Off-week news of note 2008-04-15

* NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Teams Anticipate Significance Of 12-Week Run * Six Drivers To Compete In NASCAR Nationwide Series' Mexico City Event * In The Loop: Some Interesting Tales From The 2008 Season * Smoother Road: Ragan Progressing After...

* NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Teams Anticipate Significance Of 12-Week Run
* Six Drivers To Compete In NASCAR Nationwide Series' Mexico City Event
* In The Loop: Some Interesting Tales From The 2008 Season
* Smoother Road: Ragan Progressing After Rough Rookie Experience
* The Road Ahead: Talladega Up First In Crucial, 12-Race Streak

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 15, 2008) -- Even as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pauses, race shops and teams do not.

Following this week's off week, the series embarks on a 12-race stretch that will shape many teams' fortunes and championship hopes.

It includes a variety of venues and some of the series' biggest events, which means shops hum and plans hatch as competitors maximize their break time.

Here's what's before them:

Two restrictor-place races, beginning with next week's event at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway and followed by the July return to 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway;

Another round of short-track excitement at Richmond International Raceway;

The Mother's Day weekend tradition at historic, notoriously difficult Darlington Raceway;

The season's longest event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend, and the season's first road-course event at California's Infineon Raceway.

If early trends hold, expect a mix of winners and continued competitive balance. Six different drivers have won in eight races to date, including five different winners in the last five events.

No Brake Ahead: NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Compete in Mexico

If a green flag flies, NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will take it.

Such is the case this week, with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on break and the NASCAR Nationwide Series assuming Sunday's spotlight.

Six NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will compete in Sunday's Corona Mexico 200 Presented by Banamex at Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course.

Reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), currently ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, will race, as will Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota), who's second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.

Two Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates and former open-wheel standouts, Patrick Carpentier (No. 10 LifeLock Dodge) and Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge), will wield their road-course skills in Mexico City.

Also heading south: Clint Bowyer (No. 07 DirecTV Chevrolet), eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, and David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford), who's 18th.

In The Loop: Eight Races Yield Plenty Of Interesting Stats

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has one race to go before reaching its "one-quarter pole." And a look at the stats tells some interesting tales from the 2008 season:

1. Don't read too much into Carl Edwards' ninth-place points position.

Edwards, with three victories through the first eight races, has been the class of the field. With his fourth-place finish at Phoenix, he vaulted into first place in the Driver Rating stat category with a rating of 111.2.

Second-through-fourth in that category match second-through-fourth in the series standings -- Kyle Busch (110.4), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (107.6) and Jimmie Johnson (104.3). Points leader Jeff Burton is seventh in Driver Rating with a 96.3.

2. Passing has been the key to Jeff Burton's season.

Here's the reason Burton's in first -- he passes and rarely gets passed. Burton leads the series in Pass Differential, which compares a driver's passes to the number of times he's been passed.

Burton's number is a series-best +134 (549 passes compared to 415 times passed).

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his passes count.

Earnhardt's pass differential is only a +44, but when he makes a pass, it's usually to get into the top 15. Of his total passes, 72.6% of them are Quality Passes -- passes of cars in the top 15 under green.

One other stat oddity of note -- Earnhardt is one of the most even drivers on the series. His average start is 9.9, his average mid-race position is 10.1 and his average finish is 10.5.

4. Richard Childress Racing's "it's not how your start, it's how you finish" mantra.

All three RCR drivers -- Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer -- have a better average finish than their average start.

Burton has an average starting position of 23.6; Harvick has a 13.8; Bowyer's is 15.8. Their finishes: Burton's is 7.0, Harvick's is 9.6 and Bowyer's is 12.8.

The three improve on their start rather quickly, as well. Their Average Running Positions: Burton has a 11.0, Harvick has a 12.0 and Bowyer has a 13.3.

Dues Paid: Ragan Rebounds In Second NASCAR Sprint Cup Season

Roush Fenway Racing's David Ragan, the author of one 2008 rebound, is a study in persistence.

As a 2007 Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate, Ragan labored under media attention fixated on eventual winner Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Wrigley's Big Red Dodge). He finished as the rookie runner-up, and began this season in obscurity compared to more accomplished teammates such as former series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), former series runner up Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) and current series wins leader Carl Edwards.

