

***

The Race: Food City 500

The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 25

The Time: 2:00 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET)

Track Layout: .533 mile oval
Distance: 266.5 miles (500 laps)

Purse: $5,551,106

2006 Winner: Kurt Busch
2006 Pole: N/A (weather)

Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday--Practice, 10:30 a.m.--noon; Qualifying, 3:45 p.m.; Saturday--Practice, 10-10:50 a.m.; Final Practice, 12:50-1:50 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Jeff Green , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , James Hylton , Paul Menard , Regan Smith , Denny Hamlin , Mark Martin
Teams Roush Fenway Racing