Off-week news and notes 2007-07-17

Door-To-Door: Statistics Reflect Closer-Than-Ever Competition DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2007) -- Side-by-side racing and tight finishes are a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series hallmark -- and never more pronounced than now, in the sport's 60th ...

Door-To-Door: Statistics Reflect Closer-Than-Ever Competition

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2007) -- Side-by-side racing and tight finishes are a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series hallmark -- and never more pronounced than now, in the sport's 60th season.

Recent statistical analysis reflects that steady, strong growth, using indicators such as lapped fields, lead-lap finishes and margins of victory.

First, the fields: Lapped ones no longer exist.

In 1970, 22 of 48 events were decided by more than one lap. During the 1970s, 110 races ended with victory margins over one lap. Only 16 races did so during the 80s; two races did so during the 90s.

Fact: The '94 season was the last with an event decided by more than one lap.

Second, lead-lap finishes: More cars now finish on the lead lap than ever before.

In 1970, only 5.5% of cars did so. That number increased to 6.3% in 1976; 15.6% in 1986 and 30.7% in 1996.

Fact: In 2006, 43.6% of the fields finished on the lead lap.

Third: Race fields have never been stronger.

In 1970, one driver won 18 races. In 1971, one driver won 21 events. In 1974, only five drivers won events. The 1970s averaged 8.4 winners per season; the 1980s, 10.8 and the 1990s, 11.7.

Fact: The 2000s have averaged 15.3 winners per season.

Close Competition: More Statistical Confirmation

Tougher competition also means closer finishes and more race leaders.

Crucial to the tracking of those and other categories is electronic timing and scoring, which NASCAR debuted in May 1993. Prior to that, margins of victory were scored in laps, car lengths or feet.

Now, fractions of a second are determinable.

Seven of the top 10 closest finishes since 1993 have occurred since 2000 -- another barometer of competitive evolution. And two finishes on that list occurred this season.

They are Kevin Harvick's (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) 0.020 margin of victory over Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) in the season-opening Daytona 500 -- ninth on the list.

The other is Jamie McMurray's (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford) 0.005 margin of victory over Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) two weeks ago at the same venue -- Daytona International Speedway -- which is tied for second on that list.

The tightest margin thus far is Ricky Craven's 0.002 win Kyle's big brother Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) at Darlington in 2003.

Also notable: There have been at least eight different leaders in each of the past six races: Pocono (eight), Michigan (11), Infineon (eight), New Hampshire (11), Daytona (11) and Chicagoland (nine).

More confirmation: In 1970, a race averaged four leaders. The current average for '07 is 11.

Winning Edge: Stewart's Chicagoland Victory Means Seeding Boost

Aside from relief, Tony Stewart's (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) win last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway did more than break a season-long victory drought.

It gave him an edge in seeding for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, which begins Sept. 16 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Currently sixth in the series standings, Stewart becomes the 13th different winner in 19 events this season.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and reigning champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) are the only multiple winners thus far, with a series-high four victories each. Stewart is one of 11 drivers with single '07 wins; nine of those are currently Chase-eligible.

New this year, drivers receive an extra 10 bonus points for each victory. The one with the most begins the Chase -- contested during the final 10 events -- as the top seed. Following race No. 26 at Richmond International Raceway, the top 12 drivers will be Chase-seeded via to-date win totals, with ties broken by comparison of their top finishes beyond wins.

In The Loop: Kurt Busch Poised For 12th-Place Run

While most NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers are taking the off weekend to collect themselves, Kurt Busch just might be mapping out his route to the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Sitting in 14th place, Busch has performed better than his current standing. He has three top-five finishes this season, and over the past two races has finishes of third and sixth. Busch has climbed three positions in the past seven races and there's reason to believe he'll continue the march up the standings.

The seven tracks remaining in the Race to the Chase suit Busch well. He has nine wins at those tracks -- only Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have more, Gordon with 24 and Stewart with 10. Busch's statistics also rank higher than many of those in the Chase hunt.

At the remaining tracks, Busch has a Driver Rating of 97.0, an Average Running Position of 13.4 and has run 63% of his Laps in the Top 15. Those numbers rank higher than Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) -- the three drivers closest to Busch in the standings.

Busch has proven he belongs in the Chase discussion. His stats rank in the top 10 of practically every Loop Data category. He has a Driver Rating of 94.4 (eighth-best), an Average Running Position of 12.3 (third-best), 183 Fastest Laps Run (ninth-most) and 4,115 Laps in the Top 15 (seventh-best). Additionally, Busch has more Quality Passes -- passes of cars in the top 15 under green -- than any other driver (1,144).

Jimmie Johnson is one driver who will welcome the off weekend. With a 37th-place finish at Chicagoland, Johnson has fallen to seventh in the standings. He has finished in the top 10 just twice in the last seven races.

Overall, Johnson still remains one of the top drivers in the series. This season, he has the second best Driver Rating (109.4 -- behind only Jeff Gordon 109.5), the best Average Running Position (8.6), the most Laps in the Top 15 (4,839) and the most Fastest Laps Run (563).

Motoring Along: Drivers, Celebrities Gather For Annual Petty Family Motorcycle Ride

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series competitors are taking a deep breath this week -- the season's final off-week. But some are choosing to spend their free time behind handlebars rather than a steering wheel.

The 13th annual Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride kicked off last weekend, with over 250 participants riding motorcycles cross-country to benefit the Petty family's Victory Junction Gang Camp for seriously-ill children.

Kyle Petty (No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge) is joined by his wife, Patti Petty, and father -- and NASCAR legend -- Richard Petty.

