*Down To The Wire: Chase Participants Head For Phoenix *Numbers Tell The Tale: A Gordon Rebound A Phoenix Possibility *NASCAR's New Car? Set For 16th And Final Race In ?07 *No. 22 Team Bolsters Top-35 Ranking *In The Loop: Gordon, Johnson Also...
*Down To The Wire: Chase Participants Head For Phoenix
*Numbers Tell The Tale: A Gordon Rebound A Phoenix Possibility
*NASCAR's New Car? Set For 16th And Final Race In ?07
*No. 22 Team Bolsters Top-35 Ranking
*In The Loop: Gordon, Johnson Also Close In Pre-Race Stats
Desert Duel: Johnson, Gordon Renew Title Battle In Phoenix
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 6, 2007) -- Tight, tough and unyielding.
Description applicable both to the setting of Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 and to the title battle it features.
As the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series roars into Phoenix International Raceway, reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) leads four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) by 30 points atop the standings.
Sunday's event is the penultimate in the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and focus has crystallized upon those two drivers.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates, they've traded the Chase lead throughout the first eight events -- Johnson reclaiming it with last Sunday's victory at Texas Motor Speedway. And although third-place Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) lurks 181 points behind Johnson, the title-eligible pairing of past and present champions appears set.
"We have momentum going our direction right now," Johnson said, "but it's only 30 points. And if you look at the last two weeks, I've been able to make up roughly 60 points, and Jeff hasn't had bad races the last two events. He's had strong finishes. So it's not like he's had bad nights. So I can finish tenth and he can win and I'm back in second."
Johnson enjoys the most momentum; he's fresh off three consecutive victories for the second time in his six-year career, having conquered Martinsville Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas, respectively, in preceding weeks.
The last time Johnson won back-to-back-to-back was during the '04 Chase, when he won at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Martinsville and Atlanta, respectively.
Johnson also owns a series-high nine wins in '07.
But this week's locale may favor Gordon, who excels on Phoenix's narrow, flat one-mile track. He won in April from the pole -- his first Phoenix victory -- and has three poles, eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes there.
Johnson -- who finished fourth in April -- has three top-five and six top-10 finishes at Phoenix.
How close are they, aside from 30 points in the standings? Close enough for one bobble to make a desert-sized difference.
NASCAR's season-to-date Loop Data statistics offers more concrete quantification: Johnson has a series-high 934 Fastest Laps Run while Gordon has a series-high Average Running Position of 9.2.
Pre-race Loop Data statistics for Phoenix show Johnson second in Laps in the Top 15 (1,446) with Gordon third (1,384).
And they're also one-two in season-to-date Driver Rating. Johnson has a series-high 109.8 rating, followed by Gordon with the second-highest rating of 108.6.
Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Notebook, Week 9
Two To Go, Time To Go ... Catch standings leader Jimmie Johnson.
That's second-place Jeff Gordon's charge with two races remaining in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- not as monumental a task as it appears.
Johnson's win at Texas last Sunday erased his then-nine-point, second-place deficit to Gordon, boosting him into a 30-point lead.
So it's Gordon in second as NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams prepare for Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix.
The one-mile track nestled at the foot of the Estrella Mountains isn't quite his playground, but it's been kind enough that Johnson may find himself on the defensive this weekend.
First, the statistics: *Gordon has one win, three poles, eight top fives and 14 top 10s at Phoenix.
*Johnson has three top fives and six top 10s.
Then, the facts:
*Gordon won his first race at Phoenix in April, and now goes for the season sweep there.
*Johnson kept pace in the spring with a fourth-place finish.
Here, the numbers:
*Fifteen times in '07, Gordon has "out-pointed" Johnson by more than 30 points in consecutive races. Phoenix is among those tracks.
In successive April weeks, Gordon finished fourth at Texas and won at Phoenix, "out-pointing" Johnson by 151 points.
The Phoenix win coupled with one at Talladega Superspeedway the following week helped Gordon "out-point" Johnson by 50 points during that two-race sequence.
Gordon also has a series-high 20 top fives and 29 top 10s in '07. He has six wins, second only to Johnson's series-high nine victories.
Johnson ranks second with 19 top fives and is tied with two-time series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) with 22 top 10s.
Jeff Gordon has "out-pointed" Jimmie Johnson in 15 consecutive '07 races.
Phoenix To Host '07 New-Car Finale
Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 is the 16th and final time that series teams will compete with the Car of Tomorrow -- NASCAR's next-generation race car -- in '07.
The new car will be used fulltime in '08. Teams were schedule to run it in 16 of 36 events this year to prepare for next season.
Phoenix's April event marked just the third new-car event. It has competed at nine other tracks this season -- Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, Darlington Raceway, Dover International Speedway, Infineon Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Watkins Glen International.
Hendrick Motorsports has won eight of the 15 previous new-car events, including the April race at Phoenix, where Jeff Gordon triumphed.
Teammate Jimmie Johnson won the most recent new-car event, the fall race at Martinsville three weeks.
Series teams also tested at Atlanta Motor Speedway two weeks ago, on the Monday and Tuesday following that track's October event. That test -- the seventh and final NASCAR-sanctioned test of '07 -- was in preparation for the new car's '08 debut on 1.5-mile tracks.
Versatility The "New-Car" Key
Using the same chassis at different tracks is a hallmark of NASCAR's new car -- borne out by the following numbers:
Through 15 "new car" events and three "new car" specific tests
*13 teams have used the same chassis in six events
*Seven teams have used the same chassis in seven events
*Five teams have used the same chassis in eight events
*Three teams have used the same chassis in nine events
*Two teams have used the same chassis in 10 events
On The Bubble: No. 22 Tightens Grip On 35th Place
A 21st-place finish last week at Texas halted the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota's recent streak of consecutive bad outings at Martinsville and Atlanta. Which means driver Dave Blaney and his Bill Davis-owned team gained some points -- and breathing room -- in their quest to retain the crucial 35th spot in the car owner standings.
Blaney's team now leads its closest pursuer -- the No. 21 Ore-Ida Ford (owned by Glen Wood and driven by Bill Elliott) -- by 127 points in the owner standings. The margin between positions 35 and 36 had shrunk to 82 points prior to last Sunday's Texas race, thanks to consecutive finishes outside the top 30 by the No. 22.
Blaney and his team are only 23 points out of the 34th position, currently held by the No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge owned and driven by Kyle Petty.
The top 35 teams in the owner standings are guaranteed automatic starting spots each week. Other teams must earn their berths based on qualifying speeds.