Daytona II: News and notes, schedule

Johnson Nominated For 2 ESPY Awards Richard Petty Celebrates 70th Birthday Locked In: Sauter Continues Strong-Hold On Final Starting Spot Joe Custer's No. 66 Haas Automation Chevrolet driven by Jeff Green left the top 35 "bubble" in the dust...

Johnson Nominated For 2 ESPY Awards
Richard Petty Celebrates 70th Birthday

Locked In: Sauter Continues Strong-Hold On Final Starting Spot

Joe Custer's No. 66 Haas Automation Chevrolet driven by Jeff Green left the top 35 "bubble" in the dust by finishing sixth this past Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway. The No. 66 moved up two spots in car owner points to 30th place. Custer's other car, the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet driven by Johnny Sauter, retained the 35th spot via Sauter's 14th-place finish at NHIS.

Each week the top 35 teams in car owner points are guaranteed starting spots in that week's race. Teams outside the top 35 are forced to rely on qualifying times to make the race.

Keys To Victory

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series returns to Daytona International Speedway this week for another round of the unique, un-caged animal known as restrictor-plate racing. Read on, for the "inside line" to success at DIS.

* One of the biggest keys to success at Daytona is having a good handling race car. It's imperative that your car turns the corner well so you can run wide open on the straightaways.

* Pit strategy is critical. You want to pit with a group of cars if at all possible. It's difficult to be on the track by yourself when everyone else is pitting and maintain the high speeds that you need.

* Tire strategy late in the race. You could see some teams opting for two tires during a late caution in order to gain some track position.

In The Loop: Stewart Leads Four Loop Data Categories At DIS

There is more pro-Tony Stewart info, regarding his chances of joining David Pearson as the only two drivers to win three consecutive Pepsi 400s, courtesy of NASCAR's insightful Loop Data gleaned for the last five races at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart, beginning with his fence-climbing victory celebration in 2005, has dominated the July Daytona race the past two years. In that first Pepsi 400 win, Stewart led all but nine laps (151 total) en route to victory. In his 2006 Pepsi 400 win, Stewart dominated again with a race-high 86 laps led -- Jeff Gordon came in second in the laps led standings with 27.

But it's just not the July race at which Stewart excels. He's led laps in each of the past seven Daytona races, and has racked up top marks in nearly every key Loop Data category over the last five Daytona races.

Stewart leads the field in the following Daytona-specific stats:
- Driver Rating (120.5)
- Average Running Position (8.103)
- Green Flag Speed
- Laps in the Top 15 (733)

Looking at the results from this season, it's likely this weekend's winner will be a driver with a top-five Driver Rating. In 2007, eight of the 17 race winners had a pre-race Driver Rating in the top-five -- most recently Denny Hamlin, who had the second-best pre-race Driver Rating at New Hampshire.

Rounding out the top-five in Driver Rating at Daytona are Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge).

That's especially good news for Newman and Busch who are just outside of the coveted top-12 position. Newman is in 13th place and Busch is in 15th.

Of the two, Newman has the best pre-race stats over the past five Daytona races. He has a Driver Rating of 95.3 (third-best overall), an Average Running Position of 12.3 (third-best), 24 Fastest Laps Run (tied for sixth-most) and 668 Laps in the Top 15 (third-most).

Busch, at 236 points behind 12th place needs a string of success, has the fifth-best Driver Rating (91.0), the 10th-best Average Running Position (15.3) and ran 625 of his Laps in the Top 15 (fifth-most).

NNCS, Etc. ...

* Pepsi 400 Last Restrictor-Plate Race With Pre-COT Cars
* Race To The Chase Goes To The Midwest For Round 3: Chicagoland
* Kevin James Named Pepsi 400 Grand Marshal
* Johnson Nominated For ESPYs #* The King Turns 70

End Of An Era ... Through the years, races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway have served as historical milestones.

In February 1959, the first Daytona 500 was held. In May 1969, Talladega opened as the world's largest -- and then-fastest -- oval track at 2.66 miles. In February 1988, the Daytona 500 ushered in the era of restrictor-plate racing, as cars were run for the first time using horsepower-reducing carburetor restrictors, in the interest of safety for competitors and fans. The plates are used exclusively at Daytona and Talladega.

