Sears Point: Round 16 preview

*New Car Makes Road Course Debut *Road Course Attracts Drivers From Across The World *Veterans Labonte, Rudd Familiar With Road Courses *Wins Boost Truex Jr. and Mears *Allmendinger Returns To Familiar Setting New Car Makes Road Course ...

*New Car Makes Road Course Debut
*Road Course Attracts Drivers From Across The World
*Veterans Labonte, Rudd Familiar With Road Courses
*Wins Boost Truex Jr. and Mears
*Allmendinger Returns To Familiar Setting

New Car Makes Road Course Debut

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 19, 2007) -- The phase-in of the Car of Tomorrow takes another big step forward this weekend when it competes on a road course for the first time.

"The original design of the Car of Tomorrow has many characteristics of the current road course car," said Brett Bodine, NASCAR director of cost research. "Particularly in the fact that both are more symmetric than the oval track current cars."

The new car has competed in six races this season, all on ovals smaller than 1.366 miles. In five of those six events, the margin of victory has been less than one second.

The car will run a total of 16 races this season, including four in the Race to the Chase and five in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

NASCAR announced last month that the new car would run fulltime beginning in 2008.

Eight "Road Warriors" Enter Race

The two road courses on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule are known for attracting top road course drivers from the world of motorsports. Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway is no exception.

Eight "Road Warriors" are expected to compete Sunday, including four who will sub for full-time drivers. P.J. Jones (No. 00 Burger King Toyota) will step in for David Reutimann, Klaus Graf (No. 49 Paralyzed Veterans of America Dodge) for Mike Bliss, Terry Labonte (No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota) for Michael Waltrip and Ron Fellows (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet) for Tony Raines.

In addition, Butch Leitzinger (No. 36 Toyota), Brian Simo (No. 37 Dodge), Boris Said (No. 60 Sobe No Fear Ford) and Marc Goossens (No. 91 Commonwealth-RDM Toyota) will attempt to qualify.

Edwards Becomes Eighth Potential Chase Driver To Win

After 15 races of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, it is increasingly clear that winning is more important than ever. Eight of the nine different race winners this season are currently in position to be eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

In addition to the additional points earned for winning a race, a driver gets seeded in the Chase based on wins in the first 26 races. Each win nets a driver a 10-point bonus at the start of the Chase.

Currently Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) would be seeded first in the Chase with 40 bonus points each.

After a 52-race winless drought, Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) became the eighth different potential Chase driver to visit Victory Lane.

On The Line: Labonte, Rudd Bring Road Racing Experience

Veterans Terry Labonte and Ricky Rudd were the guests Tuesday, on the weekly NASCAR Teleconference.

Following are some of the highlights of their conversation with media from across the country.

Q: Terry, you have always looked pretty comfortable on road courses. Why is that?

LABONTE: "You know, I've always enjoyed running the road courses, and I guess that's what kind of got me off the couch here for this weekend. But always look forward to going to California and running. We've got some pretty good runs out there in the past and you know hopefully we can have another one."

Q: Did it take a lot of prodding for you to come back, or did you jump at the chance?

LABONTE: "Kind of a funny story, actually. Maybe I shouldn't say that but Rick Hendrick was the guy that called me because I guess Michael had called Rick and talked to him about it to see if he thought I would be interested. And Rick called me and I talked to him about it. I told him, "Yeah, sure, tell Michael to call me."

"You know, I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think it's definitely going to be a challenge. I think that anytime you start out with a new team like this -- they have really struggled at times, and still got a long ways to go. But I think they are definitely making progress."

Q: How do you explain your success on road courses through the years.

RUDD: "I think it goes way back when I was a kid we used to race go karts on tracks very similar to Infineon. Seeing those tracks at a young age, I always liked road races and when I rode stock cars, they had maybe only one or two races a year on road courses. But anyway, I think it had a lot to do with just as a kid growing up and having fun and liking to race on them. That was as much about it as anything -- having an attitude, hey, this is different than stock car racing, but let's go ahead and have some fun."

