* Race to the Chase: 10-race stretch begins with next week's Pepsi 400 * In the Loop: Greg Biffle completes rise to Top 10 NEWS AND NOTES Series Prepares for Race to the Chase ... Next week's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway is...
* Race to the Chase: 10-race stretch begins with next week's Pepsi 400
* In the Loop: Greg Biffle completes rise to Top 10
NEWS AND NOTES
Series Prepares for Race to the Chase ... Next week's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway is an important date on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule. In addition to marking the first time the series returns to a track it has already raced on this season, the race signifies the start of the Race to the Chase -- the 10 races that precede the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. It is during this period that the drivers in the top 10 hope to solidify their position and drivers outside the top 10 make their run at a chance to compete for the championship.
In each of the first two seasons under the Chase format, eight drivers in the top 10 entering the Race to the Chase kept their positions and participated in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Last season, Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) were 11th and 20th respectively entering the Race to the Chase, and were able to climb into title contention over the 10 race period. Kenseth, who was 271 points out of 10th place, strung together eight top-10 finishes, including a win at Bristol Motor Speedway, to lock up a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
"In The Loop" -- Track Data Highlights Biffle's Rise to the Top 10 ... Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford) entered the season as one of the top contenders to win the championship. While his performance on the track showed that his Roush Racing team deserved to be mentioned as one of the elite teams, his place in the point standings didn't reflect that. Biffle endured a streak of unusually bad luck suffering from cut tires, fuel shortages and accidents. Nine races into the season, Biffle was 23rd in the point standings, 232 points out of 10th place. Over the last six races Biffle has six top 10s, including three top fives and a win at Darlington Raceway. A closer look at the new Loop Data shows Biffle has performed well all season.
Currently Biffle has a Driver Rating of 105.2, second only to Roush Racing teammate Matt Kenseth (105.7). That number takes into consideration several categories including finishing position, average running position and laps led. Biffle also leads all drivers in Miles Led. Biffle has led at least one lap in all but two races this season, and his 1,208.56 miles led tops second place Tony Stewart by almost 500 miles. Further proof of Biffle's on-track domination can be found in his Number of Fastest Laps. Biffle has had the quickest car on the track for a series-leading 419 laps, 65 more than Stewart, his nearest competitor.
Now that Biffle's position in the standings matches his performance on the track, which other drivers are looking to make noise in the Race to the Chase? Keep your eyes on these three drivers:
• Jeff Gordon -- The four-time series champion has been in the top 10 for a majority of the season and has put up strong Loop Data numbers. He is ninth in Driver Rating (93.7), fifth in Miles Led (391.39) and fifth in Average Running Position (11.798). Gordon tends to struggle during the second half of races as shown by his Average Finish (16.7) compared to his Average Mid Race Position (11.9), but that can also be attributed to his three DNFs this season.
• Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) -- Busch has struggled at times with his new Penske Racing South team, and has been higher than 15th in the point standings only once this year. However, looking at Loop Data, it is clear there still is hope for Busch. He is currently 12th in Average Running Position (15.376) and 13th in Driver Rating (87.5). The most telling stat for Busch is his number of Quality Passes. Of his 1,084 Green Flag Passes, 859 have been of a car running in the top 15. That is the fourth highest total in the series.
• Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) -- Edwards has had an uphill battle all season after finishing 43rd in the Daytona 500. He has slowly climbed back into Chase contention running 81.84 Percent of Laps on the Lead Lap, 10th among all drivers. Edwards has also turned the Fastest Lap on the track 145 times, second of all drivers outside the top 10. His 755 Quality Passes is seventh-best among all drivers.
Pit Crew Spotlight: Elledge Returns Home ... Jimmy Elledge, crew chief of the No. 41 Target Dodge driven by Reed Sorenson will be making a homecoming of sorts this weekend. Elledge is a native of Redding, Calif., about two hours north of Sonoma. This is his third season with the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team; he worked with Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) in 2003 and 2004.
