Chicagoland: News of note, schedule

Pepsi 400 a prime-time TV hit Brickyard 400 preparation begins at Indy NEWS & NOTES TV Timeout: Pepsi 400 posts sizable increases Last Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, broadcast by NBC, was watched by 6,349,000...

Pepsi 400 a prime-time TV hit
Brickyard 400 preparation begins at Indy

NEWS & NOTES

TV Timeout: Pepsi 400 posts sizable increases

Last Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, broadcast by NBC, was watched by 6,349,000 households, a 15% increase from 2002 (on FOX). The race had 9,691,000 viewers, a 13% increase from 2002. (Figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research.)

Brickyard testing this week and next

Many NASCAR Winston Cup teams are testing Tuesday and Wednesday (July 8-9) this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and will return July 14-16 and July 21-23 in preparation for the 10th annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 3. Teams will test from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. each day. The public can view testing free of charge from the South Terrace grandstands, located inside the track between Turns 1 and 2. At the start of this week a total of 38 teams were on the testing entry list, with most down for next week's session. (Note to media: the IMS media center will be open during testing hours. For credentials contact Eric Powell or Josh Laycock at IMS.)

Charting the NASCAR Top 10: Kenseth leads, Earnhardt up to No. 2

Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) has now been No. 1 in the NASCAR Top 10 for 14 consecutive weeks (since Atlanta) and has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 16 of this season's 17 weeks of racing. Kenseth leads second place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) by 180 points. ... Earnhardt moved up one notch this week, while Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) dropped one spot to third. ... Kenseth's 180-point lead is the largest point lead with 19 races remaining in a season since Ernie Irvan led Dale Earnhardt by 163 points in 1994.

Biffle win showcases NASCAR "developmental system"

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Grainger Ford) has provided the latest example of how well NASCAR's unofficial "developmental system" works. Biffle, who has won championships in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (2000) and NASCAR Busch Series (2002), got his first career NASCAR Winston Cup win last Saturday night, in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Biffle leads the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings. One of Biffle's main goals is to become the first driver to win championships in all three of NASCAR's national series. "I won't give up this NASCAR Winston Cup program until I win a Winston Cup championship," Biffle said. "Before I retire I want to win one, maybe a couple of them."

Winston Leader Bonus reaches $180,000

It's been 48 races since the NASCAR Winston Cup point leader won a race and took home the NASCAR Winston Cup Leader Bonus. If the winner of the Tropicana 400 is also the NASCAR Winston Cup points leader, he'll add another $180,000 to his winnings. Kenseth leads the series points and has the only realistic shot at claiming the bonus this week. In the very unlikely event that Kenseth fails to start the Tropicana 400, Earnhardt is the only other driver who could win the bonus. Should someone win the bonus this weekend, it would be the second-largest payout in the history of the program. Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) collected the biggest paycheck, $190,000, with a win at Indianapolis in 2000. The $10,000 bonus is available following every NASCAR Winston Cup Series race. If the point leader does not win the race, the bonus rolls over to the next week.

Competitive balance continues, with Biffle breakthrough

The record for different race winners in a NASCAR Winston Cup season -- 19, set in 2001 -- looks like it's in jeopardy. After 17 races this season, there have been 14 different winners, the latest being rookie Greg Biffle (No. 16 Grainger Ford), who won the Pepsi 400 last Saturday night at Daytona. ... Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN/LENOX/Rubbermaid Ford) and Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) are the only repeat winners, with Busch winning three times and Newman winning twice.

Younger Labonte wins again

Twenty-two year-old Justin Labonte, son of 1984 and '96 NASCAR Winston Cup champion Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's/got milk? Chevrolet), won his second Late Model Stock Car race of the season in last Thursday's Firecracker 300 at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C. Labonte, of Trinity, N.C., is seeking his first track championship in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series at the same track where his uncle, Bobby Labonte, won 12 races and the 1987 track championship.

Etc.

