Loudon: Series round 17 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- New Hampshire 'Race To The Chase' Begins At New Hampshire Here we go. The 10-race stretch that begins Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- 'The Race to the Chase' -- is the crucible through which...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- New Hampshire

'Race To The Chase' Begins At New Hampshire

Here we go.

The 10-race stretch that begins Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway -- 'The Race to the Chase' -- is the crucible through which all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title contenders must pass.

It begins with Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 in the New England countryside and ends 10 weeks later in the mid-Atlantic, under Richmond International Raceway's lights.

Following the latter event -- race No. 26, or 'the cutoff race' -- the top 12 drivers in the standings will participate in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

But they'll earn those berths during the 'Race to the Chase.'

Ten races at 10 different tracks means weekly challenges. Drivers who respond become Chase material while those who don't, find the 12th and last Chase-eligible position slipping from sight.

The hurdles include such traditional schedule stalwarts as the Fourth of July holiday weekend at high-banked, 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also 2.5 miles in length and equally demanding as a flat, narrow rectangle.

Add short-track battles at .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway and .75-mile Richmond, a 2.45-mile road course in Watkins Glen International, a pair of speedy 1.5-mile tri-ovals in Chicagoland Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, then Michigan International Speedway's wide, 2-mile layout and Pocono Raceway's triangular surface with its three distinct turns and long straightaways -- and variety becomes dizzying.

And dramatic. Half of the Race to the Chase -- Daytona, Chicagoland, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond -- takes place under the lights.

Fortunes can change very quickly. Two 2009 Chase participants, Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford) and Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) -- lurked outside the top 12 after 16 races last year. Both bulled their way in during the Race to the Chase -- Kahne from 13th and Vickers from 17th.

The standard, since the Chase's 2004 introduction, remains Matt Kenseth's (No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford) ascent from 20th place in 2005, to Chase eligibility following the 2005 Race to the Chase. He climbed 11 spots over the course of those 10 races to begin the 2005 Chase in ninth place.

"That's really all we want is to win races and make the Chase," said Kahne, who begins the 2010 Race to the Chase in 18th place, 151 points out of 12th. "It's all you think about when it comes to NASCAR as a driver, so that's still what we're shooting for. We need to throw down some big races for awhile if we want to make it, but it's definitely possible."

Bubbling Up: Top 12 Drivers Striving To Make Chase

Though far from assured, drivers occupying the top half of the current NASCAR Sprint Cup standings do have breathing room.

Those on the bottom half, do not. And those below the 12th-place cutoff for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility have even less.

That latter battle is tight -- nine drivers within 200 points of 12th compared to five at this juncture a year ago.

Heading into Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire, Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) clings to 12th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 /National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet), who jumped one spot to 13th after an 11th-place finish last week at Infineon Raceway, trails Edwards by 57 points.

As the Race to the Chase begins, it's catclawing time below Earnhardt. Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) is 14th, 17 points behind Earnhardt. Ryan Newman (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet) is 15th, eight points behind Bowyer.

And so on.

David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) likely has the longest statistical shot in 21st, 180 points behind 12th.

Other Race to the Chase questions:

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) has led the series standings for a career-high 11 weeks this year, including the last seven consecutively. Can he snare more wins, thus jockeying closer to the Chase's top seed?

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota) is fulfilling preseason expectations as a title contender. Though fourth in the standings heading to New Hampshire, he'd earn the top seed in the Chase if it began now thanks to his serieshigh five wins. Can he keep that momentum?

Four-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) hasn't faded. He lurks behind both Harvick and Hamlin, in second place in the standings and with four 2010 victories, respectively. He'd be the Chase's second seed if it began now.

The 2004 series champion, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), is one of two other drivers with multiple 2010 victories (two). Brother Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) is the other (also two wins).

Can Kurt score a second title, or Kyle capture his first?

On The NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference: Joey Logano

Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota), the defending winner of Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301, was the guest on Tuesday's NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference.

Following are some excerpts.

Q: How special is it to return to the track where you got your first series win?

A: "I grew up a couple of hours away from there, about three hours. And, you know, it's a cool place, a lot of family and friends. It was a cool place to get your first win.

"Kind of a home track, and a lot of the guys on the Home Depot Toyota team have grown up around there. So it is definitely a cool place for us to go back to. "

Q: How much have you grown and changed as a driver and a person since that experience a year ago?

A: "I think as a driver I've changed a lot from that moment. I think as a person I don't think I've changed much at all. I'm still the same Joey that's been growing up my whole life. So nothing's changed there.

"But as a driver, I'm night and day different. And I feel like that's a good thing. We've got a long ways to go to get to where I need to be, but definitely making big strides every day when we get on the racetrack. So that's a good thing. Gotta keep working hard and try to get better."

Q. Have you had a chance to talk to Kevin Harvick about the end of the race at Pocono?

A: "I put it all behind me. I have not talked to him. But that's all in the past and we're looking ahead and trying to get this Home Depot car into The Chase. We're close.

