* Love this place: Bill Elliott, a Michigan stalwart, returns to action in Batman Begins 400 * Drive for Diversity celebrates milestone: Allison Duncan claims first feature win * History lesson: Michigan International Speedway's ...
* Love this place: Bill Elliott, a Michigan stalwart, returns to action in Batman Begins 400
* Drive for Diversity celebrates milestone: Allison Duncan claims first feature win
* History lesson: Michigan International Speedway's 600-mile experiment
NEWS AND NOTES
Sweet Surprises: Martin, Wallace, Edwards in Top 10 Spotlight ... Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) is one former series champion who's definitely not battling to get in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10. In fact, he and fellow soon-to-be retiree Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) have been two fixtures on that list in recent weeks. Another interesting addition? Newcomer Carl Edwards (No. 99 AAA Ford), who won last week at Pocono.
Martin is hardly a top-10 surprise: he competed in the inaugural "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" last season and is currently fifth in the standings. He leads all active drivers with 25 top-10 finishes at Michigan.
Wallace, the 1989 series champion, missed the "Chase" last season; he's currently seventh in the standings and 2005 represents a nice 365-day turnaround. After 14 races last year, Wallace, ranked 15th, and trailed then-leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) by 541 points. He's 348 behind current leader Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and leads all active drivers with five wins at Michigan.
"Rusty's driving his tail off out there and we're determined to keep looking at the big picture every week," said Larry Carter, Wallace's crew chief. "The big goal is to make the Chase and we're trying to get every point that we can."
Edwards, who ran the final 14 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races last year, isn't a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate because he exceeded the seven-race limit needed to retain his rookie status. But this is his first full NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season, and last week's win -- his second this year -- moved him from ninth to fourth in the standings.
Bill Elliott Back in Action at Michigan ... More news from yet another former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion: Bill Elliott (No. 91 McDonald's Dodge) is scheduled to compete in Sunday's Batman Begins 400, and he should be optimistic. Michigan is one of his favorite tracks.
Elliott has seven career wins at the 2-mile oval -- third on the all-time list behind David Pearson (nine Michigan wins) and Cale Yarborough (eight). It should be his first Michigan appearance since 2003, and his 53rd start, which would move him to third on the track's all time list.
"Anytime I can race at Michigan, I feel like I'm back home," Elliott said. "I've been fortunate over the years to have raced well there and come away with some victories."
Since Elliott retired from fulltime NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition following the 2003 season, he has run a partial schedule for his team, Evernham Motorsports, with an emphasis on chassis development and testing. This will be his fifth event of 2005, with previous outings at California, Atlanta, Texas, and Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Another important duty is playing "Coach" to Evernham's younger drivers. Elliott mentored his successor in the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge, Kasey Kahne, at the beginning of last season, and now he's assisting development driver Erin Crocker, who plans to compete in Friday's ARCA RE/MAX event at Michigan. Elliott worked with Crocker during a test session last week at Michigan.
Duncan makes Drive for Diversity History ... Allison Duncan, a native of San Rafael, Calif., who competes in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, made history last Saturday night in Stockton, Calif., by winning her first feature event in the Western Late Model Class at Stockton 99 Speedway.
Duncan is based at the track as part of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, which is run by Access Marketing and Communications. Her victory marked the program's first win since its 2004 debut. Sponsored by Miller Lite, she drives for California-based owner Bill McAnally, as part of Richard Childress Racing's driver development program.
Last weekend's win had been heralded: Duncan currently leads the point standings in the Western Late Model Class at Stockton 99 Speedway. She's also ranked eighth in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Division II point standings.
A quick primer: Drive for Diversity seeks to develop diverse and female drivers and crew members. This season, Duncan is one of eight Drive for Diversity drivers competing in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series or the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series. Twelve Drive for Diversity crew members are working with teams in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series or the NASCAR Busch Series.
Father's Day Special for the Busch Family ... This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup weekend at Michigan coincides with Sunday's annual Father's Day observance. The NASCAR family will celebrate in the garage and on the track, among them the Busch clan. Brothers Kurt and Kyle (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet) enjoy the frequent companionship of their parents, Gayle and Tom Busch, and never more than at the track, where Dad spots for Kyle, a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate this season, and keeps tabs on Kurt, the defending series champion.
"This will be a great weekend for the Busch family," Kyle Busch said. "This is the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event that my dad will have both his kids racing on Father's Day. My dad had a huge hand in both my career and my brother's. My parents both grew up in the Chicago area so this race is close to their roots, too. I think the best present we could give him would be for one of us to win, but I know it's awesome just to have him and my mom there with us."
Terry Labonte to Help Jason Leffler, Joe Gibbs Racing ... The former two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion opted to cut back to a partial schedule this season, but now he'll be a bit busier than he expected. Joe Gibbs Racing announced Tuesday that Terry Labonte will step in for Jason Leffler (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet) for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 weekend at Infineon Raceway next week.
Labonte's one-race stint with JGR will help two ways: Leffler's team, a first-year JGR entity, has struggled this season and enters this week's event at Michigan International Speedway in 36th place in owner points. This season, the top 35 teams in owner points are guaranteed a starting position, and Leffler currently doesn't have that safety net.
Also, Labonte's experience gives the No. 11 team a stronger qualifying chance next week at Infineon, plus allows Leffler the opportunity to learn from Labonte, and bolster his own road-course skills. Leffler will be back in his seat for the Pepsi 400 on July 2 at Daytona International Speedway.
"We want to thank Hendrick Motorsports for allowing Terry to assist us with the No. 11 team at Sonoma," said J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR. "Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports helped get Joe Gibbs Racing up and running when we formed this team back in 1991, and 14 years later, we're once again appreciative of their help."
Labonte's track record in 54 road-course starts reads thusly: Eight poles, 17 top five and 26 top-10 finishes.
"I've always enjoyed road course racing," said Labonte, "and while no road courses were planned for this year, it's hard to say no when you have the opportunity to drive for an organization that's just as professional as Hendrick Motorsports."
Milestone Markers ... Ricky Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Ford) should make his 57th career start at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. That will give Rudd the record for most Michigan starts, surpassing Dave Marcis, who has 56 starts.
Ford Inches Closer to Chevrolet In Manufacturers Standings ... After 14 races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, Ford got its seventh victory of 2005 last Sunday thanks to Carl Edwards' win at Pocono Raceway. Although it leads Chevrolet in wins, Ford remains second in the series' Manufacturers Championship standings, with Dodge running third with one win. Chevrolet, with six wins, retains its edge (100-99) in points. Dodge has 67 points. ... Chevrolet has won the Manufacturers Championship 28 times while Ford has won 15 times; the other 10 years the championship has been awarded, it has been won by Hudson (3), Dodge (2), Buick (2), Oldsmobile (1), Pontiac (1) and Plymouth (1). ... Points are earned in this fashion: Nine points to the highest-finishing car type; six points to the second-highest finishing type; four points for the third-highest finishing type. ... Chevrolet has won the championship the last two years. ... Jimmie Johnson is currently the leading Chevrolet driver, as the series point leader. Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford), second in points, is the top Ford driver. Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) is the leading Dodge driver, sixth in the points.
Owner Points Update: Top 35 Heading to Pocono ... Beginning in 2005, teams outside the top 35 in owner championship points must qualify on speed for each week's 43 starting spots. The top-35 designation guarantees a spot. Beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 and running through the Bristol race on April 3, the top 35 in 2004 owner points was the yardstick. Beginning with the Martinsville race on April 10, the current top 35 became the yardstick.
This week's top-35 situation follows: * No. 30 -- Mike Bliss (No. 0 Net Zero Best Buy Chevrolet). Owner: Gene Haas. Points: 1,265.
* No. 31 -- Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge). Owner: Kyle Petty. Points: 1,241.
* No. 32 -- Travis Kvapil (No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Eng. & Trans. Dodge). Owner: Doug Bawel. Points: 1,228.
* No. 33 -- Ricky Rudd. Owner: Glen Wood. Points: 1,171.
* No. 34 -- Mike Wallace (No. 4 Lucas Oil Chevrolet). Owner: Larry McClure. Points: 1,122.
* No. 35 -- Scott Wimmer (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge). Owner: Bill Davis. Points: 1,089.
* No. 36 -- Jason Leffler (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet). Owner: J.D. Gibbs. Points: 998
* No. 37 -- Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 32 Tide Chevrolet). Owner: Cal Wells III. Points: 926.
* No. 38 -- Kevin Lepage. (No. 37 Underdog Dodge). Owner: John Carter. Points: 897.
* No. 39 -- Robby Gordon (No. 7 Fruit of the Loom Chevrolet). Owner: Jim Smith. Points: 746.
* No. 40 -- Mike Garvey (No. 66 Peak Fitness Ford). Owner: Jeff Stec. Points: 670.
On the Right Track
• Rusty Wallace leads all active drivers with five wins at Michigan.
• Wallace and Dale Jarrett each lead all drivers with 15 top-five finishes at Michigan.
• Mark Martin leads all active drivers with 25 top-10 finishes at Michigan.
• Matt Kenseth has scored four consecutive top-10 finishes at Michigan, the longest current streak of any driver.
• Dale Jarrett, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth all had top-10 finishes in both Michigan events last season.
From the Archives: Michigan Site of Only Other 600-mile Race ... Michigan International Speedway first appeared on the NASCAR schedule in 1969, and the second race, on Aug. 17, 1969, was 600 miles. That makes Michigan the only track other than Lowe's Motor Speedway to attempt a 600-mile race. That distance is considered tests of man and machine, and at Michigan, anticipation was high about how cars would handle its 2-mile oval.
David Pearson, driving a Holman-Moody Ford, won the pole with a speed of 161.714 mph. Cale Yarborough started second in a Wood Brothers Mercury. A field of 44 cars began the 300-lap event with Pearson taking the lead. NASCAR great and motorcycle legend Paul Goldsmith, making his last career start, brought the crowd of over 52,000 to its feet on Lap 50 when he took the lead from Buddy Baker. The two Dodge drivers swapped it over the next six laps. Richard Petty, in the midst of his only season driving a Ford, stayed near the front, as did LeeRoy Yarbrough and Bobby Allison.
Ironically, Michigan's 600-mile experiment was cut short at Lap 165, or 330 miles, due to rain. Until then, there were 26 lead changes among 12 drivers. Pearson took the win, the 56th of his career and his 10th of the season.
On Deck: Infineon Raceway ... Race No. 16 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule will be Sunday, June 26 -- the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. Infineon, a 1.99-mile road course, has been part of the schedule since 1989 when the race winner was Ricky Rudd. ... Jeff Gordon is defending champion; also last year's polesitter.
The race: Batman Begins 400 (Race No. 15 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
The track: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich. (2-mile oval.)
The date/time: Sunday, June 19, 2:10 p.m. (ET).
TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $4,955,273.
Race length: 400 miles, 200 laps.
Track layout: 2-mile oval.
2004 winner: Ryan Newman.
2004 polesitter: Jeff Gordon.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 2,062. 2. Greg Biffle 1,939. 3. Elliott Sadler 1,781. 4. Carl Edwards 1,759. 5. Mark Martin 1,734. 6. Ryan Newman 1,733. 7. Kevin Harvick 1,715. 8. Rusty Wallace 1,714. 9. Jeff Gordon 1,700. 10. Tony Stewart 1,682.