Offweek news of note 2005-07-26

* Off-Week Affords Teams Extra Preparation for Trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway * On the "Chase" Bubble: Some Drivers Trying Not to Have it Burst * Veterans Wallace, Martin and Jarrett in Top 10 * NASCAR Leaderboard: Post-Pocono, Johnson...

* Off-Week Affords Teams Extra Preparation for Trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway

* On the "Chase" Bubble: Some Drivers Trying Not to Have it Burst

* Veterans Wallace, Martin and Jarrett in Top 10

* NASCAR Leaderboard: Post-Pocono, Johnson Leads 4 Key Categories

* At Indy, all-time win record won't be foremost in Jeff Gordon's mind

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 26, 2005) -- "I can't wait for Indy," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Sunday.

Thing is, he has no choice but to wait.

And by most accounts, that's a good thing.

Within the context of the 36-race road trip known as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, call this week the last rest area.

After this there are no more stops, only racing, beginning with the six races remaining in the "Race to the Chase", then through the 10-week drama of the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."

For competitors in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, this week's down time is perhaps well-timed, as it prefaces one of the biggest races of the season -- and one of the biggest races in the world: the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When the checkered flag falls at Indy on the afternoon of August 7, the midpoint will have been reached in the Race to the Chase, the label for the 10-race span that precedes the "Chase." Coming out of Indianapolis, five races will be left for drivers to secure berths in the Chase which, following the Sept. 10 race at Richmond, will be awarded to the top 10 drivers in the points plus any others who are within 400 points of the standings' leader.

Which means Indy's spotlight, inherently substantial, will be even more so this time around, given the Chase implications. A few extra days to prepare -- minus the rigors of traveling -- are welcomed by many teams.

"I'm glad there's a weekend off," said reigning series champion Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford) on Sunday after his victory at Pocono Raceway. "It's such a strenuous run for our guys. They need a weekend off ... if you can get everybody focused and their batteries recharged and ready to rip for Indy ... "The Indianapolis race [in our series] is gaining popularity and gaining prestige every year. It feels like the Daytona 500 when we go in there."

Busch's car owner Jack Roush offered what he called the "rest of the good news " regarding the off-week, saying, "it also gives us time to turn [the Pocono-winning] car around, so there is a very good possibility that that car will be under a different paint scheme, but it will be at Indianapolis."

NEWS AND NOTES, PART II

On the NASCAR Bubble: 10th Place Precariously Held by Jarrett ... With the beginning of the "Race to the Chase," the spotlight is on 10th place, and the "bubble" created by drivers battling for that spot -- plus, the separate quest to at least remain within 400 points of the points leader. Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), the 1999 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion, retained the 10th-place spot coming out of Pocono, albeit barely. Only 73 points separate positions 10-13.

On the upside for "DJ," he is only 19 points behind ninth-place Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) and 22 behind eighth-place Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge).

Here's a look at the drivers in positions 11-15. They're pursuing 10th place -- while also trying to stay in the same time zone as the points leader, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).

• 11th place: Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Havoline-Texaco Dodge). McMurray, the Bud Pole winner at Pocono, went on to finish 11th. He is only nine points behind Jarrett (2,372-2,363) and 436 behind points leader Jimmie Johnson.

• 12th place: Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot/Scotts Ford). Edwards, winner of this year's first Pocono race, finished fourth Sunday -- after having to start at the rear, because his entry in the NASCAR Busch Series event in Fountain, Colo. prevented him from qualifying his car. (Bobby Gerhart did so.) Edwards is only 12 behind Jarrett and 439 behind Johnson.

• 13th place: Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Harvick finished sixth at Pocono to advance one spot in the standings. He trails Jarrett by 73 points and Johnson by 500.

• 14th place: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Earnhardt struggled to a 32nd-place Pocono finish to drop one notch in points. He trails Jarrett by 110 and Johnson by 537.

• 15th place: Jeff Gordon: (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Gordon was 13th at Pocono. He trails Jarrett by 114 and Johnson by 541.

Veterans' Brigade Invades Top 10 ... The current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 indicates that NASCAR's "youth movement" has been somewhat stalled. Three over-40 veterans -- Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) and Dale Jarrett -- reside in the top 10. The trio has combined for two series championships and seven runner-up finishes in the final point standings. Wallace, 48, is fourth this week in points. Wallace won the championship in 1989 and was series runner-up in '88 and '93.

Martin, 46, is seventh this week. His series runner-up efforts came in 1990, '94, '98 and 2002. Jarrett, 48, is 10th. He won the championship in 1999 after finishing second in '97.

