* Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Trying To Strengthen Point Positions * Keys To Victory: Flat Indy Layout A Varied Test NEWS AND NOTES The Pressure's On ... For former series champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, their ...
* Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Trying To Strengthen Point Positions
* Keys To Victory: Flat Indy Layout A Varied Test
NEWS AND NOTES
The Pressure's On ... For former series champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, their ongoing battle is not only with each other but with history, albeit recent. In the previous two years the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup has been held, no drivers who have been either ninth or 10th at this point in the season have gone on to qualify for the Chase. An ominous statistic, to say the least.
• In 2004, Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios / Betty Crocker Dodge) was ninth and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) 10th coming into Indianapolis. When the Chase began, they were 13th and 14th -- and out of the Chase.
• In 2005, Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) was ninth and Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) 10th going into Indy. When the Chase began, they were 11th and 16th.
The Road To The Championship Goes Through ... Indianapolis? ... The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard has a relatively brief NASCAR history, having been first run in 1994, but during that period a clear link has been established between winning the 400 and going on to win the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship.
Is it coincidence? Perhaps. But it's still interesting to note that five times, the winning driver at Indy has gone on to win the series championship, a trend started in 1998 by Jeff Gordon.
Keys to Victory: Various Challenges Posed by IMS Layout ... Indianapolis Motor Speedway is big, fast, flat -- and unique, resulting in a variety of puzzles teams must try to solve.
• Good pit strategy is a key, because track position at Indy is of critical importance. Passing can be extremely difficult. Making up ground doesn't happen easily.
• Motor combination is a key. Drivers are faced with a broad range of RPMs on the IMS oval.
• A chassis setup that works well throughout the race is a key. Drivers need a setup that works well when the car is full of fuel -- and when it's running near empty.
In The Loop: Last Year's Indy Data Bodes Well For Kasey Kahne ... Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers-UAW Dodge) finished second to Tony Stewart last year at Indianapolis. Loop Data gleaned from that event shows why. The data -- provided by electronic sensors imbedded at intervals around race tracks -- ranked Kahne as the leader in seven categories (Driver Rating, Fastest Late in a Run, Fastest in Turn 1, Fastest in Turn 2, Fastest in Turn 3, Fastest in Turn 4 and Speed in Traffic). Stewart had the second-highest Driver Rating.
Kahne, like Stewart, has an open-wheel past, which only naturally leads to an Indy affinity. He also lived in Indianapolis earlier in his career.
"I know what the win meant to [Stewart]," Kahne said. "I know what it would mean to me to win at the Brickyard. There are two races every [NASCAR] driver wants to win -- the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and the Daytona 500."
In The Loop, Part II: Charting The Course Leading To The Chase ... A compilation of Loop Data statistics from the six tracks left in the Race to the Chase paints an interesting portrait of various drivers' Chase outlooks. That compilation -- from races in 2005 and 2006 -- shows Tony Stewart has the best Driver Rating (114.6) at those tracks: Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, California and Richmond. Breaking it down further, according to the data, Stewart's best track among the last six is The Glen, where he posted a perfect rating of 150 last year en route to a victory.
The compilation also categorizes a driver's worst track -- his "Trouble Track."
Data shows that Indianapolis Motor Speedway is Kasey Kahne's best track among the next six; Kahne's worst track of that group is Watkins Glen -- where next week's race will be held. Stewart's worst track? Michigan International Speedway.
RCR Rebound ... Worth noting: Richard Childress Racing has two Indianapolis victories -- Dale Earnhardt in 1995 and Kevin Harvick in 2003. Worth asking: Can RCR add a third win at Indy?
It certainly looks doable. After several seasons of atypical performances and frustrating finishes, RCR, one of NASCAR's most established teams, is back in championship contention.
All three of owner Richard Childress' NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams have rewarded his faith and patience this season. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) is in third place in the standings. Kevin Harvick is fifth and Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) is 19th.
Both Burton and Harvick are in position to earn RCR's first Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup berths. It also would be their first Chase experiences.
Childress and his teams have spent the last two seasons rebuilding and remolding an organization that won six series titles with Dale Earnhardt. Major shifts in personnel, information-sharing and resources during the off-season have yielded results. So has the addition of the veteran Burton, now in his second full season with RCR. The crew chiefs -- Scott Miller (Burton), Todd Berrier (Harvick) and Gil Martin (Bowyer) also have been a factor.