Jeff Burton (No. 99 CITGO Ford) is expected to make his 250th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup start at Chicagoland Speedway. Burton currently ranks eighth among active drivers in consecutive starts. ... Greg Biffle became the first first-time NASCAR Winston Cup winner in 2003 with his victory in the Pepsi 400. This is the 10th consecutive year there has been a first-time winner (1994-2003). Biffle became the 26th first-time winner during the 10-year period. There have been 15 first-time winners in the past four seasons: 2003 (one); 2002 (five); 2001 (five) and 2000 (four).

Pit-crew competition won by Jeff Burton's crew

The weekly McDonald's/POWERade Drive-Thru Pit Championship was won by Jeff Burton's crew at the Pepsi 400. Burton's runner-up finish in the race came about, in part, because of the 132.222 seconds he spent in the pits -- the least amount of pit time among teams competing in the program.

Stewart, Schrader in charity race

M&M'S announced this week plans to partner with Ken Schrader (No. 49 1-800-CALL AT&T Dodge) for the second annual "M&M'S Night of Stars" event on July 30 at I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo. Last year's event -- a 10-lap shootout with NASCAR drivers racing in Dirt Modifieds -- raised $114,626 for the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. All proceeds from this year's M&M'S Night of Stars again will go to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, founded by Kyle and Pattie Petty. Fans will make contributions via M&M'S Night of Stars ticket sales, T-shirt sales and a raffle for a Dirt Works Modified roller chassis. Schrader will be joined in the match race by Petty (No. 45 Georgia Pacific/Brawny Dodge), Kenny Wallace (No. 23 Stacker2/YJ Stinger Dodge), NASCAR Busch Series driver Jason Keller, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Rick Crawford and reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet).

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford), Kurt Busch and Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) are the only drivers to score top-10 finishes in both races at Chicagoland Speedway. Elliott is the only driver to start and finish in the top 10 in both races at Chicagoland Speedway. ... Only two other drivers have started in the top 10 at both Chicagoland events -- Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) and Joe Nemechek (No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet). Only Harvick, Martin and Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) have led at least one lap in each race at Chicagoland.

QUOTEBOOK

"I guess the bottom line is drink lots of water and run so well that you forget about the heat." -- Johnny Benson (No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac), on how to deal with summer heat in the race car.

"We found a lot of things aerodynamically and in our chassis that seem to make us feel that we are starting to right this ship." -- Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) on his encouraging 10th-place finish in the Pepsi 400.

"This is typically the point in the season where we excel, and we need to make the most of it." -- reigning series champion Tony Stewart, who is 11th in series points.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Chicagoland Speedway's archives are pretty thin, since it has hosted only two previous NASCAR Winston Cup races. But Chicago itself has some intriguing NASCAR history, starting with the years the NASCAR Winston Cup Series raced at Soldier Field -- home of the Chicago Bears. Soldier Field was the site of a NASCAR Grand National (now NASCAR Winston Cup Series) race in 1956. A quarter-mile oval race track, added to the stadium in 1935, was expanded to a half-mile in '56. Fireball Roberts won the race on July 21, 1956 and collected $850 in prize money. Jim Paschal, Ralph Moody, Speedy Thompson and Frank Mundy rounded out the top-five finishers in NASCAR's only appearance at the facility. The race track was removed from Soldier Field in 1970, one year before the Bears relocated from Wrigley Field. According to the Stock Car Racing Encyclopedia, the track was removed following protests from "hippies" who objected to the city financing auto racing.

FAST FACTS

What: Tropicana 400.
Where: Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet, Ill.
When: 3 p.m., Sunday, July 13.
TV: NBC, 2:30 p.m. ET.

Race length: 400 miles/267 laps.
Track layout: 1.5-mile paved tri-oval.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday--Practice, 11:20 a.m.-1:20 p.m. Qualifying--3:05 p.m. Saturday--Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. and 11:10-11:55 a.m.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Jason Keller , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Johnny Benson , Rick Crawford , Elliott Sadler , Eric Powell , Mark Martin