But eight races in, Ragan is 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. He has one top 10 and, more importantly, only one DNF (did not finish). He's also only 81 points out of 12th place -- the cutoff spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Ragan, 22, appears to be a challenger for a Chase spot in only his second fulltime season. That's light years from his two-race series debut in late 2006, when he invited the ire of several veteran competitors at Martinsville Speedway.

Ragan finished 23rd in the 2007 season standings, with two top fives, three top 10s and four DNFs.

Now Ragan looks to be a worthy successor to four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup runner-up Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet), who drove the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway for 19 seasons.

Talladega: A True Barometer For Hendrick Motorsports Teams

With much ado made about Hendrick Motorsports' slow start to 2008, next week's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway may loom as an organizational litmus test.

Last year was a banner one for Hendrick drivers, who together won half of 2007's 36 events.

Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) led the series with 10 wins and captured his second consecutive title, while four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) finished as runner-up.

Also last year, Hendrick drivers won five of the first eight races. This year, only Johnson has visited Victory Lane, last Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. And Gordon, who led the standings this time last year, currently sits 13th.

New teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) has paced the group thus far; he's third in the standings, tied with leader Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) with a series-high six top 10s. Johnson is fourth.

More telling is the return to Talladega, where Gordon swept both races last season. Only eight points out of 12th place, he leads all active drivers with six Talladega wins. Earnhardt Jr. is second with five career Talladega wins. Johnson also has a win there.

Casey Mears (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) continues his rebound from poor early season luck. He's now 25th in the standings, up from a season-low of 42nd after the season's second event at Auto Club Speedway.

Yeley Out, Reutimann In, As Smith Retains Crucial 35th Spot

Fortunes continue to shift for teams attempting to enter, or stay, in the top 35 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner standings.

Each week, those teams are guaranteed starting positions, and last Saturday's event at Phoenix International Raceway tumbled the order for those on the top-35 "bubble" yet again.

The No. 01 Dale Earnhardt Inc./Principal Chevrolet owned by Teresa Earnhardt and driven by Regan Smith remains 35th for the third consecutive week.

And only 40 points separate the four teams trailing in 36th through 39th.

The No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota owned by Jeffrey Moorad driven by J.J. Yeley is 36th, a drop of three spots. Yeley trails Smith by three points in the owner standings.

The No. 44 UPS Toyota driven by David Reutimann and owned by Michael Waltrip is 34th, a gain of four spots. Reutimann finished 18th at Phoenix, returning his team for the top 35 for the first time in three weeks.

Behind Yeley, the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota owned by Bill Davis and driven by Dave Blaney is 37th, only five points behind Yeley and eight points out of 35th.

The No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet owned by Margaret Haas and driven by Johnny Sauter is 38th, only four points behind Blaney and 12 points out of 35th.

The No. 40 Dodge owned by Felix Sabates and driven by Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Dario Franchitti is 39th, 40 points out.

Although 41st and 165 points behind 35th, fellow rookie Patrick Carpentier and the No. 10 LifeLock Dodge owned by George Gillett Jr., continue their climb. Carpentier fell to 48th after the year's second event at Auto Club Speedway, but has gained seven spots in the last six weeks.

NSCS Etc.

Parity Reflected In Manufacturers' Standings: This season's mix of winners and close competition shows up in yet another statistical category -- the 2008 manufacturers' standings.

Chevrolet holds a narrow four-point lead over second-place Ford, which leads third-place Toyota by three points. Dodge, 14 points behind Toyota, is a couple of wins away from unseating one or more competitors.

Through eight events, Ford leads with Carl Edwards' three wins. Both Toyota and Chevrolet have two wins each, while Dodge has one.

Up Next: Aaron's 499 At Talladega Superspeedway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' next stop is the Aaron's 499 on Sunday, April 27 at Talladega Superspeedway. It's the ninth race on the series' 2008 schedule.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon won both Talladega events in 2007. He leads all active drivers with six career wins there, and is the defending pole winner for next week's event

Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has the second-highest Talladega win total of all active drivers -- five.

Talladega is the largest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, at 2.66 miles.

The Race: Aaron's 499
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Sunday, April 27
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 2.66-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 500 miles/188 laps

TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Jeff Gordon
2007 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Pre-Race Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 1:30-2:30 p.m.; Final Practice, 3:05-3:55 p.m.; Saturday -- Qualifying, 10:15 a.m. Track Contact: Andrew Smith, (256) 315-4556;

-credit: nascar

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