Burton, a 17-race winner and fulltime NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competitor since 1994, hasn't been this high in the standings since March 2002. The 2000 season marked his last top-10 finish -- a career-best third in the final standings. Since then, Burton endured five consecutive seasons of finishing 10th or worse, including 10th in 2001, 12th in 2002 and 2003 and 18th in 2004 and 2005.
Chevrolet Lead Growing ... Denny Hamlin's victory at Pocono on July 23 gave Chevrolet its 12th win of the season and expanded its lead in the Manufacturers' Championship standings. Chevrolet's 150 points are followed by Dodge's 117, and Ford's 113. ... Chevrolet has won seven times at Indy, Ford three times. Dodge and Pontiac also have one win there apiece. Setting The Indy Field: Top 35 In 2006 Owner Points "Locked In" ... Each week, teams ranked in the top 35 of the current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car owner point standings are guaranteed starting positions, creating a "bubble" between the top 35 and those teams outside of 35th, trying to reach that position. At this juncture, the bubble remains a precarious place. This week's sanctity starts with the 35th-place No. 19 Dodge Dealers-UAW Dodge team of Ray Evernham, with Jeremy Mayfield the driver. First team on the wrong side of the bubble: The No. 40 Coors Light/Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon Dodge team of Felix Sabates, with David Stremme driving, which is 38 behind the No. 19 team. A distant 37th: Cal Wells' No. 32 Tide/Downy Chevrolet entry, with Travis Kvapil driving, 174 points out of 35th. ... On the top side of the bubble, several teams are safe from having to qualify on time -- for at least this week. Kyle Petty's No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge team is 34th, but only one point ahead of the No. 19; Glen Wood's No. 21 Little Debbie's Ford, with Ken Schrader driving, is just 22 ahead of the No. 19.
Pit Crew Spotlight: Brothers Battling At Indy ... This week marks a homecoming for Tim Sheets and his brother Jason. It also affords a chance for some special bragging rights. The Sheets brothers are Indianapolis natives and rivals in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Tim is a mechanic on the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet driven by J.J. Yeley and serves as a front-tire changer on race day. Jason is a mechanic on the No. 41 Target Dodge driven by Reed Sorenson, with rear-tire changing his race-day duty. ...
Raybestos Rookie Update ... Through the season's first 20 races, Denny Hamlin continues to lead the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings with 223 points. Clint Bowyer holds down the second spot with 175 points. Reed Sorenson is third with 168 points followed closely by Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) with 156, J.J. Yeley with 153, and David Stremme with 128 points.
Hamlin's victory at Pocono also boosted him into the top 10 in the series standings, making him the only Raybestos Rookie candidate in the top 10. Bowyer is 19th in the standings, Truex is 21st, Sorenson is 23rd, Yeley is 26th and Stremme is 35th.
Where in The World is Ken Schrader? ... Ken Schrader continues to be the busiest big-name driver out there. In addition to the 20 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events, Schrader has been in 50 other events. This week is a relative break, compared to last week's six-race grind. In addition to the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Schrader will race merely once more, at I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo. on Wednesday.
Schrader's 2006 race totals to date
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- 20
NASCAR Busch Series -- 6
Budweiser Shootout -- 1
Copper World -- 2
Short track (dirt, late-model, etc.) -- 41
On Deck: Sirius Satellite Radio At The Glen ... Race No. 22 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule will be Sunday, Aug. 13 (1 p.m. EDT, NBC) -- the Sirius Satellite Radio At The Glen, at famed Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. This is 2006's second and last road-course event. Tony Stewart is the defending champion.
The race: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (Race No. 21 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)
The place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Ind.
The date/time: Sunday, Aug. 6, 2:40 p.m. (EDT)
TV: NBC, 2 p.m. (EDT).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $9,236,620
Race length: 400 miles, 160 laps
Track layout: 2.5-mile oval
2005 winner: Tony Stewart
2005 polesitter: Elliott Sadler
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 2,939. 2. Matt Kenseth 2,842. 3. Jeff Burton 2,621. 4. Kyle Busch 2,582. 5. Kevin Harvick 2,563. 6. Mark Martin 2,557. 7. Kasey Kahne 2,515. 8. Denny Hamlin 2,514. 9. Jeff Gordon 2,512. 10. Tony Stewart 2,477.
Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 1:30-2:30 p.m. and 3:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday -- Qualifying, 10:10 a.m. Practice 1:30-2:30 p.m. Final Practice 3:30-4:30 p.m.