Off-week notes 2009-03-10

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News And Notes Top 35 Owner Points Countdown: Four Down, One to Go DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 10, 2009) -- The developing picture of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will become clearer at the conclusion of the ...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News And Notes

Top 35 Owner Points Countdown: Four Down, One to Go

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 10, 2009) -- The developing picture of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will become clearer at the conclusion of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 22.

That's when the use of last year's final car owner points to determine the top 35 weekly guaranteed starting spots ends. Starting at Martinsville Speedway March 29, the current owner points determine the top 35 guarantees.

And so, during this off-week for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the "bubble" is big news looking ahead to Bristol.

The reason for that, is this: Some major NASCAR names are hovering way-too-close to the cut-off, starting with the out-of-retirement Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg's/Carquest Chevrolet) whose Hendrick Motorsports team sits in 35th this week, merely nine points ahead of the 36th-place team owned by Chip Ganassi, the No. 8 Cub Cadet Chevrolet driven by Aric Almirola.

(A footnote: Martin drove the No. 8 last year for Dale Earnhardt Inc.)

Some other teams in potential bubble trouble:

The No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet owned by Tony Stewart and driven by Ryan Newman, 32nd in car owner points, a surprising development to say the least;

The No. 82 Red Bull Toyota owned by Dietrich Mateschitz and driven by former Formula One racer Scott Speed, a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate, is 37th.

And the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota owned by Joe Gibbs and driven by Joey Logano -- arguably the favorite in the rookie of the year competition -- is 33rd in the standings.

Now, consider the "Bristol factor."

The half-mile high-banked oval is notorious for incidents that can quickly ruin one's chances of winning. With the top 35 situation in play, Bristol quickly becomes even more worrisome.

Nothing like an off-week to let the nerves simmer.

Busch Brothers Post Back-To-Back Wins For Second Consecutive Year

Kurt and Kyle Busch have posted back-to-back NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins for the second consecutive year.

In the series' two most recent events, Kyle, 23, (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 1 where the brothers were also the top-two qualifiers, while Kurt, 30, (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) won at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 8.

The brothers also posted consecutive wins in 2008. Kyle won at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., followed by Kurt winning at New Hampshire the following week.

So far as the sibling rivalry goes, Kurt, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, still has the upper hand in the race wins category with 19, compared to Kyle's 13.

Both have won at the series' next stop at Bristol Motor Speedway, but only Kurt has also won at Martinsville.

In fact, Kurt scored his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in 2002 at Bristol. His second career win came at Martinsville. He has also won pole awards at both tracks.

But while younger brother Kyle was on a roll last year with a dominating eight wins, Kurt had only one, at New Hampshire in June.

"This was big," Kurt said of the comeback victory. "I have to thank my Miller Lite guys... this car was unbelievable.

"We had great calls by (crew chief Pat Tryson) and our engineering staff. Penske power is back. This feels awesome."

He also topped his hat to Kyle.

"I've got to hold up my end of the bargain because Kyle is on a tear right now," Kurt said. "I'm real proud of him. Real happy for him. "

Penske Has Change Of Heart

After watching Kurt Busch go to Victory Lane at Atlanta, car owner Roger Penske admitted a change of heart over the newly instituted NASCAR test ban at any NASCAR-sanctioned track.

"I think over the offseason I complained about not having testing, but (now) I'm glad we didn't because we worked on some of the (other) things we needed (to work on)."

Meanwhile, Penske also observed that the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car is demonstrating an important intended benefit. With a fleet of Dodge race cars in their shop, the team raced the same car within seven days with great success.

Game Plan For Cracking Top 35: Keep It Simple

A simple philosophy is paying dividends for a start-up NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team: qualify for the races and then finish them.

That's the goal for the new full-time effort of team owner Kevin Buckler and the No. 71 Capital Window/TRG Motorsports Chevrolet team.

Driver David Gilliland is teaming nicely with crew chief Slugger Labbe. The No. 71 has made only three of the four races thus far, all with driver Gilliland. Nonetheless, the entry is 34th in car owner points, ahead of a number of higher-profile teams, including that of living legend Mark Martin.

Martin Has Short-Track History

Mark Martin's first pole in eight years at Atlanta last weekend may offer some further optimism, as he attempts to get an initially promising season back on course.

Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, sites of the Food City 500 on March 22 and the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 on March 29, are places where Martin has also won poles. The Atlanta pole was the 42nd pole of his career.

Martin's 1989 pole at Bristol led to a sixth- place result; his 1993 Bristol pole resulted with a win; his 1995 pole brought a fifth-place finish; his 1996 pole there resulted in a third-place finish; and his 2001 pole resulted in an unusual 34th- place finish.

At Martinsville, Martin has two poles, both in 1991 that resulted in finishes of 29th and fifth.

In all, Martin has two wins at Martinsville and one at Bristol and two at Atlanta.

Martin has 35 career wins, the first in 1989 at Rockingham, N.C., and the most recent at Richmond in 2001.