"We just need to have good, solid finishes and definitely going to be a lot better finishes than what we had last week in Sonoma, and definitely just have a good, consistent finish this week in New Hampshire, trying to get where we need to be. All that's in the past. I just look ahead."

Q. What do you do better as a driver now, as opposed to a year ago?

A: "Knowing what you want in the car at certain race tracks. That's something that you figure out, I think, as you keep going even more. Some places I think I have that really figured out. Some places it's unknown. Those are things you try to figure out, working with your team, all that stuff.

"It all comes together. It's a bunch of little things, too. It's not one big thing a light switch goes on and it's like, oh, my God, now I got it. It definitely takes a bit of time and trying to figure it out. And it takes a lot of hard work. You can't get down on yourself when you have a bad day. You have to keep your head up and working hard and you've got to stay motivated."

Q. Talk about the importance of qualifying well at New Hampshire.

A: "If you start up there in the top 10, you can tell which car is going early on in the race. If you start in the back, a lot of times dirty air, cars around you can't get clean racetrack, it's hard to say exactly what you need for your race car to be good at the end of the race when you're up towards the front.

"When you start up there, it kind of puts you ahead of the eight ball throughout the whole race. And just knowing which way you need your car to go, which way everything is going. You're up there with faster cars, you can see what they're doing, stuff like that. So definitely helps to qualify good. So we definitely put a lot of effort into it."

Loop Data: HoHopes For Continued Competitive Balance Streak Rests On Hendrick Motorsports

New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a home to competitive balance. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, there have been 23 different winners in 23 New Hampshire races. Though not as eye popping, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire has a similar stat: 10 different winners in the last 10 races. That's the longest current track streak in the series. That begs the question: Will we see 11 for the last 11 after this Sunday? There are a number of candidates who can continue the streak, all from Hendrick Motorsports. First and foremost: Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has won twice at New Hampshire, but not since 2003, when he swept there. He has been close, though. In five of his last six races, Johnson has finished in the top 10. In his last six, Johnson has posted a Driver Rating of at least 107.7. There's also the momentum factor -- which Johnson certainly owns. Johnson ended a minislump last weekend at Infineon, breaking an 11- race winless drought with an impressive victory which scored a Driver Rating of 148.0. Second on the ballot to continue the impressive parity party: Jeff Gordon. Every week, it seems to be the same mantra for Gordon supporters: Oh, so close. Gordon has finished in the top five in each of the last two races (Michigan and Infineon), scoring Driver Ratings of 114.2 and 1115.6, respectively. At New Hampshire, it's much of the same -- strong runs, but no victories. In the last 10 races, Gordon has three runner- up finishes. Over that span, he has had the second-best Driver Rating (108.0), a series-best Average Running Position (7.4) and the secondmost Fastest Laps Run (248). Finally, watch for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt's winless drought has reached 73 races. Still there's reason for hope. He had a solid run at Infineon (11th) and a seventh at Michigan two races ago. He is winless at New Hampshire, but his runs have been solid. Over the last 10 NHMS races, Earnhardt has had five races with a Driver Rating above 100.0 Overall, Earnhardt has a Driver Rating of 100.0 and an Average Running Position of 10.9.

New Hampshire The Gateway To The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a home to competitive balance. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, there have been 23 different winners in 23 New Hampshire races. Though not as eye popping, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire has a similar stat: 10 different winners in the last 10 races. That's the longest current track streak in the series. That begs the question: Will we see 11 for the last 11 after this Sunday? There are a number of candidates who can continue the streak, all from Hendrick Motorsports. First and foremost: Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has won twice at New Hampshire, but not since 2003, when he swept there. He has been close, though. In five of his last six races, Johnson has finished in the top 10. In his last six, Johnson has posted a Driver Rating of at least 107.7. There's also the momentum factor -- which Johnson certainly owns. Johnson ended a minislump last weekend at Infineon, breaking an 11- race winless drought with an impressive victory which scored a Driver Rating of 148.0. Second on the ballot to continue the impressive parity party: Jeff Gordon. Every week, it seems to be the same mantra for Gordon supporters: Oh, so close. Gordon has finished in the top five in each of the last two races (Michigan and Infineon), scoring Driver Ratings of 114.2 and 1115.6, respectively. At New Hampshire, it's much of the same -- strong runs, but no victories. In the last 10 races, Gordon has three runner- up finishes. Over that span, he has had the second-best Driver Rating (108.0), a series-best Average Running Position (7.4) and the secondmost Fastest Laps Run (248). Finally, watch for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt's winless drought has reached 73 races. Still there's reason for hope. He had a solid run at Infineon (11th) and a seventh at Michigan two races ago. He is winless at New Hampshire, but his runs have been solid. Over the last 10 NHMS races, Earnhardt has had five races with a Driver Rating above 100.0 Overall, Earnhardt has a Driver Rating of 100.0 and an Average Running Position of 10.9.

