Off-week news of note2006-07-25

* Don't Stop Now: Eight Series Drivers on Track to Celebrate NASCAR Busch Series' 25th Anniversary * Just Around the Corner: All Eyes on Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon at Indianapolis * Back Near the Front: Richard Childress Racing Achieves ...

* Don't Stop Now: Eight Series Drivers on Track to Celebrate NASCAR Busch Series' 25th Anniversary

* Just Around the Corner: All Eyes on Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon at Indianapolis

* Back Near the Front: Richard Childress Racing Achieves Turn-Around Season

* Open-Week Calendar: Kurt Busch Soon to be a Married Man

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 25, 2006) -- Presented with the final open week of 2006, what do NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers do?

They compete in the NASCAR Busch Series event at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis, Mo.

Or at local tracks throughout the country.

Or with their children at game arcades.

While the opportunity to catch one's breath is welcome, internal engines continue humming as teams and drivers prepare for the season's final 16 events.

When competition resumes Aug. 6 with the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Race to the Chase -- the 10 event stretch leading to the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- marches on, with drivers gunning for Chase eligibility.

But this week, the eight drivers who also compete fulltime in the NASCAR Busch Series will be a part of that series' history at Gateway.

Saturday's Busch Silver Celebration 250 presented by Shop 'n Save marks the 25th anniversary of the NASCAR Busch Series and its affiliation with series sponsor Anheuser-Busch, a St. Louis icon. It also marks Gateway's 10th anniversary.

"Actually, I am pretty excited about only having one race this weekend," said Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), the NASCAR Busch Series leader. "My sister and her husband are coming to the race. We are taking that weekend as a little vacation with a race in the middle of it."

Other participants are Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet), J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge), Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet), and Scott Wimmer (No. 4 AERO Exhaust Chevrolet).

"I'm looking forward to going to St. Louis and having a little fun," said Bowyer, Harvick's Richard Childress Racing teammate. "After that, Carl and I are going to do some dirt track racing at I-80 Speedway in Nebraska on Sunday, so that'll be even more fun. This almost feels like a weekend off."

NEWS AND NOTES, PART II

Back to the Brickyard ... When the Race to the Chase resumes next week, the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard will be the fifth event in the 10-event Race to the Chase, which culminates Sept. 9 at Richmond International Raceway. Following the Richmond event -- race No. 26 on the schedule -- the top-10 drivers and any within 400 points of the leader will battle for the series title during the season's final 10 races. Here's a quick look at impending Indianapolis storylines:

• Can defending winner Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) repeat? Last season's win was an emotional highlight for the Indiana native and resident; he eventually won his second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup title. This season, Stewart needs an Indianapolis victory even more; he'll enter the event 10th in the standings rather than second, a mere 15 points ahead of 11th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet).

• Will Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) capture his fifth win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? If so, he'll tie Formula 1 great Michael Schumacher for most career victories at the storied track.

• The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is a good barometer of the eventual series champion. The race winner has captured the series crown five times in the event's 12-year history, including four consecutive seasons from 1998 to 2001.

In The Loop: Greg Biffle Tops Driver Rating; Jeff Gordon Moves Up ... Although he hasn't won since May 2 at Talladega Superspeedway, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) remains comfortably atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, and NASCAR's season-to-date Loop Data shows why: Consistency.

Johnson, who leads the series with 16 top-10 finishes, also leads two significant Loop Data categories. His Average Finish of 8.3 and Total Laps (5,814) illustrate the performances that have kept him out front, both on the track and in the standings.

Others who lead key categories include Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford), with a series-best 459 Fastest Laps and a top Driver Rating of 103. Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), the runner-up in the last two races, leads the Average Starting Position category (9.1), while Tony Stewart leads all drivers with 923 Laps Led. Biffle is second with 872 Laps Led.

The Battle for 10th Place: Stewart Back in Top 10 ... The standings shakeup continued following last Sunday's event at Pocono Raceway with Dale Earnhardt Jr. taking the biggest tumble -- seventh to 11th place following his second consecutive 43rd-place finish. However, Tony Stewart, bounced back into the top 10 -- from 11th to 10th -- following an eventful seventh-place finish.

Beginning with the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Earnhardt has six races to re-enter the top 10 and ensure himself a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. He trails Stewart by 15 points.

Greg Biffle fell two spots to 12th following a 24th-place finish at Pocono. He trails Stewart by 44 points. Kurt Busch remains 13th. He trails Stewart by 166 points. Carl Edwards dropped one spot following a 39th-place finish at Pocono and trails Stewart by 235 points. Casey Mears (No. 15 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) remains 15th following a 23rd-place finish at Pocono. He trails Stewart by 292 points.

On the Rebound with Richard Childress Racing ... After several seasons of atypical performances and frustrating finishes, one of NASCAR's most established teams is back in the spotlight.

All three of owner Richard Childress' three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams have rewarded his faith and patience this season. Entering the final open week, Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) is in third place in the standings. Kevin Harvick is fifth, and Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Clint Bowyer is 19th.

Both Burton and Harvick are in position to earn RCR's first Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup berths. It also would be their first Chase experiences.

Childress and his teams have spent the last two seasons rebuilding and remolding an organization that won six series titles with the late Dale Earnhardt. Major shifts in personnel, information-sharing and resources during the off-season have yielded results. So has the addition of the veteran Burton, now in his second full season with RCR. The crew chiefs -- Scott Miller (Burton), Todd Berrier (Harvick) and Gil Martin (Bowyer) also have been a factor.

Burton, a 17-race winner and fulltime NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competitor since 1994, hasn't been this high in the standings since March 2002. The 2000 season marked his last top-10 finish -- a career-best third in the final standings. Since then, Burton endured five consecutive seasons of finishing 10th or worse, including 10th in 2001, 12th in 2002 and 2003 and 18th in 2004 and 2005.