Martin's best year in pole qualifying was 1989 when he won four poles.

Loop Data: Kurt Busch Scores Perfect Driver Rating at Atlanta

When your statistics far surpass your standings position, you're likely having bad luck. Right now, three drivers at Hendrick Motorsports know that exact feeling.

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) continued his march up the standings after Atlanta and sits just one spot out of the top 12.

But statistically, he has been much better than his points position suggests. Though 13th in points, Johnson ranks in the top five of nearly every key statistical category.

The three-time defending series champion has a Driver Rating of 104.2 (fourth-best), an Average Running Position of 8.5 (second), 81 Fastest Laps Run (fourth), a fifth-fastest Green Flag Speed and 894 Laps in the Top 15 (87.9%), which is third-most.

In other words, there is little reason for panic. Also, Johnson's slow start is nothing new. Last season he was also 13th after four races and entered the top 10 for good after race No. 6.

Mark Martin feels his Hendrick Motorsports teammate's pain. Martin has suffered a DNF in two of four races this season and has failed to finish on the lead lap in three of the four.

Statistics indicate he has been competitive prior to each problem. His ranking in most categories is higher than his 34th-place points position. He has a Driver Rating of 86.4 (13th), an Average Running Position of 17.2 (17th), 31 Fastest Laps Run (seventh) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 60.3% (14th).

The same goes for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet), another Hendrick driver. He has a 15th-best Driver Rating of 79.8, but a points position of 24th. He also has an Average Running Position (17.3) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage (58.2%) that rank in the top 15.

Earnhardt's Lucky Penny Donor Wessa Miller To Revisit Bristol

Wessa Miller, the girl who gave Dale Earnhardt Sr. her lucky penny prior to his winning the Daytona 500 in 1998, will make a second visit to Bristol Motor Speedway on March 22. Earnhardt brought Wessa and her family to Bristol 11 years ago to thank them for the special gift, which rode with him to Daytona's victory.

Through the efforts of the NASCAR Angels television program and working with The NASCAR Foundation, Motor Racing Outreach (MRO), and the Pennies For Wessa Fund, the Miller family makes its return visit to Bristol.

Miller, now 16-years-old and still residing in Phyllis, Ky., was six-years-old on Feb. 15, 1998, when her dream to meet the legendary Earnhardt came true through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. During their meeting, Wessa gave Earnhardt her lucky penny. That weekend, with the coin affixed to the dashboard of his No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt.

That April, Earnhardt arranged to have Wessa and her family attend Bristol. He presented the Millers with a new van to help with their transportation needs.

The NASCAR Foundation has partnered with NASCAR Angels and Motor Racing Outreach to launch an online auction that will benefit the MRO Benevolent Fund which supports causes such as the Pennies For Wessa Fund.

The auction will feature a variety of items including autographed memorabilia from drivers.

The Pennies For Wessa Fund was started by NASCAR beat writer and Sirius XM radio host David Poole in an effort to assist the needs of the Miller family.

To learn more or to bid on items to support this auction, visit www.nascar.com/foundation.

Donations can also be made directly by visiting the Pennies For Wessa Fund at www.penniesforwessa.org.

Up Next: Back-To-Back Short Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway

Following a rare off weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hits stride with back-to-back short track events.

The series makes it's 97th appearance at the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500 March 22, followed by the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway March 29.

Bristol looms large in setting the tenor for the first half of the season. The Food City 500 is the fifth race of 2009, and the last where the top-35 owner points of 2008 are assured of starting positions this year. After the Food City 500, the top 35 in current owner points are eligible for making it into events moving forward as long as they remain in the top 35.

Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) scored his first Bristol win in the 2008 Food City 500. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) finished second followed by Clint Bowyer (No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Two drivers, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon (No 24 DuPont Chevrolet) lead active drivers with five Bristol wins each.

Darrell Waltrip leads all drivers with 12 Bristol wins, seven of them in consecutive events from spring 1981 through spring 1984. All seven were with retired team owner Junior Johnson.

Johnson is the series all-time leading car owner at Bristol with 21 wins. Jack Roush is second with 10 wins.

The 1989 series champion, Rusty Wallace, holds nine Bristol victories. Wallace was so dominant at Bristol he won the pole seven times, and converted four of those poles to victories.

At Martinsville, Gordon leads active drivers with seven wins, followed by teammate Jimmie Johnson with five wins each.

FAST FACTS

Next Race: Food City 500
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile concrete oval)

The Date: Sunday, March 22
The Time: 2 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 500 laps/266.5 miles

TV: FOX , 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson (via final 2007 points; qualifying was rained out)
2008 Winner: Jeff Burton

Schedule: (All times local ET)
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m., Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 11-11:45 a.m.

-credit: nascar

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Darrell Waltrip , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Kevin Buckler , Scott Speed , Chip Ganassi , Junior Johnson , Clint Bowyer , David Gilliland , Jack Roush , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , TRG Motorsports