Now, another era will soon begin.

Saturday's Pepsi 400 will be the last restrictor-plate race run with the "pre-Car of Tomorrow" cars. When the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series comes to Talladega in October, the COT model will make its restrictor-plate debut.

"Until we go to Talladega with this new car, I don't really know how to compare what it's going to be like vs. the [pre-COT] car," said Jeff Gordon.

"But I think it's going to be hard for Daytona and Talladega to not put on great races [whatever car is used]. I think the fans are always going to get something exciting."

The switch to the COT come Talladega "is going to be interesting to say the least, to go to Talladega in the fall and not have the car everyone's used to [at Talladega and Daytona,]" said Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet).

"It's definitely going to be a changing of history. That's just going to be one of the scripts for the storybook."

Johnson Nominated For ESPY Awards ... Reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has been nominated for two ESPY Awards, the annual sports awards created by ESPN that will be announced in Hollywood, Calif. on Wednesday, July 11 at the Kodak Theater. The ESPYs will be televised on ESPN on July 15 at 9 p.m. (ET). Johnson is nominated in the "Best Championship Performance Category" and the "Driver of the Year" category. In the first category, he's up against Peyton Manning, LeBron James and Serena Williams. In the latter group, his competition is Jeff Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr., Tony Schumacher and Dario Franchitti.

In addition, this year's Daytona 500 is nominated in the "Best Finish" category and "Talladega Nights" is nominated in the "Best Sports Movie" category.

On Deck: Chicagoland ... Jeff Gordon will be the defending race champion next week (Sunday, July 15) in the USG Sheetrock 400, Round 3 of the Race to the Chase, at Chicagoland Speedway.

Chicagoland opened in 2001; Kevin Harvick won there the first two years. Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge), Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) followed from 2002-2005.

Harvick also has a NASCAR Busch Series victory at the 1.5-mile track, that coming in 2005.

The Race to the Chase ends Sept. 8 at Richmond International Raceway.

Date Track
July 1 New Hampshire Int'l Speedway
July 7 Daytona Int'l Speedway
July 15 Chicagoland Speedway
July 29 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Aug. 5 Pocono Raceway
Aug. 12 Watkins Glen International
Aug. 19 Michigan Int'l Speedway
Aug. 25 Bristol Motor Speedway
Sept. 2 California Speedway
Sept. 8 Richmond Int'l Raceway

Etc. ... Here's some symmetry: seven-time Daytona 500 champion Richard Petty turned 70 on Monday, the week of a series race at Daytona International Speedway. Petty -- also a seven-time series titlist -- celebrated the birthday at his home in Randleman, N.C. "I can't remember the last time I've been home to celebrate my birthday," stated Petty. "I've always been in Daytona. That was fine, too. We won a lot of races there. It's just the way the date landed this year." Later this week, he'll help kick off another celebration, as Daytona International Speedway is honoring former 500 champions in advance of next February's 50th anniversary of the "Great American Race." Petty's 200th and final series victory came in the Pepsi 400 on July 4, 1984. ... Jeff Gordon is scheduled to make his 10th appearance as co-host on the popular daytime TV talk show "Live with Regis and Kelly" on Monday, July 9. Gordon will fill in for host Regis Philbin. ... The Grand Marshal for the Pepsi 400 will be actor Kevin James, known mainly for his character on the television comedy hit "King of Queens." James and Adam Sandler are co-starring in the new comedy movie "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry." The movie is the title sponsor of Kasey Kahne's No. 9 Dodge this weekend.

***

The Race: Pepsi 400

The Place: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
The Date: Saturday, July 7

The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
TV: TNT, 7 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 400 miles; 160 laps

The Purse: $6,202,439

2006 Winner: Tony Stewart
2006 Pole: Boris Said

Pre-Race Schedule (local/ET time): Thursday -- Practice, 4:30-5:20 p.m. and 6:40-7:45 p.m.; Friday -- Qualifying, 4:10 p.m.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Tony Schumacher , Boris Said , Kevin Harvick , Jeff Green , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Dario Franchitti , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Johnny Sauter , Denny Hamlin , Sam Hornish Jr. , David Pearson
Teams Williams