* Stewart Trying To Repeat Win, Reel In Johnson * Jeff Gordon Back in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 NEWS AND NOTES Gordon Returns to Top 10 ... Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) again has the look of a title contender. The ...
* Stewart Trying To Repeat Win, Reel In Johnson
* Jeff Gordon Back in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10
NEWS AND NOTES
Gordon Returns to Top 10 ... Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) again has the look of a title contender.
The four-time series champion's first victory of the season this past Sunday at Infineon Raceway -- also his first victory since October 2005 at Martinsville -- enabled him to leap to eighth place in this week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10.
Gordon's statistics in restrictor-plate races seem to bode well for further advancement. Gordon has 11 victories in restrictor-plate racing at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, only one less than the record 12 rung up by Dale Earnhardt. ... Gordon's victory on Sunday was the 74th of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup career. That is the seventh-best total all-time and only two behind Earnhardt's 76.
"In The Loop" -- Track Data Highlights Biffle's Rise to the Top 10 ... NASCAR's new Loop Data statistics -- derived from electronic scoring loops imbedded around race tracks -- indicate that a Jimmie Johnson-Tony Stewart showdown could be on tap for Saturday night. (Daytona International Speedway has 18 scoring loops.) ... Based on data from the last three Daytona races -- 2005's two events plus this year's Daytona 500 -- Stewart and Johnson come out with the top two Daytona Driver Ratings, 124.3 and 110.8. Also, Johnson and Stewart are 1-2 in Average Running Position, at 5.629 and 6.929, respectively.
Playing Catch-Up: Kenseth in '05, Martin in '04 Set Precedent For Making Up Ground -- And Making the Chase ... Granted, most drivers currently in the top 10 will likely be part of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup field. But by no means does that limit the possibility of comebacks by drivers currently outside the top 10 -- or outside the top 15 for that matter.
Exhibit A: Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) in 2005. At the start of the Race to the Chase last season, Kenseth -- the 2003 series champion -- was mired in 20th, in the points. He wasn't even an afterthought, in Chase talk. But by the time the schedule got to the "Chase cut-off" race at Richmond International Raceway, Kenseth was up to ninth. That was his position entering the Chase, and he went on to finish seventh in the final standings.
Exhibit B: Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) in 2004. When the Race to the Chase began in '04, Martin was 14th, and he dropped to 15th the following week. Yet, he exited Richmond in eighth place and when the Chase was complete, he was fourth in the final standings.
Pit Crew Spotlight: Alan Gustafson ... It makes sense that Alan Gustafson would be involved in auto racing. His hometown is Ormond Beach, Florida, a city adjacent to Daytona Beach and known as "The Birthplace of Speed," a label dating to the early 1900s when race car drivers from around the world came to Ormond to chase the land speed record on the Atlantic shoreline. ... Gustafson has been crew chief on Kyle Busch's No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet since 2005. His career in stock car racing began while still a teenager as he learned his craft working on late models that raced on the local short tracks in Central Florida. In 2000, after attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Gustafson was hired by Hendrick Motorsports as a shock specialist for the No. 5 team. He was later named lead engineer for the team, serving in that position from 2002 through 2004. Gustafson teamed with Busch in 2005 and guided the talented young driver to two wins, nine top-five finishes, 13 top 10s and the 2005 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. A win in the Pepsi 400 by Kyle Busch would be a great homecoming.
Setting The Pepsi 400 Field: Top 35 In 2006 Owner Points "Locked In" ... Each week in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, teams ranked in the top 35 of the current car owner point standings are guaranteed starting positions, creating a "bubble" between the top 35 and those teams on the downside of 35th, trying to reach that position. ... This week, the No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet, owned by Nelson Bowers and driven by Sterling Marlin, once again has the final "locked in" slot and has a good chance at retaining it for awhile, thanks to a 97-point lead over the 36th team in the standings, the No. 32 Tide Chevrolet owned by Cal Wells and driven by Travis Kvapil. The No. 32, the first team on the wrong side of the bubble, will have to make the Pepsi 400 field based on qualifying time -- as will those teams behind the No. 32 in the owner points.