New Hampshire The Gateway To The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup

New Hampshire Motor Speedway's two annual NASCAR Sprint Cup dates aren't simply Races No. 17 and 27, on the 36-event schedule.

Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 opens the Race to the Chase -- the 10-race stretch that precedes the Chase. And on Sunday, Sept. 19, the track hosts the year's first Chase race, as it has since the format's 2004 inception.

"Anytime that you go to a Chase race track early in the year that's a very important race," said Kurt Busch, a three-time winner at New Hampshire. "The second race of the year -- (at Auto Club) Speedway -- you go to that race track knowing that this will be part of the Chase when we come back in the playoffs. Phoenix, Texas, those tracks (we race at) in April -- you're already thinking Chase just because those tracks are in the Chase.

"Loudon is a big race track for us in our minds because that's the first race in the playoffs and you have to be ready to go and come out of the box strong. "

Adding intrigue to Sunday's event is the fact that 10 different drivers have won the last 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire.

Lest anyone eye the 1.058-mile oval and perceive its flatness and minimal banking as a cakewalk, they shall be deceived.

No one has tamed New Hampshire since Kurt Busch swept both 2004 races en route to his NASCAR Sprint Cup title. The previous year, reigning and four-time series champion Jimmie Johnson swept both 2003 New Hampshire races; interestingly, his last and only wins there.

Jeff Burton (No. 31 LENOX Industrial Tools Chevrolet), leads all drivers with four New Hampshire wins.

"Loudon is a pretty particular race track," said Kyle Busch, who won the 2006 summer event at New Hampshire. "It's tough. It's not like Phoenix (one-mile), it's not like Dover (one-mile) at all -- it's a flat race track and it's really typical of a tough race track to pass.

"You just can't have a really good race car and finish up front. You have to keep track position, you have to keep up all day and make everything work.

NSCS, Etc.

Milestones: Greg Biffle (No. 16 Red Cross/3M Ford) will make his 600th NASCAR national-series start in Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 while Jimmie Johnson will make his 400th NASCAR national-series start.

Mark Martin (No. 5 CARQUEST/ GoDaddy.com Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte (No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet) continue quests for career marks -- Martin for his 50th series pole, Kenseth for his 100th top 5 and Labonte for his 200th top 10.

Newman Doing Double Duty: Aside from Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301, Ryan Newman will participate in Saturday's NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at New Hampshire (1:10 p.m. ET). It's his fourth consecutive start in the June modified event and he'll drive the No. 7 Aggressive Hydraulics Chevrolet for Kevin "Bono" Manion, whose day job is serving as crew chief for Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Suave Chevrolet).

Manion, a Boylston, Mass., native, began his motorsports career in the modified ranks.

Newman won the pole for the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's June event.

FOGHAT In The House: Veteran rockers FOGHAT will headline pre-race activities for Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire. The 1970s musical icons also will perform Sunday's National Anthem. For those feeling their age, Sunday's opening act -- the band Comic Book Heroes -- features four recent high-school graduates, including FOGHAT bassist Craig MacGregor's son, Collin, on drums.

Happy 20th To "The Magic Mile": The 2010 season marks New Hampshire Motor Speedway's 20th anniversary, and track officials are celebrating with numerous fan-oriented programs. Over nearly two decades, motorsports enthusiast Bob Bahre and his son, Gary, molded a small local track into New England's largest sports facility. Speedway Motorsports Inc., acquired the track two years ago, and Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Gappens is at the helm today.

Up Next: Daytona

The Race to the Chase continues next week with the traditional summer stop at Daytona International Speedway -- the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola on Saturday night, July 3.

Expect on-track fireworks and afterwards, with the usual spectacular, post-race display.

Aside from Race to the Chase drama, there is the anticipation of carburetor restrictor-place racing, which is famous for close competition.

Other notes to remember:

One: NASCAR has mandated a carburetor restrictor-plate opening of 1 1/32 inches for this event. Teams used plates with a 63/64-inch opening in February's Daytona 500, then the largest restrictor-plate openings since the oneinch mandate in 1988, the first year the horsepower- reducing plates were used in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, at Daytona.

Restrictor plates limit air flow to the engine, thus slowing stock cars.

Two: The Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca- Cola will be the last race on Daytona's current asphalt. The track will be repaved prior to the 2011 Daytona 500

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) is the defending race winner. There is no defending polesitter due to weather cancelling last year's qualifying session.

Watch out for Jamie McMurray, the reigning Daytona 500 champion. He won the 2007 summer race at Daytona and also finished second in April at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, the series' other restrictor-place track.

Fast Facts

The Race: LENOX Industrial Tools 301
The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1.058-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, June 27
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 300 laps/318.4 miles

TV: TNT, Noon ET
Radio: PRN & Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128. (Local: WGIR-FM 101.1.)

2009 Polesitter: Tony Stewart
2009 Winner: Joey Logano

Schedule Prior To Race Day:
Friday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 9-9:50 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , David Reutimann , Brian Vickers , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , TRG Motorsports