On the Right Track ... Jeff Gordon has won five of the last eight poles at Infineon Raceway. He has won the Budweiser Pole in his last two races at the track. ... Gordon also leads all drivers with four wins at Infineon. Four drivers are tied with two wins. ... Mark Martin has finished in the top 10 in 13 of his 18 races at Infineon. ... Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) has three top-10 finishes in four career starts at Infineon. ... Tony Stewart has led at least one lap in five of his seven races at the track. He has two wins and one runner-up finish. ... Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) has scored four straight top-10 finishes, including his win last week at Michigan International Speedway. ... Terry Labonte (No. 96 DLP® HDTV Chevrolet) will be competing in his 57th road course race, the most of any active driver. Richard Petty is the all-time leader with 60.
Gilliland Looks to Climb NASCAR Ladder ... Fresh off his "upset" win in the NASCAR Busch Series Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway last weekend, David Gilliland (No. 72 Dutch Quality Stone Dodge) is hoping to make his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut at Infineon Raceway. The 30-year-old NASCAR Busch Series rookie is no stranger to the California road course; he has won at the track in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series.
"We've been working on the car and we're looking forward to really going to Sonoma again," Gilliland said. "I ran pretty good there in some Southwest Series stuff. We had a victory and I'm really looking forward to going back there."
In addition to knowing what it takes to winning on the track at Infineon, Gilliland is familiar with what it takes to win from the pit box. Gilliland served as crew chief for his father Butch Gilliland in the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series in 1997. The duo combined for four victories, including at Infineon, en route to winning the series championship.
Setting The Field: Top 35 in 2006 Owner Points "Locked In" ... Each week in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, teams ranked in the top 35 of the current car owner point standings are guaranteed starting positions, creating a "bubble" consisting of teams on the downside of 35th, trying to reach that position. The No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet, owned by Nelson Bowers and driven by Sterling Marlin, sits in the 35th and final locked-in position. The team is 112 points ahead of the No. 32 Tide Chevrolet owned by Cal Wells and driven by Travis Kvapil, the first team outside of the "bubble." Kvapil will have to earn his spot in the field based on his qualifying time.
Kahne's Win Boosts Dodge in Manufacturers' Standings ... Kasey Kahne's win at Michigan lifted Dodge to within two points of second-place Ford in the Manufacturers Championship. The win was the fourth of the season for Kahne and fifth for Dodge. Carl Edwards finished second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third to give all three manufacturers a top-three finish. This was the fifth time this season that a Dodge, a Ford and a Chevrolet have all finished in the top three. Interestingly, the five occurrences have coincided with the five races that have been won by a Dodge.
Chevrolet leads the standings with 105 points and seven wins. Ford is second with 91 points and three wins. Dodge has 89 points.
Raybestos Rookie Update ... Reed Sorenson finished fifth at Michigan to capture his third Raybestos Rookie of the Race Award of the season. Sorenson jumped from fifth to third in the rookie standings, passing J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet).
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet) is in first place leading Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet) by 29 points.
None of the seven rookies have run at Infineon Raceway in a NASCAR-sanctioned event.
Where In The World Is Ken Schrader? ... If it has gas, four tires and faces a green flag, Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) will hop in the cockpit and drive it. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' oldest -- and arguably the busiest -- competitor just can't resist racing, driving in a variety of series each season, despite the inherent demands of NASCAR's top series.
On Deck: Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' 17th event of the season is on Saturday, July 1 -- the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The Pepsi 400 marks the beginning of the Race to the Chase -- the 10-race stretch that precedes the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Daytona, a 2.5-mile tri-oval, has been part of the schedule since 1959. That year the summer race winner was Fireball Roberts. ... Tony Stewart is the defending champion and polesitter.
Next race: Dodge/Save Mart 350 (Race No. 16 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)
The track: Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif. (1.99-mile road course.)
The date/time: Sunday, June 25, 3:40 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $5,371,771
Race length: 350 kilometers, 218 miles, 110 laps.
Track layout: 1.99-mile road course.
2005 winner: Tony Stewart
2005 polesitter: Jeff Gordon
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 2,295. 2. Matt Kenseth 2,221. 3. Kasey Kahne 2,051. 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,020. 5. Mark Martin 1,989. 6. Tony Stewart 1,928. 7. Jeff Burton 1,888. 8. Kevin Harvick 1,849. 9. Denny Hamlin 1,809. 10. Greg Biffle 1,807.
Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12-2 p.m. Qualifying, 4:05 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. Final practice, 11:10-11:55 a.m.