Off-week news of note 2007-02-27

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series News and Notes * Test Session Preview Of First Car Of Tomorrow Race At Bristol * Mark Martin Points Leader For First Time In Nearly 5 Years * New Faces Highlight This Week's Series Standings * NASCAR Continues...

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series News and Notes

* Test Session Preview Of First Car Of Tomorrow Race At Bristol

* Mark Martin Points Leader For First Time In Nearly 5 Years

* New Faces Highlight This Week's Series Standings

* NASCAR Continues Its Strong Presence In Mexico

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 27,2007) -- While there is a break in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule this weekend, a project that has been seven years in the making will have the opportunity for a full scale "walk-through" this week at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Fifty NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams are scheduled to test their Car of Tomorrow models this Wednesday-Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway. The test session is the third of seven scheduled NASCAR NEXTEL Cup sessions this season. Previous tests this year have been conducted at Daytona and Las Vegas, while Richmond (April 3-4), Lowe's (May 7-8), Dover (May 14-15), and Talladega (Sept. 10-11) will host tests later in the year.

The much anticipated Car of Tomorrow will make its race debut March 25 in the Food City 500 at the infamous .533-mile Bristol short track. That race marks the first of 16 events the Car of Tomorrow will be on track in 2007, as NASCAR's new safety-oriented car will race at oval tracks less than 1.5 miles, along with the two road course events and the October race at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

"The Bristol test should be a good dress rehearsal for the race teams, drivers and NASCAR as we prepare for the first Car of Tomorrow race later next month," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition. "It should provide the teams with a good opportunity to fine tune their set ups and become more familiar with how their cars are going to handle and give NASCAR the chance to have a trial run in getting its inspection process for the new car all buttoned up."

Mark Martin Points Leader For First Time Since 2002

For the first time since September, 2002, Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) sits atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship points standings. Through the season's first two races, Martin has posted finishes of second (Daytona) and fifth (California) and currently holds a five-point lead over Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet).

In his first season with Ginn Racing, the veteran Martin spent the previous 19 seasons as a fixture with Roush Fenway Racing. He is a four-time series runner-up and winner of 35 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races. His first-place standing also marks the first time a Ginn Racing driver (formerly MB2 Motorsports) has led the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings.

"It's nice to lead the points, but it's even better to be competitive," said Martin. "All in all, we have potential to get up there and win a race. I think we've shown that the past two weeks."

This marks the first time in Martin's storied career that he has had top-five finishes in his first two races of the season. Next up: the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 11.

A Quick Look At The Series Standings

A look at this week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings reveals a host of newcomers to the top 10.

While the top four of Martin, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) may come as no surprise, there are at least five drivers who one wouldn't consider regular members of the top 10, further evidence of the depth of talent present in this year's series.

Rookie David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford) is in the top 10 for the second week in a row, holding down the fifth spot this week. Also ranked in the top 10 for the second consecutive week are Joe Nemechek (No. 13 Certain Teed/Ginn Resorts Chevrolet), who is seventh; J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), who is eighth, and David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge), who is 10th. Cracking the top 10 for the first time this season is Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), thanks in large part to his solid sixth-place showing at California Speedway last Sunday.

Four drivers in particular made up the most ground following their performance at California. Race winner Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Carhartt/DEWALT Ford) catapulted 28 spots and is currently 12th; third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) jumped 22 spots to 15th; Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) finished eighth at California and moved up 18 spots to 21st and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), thanks to his seventh-place showing at California, climbed 17 positions to 19th.

Several noteworthy drivers head into the open weekend looking to rebound next week at Las Vegas. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) has two DNFs and is currently 40th in points. Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) finished 38th at California and is 32nd in points. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) is 26th in points, while Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), last year's Raybestos Rookie of the Year, is in 18th.

NASCAR Continues Its Strong Presence in Mexico

In its third year of development, NASCAR's long-term commitment for racing in Mexico is on track.

While there may be a break in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule this weekend, NASCAR racing will be in full swing in Mexico City. For the third straight year, the NASCAR Busch Series will run at the world famous Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit this Sunday, March 4. The Telcel-Motorola 200 presented by Banamex will be televised live by ESPN2 beginning at 1:30 p.m. (ET).