Also participating is former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standout Harry Gant and veteran driver Steve Park. Former NASCAR Busch Series driver Burney Lamar and his wife, former model Nikki Taylor, also are participating, as is football legend Hershel Walker.

Instead of the usual west-to-east route, riders are trekking north-south for the first time. They departed Bal Harbor, Maine, and will arrive in Hollywood, Fla., later this week -- a distance of over 2,800 miles.

Kyle Petty, fresh off his six-race stint as a TNT analyst, joined the group in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Locked In: Sauter Holds Firm To 35th And Final Starting Spot

The No. 70 Chevrolet owned by Joe Custer and driven by Johnny Sauter remains in the 35th and final spot in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup owner standings this week -- the eight consecutive week it has occupied that position.

That trails the No. 34 spot -- held by the No. 13 Chevrolet owned by Jay Frye and driven by Joe Nemechek -- by 19 spots.

Each week, the top 35 in the owner standings are guaranteed starting positions.

A glance below 35th reveals the No. 21 Ford owned by Glen Wood and driven by former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Bill Elliott. That team trails the No. 70 by 225 points, but has jumped four spots -- from 40th to 36th -- since Elliott began driving the car eight weeks ago.

Elliott's first race in the No. 21 was the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27. Wood Brothers Racing, a legendary organization, asked him to help in its rebuilding process. Regular driver Ken Schrader is scheduled to return later this season.

Through eight events, Elliott's highest finish was an 11th at Michigan International Speedway five weeks ago. He has qualified for six events, using a past champion's provisional only twice -- at Pocono and Daytona.

Manufacturers' Standings

Tony Stewart's win last Sunday at Chicagoland was his first this season and the 15th for Chevrolet, which leads the Manufacturers' Standings. Ford, which is in second place, trails Chevrolet by 59 points. Chevrolet's victory total is led by four each for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

Ford has three victories -- all by Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) and Jamie McMurray.

Dodge is third, 65 points out of the lead. Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) has the sole win for the manufacturer.

Toyota is fourth, 100 points behind Chevrolet. Brian Vickers finished fifth at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the highest finish for Toyota this season.

Raybestos Rookie Standings

Juan Pablo Montoya continues to lead the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings over David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford).

Montoya has three top-10 finishes this season, including his win at Infineon Raceway. Ragan finished fifth in the Daytona 500, his only top 10 of the season.

Paul Menard (No. 15 Menards Chevrolet) has made five of the last six races after missing four of the previous nine.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Drivers Plan Rest, Relaxation During Off-Week

Home Sweet Home

Continuous travel is a fact of life for those involved in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. So when the opportunity to stay home comes along, some drivers are happy to do ... nothing.

"You know everybody has these trips planned to go this place and that place," said Kevin Harvick, who will sandwich two team tests around time with wife DeLana. "Man, we go every week. I don't know why you would want to leave home if you had a week off."

Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) agrees. He'll visit family and friends in his native southern Virginia, plus swing some golf clubs.

"Vacation to me is sitting at home and not doing anything," Sadler said. "Being a couch potato and swinging the club a little bit -- so that is what I'll be doing."

Martin Truex Jr. plans similar, low-key activities.

"I'm not really sure what I'm going do," Truex said. "Just probably relax. Probably the same thing I do all the time. Not much."

The Jet Set

On the other hand, some NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers plan to see some distant sites.

Sadler's Evernham Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is one of them. He'll first indulge in his role as a sprint-car team owner on the World of Outlaws tour this week, then head south to Mexico.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet), currently second in the series standings, also plans to head south -- to Florida.

"I can't wait," he said. "I definitely have some plans to go down to Miami and what not. We're going to have a lot of fun. I've had a blast this past month or so. I've been in a pretty good situation in the points where we can kind of race stress free and it's been a fun time for me."

Reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson will stray further from home -- across the Atlantic.

"Chandra and I are going to Europe and just get away from everything," Johnson said of the trip with his wife. "It's time to relax and unwind and spend some time together. As the Chase draws closer, things are going to get more and more hectic so you take every opportunity you can for rest and relaxation."

Family Time

Jeff Gordon will use this week's quiet time to hone his diaper-changing skills. He and wife Ingrid Vandebosch will cozy with newborn daughter Ella Sophia and make some exclusionary trips to visit family and friends.

"I'm going to be changing diapers and just hanging out as dad," Gordon said. "I'm excited and looking forward to it. We're pretty much going to stick around home.

"Towards the end of the off week and before Indianapolis of the off week we are going to be in Charlotte (N.C.) with family and some friends that we haven't had a chance to visit with yet.

"We're doing the family thing. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be fun."

Racing Away

Seven drivers will participate in Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series event at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis, Mo. They are J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Kenny Wallace (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet), David Ragan, Dave Blaney (No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota), Carl Edwards and David Reutimann (No. 00 Burger King Toyota).

Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader will participate in Friday's "Night of the NASCAR Stars III" UMP Modified event at Macon (Ill.) Speedway. Matt Kenseth was scheduled to compete Tuesday night at Slinger (Wis.) Speedway in the 28th annual Miller Lite Nationals.

On Deck: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard

After this week's "brake", NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 13th annual Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. The Indianapolis event is the fourth race in the Race to the Chase, the 10-week stretch leading into the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

It also marks the return of NASCAR to ESPN. ESPN and ABC will broadcast the final 17 races of the season.

Reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson is the defending race winner; Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) is the defending pole winner.

The Race: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard

The Place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, July 29

The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 2.5-miles
The Distance: 400 miles, 160 laps

The Purse: $9,533,587

2006 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2006 Pole: Jeff Burton

Pre-Race Schedule (local/ET time): 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. and 3:30-4:30 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing