Phoenix: News of note, schedule

* "The King" flies high with U.S. Navy Blue Angels * Dale Jarrett leads "Victory Lap" at Phoenix NEWS & NOTES * Charting the NASCAR Top 10 -- Kenseth tightens grip ... Matt Kenseth not only maintained his lead in the NASCAR Top 10 at Atlanta,...

* "The King" flies high with U.S. Navy Blue Angels
* Dale Jarrett leads "Victory Lap" at Phoenix

NEWS & NOTES

* Charting the NASCAR Top 10 -- Kenseth tightens grip ... Matt Kenseth not only maintained his lead in the NASCAR Top 10 at Atlanta, but made perhaps his strongest push of the season toward claiming the championship. Kenseth's 11th-place finish Monday coupled with Kevin Harvick's 20th-place showing bumped Harvick to third in the standings and allowed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take over second and gain 25 points on Kenseth with three races left. Previously third, Earnhardt is 258 points behind the leader. Jimmie Johnson moved up one spot from fifth to fourth. Atlanta race winner Jeff Gordon also gained a spot, from sixth to fifth. Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) suffered the furthest fall this week, going from fourth to sixth while reigning champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) remained in seventh place. Bill Elliott continued his late-season surge jumping from 10th to ninth while fellow former NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Terry Labonte went from ninth to 10th.

* Dale Jarrett to lead "Victory Lap" tribute at Phoenix ... NASCAR's "Victory Lap" tribute to 33-year NASCAR Winston Cup sponsor R.J. Reynolds continues this week at Phoenix as 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett will take a ceremonial parade lap prior to the start of the race in the No. 88 UPS/Victory Lap Ford. Jarrett enters Phoenix with 31 career NASCAR Winston Cup victories including a win at PIR in 1997. He also has seven top-10 finishes in 15 career races at PIR. Jarrett has won the Daytona 500 three times, and recently extended his contract with Robert Yates Racing through 2006. "Victory Lap" tributes have been celebrated at Bristol, Darlington, Talladega, Charlotte, Martinsville and Atlanta. Following Jarrett's appearance at Phoenix, Benny Parsons and Bobby Labonte will be featured at Rockingham while Tony Stewart and Richard Petty will close out the tribute program at Homestead on Nov. 16.

* Career milestones at PIR await Craven, Andretti ... Ricky Craven (No. 32 Tide Pontiac) is expected to make his 250th career NASCAR Winston Cup start Sunday at Phoenix. Craven, who fashioned one of the closest and most exciting finishes in series history with his 0.002-second, side-by-side win over Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford) at Darlington in March, started his first race at Rockingham in October 1991. Also expected in the milestone mix is John Andretti (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet), who would be making his 325th career NASCAR Winston Cup start. Andretti's first series start was in October 1993 at North Wilkesboro.

* Gordon captures first back-to-back races of '03 ... Jeff Gordon has 64 career NASCAR Winston Cup wins and has won back-to-back races 14 times in his career, including two streaks of three and one of four in a row. With his victory at Atlanta Monday and at Martinsville the previous week, Gordon became the first driver this season to win successive points races, and the first since Kurt Busch did so last year at Martinsville and Atlanta. The last time Gordon won two in a row was in 2001 with fall victories at Bristol and Darlington. Earlier this year, Jimmie Johnson won The Winston, a non-points event, followed by a victory at the Coca-Cola 600.

* Sadler's '04 Taurus displayed at the Pentagon ... The 2004 No. 38 M&M'S Ford was on display Tuesday on the inner courtyard of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. as part of an alliance between Masterfoods USA, the makers of M&M'S candies and the National Center for Prevention and Research Solutions (NCPRS) to assist in the "Race Against Drugs" program, a collaborative anti-drug campaign between the NCPRS and the Department of Defense. "It shows how much they (Masterfoods) care about teaching young kids to stay in school and keep away from drugs," said Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38. "The M&M'S car is always a draw anywhere it goes so it will be a great partnership." The No. 38 M&M'S Ford will also be utilized at other government activities involving various agencies. Agents from the DEA and FBI will accompany the car to various venues to discuss the dangers of drug use with parents and their kids.

* Testing at Homestead, The Rock this week ... Johnny Benson (No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac), Scott Wimmer (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge) and Dave Blaney (No. 77 Jasper Motorsports Ford) participated in a Goodyear tire test at the refurbished Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the 2003 season for NASCAR's top three series will culminate Nov. 14-16. The drivers began testing Tuesday and are scheduled to finish Wednesday, and all were pleased with the new variable banking configuration that increased the banking from six to a maximum of 20 degrees. "I think this one is going to be a keeper," Benson said. "I think the track is going to provide some great racing." Blaney noted that "so far, it looks great. It's a cool track. It'll be a great show for the fans and that's what matters." Wimmer concurred, adding "the high side seems real good and so does the middle groove. I'm excited about coming back. The more rubber we get down and the more time we get on the track, it will have a lot of grooves and should be really good for racing." Meanwhile, weather hampered testing Tuesday at Rockingham, but six drivers are scheduled to be on-track Wednesday, weather permitting: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Jeff Green (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge), Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) and Bill Elliott.

* The King" eclipses the sound barrier ... It was a different type of speed experienced by seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Richard Petty last Thursday when "The King" switched his trademark cowboy hat and sunglasses for aviator's shades and a flight helmet during a supersonic ride with the world-renown U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Video footage of Petty's 20,000-foot Hornet fighter jet escapade will be shown as part of pre-race activities Sunday at Phoenix. "In all my years of driving, I've never experienced anything like a ride in an F/A-18 fighter jet," Petty said.

* Pit Power: Elliott's crew wins award at Atlanta ... Bill Elliott's late-season surge in the NASCAR Top 10 can be traced to savvy and experience in addition to great coordination with his pit crew. Monday at Atlanta, Elliott's crew won the McDonald's/POWERade Drive-Thru Pit Championship Award worth $20,000 to the team. Elliott spent a total of 199.037 seconds in the pits, the lowest total among teams competing in the program. The No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge team edged Bobby Labonte's crew, which posted 200.176 total seconds. Waltrip's crew leads the overall season standings.

* Winston Leader Bonus escalates to $340,000 ... Sunday could bode well for Matt Kenseth in more ways than one. Not only can the defending champion at Phoenix come closer to claiming his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship, but as the NASCAR Top 10 leader, is the only driver who can win the record Winston Leader Bonus, which has grown to $340,000. The bonus -- paid to a race winner who also leads the NASCAR Winston Cup points -- starts at $10,000 and increases in $10,000 increments each week it isn't collected. The last time it was collected was March 2002 at Darlington Raceway by Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge), 54 races ago.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Jeff Burton (No. 99 CITGO Ford) has two career victories at Phoenix, most among active drivers. ... Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) owns the most Bud Poles at PIR with three. Wallace has also led the most laps of any driver at PIR (868). ... Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) leads active NASCAR Winston Cup drivers with eight top five and 12 top-10 finishes at Phoenix. ... Terry Labonte is the lone driver to have competed in all 15 races at Phoenix without posting a DNF. ... Ryan Newman started his first NASCAR Winston Cup race at Phoenix in 2000.

QUOTEBOOK

* "I don't know what it is with me and Phoenix, but I've never been able to get a good finish there. Points are rewarded for having good, consistent races. We've lacked that in the past at Phoenix, but we hope to change that this weekend if we're going to close the gap on third place. We'll go out there and do things the best we can and where we end up on Sunday is where we end up. We hope for a great finish and to get all the points we can." -- Ryan Newman.

* "It's taken us a long time to get our equipment and people headed in the right direction with the changes we went through over the winter -- personnel and car-wise. About mid-season we really started clicking but we just didn't have things fall our way. It seems like the last 10 or 12 races, we've started to overcome that hurdle. Whether we're just getting smarter or we're just maturing more, we're able to handle the circumstances better. I just think the main thing is that everybody is working well together and the equipment comes with that. I'm real happy with the way this team has come together." -- Mike Ford, crew chief, No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge.

* "We fight for a lot of things. Number one, we always want to win and we fight to win every race. We've had to fight extra hard this season because of all the downfalls we had during the summer. Our main focus has been second in points. We've made big gains toward that. I guess if there is a miracle, there's still a possibility. We just want to keep doing what we're doing right now, and that's putting great race cars out there, communicating well and fighting until the end." -- Jeff Gordon.

* "When you go to places like Phoenix, you have to buy groceries for the weekend when you get there, and you need a little time to unwind. You think jet lag is a problem? It's nothing compared to 'truck lag.'" -- Rodney Pickler, driver, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge hauler.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

The inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup event at Phoenix was the next-to-last race of the 1988 season. Alan Kulwicki, finishing up his third year in the series, qualified 21st, but moved steadily up to the front of the pack and took over the lead for the third and final time on Lap 297 to claim the first of his five career wins. After the race, Kulwicki made a little racing history by taking, what he termed, his "Polish Victory Lap" -- driving around the track and saluting the crowd in the opposite direction. "I had been planning that for a long time," he said. Even today, many winning drivers will pay tribute to the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup champ with a "Polish Victory Lap," which had its debut at Phoenix 15 years ago.

Fast Facts

What: Checker Auto Parts 500 (NASCAR Winston Cup Series race No. 34 of 36.)
Where: Phoenix International Raceway.
When: Sunday, Nov. 2, 3 p.m. ET.

TV: NBC, 3 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.

Race length: 312 miles/312 laps.
Track layout: 1-mile oval.

Pre-race schedule (all times MT/local): Friday--Practice, 10:20-12:20 p.m. Qualifying, 2:05 p.m. Saturday--Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. and 11:10-11:55 a.m.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Jeff Green , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Johnny Benson , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Scott Wimmer , Benny Parsons , Robert Yates , Dave Blaney , Mark Martin , Alan Kulwicki