*Go-Time: Contenders Prepare To Make A Martinsville Move *Pick One: Gordon, Johnson Both Martinsville Masters *Martinsville Hosts 15th New-Car Race Proving Ground? Martinsville A Crucial Stop For Bowyer And Stewart DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct....
*Go-Time: Contenders Prepare To Make A Martinsville Move
*Pick One: Gordon, Johnson Both Martinsville Masters
*Martinsville Hosts 15th New-Car Race
Proving Ground? Martinsville A Crucial Stop For Bowyer And Stewart
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 16, 2007) -- Five down, five to go.
Sunday's Subway 500 at venerable Martinsville Speedway marks the sixth of 10 events in the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- time and opportunity that shrink by the day.
And with urgency palpable, is this the week that third-place Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) and fourth-place Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) make their lunge at the leaders?
A quick reset: Four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) leads the Chase standings with Hendrick Motorsports teammate -- and reigning series champion -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) second, 68 points behind.
Follow with Bowyer, 78 points out, and Stewart, 198 out, and the call to action is apparent.
This week's setting is key -- Martinsville's .526-mile surface confounds even the smoothest drivers with its tight turns, an unforgiving flatness and historic quirks (those interior concrete curbs).
Though Gordon and Johnson lead all active drivers with seven and three wins there, respectively, a weeding-out -- or jumbling up -- could occur.
Bowyer may have the most daunting catch-up task despite his 10-point cushion over Stewart. The first-year Chase participant and second-year driver has an average finish of 18.7 in three career series starts at Martinsville. He finished 11th in April.
"It's so small that if something happens in front of you, there's just no getting around it," Bowyer said of Martinsville. "We finished 11th at Martinsville in the spring and we need to get more out of it this time. We knew we'd have to pick up our program and finish better at all these race tracks and I think we can go there this weekend and do better than we've done in the past."
Stewart also could be poised for a major gain. He excels at Martinsville, where he's won twice along with six top fives, 10 top 10s and three poles.
He also boasts the top pre-race Driver Rating for Martinsville, according to NASCAR Loop Data statistics -- 125.5. Stewart also owns the top Average Running Position (4.382), Fastest Laps (277) and Laps Led (829).
Here's more inspiration for both Bowyer and Stewart, courtesy of Johnson, who's made Chase comebacks a personal trademark:
*Trailing the leader by 146 points after five races in '06, Johnson rebounded to win his first series title;
*In '04, Johnson trailed the leader by 227 points after five races and finished second in the final standings by only eight points to eventual champion Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge).
*In '05, Johnson was tied for the lead with Stewart after five Chase races; Stewart went on to capture his second series title.
Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Notebook, Week 6
Jeff Gordon, The Martinsville Master ... Currently out front in his quest for a fifth series title, Jeff Gordon's Martinsville statistics bode well -- and likely awe -- as he approaches Sunday's Subway 500.
Gordon leads all active drivers with seven Martinsville wins. He also has five poles, 17 top fives and 23 top 10s there, plus a second-best (behind Tony Stewart) pre-race Driver Rating of 123.8.
More facts in Gordon's favor: He's won two straight, at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago and last Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He and Jimmie Johnson each have a series-high six victories this season.
Gordon also leads the series with six poles, 19 top fives and 25 top 10s in '07.
And Johnson's Not Far Behind ... Yes, Gordon dominates Martinsville statistics. But Johnson, who trails his Hendrick Motorsports teammate by 68 points in the current Chase standings, has mastered Martinsville, too.
He owns three victories there, and ranks third in pre-race Driver Rating -- 117.2 -- according to NASCAR Loop Data statistics.
Along with three wins, Johnson has one pole, seven top fives and 10 top 10s at Martinsville.
He's also eyeing the '07 series sweep, having won the April event there.
Take A Picture ... In April, Johnson and Gordon battled door-to-door to the finish at Martinsville, with Johnson prevailing by 0.065 seconds -- the season's fourth closest finish to date.
Given the two drivers' similar statistics at the half-mile track, it's not unrealistic to expect a repeat. And there is this: Gordon and Johnson have finished one-two on three other occasions this season.
In March, Johnson won at Las Vegas, with Gordon finishing second. Gordon swept both Talladega events this year, with Johnson as the runner-up.
Gordon's last Martinsville victory came during his '05 season sweep there.
Look Out For These Guys ... Aside from Tony Stewart's Martinsville resume, two other Chase participants have won at the Virginia half-mile.
They are Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet).
Busch's win came in the fall of '02. He has two top fives, four top 10s and one pole at Martinsville. Burton won there in the fall of '97. He has nine top fives and 13 top 10s at Martinsville.
Busch is seventh in the current Chase standings. Burton is 10th.
Other drivers to watch are Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet), who has two top fives and three top 10s at Martinsville, and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), who has two top fives, three top 10s and one pole.
Kyle Busch is sixth in the Chase standings. Hamlin is ninth.
Double-Duty Drivers ... Three drivers, all Chase participants -- Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer -- will compete in Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event, the Kroger 200.
Bowyer will drive for Kevin Harvick Inc., while Busch and Hamlin will drive Billy Ballew Motorsports trucks -- perhaps a harbinger of '08, when Busch joins Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Flexibility An Important Key For NASCAR's New Car
Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway marks the 15th event for the Car of Tomorrow -- NASCAR's next-generation race car that will compete fulltime in '08.
The new car returns to Martinsville, where it ran in only its second event in April. Teams will use the new car in 16 of 36 events in '07.
A seven-year project of NASCAR's Research and Development Center, the new car incorporates crucial safety innovations, better competition and cost containment opportunities.
Hendrick Motorsports has won seven of the 14 previous events, including the last time the car competed two weeks ago at Talladega, where Jeff Gordon prevailed.
Teams already have realized one of the new car's goals -- flexibility. The ability to use the same car at multiple (and different) tracks is a key component.
Five teams have used the same chassis in seven of the previous 14 events. And at Talladega -- also the car's restrictor-plate debut -- five teams used a car that had raced at one or more of the new car's previous events
New Car By The Numbers
Using the same car at different tracks, rather than building track-specific cars, is a major cost-containment plus of NASCAR's new car. Here's a quick look at this season's savings-come-to-life:
*Five teams have used the same chassis in seven of the previous new-car events, to date;
*Four teams have used the same chassis in eight of the previous new-car events, to date;
*Two teams have used the same chassis in nine of the previous new-car events, to date;
*One team has used the same chassis in 10 of the previous new-car events, to date;
*Sunday's Subway 500 marks the 15th new-car event in '07. The Nov. 11 event at Phoenix International Raceway is this season's final new-car event.
Locked In: Blaney, No. 22 Team Earn Top 35 Boost
Dave Blaney continued a recent trend of good runs with a sixth-place finish last Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway. It was his second top-10 effect in as many races, following on the heels of a season-high third third place two weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway.
More importantly, Blaney's and his team's good work lifted the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota another spot in the car owner standings, no small success. The No. 22 is now 34th, after climbing to 35th post-Talladega. Which means the Bill Davis-owned team is ensured a berth for this Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville.
The top 35 teams in the owner standings are guaranteed automatic starting spots each week. Other teams must earn their berths based on qualifying speeds.
The No. 22 leads the 35th-place team -- the No. 45 American Spirit Motor Oil Dodge owned and driven by Kyle Petty -- by 39 points. The 36th-place team, the Glen Wood-owned No. 21 Little Debbie Ford, trails the No. 45 points by 109.