Adding to this storyline is the fact that both Wallace and Martin plan on retiring from NASCAR NEXTEL Cup after this season. Because of that -- and despite the fact that they drive for different teams, in different makes of cars -- they have become a package deal of sorts. When they finished 2-3 at Pocono, it was a perfect post-race press conference setting, the two series veterans on the stage simultaneously, trading barbs about their ages in between answering the media's questions.

Said Wallace: "It was a fun day."

"We've got 25 years or so of history," said Martin.

Added Jack Roush: "Watching Mark and Rusty race together is really a treat."

What Week Off? Wallace Brothers, Sterling Marlin, Michael Waltrip Going to Gateway ... Rusty Wallace and Mike Wallace are taking advantage of this premier series off-week to join their brother Kenny on Saturday night, in the NASCAR Busch Series event at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis. How appropriate, given the race title: Wallace Family Tribute 250 presented by Shop 'n Save. The title was the brainchild of Gateway General Manager Matt Strelo, who wanted especially to honor Rusty, who is retiring from competition after this season. The Wallace brothers' parents, Russ and Judy Wallace, will serve as the event's Grand Marshals.

In addition to the Wallaces, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup regulars Sterling Marlin, Jason Leffler and Michael Waltrip will compete at Gateway, as will Carl Edwards, who is running both of NASCAR's top two series this year full-time.

Tony on the Teleconference ... Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) -- currently second in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points, 66 behind Jimmie Johnson -- will be the featured guest on next week's NASCAR NEXTEL Teleconference. The weekly media call-in opportunity, usually held on Tuesdays, will be moved to Monday next week. Stewart is scheduled for 12:15-12:45 ET, with his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, following from 12:45-1 p.m.

Tight Battle for Manufacturers Championship ... After 21 races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, a nip-and-tuck battle is unfolding for the series' Manufacturers Championship. Going into Indianapolis, Chevrolet leads with 146 points, followed by Ford with 139. Dodge is third with 95. Chevrolet's lead comes on the strength of 10 wins. Ford's closeness is based on nine wins. Chevy is led thus far by Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, who have three victories apiece. Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford) leads Ford drivers -- and the series overall -- with five victories. Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) has Dodge's sole victory in 2005.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Leads Most Popular Driver Voting ... With more than 2.5 million votes cast by race fans nationwide, Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the Chex NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award balloting. Fans have been voting at www.mostpopulardriver.com, the official voting site. Jeff Gordon is running second followed by Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson. Voting for the more than 40 drivers eligible for the Chex NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award began Tuesday, Feb. 1 at www.mostpopulardriver.com and continues through 11:59 a.m. (CT), Monday, Nov. 21. Fans may vote once each day at the site.

On the Right Track: Excelling at Indy

• Jeff Gordon is the all-time NASCAR winner at Indianapolis, with four 400 victories. Gordon is one of 11 active drivers who have started all 11 NASCAR races at Indy. Gordon's victory total also ties him for the all-time overall victory total at Indy, with four-time Indy 500 winners A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser. Of course, history takes a bit of a back-seat next week, with Gordon's primary focus being advancement in the series points standings with the Chase approaching.

• Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) won at Indianapolis in 2003, giving Richard Childress Racing's top team its second victory there. Dale Earnhardt drove the RCR No. 3 Chevy to victory in 1995.

• Among active drivers, Dale Jarrett, has the second-best Indy resume after Gordon. Jarrett has won two Brickyard events, and has five top-five runs.

• Bill Elliott (No. 91 Stanley Tools Dodge) might be what you call "semi-active", but the part-time driving veteran -- and former series champion -- remains a major factor at Indy. The 2002 race winner has nine top-10 finishes in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, tied with Gordon and Rusty Wallace for the all-time lead.

• Others to watch: Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), who has one Brickyard victory and four top fives; Wallace, with five top fives and nine top 10s; Mark Martin, with four top fives and six top 10s; and Tony Stewart, who has only six starts, but has compiled two top-five and three top-10 finishes.

Fast Facts

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

The track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The date/time: Sunday, Aug. 7, 2:40 p.m. (ET).

TV: NBC, 2:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: IMS Radio Network/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $9,180,902

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

2004 winner: Jeff Gordon.
2004 polesitter: Casey Mears.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 2,799. 2. Tony Stewart 2,733. 3. Greg Biffle 2,712. 4. Rusty Wallace 2,617. 5. Kurt Busch 2,537. 6. Ryan Newman 2,507. 7. Mark Martin 2,490. 8. Jeremy Mayfield 2,394. 9. Elliott Sadler 2,391. 10. Dale Jarrett 2,372.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Mike Wallace , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Rick Mears , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Jack Roush , Elliott Sadler , A.J. Foyt , Mark Martin , Al Unser
Teams Richard Childress Racing