* McMurray in charge, but Jarrett's on the move -- The race for 11th place * McMurray in charge, but Jarrett's on the move -- The race for 11th place * Easing into neutral -- Terry Labonte to run partial schedules in 2005-06 NEWS & ...
* McMurray in charge, but Jarrett's on the move -- The race for 11th place
* McMurray in charge, but Jarrett's on the move -- The race for 11th place * Easing into neutral -- Terry Labonte to run partial schedules in 2005-06
NEWS & NOTES
The race for 11th place: McMurray extends lead ... Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) retains the 11th position for a sixth consecutive week, and now, he's got some breathing room. Last week McMurray's lead over 12th place was a scant 36 points; this week it's 82. The lineup below him has shifted a bit, too. Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) jumped from 13th to 12th place on the strength of last Sunday's eighth-place finish at Kansas. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) slipped from 12th to 13th in the standings. Harvick trails Jarrett by 57 points and McMurray by 129 points. Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) jumped one spot to 14th while Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) tumbled one spot to 15th. Labonte trails Kahne by only nine points, but he's 196 points behind McMurray. Kahne trails McMurray by 187 points.
"This team is probably one of the most consistent on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit at the moment," McMurray said of his No. 42 crew.
So is Jarrett's. And the No. 88 certainly has incentive to leapfrog a spot: This year, the point-fund payout for the 11th-place finisher tops $1 million, and accompanying the check is an invitation to the season-ending banquet in New York on Dec. 3. But Jarrett also is pursing career win No. 32, and a steak of 12 consecutive seasons with at least one victory.
"You always want to win at least one race a year and it would be nice if we could keep that particular streak going," Jarrett said. "I think we've got a few good chances coming up, but, sure, that's important to us. If you look at it, the best chances for us to pick up a win would be Charlotte, Atlanta and probably Homestead. I think there are at least three good opportunities out there."
Terry Labonte throttles back ... The two-time NASCAR premier-series champion announced Tuesday that he'll run a partial NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule in 2005 and 2006, then retire following the 2006 season. Nineteen-year-old Kyle Busch, who currently drives Hendrick Motorsports' No. 5 Lowe's Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series, will succeed Labonte next season in the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Terry Labonte will drive Hendrick Motorsports' No. 44 Chevrolet -- his car number during his first championship season in 1984 -- in 10 races each in 2005 and 2006. His partial schedule begins with the Feb. 27, 2005 event at California Speedway, and his final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race will be the November 2006 event at Texas Motor Speedway. Longtime sponsor Kellogg's will continue to support him and Busch.
"This is something I've thought long and hard about," said the 47-year-old Labonte. "Though I still have the desire to compete, another 36-race grind isn't all that appealing. After more than two decades, this is the best of both worlds."
Labonte's final two seasons will be known as, "Shifting Gears -- Lone Star Style," in reference to his native Texas. Twelve of his 22 career premier-series wins have come with Hendrick Motorsports, for whom he's driven since 1994. Labonte won his second premier-series title in 1996, beating HMS teammate Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) by 37 points.
Above all, racing is a family affair for the Labontes -- Terry, his younger brother Bobby Labonte, their families, and parents, Bob and Martha.
"It's just an incredible feeling," said Bobby Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR premier-series champion, "and I'm proud of Terry. Proud of the accomplishments he's done, the marks that he's set, the people that he's met. Admiring him and the example he's set for all sorts of people in racing, and I just wanted to grow up to be like my brother."
Richard Childress celebrates 35 years ... If nearly four decades in a sport qualifies one for icon status, then team owner Richard Childress has earned it. He'll celebrate his 35th anniversary this week at Lowe's Motor Speedway with no shortage of recognitions in the greater Charlotte, N.C., area. One of the most obvious is a commemorative Richard Childress Racing/Lowe's Motor Speedway Pole Night ticket for Thursday's general gate admission (the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series qualify back-to-back that evening). All of Childress' 2004 teams are adorned with the official 35th anniversary logo, and his three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Jeff Burton (No. 30 America Online Chevrolet) and Robby Gordon (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) -- will sport retro paint schemes this weekend.
"He's done this for a long period of time, but he hasn't made any enemies doing it," Burton said. "A lot of people look up to and respect him and really enjoy being around him. There are a lot of times when Richard has been in the middle of things that he seems to have always conducted himself in the highest standard."
Rudd back on track ... It's been a trying season for Ricky Rudd and his Wood Brothers Racing team. But last Sunday's second-place effort at Kansas might have been the breakthrough that Rudd & Co., had been anticipating. Since the arrival of new crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain and engineer Hoyt Overbagh at Bristol on Aug. 28, performance has been improving, although quietly, and, sometimes, invisibly.
"It wasn't a win, but it was like a win compared to the season we had," said Rudd, currently 26th in the point standings.
"This is what we need," said McSwain, who served as Rudd's crew chief when Rudd owned his own team in the late 1990s, and again from 2000-02 at Robert Yates Racing. "Before the race started, all we talked about was we were going to be solid all day, and I think other than a couple of laps during one pit sequence, we were in the top 10 all day long. That was our goal, that's what we want to do. If we keep doing that right there, then we'll get the win. That's what it's all about."
"Hopefully, this is a sample of what we've got in store for next year and the rest of this year," said co-owner Eddie Wood. "Fatback and Hoyt have made a world of difference. It just works. I can't explain it. Those three - Fatback, Hoyt and Ricky - just click."
Biffle also on the upswing ... Joe Nemechek wasn't the only driver who enjoyed stellar Kansas finishes. Greg Biffle's third-place finish in last Sunday's Banquet 400 was preceded by a second-place finish in Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series event, and he's climbed from 22nd to 18th in the point standings during the past five weeks.
"We had an incredible weekend at Kansas and had a legitimate shot to win both the Busch and NEXTEL Cup races," Biffle said. "We came up just a bit short on both sides, but we're very pleased with the second on Saturday and the third-place finish on Sunday. To run that well all weekend long does a tremendous amount for everyone's confidence and we're looking forward to keeping it going on Friday and Saturday night."
Biffle, who's juggling fulltime NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and NASCAR Busch Series schedules this season, hopes to pull off a double win before the home crowd at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"It's our hometown event and the drivers and crews want to perform their best in front of their families and friends," Biffle said. "We've been very successful there in the Busch cars and we're taking the car we finished second with last weekend and we've won with it twice at California this year. I'm very optimistic about our chances to run well, especially after last weekend's performance. Same goes for the Cup side. We're taking a new racecar that we think will be perfect for this race based on how it ran when we tested there last week."
Chevrolet-Ford-Dodge in Manufacturers standings ... Joe Nemechek's win at Kansas gave Chevrolet its 17th victory of the season. Chevrolet also retains the lead in the Manufacturers Championship standings with 215 points, followed by Ford's 189 and Dodge's 166. Chevrolet has a series-high 17 victories while Ford has nine and Dodge has four. All three manufacturers have won races at Lowe's Motor Speedway during the past three seasons, but Chevrolet is working a current streak of three consecutive victories. Chevrolet also can clinch this year's manufacturers championship with its next victory or two second-place finishes.
CONTINGENCY CORNER ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) clinched the 2004 Mobil 1 Command Performance Driver of the Year Award by winning the Mobil 1 Command Performance Driver of the Race Award in Kansas. Earnhardt Jr. leads Ryan Newman by eight points with six races remaining. He's won the race award in five of the last seven events, clinching the $100,000 year-end award. ... Jeff Gordon's (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) pit crew will receive the Third Quarter Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award during pre-race ceremonies this weekend. The No. 24 team was selected by peer voting five weeks ago in New Hampshire. Each quarter, crew chiefs select a team that demonstrates sportsmanship, camaraderie with the garage, at-track presentation and overall team skills throughout the year. At season's end, crew chiefs select the Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew from the four quarterly winners. The winner receives $75,000 from Mechanix Wear. ... This weekend's events at Lowe's Motor Speedway are particularly close to WIX Filters, the company that manufactures the air, oil and fuel filters used in NASCAR Series racing. WIX Filters' headquarters are located in Gastonia, N.C., less than an hour away from Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord.
"The Cup race will be awesome on Saturday night. I look forward to it. I've watched 'em all in the past and watched Bill Elliott just about win that race last year in the 9 car, so hopefully we can get that 9 car back up there and win a race for (owner) Ray (Evernham)." -- Kasey Kahne.
"It always feels good to head back to a racetrack that's considered home turf. Most of the teams are based around Charlotte, so it's like racing in your back yard." -- Jamie McMurray.
"We probably will see a lot of the tendencies Charlotte is famous for Saturday night. It's probably one of the most, if not the most, temperamental tracks we race." -- Dale Jarrett.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
The Charlotte, N.C., area has a rich auto racing history dating back to the 1920s. But one of the more historic moments took place Feb. 28, 1960 at the old Southern States Fairgrounds half-mile dirt track. That day, a 22 year-old named Richard Petty won his first of 200 NASCAR premier series races. He started the race seventh while his father, Lee Petty, started on the pole. Among the competitors in the 21-car field were veterans Ned Jarrett, Buck Baker and Junior Johnson along with a youngster from Timmonsville, S.C., named Cale Yarborough. Richard Petty took the lead on lap 183 and never relinquished it, winning the 100-mile event by six car lengths over outside pole-sitter Rex White before a crowd of 7,849.
What: UAW-GM Quality 500. (Race No. 31 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.
When: Saturday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m. (ET).
TV: NBC, 7 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $4,956,541.
Race length: 500 miles, 334 laps.
Track layout: 1.5-mile banked paved tri-oval.
2003 winner: Tony Stewart.
2003 polesitter: Ryan Newman.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Kurt Busch 5,685. 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5,656. 3. Jeff Gordon 5,606. 4. Elliott Sadler 5,542. 5. Mark Martin 5,535. 6. Tony Stewart 5,512. 7. Matt Kenseth 5,505. 8. Ryan Newman 5,453. 9. Jimmie Johnson 5,438. 10. Jeremy Mayfield 5,428.