Series off-week notes 2010-03-09

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes Edwards Placed on Probation For 3 Events NASCAR President Mike Helton announced today via the NASCAR Cam Video Teleconference that Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac/Scotts Ford) has been put on probation for the...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes

Edwards Placed on Probation For 3 Events

NASCAR President Mike Helton announced today via the NASCAR Cam Video Teleconference that Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac/Scotts Ford) has been put on probation for the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup races.

Helton touched on a number of issues stemming from Sunday's late-race accident involving Edwards and Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge) at Atlanta Motor Speedway during the Kobalt Tools 500.

Below are some of the topics and Helton's responses from Tuesday.

On Edwards' retaliation:

"Following that incident we asked the driver of the 99 to visit us in the hauler, and we made it very clear to him that these actions were not acceptable and did go beyond what we said back in January about putting the driving back in the hands of the drivers."

On Keselowski's No. 12 getting airborne:

"It's important for all of us to step back and separate the issue of what happened with the 99 [Edwards] and 12 [Keselowski] on the race track and the fact that the 12 car went airborne. We've not seen a car get airborne much on the mile-and-a-half race track, and that's something that is very important to us and we want to study very closely to figure out things that we can do to help prevent this very quickly in the future."

On putting the racing back in the drivers' hands:

"We're promoting typical NASCAR driving, side-by-side racing with our type of race cars. ... But there is a line you can cross. When you cross that line in our opinion, we're going to get involved with you."

Kenseth Quietly Assumes Second Place In The Series Standings

Though his position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings is about the same this year as last, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford) seems more comfortable -- and less apt for the free fall he succumbed to last season. After four races, Kenseth sits second in the points. Last season, he was fifth at the same juncture. The position may not be vastly different, but the momentum surely is, for the 2003 series champion. After winning the first two races of 2009, Kenseth suffered a last-place finish at Vegas and a 12thplace run at Atlanta. Though he has yet to win a race in 2010, Kenseth has reeled off four top-10 finishes to open the season, including a runner-up last Sunday at Atlanta. The biggest difference between this year and last is the man calling the shots -- crew chief, Todd Parrott. Parrott replaced former crew chief Drew Blickensderfer for the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway. The move, a surprise at the time, was clearly a shrewd one. Parrott has led the team to an average finish of 4.7 in his three races. Additionally, Kenseth has had a Driver Rating of 105.9 over that span. Parrott, a veteran with 29 race wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, led Dale Jarrett to the series championship in 1999.

Current Top 12 Has It All

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top 12 doesn't get much more varied than this.

Here's the breakdown of a top 12 filled with champions, veterans and a couple of big surprises:

Five past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions: Matt Kenseth (second), Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) (fourth), Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet) (eighth), Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) (10th) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) (11th).

Three past NASCAR Nationwide Series champions: points leader Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) (third) and Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) (fifth).

Two respected veterans: Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) (sixth) and Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) (seventh).

Two surprises -- and "surprise" might not be a strong enough word: Paul Menard (No. 98 Menards Ford) (ninth) and Scott Speed (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) (12th).

With a fifth-place finish at Atlanta, Menard entered the top 10 in points for the first time in his series career, which began full-time in 2007. Entering this season, Menard's previous best points position was 21st. Now, if the season ended today, he'd make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

"Obviously, we're off to a much better start than I've ever been off to before," Menard said. I was 38th in points after the Atlanta race last year, and this is a whole new race team for me. It's great to be in the top 10 in points, but it's way too early to get caught up in the points thing. I don't think we're as surprised as everyone else seems to be."

Same goes for Scott Speed, who has the added pressure of having to qualify on speed for at least the first five races of this season. (For the first five races, the top 35 from last year's owner points are locked into each event. Speed's No. 82 Toyota was 36th in owner points in 2009.)

Speaking of which ...

NASCAR makes the top 12 drivers available to the media each race weekend. Some drivers come into the media center for their news conferences; some have the pressers in the garage at their hauler.

Here's one of the few guarantees you'll get in NASCAR: Speed will be in the media center for his availability at Bristol Motor Speedway next week. Because of Bristol's cramped confines, only the top 35 and one past champion are allowed to park in the infield. Speed's No. 82 Red Bull hauler will be outside the track, making it impossible -- or at best, inconvenient -- to have a hauler chat.

Quite a turnaround from last season.

"Funny how last year we had to look at a line when we were talking about points, but that line was the top-35 line, now we are looking at the line that divides the Chase -- the top-12 line," Speed said. ""It's weird to be up there with the group of guys who win championships in a sport where I still consider myself an amateur."

Speaking of unforeseen success: Harvick's three-week reign atop the series points standings is the longest of his career. Prior to this stretch, Harvick had led the points twice, each for a single week. The first was after winning Chase race No. 1 at New Hampshire in 2006. The other was after winning the Daytona 500 in 2007.

Look At The Loop: Stats Show That Some Points Positions Are Deceiving, Thus Far This Season

This early in the season, predicting the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is tough. There are still 22 races left before the top 12 drivers are locked into the Chase -- and championship contention.

