Team Chevy One Victory Away From Tying Modern Era Season-Best Win Record in NASCAR Nextel Cup Competition Heading to Texas Motor Speedway Terry Labonte to Make Final Start at Home Track; Three Races Remaining in Chase for the Nextel Cup Make...
Team Chevy One Victory Away From Tying Modern Era Season-Best Win Record in NASCAR Nextel Cup Competition Heading to Texas Motor Speedway
Terry Labonte to Make Final Start at Home Track; Three Races Remaining in Chase for the Nextel Cup Make Every Lap and Every Point Critical for Team Chevy Drivers; Jimmie Johnson Sits Just 26 Points Out of Lead
Ft. Worth, TX (October 31, 2006) - Team Chevy heads to Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) for race 34 of the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series (NNCS) season and the seventh race of the 10-race Chase to the Nextel Cup (Chase).
A win for the Bowtie brand at TMS will tie the Modern Era all-time season win record at 22 trips to victory lane. Tony Stewart's win last Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway scored the 21st win of the 2006 season for Chevy. It was the 594th all-time victory for Chevrolet in NNCS competition (470 Modern Era wins).
The Dickies 500 at the 1.5-mile banked tri-oval will be a bittersweet day for Team Chevy. Fans, friends and fellow competitors will bid farewell to Terry Labonte, No. 44 Kelloggs's Monte Carlo SS. The two-time NNCS champion selected his home state of Texas to make his final start in NNCS competition. In addition to his two Cup championship trophies, he leaves the sport with 22 wins, 182 top-fives and 361 top-10 finishes in a career that spanned 29 years and 847 NNCS starts.
At the same time, the Chase has heated up for the ten drivers battling to claim the 2006 NNCS championship. Although no one has been mathematically eliminated, the top-seven, six of who are Team Chevy drivers, have to be on the top of their games at TMS with just three races remaining in both the 2006 season and the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, sits second in the Chase standings, a mere 26 points down to leader Matt Kenseth (Ford). Coming off a strong runner-up finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS), Johnson has racked up one victory and two seconds in the last three NNCS races. Momentum would definitely be on his side. At TMS, Johnson has six previous starts with two top-five and five top-10 finishes.
"There is a huge hole down there or basically a bump where the dirt above the tunnel is in turns one and two at Texas," said Johnson. "The dirt above the tunnel has compacted and settled. And it's a pretty substantial bump down there that we have to worry about. I don't know how it's going to be. A second lane was starting to come in down there, so I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to have good side-by-side racing down there. Bumps in general I think kind of help our cars. Thinking back on Lowe's Motor Speedway and how rough and nasty it was, it made for good side-by-side racing because you'd look for another lane.
"The challenge in Texas is that bump starts from the white line and goes all the way to the wall. You can't get around it. So there is no benefit to moving up the race track to avoid that particular bump. So depending on how much grip the track has, you don't really have a reason to go any higher unless the bottom is a little more worn in than what we saw last year. You just kind of deal with it and try to find a way either around it or a way that the driver can get over with maximum speed. It's just something we have to deal with."
Johnson knows he is in a good position as a solid contender, if not the favorite, to claim his first NNCS crown. The thought of getting that trophy for his shelf has started creeping into his sleep, all in a positive way.
"This year, I just feel different," Johnson explained. "I don't care where we are. We're just going to keep racing and if we're leading after this event, great. And if not, no big deal. We're going to keep working and trying to keep scoring points. I really haven't been worrying about things that worried me before. The last few years the things that made me lose sleep at night aren't there. I have a smile on my face. Last night I had a great dream about being a champion and everything I have going on right now is positive. That's the first time for me in my championship battles."
The five-time winner thus far in 2006 concluded by saying: "I had some type of dream where I had the sensation of being a champion, and I'm not sure; I didn't have the full visual of standing on the stage or anything but the way I'm trying to use it is in a way where everything that's going on is positive. Every thought I have about it fills me up with excitement and happiness, where in the past, I almost had nightmares. When I would think of the championship laying there before I'd go to sleep at night, I'd (think) oh man, the 20 is running well and there's this or that and this track or that and everything was kind of fear-based. This year, everything as I doze off and go to sleep, I'm smiling and I'm like man I can't wait to get to Texas and Phoenix and Homestead and race for this thing. So it's a totally different mindset this year than other years."
Raybestos Rookie contender Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Monte Carlo SS, continues to be the exciting surprise of the Chase. Sitting in third spot in the point standings, 65 points down to the leader, Hamlin will make his third TMS start with an impressive record of one top-five and two top-10 finishes in his previous two races.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS, climbed to fourth in the Chase standings after his third place finish at AMS and sits 84 points out of first. Junior is one of two Team Chevy Chase contenders with victories at TMS. He claimed his first career NNCS victory in 2000 to give Chevrolet their second win at the track. In eight TMS starts, he has one win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes.
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Monte Carlo SS, fought through adversity of cut tires, contact with the wall and an ill-timed caution flag to finish 13th at AMS to tie Junior at 84 points behind first place in the Chase. Burton is the second of Team Chevy Chase drivers with a victory at TMS. He won the inaugural NNCS race in 1997 and has claimed two top-five and four top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo SS, left AMS disappointed with his 31st place finish after tire issues brought him down pit road for two unscheduled stops. Harvick has seven starts at TMS with one top-five and two top-10 finishes. He sits 121 points out of the Chase lead in sixth position.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, jumped to seventh in the Chase standings, 146 points behind the leader, with his sixth place finish at AMS. For all of his success at virtually every other track on the NNCS circuit, TMS has remained an enigma to the four-time champion.
"I've said from the beginning that this race was the one I was most concerned about performance-wise during the Chase," said Gordon. "We don't have a good track record here recently, which gives us concern. "But we've made a lot of changes with the car, the set-ups and the team, and our intermediate program has improved since we last visited Texas.
"This is a difficult race track. It's very fast, the transitions in the corners are very abrupt and the walls come at you pretty fast. It's a track that challenges all of us, but one that I enjoy. I'm looking forward to this weekend's race, and having two races a year here will help us get our first win."
Kyle Busch, No. 5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo SS, rides 10th in the championship standings and is mathematically not out of the Chase at 249 points behind the leader. But in three previous TMS NNCS starts, hasn't broken in to that magical top-10 finishing order.
-credit: gm racing