Complimenting this weekend's full field of NASCAR Busch Series drivers is an all-star field of road course specialists, including Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco-Havoline/Telcel Dodge); Scott Pruett (No. 41 Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Dodge); Adrian Fernandez (No. 4 Lowe's Chevrolet); and Ron Fellows (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet).

NASCAR's developmental tour -- the NASCAR Mexico Series -- will make its debut this weekend under the NASCAR branding. The series consists of 14 races over a nine-month season. This Sunday's race (10 a.m. ET) will feature a non-points 37-lap shootout.

The formation of the NASCAR Mexico Series has been highlighted by the support of major corporations and has positioned itself for strong and continued growth in Mexico.

"The NASCAR Mexico Series is the premier stock car racing series in Mexico and it gives the competitors the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of their hometown fans and also in front of one of NASCAR's premier series -- the NASCAR Busch Series," said Chad Little, NASCAR's Director of Racing Development for Mexico. "We have seen a number of talented drivers and crew members develop their skills in the NASCAR Mexico Series and work their way up through the ranks of NASCAR racing. We look forward to continuing this growth and development of NASCAR racing in Mexico."

In The Loop: Matt Kenseth Features Top Driver Rating Through Two Races

For some drivers, the empty spot on this weekend's calendar is a welcome sight.

For others, it could mean a wall for quickly growing momentum. Only time will tell.

It's safe to assume Matt Kenseth wouldn't mind racing this weekend. Although he finished 17th at the Daytona 500, he did lead six laps and looked strong throughout. And then this past Sunday, he dominated the Auto Club 500 for the second year in a row. His season-to-date Driver Rating is a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series-best 117.5. He's hoping the mini-vacation doesn't stall his momentum.

Then there's points leader Mark Martin. Though few predicted his early-season success, even fewer are surprised. In his new ride, Martin has the fifth-best Driver Rating (102.9) and the fifth-best Average Running Position (11.426).

The Richard Childress stable of drivers is probably the one that is least happy to see the hole in this week's schedule. All three drivers are in the top six of the points standings, as well as the top eight of the Driver Rating standings. Jeff Burton (114.7, second-best), Kevin Harvick (104.7, third-best), and Clint Bowyer (93.4, eighth-best) have all started the season in strong fashion.

Then, there are those drivers who will take advantage of the open weekend. Dale Earnhardt Jr., for one, has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start. He has an average finish of 36th and his Driver Rating is 23rd best. There are also the cases of Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. Call them the "fence-riders" when trying to figure if they would rather race this weekend.

All sit lower in the standings than they are accustomed, but all have performed well on the track. For instance, Stewart has a robust Driver Rating of 103.5, yet he's 21st in the standings. Kurt Busch has an Average Running Position of 13.426 yet finds himself in 19th place through two races. Carl Edwards has 222 Quality Passes, fourth-best in the series, but sits in 26th place.

Kyle Busch (No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet) could be mentioned in this group, as well, despite his enviable ninth-place position in the points standings. He has the most Laps in the Top 15 (431), second-best Average Running Position (7.103), sixth-best Driver Rating (101.4), sixth-fastest Green Flag Speed and sixth-most Quality Passes, yet is just inside the top 10 in points. Busch may welcome the break, but certainly is a driver to keep an eye on when he competes next week in his hometown of Las Vegas.

Off And Running: Chevrolet Takes Early Lead In Manufacturer Battle

Thanks to Matt Kenseth's victory at the Auto Club 500 last Sunday at California Speedway, Ford has drawn even with Chevrolet in the Manufacturers Championship standings through the season's first two races.

Ford and Chevrolet are deadlocked at 15 points apiece. Dodge is third with eight points followed by Toyota with six points.

Despite Kenseth's win driving Roush Fenway Racing's Ford Fusion, the remaining top-four finishers in Sunday's race all drove Chevrolets, including Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin.

On Deck: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series resumes its 2007 schedule with the running of the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, Sunday, March 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is the defending champion and will be looking to capture his third win in a row at Las Vegas. Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford) sat on the pole at last year's Las Vegas race.

FOX Sports will televise the race with broadcast time set for 4 p.m. (ET).

***

What: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Car of Tomorrow Test Session

Where: Bristol Motor Speedway

The Dates: Wednesday-Thursday, Feb. 28-March 1
Times: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Track Layout: .533-mile oval

-credit: nascar

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