Still, it's never too early for predictions when talking sports.

Here are two numbers that might help forecast who will run for this year's championship come September.

63.8 -- Percentage of drivers who make the Chase when they're in the top 12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings after four races since the field expanded to 12 drivers in 2007.

77.8 -- Percentage of drivers who make the Chase when they're ranked in the top 12 of Driver Rating after four races.

In other words, those drivers who are running well, yet are outside the top 12 shouldn't worry just yet. Namely: Juan Pablo Montoya, Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford) and Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota).

All three are currently outside the top 12, but rank in the top 12 in Driver Rating. Here's a breakdown of some of the bad luck suffered by all three:

Montoya: The Colombia-native has the ninth-best Driver Rating, yet sits outside the top 20 in points. But luck has plagued his season. At Auto Club Speedway, Montoya suffered a DNF because of a blown engine. A week later in Las Vegas, he got caught up in an accident with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray. Both races ended with 37th-place finishes. At ACS, Montoya had a solid Driver Rating of 89.9. In Vegas, his Driver Rating was 71.5.

Kahne: Likewise, Kahne has had two bad finishes that had more to do with bad luck than performance. At Daytona, he had a DNF (accident), and finished 30th. But his Driver Rating was a strong 91.0. A week later at Auto Club Speedway, Kahne was in eighth place when he spun coming out of Turn 4 and finished 34th. His Driver Rating that race was 72.7. Overall, Kahne has a sixth-best Driver Rating of 97.3, but a points position of 17th.

Busch: The younger Busch has led at least one lap in all four races and has scored Driver Ratings over 95.0 in three of the four. Still, he is looking for the season's first top-10 finish. His Driver Rating of 91.9 ranks 10th in the series, yet he sits 15th in the points standings.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Competition Up: Through the first four races, passing numbers are higher than they have been in any of the previous five seasons. There have been a total of 263 green flag passes for the lead and 17,925 green flag passes all around the track in 2010. Both numbers are highs through four races since NASCAR starting collecting the Loop Data in 2005.

Sunday's race at Atlanta contributed to the increased competition. There were a track-best 33 green flag passes for the lead. The previous best was 28, set on March 20, 2005.

Rough Start: While the strong starts by Paul Menard and Scott Speed might be the surprise story of 2010 so far, the lack of success of a number of marquee drivers ranks high in the "unforeseen storylines" category.

Four members of last year's Chase field currently reside 20th or worse in the series standings: Carl Edwards (20th), Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) (21st), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) (22nd) and Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) (29th).

Hendrick Clunker?: A rarity occurred Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- not a single member of Hendrick Motorsports finished in the top 10. The last time that happened was at Watkins Glen in August of last season. The last time it happened in a non-road course event was last season's rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Top 35 Watch: The battle around the top 35 will be one of the top storylines at Bristol Motor Speedway in two weeks. Bristol, race No. 5 of the 2010 season, is the final event where last season's owner points are used to determine the guaranteed 35 spots in each event's field.

After Bristol, the 2010 owner points will be the determining factor.

That all means a race within a race is set for Bristol.

Drivers whose cars are currently ahead of that top 35 line: Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge) (49 points ahead of the cut-off line), David Gilliland (No. 38 Taco Bell Ford) (42 points), Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge) (19 points) and Travis Kvapil (No. 34 Long John Silver's Ford) (nine points).

Mike Bliss (No. 36 Wave Energy Drink Chevrolet) sits on the line at 35th, in a points tie with Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kevin Conway (No. 37 Extenze Ford). Each have 276 points.

Outside the bubble: Boris Said (No. 26 Southern Pride Trucking Ford), 24 points out; Robby Gordon (No. 7 Warner Music Nashville/ Blake Shelton Toyota), 27 points out; and Max Papis (No. 13 GEICO Toyota), 29 points out.

Up Next: Race 5 @ Bristol

Following this offweek, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action March 21 with the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway's half-mile of high banks. If you're looking for a safe bet, go with Busch to win -- either Kurt or Kyle. Together, the Busch Brothers have dominated Bristol events in recent years with eight victories since the start of the 2002 season -- five by Kurt and three by Kyle, including a season sweep of last year's two events. Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon share the series lead for Bristol wins among active drivers, at five apiece. Darrell Waltrip still holds the all-time BMS win record, with 12. The Food City 500 is the season's first short-track race and it starts a "short-track doubleheader" since the following week, the series goes to the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway. The two weeks of old-school competition result from a schedule adjustment of several years ago. Consecutive short-track events once were routine. There currently are six short-track races on the schedule; Bristol, Martinsville and .75-mile Richmond International Raceway each host two events.

Fast Facts

The Next Race: Food City 500
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, March 21
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 500 laps / 266.5 miles

TV: FOX , 12 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: Mark Martin
2009 Winner: Kyle Busch

Schedule prior to race day:
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40.
Saturday -- Practice, 11-11:45 a.m. and 12:20-1:20 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Hendrick Motorsports