Moving Up: Casey Mears, David Ragan Climbing Series Standings Kyle Busch Back Out Front; Jeff Gordon Making Most Of Test Opportunity CONCORD, N.C. (May 5, 2008) -- The calendar flip to May revs more than engines in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,...
Moving Up: Casey Mears, David Ragan Climbing Series Standings
Kyle Busch Back Out Front; Jeff Gordon Making Most Of Test Opportunity
CONCORD, N.C. (May 5, 2008) -- The calendar flip to May revs more than engines in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where competitors run four consecutive night races and end the month with one of the series' biggest races.
Under-the-lights excitement and drama began with last Saturday's night race at Richmond International Raceway. It continues with this Saturday's night event at historic Darlington Raceway.
Closing the streak are consecutive races at 1.5-mile Lowe's Motor Speedway -- the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 17, followed by the 49th annual Coca-Cola 600 on May 25 -- a major reason why 48 NASCAR Sprint Cup teams are participating in a two-day NASCAR-sanctioned test on Monday and Tuesday.
"Everybody kind of considers this their backyard," said Casey Mears (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet), the defending Coca-Cola 600 champion during a Monday visit to the infield media center, "so it's a big pride thing to win the All-Star Race. And hopefully we can come back and hold our title for the 600."
Also on this week's test agenda: Preparing for the 17 events at 1.5-mile tracks that remain on the 2008 series schedule, including the two at Lowe's.
This year marks the first fulltime campaign for NASCAR's new race car, which competed in 16 of 36 events last year, and teams continue to refine, and learn more about, driving it.
"I think right now we've got a good product," Mears said. "It's putting on good races. We're having fun with it. But to think that anything can come out brand-new and be perfect right out of the gate, I think everybody knows that's not the case.
"It's a great car. It's a safe product. We put on some good races with it and some good shows, but is there room for improvement? Absolutely."
Joining Mears in the media center Monday was David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford), who echoed Mears' thoughts.
"I think these cars on the mile and a half tracks have been tough to drive, but that's something that will get better in the future, and obviously we all have the same rules to work with," Ragan said. "We all have the same guidelines and the same race cars to work with, and it's just a matter of who does the best job on Sunday and they'll get the win. Guys like Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) and my (Roush Fenway Racing) teammate Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Ford), they've been doing a great job and they've got some wins and some good finishes.
"It's a tough sport; no need to complain about it, just go out and do the best you can."
That's been both Mears' and Ragan's mantra this season. Mears, in his second year with Hendrick Motorsports, is working with a new team -- the No. 5 -- and a new crew chief, Alan Gustafson. Poor early-season luck had plummeted them in the series standings, but Mears slowly is inching toward the top 20 (he's 23rd heading to Darlington).
"Alan and I were just talking the other day how we feel like we're just now kind of starting to feel like we're getting on the same page," Mears said, "and I think with the things that we've been learning lately and the way that we've been moving up in points, we've just got to continue to do that and focus on having a good year."
Ragan, a second-year NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, is an unheralded 14th in the standings heading to Darlington and thinks a berth in the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup isn't out of his realm.
"We've got to continue to perform like we have," he said. "I've got to keep working on not making mistakes inside the race car. I think we've got a great pit crew that we can depend on when I come down (pit road). (Crew chief) Jimmy Fennig has been making a lot of the right calls. Things have just been working our way."
Busch, Gordon Upbeat ... Last Saturday's runner-up finish at Richmond boosted Kyle Busch atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings for the second time this season. He leads second-place Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) by 18 points heading to Darlington. Earlier this season, Busch led the standings for four weeks, following the second event of the season at Auto Club Speedway.
"Hopefully we can keep doing that throughout the year and have a good test session here at Lowe's Motor Speedway and get into Darlington and see what we can learn there," he said during a Monday visit to Lowe's infield media center. "With the new facility, the new race track and the new paving job (at Darlington), hopefully we can have a great run out there to keep our momentum going. It's been good and hopefully it keeps going that way."
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont) -- currently 13th in the standings and six points out of 12th, the cutoff for Chase eligibility -- also visited with the media.
"We're learning about the grip of the tires, the grip with this car on this track," said Gordon, one of the first drivers on-track Monday at Lowe's. "Obviously this was not a scheduled test and so I think it's just great for us to get extra information. We're just gathering all kinds of data with the car and looking for speed and sometimes that just takes more time. When you only have a couple of hours of practice when you get to the race track, sometimes it's tough to find that. You can take your time a little bit more and try things."