Chevy Keeping, Building Lead ... Boosted by Jeff Gordon's Infineon Raceway victory, Chevrolet now leads the Manufacturers Championship standings with 114 points. It also has a 19-point lead over Dodge and Ford; each with 95 points apiece.
Chevrolet -- which got its first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory on March 26, 1955 (Fonty Flock at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway) -- has won the championship 29 times.
Rookie Update ... Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Chevrolet) finished 11th at Infineon Raceway, slightly padding his advantage in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings. Hamlin leads runner-up Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet) this week by 31 points. Reed Sorensen (No. 41 Target Dodge) is third, 41 points behind Hamlin. ... Hamlin returns to Daytona International Speedway, site of his upset victory in February, in the non-points Budweiser Shootout. ... For more information on the 2006 Raybestos Rookie of the Year class, visit www.nascarmedia.com/nextel/Rookies2006.jsp.
Where In The World Is Ken Schrader? ... If it has gas, four tires and faces a green flag, Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) will hop in the cockpit and drive it. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' oldest -- and arguably the busiest -- competitor just can't resist racing, driving in a variety of series each season, despite the inherent demands of NASCAR's top series.
The chart below illustrates the hectic nature of Schrader's schedule thus far this year. Last week, in addition to racing at Infineon Raceway, Schrader competed at Highland Speedway in Highland, Ill. This week, in addition to the Pepsi 400, he had a Tuesday night event at Cleveland (Tenn.) Speedway scheduled.
Schrader's 2006 race totals to date
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- 16
NASCAR Busch Series -- 6
Budweiser Shootout -- 1
Copper World -- 2
Short track (dirt, late-model, etc.) -- 24
From The Archives: Pepsi 400 An Evolving Tradition ... Racing on or around the July 4 holiday has a NASCAR heritage dating back to 1952, when the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event on July 4 was held at Shangri-La Speedway in Owego, N.Y.
The race date was transferred to the new Daytona International Speedway in 1959 from a one-mile asphalt track in Raleigh, N.C. Daytona's first mid-summer classic was known as the Firecracker 250 with a starting time of 10 a.m. to avoid the intense afternoon heat. It was won by Fireball Roberts, who won three of the first five Firecracker events.
The race was lengthened to 400 miles in 1963. The name was changed to the Medal of Honor 400 in 1969, 1971 and 1973 as a salute to Congressional Medal of Honor winners, many of whom were guests for these events.
The name of the race was changed to the Pepsi Firecracker 400 in 1984 to reflect the name of the event's new sponsor. The event has been known as the Pepsi 400 since 1989. It moved to the evening in 1998 after lights were installed at Daytona. That first night-time 400 was postponed until October 1998 due to summer wildfires in the area.
On Deck: USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' midpoint is set for Sunday, July 9 -- the USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. That will be the 18th race of the series' 36-race schedule -- and the sixth series race at Chicagoland, a 1.5-mile oval where Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) will be the defending champion.
The race: Pepsi 400 (Race No. 17 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)
The place: Daytona International Speedway.
The date/time: Saturday, July 1, 7:55 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $6,074,820
Race length: 400 miles, 160 laps
Track layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval
2005 winner: Tony Stewart
2005 polesitter: Tony Stewart
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 2,434. 2. Matt Kenseth 2,333. 3. Kasey Kahne 2,121. 4. Mark Martin 2,113. 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,105. 6. Jeff Burton 2,034. 7. Tony Stewart 2,012. 8. Jeff Gordon 1,986. 9. Greg Biffle 1,967. 10. Kevin Harvick 1,945.
Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Thursday -- Practice, 4-5 p.m. and 6-6:45 p.m. Friday -- Qualifying, 4:35 p.m.