Wins Propel Truex Jr., Mears Up Standings

Lost in the shuffle of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) saga are the performances of the two "lesser-known" drivers at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Hendrick Motorsports.

Casey Mears (No. 25 National Guard-GMAC Chevrolet) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) each scored their first career wins in back-to-back weeks, and have used the momentum to climb up the standings.

Mears was 35th in the standings, and on the verge of not having a locked-in starting position, heading into the Coca-Cola 600, four races ago. Mears won that race, and has added two consecutive fourth-place finishes and now sits 19th in the standings, 188 points out of Chase eligibility.

"Winning definitely boosted our confidence and took a little weight off our shoulders," Mears said. "But the team itself has created the momentum. We've really been hitting our stride over the past month, and I feel like things are gelling on a lot of different levels."

For Truex, the ascent has been a year-long project, but recently picked up steam after three straight finishes of third or better. After sitting 38th in the standings after the second race of the season, Truex has slowly worked his way into a Chase-eligible position.

"The winning gave us a boost," Truex said. "But it's not like we didn't think we could do it before. We've brought great cars to the track every weekend -- we had just been having bad luck. Once we got rid of that, all of our hard work started to pay off."

Truex has jumped from 20th to 10th place in the standings over the last six weeks.

The newfound success has both teams re-evaluating their goals.

"We dug ourselves a pretty big hole at the beginning of the year," Mears said. "I thought getting into the top 15 would be a great comeback, but (crew chief) Darian (Grubbs) has higher goals. I think we'll have a shot at the Chase -- even if it's a long one."

Truex took a more firm stance.

"We've put ourselves in Chase contention and we expect to make it," Truex said. "Now that we know how good we can run, we expect to be a top-five car every weekend."

Sonoma Is Familiar To Allmendinger, Both On And Off The Track

AJ Allmendinger (No. 84 Red Bull Toyota), is one of seven drivers returning to their home state of California this weekend, and the trip couldn't come at a better time for him. After missing seven of the first nine races, Allmendinger has qualified for six in a row.

Although his comfort level on ovals, and in a stock car, is improving, Allmendinger is eager to get back to his road course roots.

"The main thing I am looking forward to is getting to turn right again," Allmendinger said. "Road course racing is what I've grown up doing and what I am most comfortable doing."

Allmendinger has only competed at Infineon Raceway once -- in a go-kart race in 1997, but first visited the track when he was three years old. Allmendinger still remembers having his picture taken in front of Harry Gant's car, his favorite driver.

Apart from the race, the Los Gatos-native is just happy to be home.

"It will be great to go back to California and see my friends and family," Allmendinger said. "I like living in North Carolina, but I am definitely a California boy at heart."

Other Californians in the race are Robby Gordon (No. 7 Monster Energy Ford), Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears, Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet), David Gilliland (No. 38 M&M's Ford) and Jimmie Johnson.

Locked In: Sauter Continues Strong-Hold On Final Starting Spot

Johnny Sauter finished 26th last Sunday at Michigan to keep Joe Custer's No. 70 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet in the 35th, and final, locked-in starting position. Scott Riggs had moved James Rocco's No. 10 Stanley Tools-Valvoline Dodge to within one point of 35th in the owner standings after a strong performance at Pocono. Riggs finished 33rd at Michigan and dropped 41 points behind Sauter.

Bill Elliott has made four consecutive races in the No. 21 Little Debbie Ford owned by Glen Wood and has moved the famous Wood Brothers Racing vehicle to 39th in owner standings.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Brett Bodine , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Klaus Graf , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Casey Mears , Ron Fellows , Marc Goossens , Brian Simo , Tony Raines , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Riggs , Johnny Sauter , Mike Bliss , P.J. Jones , David Reutimann , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , David Gilliland , Harry Gant
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Wood Brothers Racing