Burton and Miller -- paired for two years now -- have similar, practical personalities. The No. 31 team retains all except four original crew members from its 2001 debut. Miller, engineer Jeff Curtis, shock specialist Skip Pope and front tire changer Joe Zielinsky are the newcomers, aside from Burton.

Denny Hamlin Notches 12th Chevrolet Win ... Denny Hamlin's victory at Pocono this past Sunday brought Chevrolet its 12th win of the season and expanded the manufacturer's lead in the Manufacturers' Championship standings. Chevrolet's 150 points are followed by Dodge's 117 points and five wins, and Ford's 113 points and three wins. Kurt Busch was the top Dodge driver at Pocono; he was second. The top Ford driver was Matt Kenseth, who finished 14th.

Pit Crew Spotlight: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Crew Member ... Mike Ford, crew chief for Denny Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet, is the architect of Hamlin's 2006 sweep of both Pocono events. The veteran crew chief and the rookie driver also head to Indianapolis with plenty of momentum and history; Ford won the 2002 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard with two-time series champion Bill Elliott. Pocono's flat, 2.5-mile layout is similar to Indianapolis' flat, 2.5-mile surface, although Pocono's triangular configuration differs from Indianapolis' rectangular one. Still, many teams and crew chiefs adapt testing data and set-ups from one track to the other, so it may not be a surprise if Hamlin performs well next week at Indianapolis, particularly given Ford's adeptness at the track.

What I Did on My Open Week ... Slowing down isn't something NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers prefer, but some will do just that during this open week. Kurt Busch will take the biggest step -- marrying fiance Eva Bryan. That means no open week for brother Kyle Busch, who will be a groomsman in Thursday's ceremony in Norfolk, Va., before participating in the NASCAR Busch Series event at Gateway.

Others with open-week plans included Mark Martin, who is vacationing with his son, Matt, and several business associates in Las Vegas. Their non-gambling itinerary includes sampling good restaurants and plenty of father-son battles in video-game arcades. Matt Kenseth plans a low-key time in his native Wisconsin, and Kasey Kahne will join friends competing at local tracks in his native Washington.

No Shortage of Action ... In other racing around the nation, the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series and NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series both will be at Evergreen Speedway, in Monroe, Wash., this Saturday. New York hosts two NASCAR touring series on Saturday, with the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series at Adirondack International Speedway, in Beaver Falls, N.Y., and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Holland (N.Y.) International Speedway.

Raybestos Rookie Update ... Through the season's first 21 races, Denny Hamlin continues to lead the Raybestos rookie standings with 223 points. Clint Bowyer holds down the second spot with 175 points. Reed Sorenson is third with 168 points followed closely by Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) with 156, J.J. Yeley with 153, and David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light/Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon Dodge) with 128 points.

Hamlin's victory in last Sunday's event at Pocono also boosted him into the top 10 in the series standings, making him the only Raybestos Rookie candidate currently eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Bowyer is 19th in the standings, Truex is 21st, Sorenson is 23rd, Yeley is 26th and Stremme is 35th.

Where in The World is Ken Schrader? ... The term "open week" doesn't apply to Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) who has planned to take a green flag somewhere nearly every night this week. He was scheduled to compete at Highland (Ill.) Speedway on Monday; at I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Mo., on Thursday; at Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway on Wednesday; at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill., on Friday; at his own track in Pevely, Mo., on Saturday and at Tri-City Speedway in Granite, Ill., on Sunday. And forget taking a day off: On Thursday, Schrader will sign autographs from 3-6 p.m., at his dealership, Ken Schrader Linton Motors, in Linton, Ind.

From the Archives ... The state of Indiana has a long history in NASCAR racing, producing 57 drivers that date back to the 1950 debut of Indianapolis native Ralph Lyden. Some Hoosiers of note include 1960s stars Darel Dieringer, Larry Frank and "Chargin" Charlie Glotzbach, as well as current drivers Tony Raines (No. 96 DLP® HDTV Chevrolet), Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) and two-time series champion Tony Stewart.

Indiana also has hosted the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series at three different locations, the first being Funk's Speedway, now known as Winchester. The 1950 event held there -- the only one -- was won by Lloyd Moore, 94, of Frewsburg, N.Y., who is the oldest living series driver. Playland Park Speedway in South Bend staged one race in 1952, won by Tim Flock. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard since 1994.

On Deck: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard ... Race No. 21 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule will be Sunday, Aug. 6 (2 p.m. EDT, NBC) -- the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tony Stewart is defending champion while Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&Ms Ford) is the defending pole winner.

Fast Facts

Next race: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (Race No. 21 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)

The track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Ind.

The date/time: Sunday, Aug. 6, 2:40 p.m. (EDT)

TV: NBC, 2 p.m. (EDT).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite

Posted awards: $9,236,620

Race length: 400 miles, 160 laps
Track layout: 2.5-miles

2005 winner: Tony Stewart
2005 polesitter: Elliott Sadler

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 2,939. 2. Matt Kenseth 2,842. 3. Jeff Burton 2,621. 4. Kyle Busch 2,582. 5. Kevin Harvick 2,563. 6. Mark Martin 2,557. 7. Kasey Kahne 2,515. 8. Denny Hamlin 2,514. 9. Jeff Gordon 2,512. 10. Tony Stewart 2,477.

Practice/Qualifying Schedule: 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. Final Practice 3:30 -- 4:30 p.m.

-nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Tony Raines , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , David Stremme , Clint Bowyer , Elliott Sadler , Denny Hamlin , Reed Sorenson , Charlie Glotzbach , Tim Flock , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing