FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 2, 2005) - The long-awaited second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event arrives at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday in the form of the inaugural Dickies 500, and it will prove to be well worth the wait. The Dickies...
FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 2, 2005) - The long-awaited second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event arrives at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday in the form of the inaugural Dickies 500, and it will prove to be well worth the wait.
The Dickies 500, the eighth race in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, is expected to play a pivotal role Sunday in determining the championship fate of the Chase contenders. Some will solidify their positions for the championship while others hopes could quickly wither in the 334-lap, 500-mile race.
And Texas Motor Speedway will provide the playoff atmosphere for such a showcase event. The Dickies 500 will be offering the largest purse ever in the history of the Chase purse ($6,815,880) and be played out before the largest crowd in Chase history as well as in the largest market for any Chase race.
The Dickies 500 also will easily be the largest attended single-day sporting event in the state of Texas and among the five largest in America. Green flag for the race is 2:50 p.m. CT on NBC.
"NASCAR fans have waited nine long years for this race and there is a tremendous buzz going on about the Dickies 500," Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said. "The first camper showed up 17 days prior to the race. This race offers the biggest purse in the Chase, the biggest crowd in the Chase and is held in the biggest market in the Chase. Perhaps the long wait makes it sweeter for all the fans. All I know is we're all jacked up, especially with the battle we've got going in the Chase."
Texas Motor Speedway finds no bigger fan of the track than NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Rusty Wallace, who has driven in all nine previous races at 'The Great American Speedway.'
"Texas has become one of my favorite tracks," Wallace said. "It may have started off a little slow, but it's one of the best stops and biggest races on the circuit today. You can ask around and they all know that I was probably the track's biggest ambassador for them getting their second race date. They (speedway management) took their lumps the first couple of years, but they knew they had problems and they fixed them. For the sponsors, it's always been an important area and the fan support in Texas unbelievable. That race just keeps getting bigger and bigger."
CAN YOU REPEAT THAT?
In nine NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway, there has never been a repeat winner. Will the inaugural Dickies 500 change that? Four of the 10 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers have won at Texas as Greg Biffle (April 2005), Ryan Newman (2003), Matt Kenseth (2002), and Mark Martin (1998) have made their way to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway.
Biffle won the Samsung/RadioShack 500 in the spring at Texas and enters Sunday's Dickies 500 in third place in the Chase.
"I'm looking forward to going to Texas this weekend," Biffle said. "I've had some success there in all three NASCAR Series, and we're taking the car that we won with in the spring. Of course, it would be awesome to win there again and that's what our goal is. I look for this weekend to be a good race for us and hopefully we'll gain some more ground on Tony (Stewart)."
Chase points leader Tony Stewart has struggled of late at Texas Motor Speedway with a pair of DNFs in his last three starts.
"It's hasn't' been a good track for us historically," Stewart said. "It just seems like Texas is one of those places where we haven't figured out how to be a top-flight car. We've never set the world on fire at Texas - just me back in April - but we have had some solid runs. It's one of the places where we have to try and pick up our performance. For me, it comes down to just feel more than anything. A driver has to like the feel of his race car and the feel of the track. If one of those things doesn't mesh right, then you're probably not going to be as successful as you want to be."
Jimmie Johnson is chasing Stewart and is just 59 points off the pace heading into the Dickies 500. He tested his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet at Texas Motor Speedway in early September and feels good about this weekend.
"It was pretty early in the scheme of things, but we had a good test," Johnson said. "We've been really working hard on the mile-and-a- half stuff and making the cars better. The aero stuff is important, but it's a little different mile-and-a-half than the other tracks that we run on. The entry to the turns is pretty difficult to get it right. The transitions are pretty abrupt and it seems like you have a hard time getting the front end of the car to stay on the track getting through the corners. So, we went there and worked on that and hopefully we can come back and everything's right."
Ryan Newman is tied for fourth place in the Chase standings, 107 points off the pace. The 2003 Samsung/RadioShack 500 winner at Texas Motor Speedway started on the pole for this year's spring race at The Great American Speedway.
"We won there in 2003, but haven't really been able to gain any momentum at the track off of that win. We finally figured out qualifying there in the spring. Hopefully this weekend, we'll unload fast and win another pole. That gives us a better chance of earning the five bonus points for leading a lap. The important thing though, is to make sure the car is fast not only for one lap, but for 334 of them.
"We had a great test session at Texas last week. I feel that the Alltel team learned a lot and can put it to good use this weekend. Hopefully we'll gain some of the points back that we lost in Atlanta and continue to work at earning our career best points finish. If that's a championship that's even better, but we're going to have to perform a lot better than we have during our last few 1.5-mile races."
Matt Kenseth won the spring race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2004 and is seventh in Chase points. Roush Racing drivers have always performed well at The Great American Speedway - winning four of the nine Cup races - and Kenseth is hoping for some of that magic in the Dickies 500 to close the gap on Stewart.
"I really like the track at Texas Motor Speedway and enjoy racing there," Kenseth said. "Earlier this year we ran as high as third but the car didn't' handle extremely well. Then we were penalized for speeding on pit road and that cost us. We didn't come out with a good finish, but we've had a win there so I know we're capable of getting around that track."
Rusty Wallace has run in all nine Nextel Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway and has posted four top-10 finishes. He heads into Sunday's Dickies 500 ranked eighth in the Chase standings and knows drivers will face quite a challenge with the race ending under the lights.
"Eddie (Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage) and I were talking in the middle of last week and he brought it to my attention that this weekend's race out there will most likely be ending under the lights," Wallace said. "When I tested there at the beginning of last week, we were still in daylight savings time and we lost that extra hour of sunlight over the weekend. When you see that race has a 2:50p.m. local start, they will definitely be turning the lights on before the end of the race. I've been talking about the situation with Larry (Carter, crew chief) and Derek (Starnets, team engineer) and we already have some ideas about what we'll need. Texas may just be the most temperature-sensitive track that we race on now."
Jeremy Mayfield, who comes to Texas 10th in the Chase standings, started on the outside of the front row for the Samsung/RadioShack 500 in April and was on the pole for the spring race in 1998.
"The last three weeks haven't turned out the way we expected," Mayfield said. "Now we go to Texas looking to get back on track and race competitively. The objective is to move up as far as we can in the Chase standings in the next three races. They haven't had a repeat winner at Texas. It's time that Evernham Motorsports had a Dodge Charger in Victory Lane."
STEWART BRINGING HEAT TO TEXAS
Tony Stewart is on fire in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. He has scored 16 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes this season heading into Sunday's Dickies 500, both the most of all drivers. Seventeen of those top-10 finishes have come in the last 19 races. Stewart has scored four top-five finishes in the seven races of the Chase, tied with Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth. He has also led the most laps (584) in the Chase races, earning 45 laps leader bonus points. His track record at Texas Motor Speedway has been good.and bad. He has four top-10 finishes, but also has three finishes of 23rd or worse. In April, he started 10th, but finished 31st with engine trouble, his second DNF in his last three Texas races.
"I've run there in a Busch car, an IRL (Indy Racing League) car and in a Cup car with this The Home Depot team," Stewart said. "I never looked at it as a treacherous race track. For some reason, it seemed that the track's transitions were very line-sensitive. The entries and exits to the corners are very tricky, and that's what makes Texas difficult. I don't' think it's treacherous. You just have to hit your marks every lap. Texas doesn't leave a whole lot of room for error."
There may not be a whole lot of room for error, but Stewart believes there is a whole lot of room for passing.
"I think you can pass anywhere, really," Stewart said. "If you get a guy that misses the bottom of the corner and he bobbles, you can get around him. I honestly think the groove will move up a little bit this year to where it will be a little wider and you'll have more room to get a run on a guy. But as the tires wear out and grip goes away, drivers will make mistakes and a car's handling will become more important. And when a guy makes a mistake, you need to be there to capitalize on it. You can really pass anywhere as long as the right opportunity comes up."
JJ HAS INSIDE TRACK AT TEXAS
Who has a strong history at Texas Motor Speedway among the Chase drivers? The statistics indicate it is Jimmie Johnson. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet has four top-10 finishes in as many appearances at Texas, topped by his personal-best of third in April's Samsung/Radio Shack 500. His average finish at 'The Great American Speedway' is 6.50, although he has never led a lap at Texas.
CHASE DRIVERS TIGHT FIT AT TEXAS
A year ago, after seven races in the Chase, eventual NEXTEL Cup Series champion Kurt Busch owned a 59-point lead over Jimmie Johnson. Busch's winning margin proved to be only eight points as the championship came down to the final lap of the final race. Fast forward to the Dickies 500 this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, the eighth race in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Tony Stewart enters Sunday's race with just a 43-point lead over Johnson and only 75 points in front of Greg Biffle. Carl Edwards, who won last week at Atlanta, is only 107 points off the pace as is previous Texas winner Ryan Newman.
ROUSH ROUTE AT TEXAS
No team has enjoyed more success at Texas Motor Speedway in the NEXTEL Cup Series than Roush Racing. Four of the nine Cup races at Texas have been won by Roush drivers. Jeff Burton won the first Cup race ever at 'The Great American Speedway' in 1997. He was followed by Mark Martin (1998), Matt Kenseth (2002), and Greg Biffle (April, 2005). With five Roush drivers in the Chase, the ingredients may be in place for Roush Racing to pull off the first repeat winner at Texas. The five drivers in the Roush stable - Kurt Busch, Kenseth, Martin, Biffle, Carl Edwards - have combined to win 13 of the 33 races this season.
A LABONTE HOMECOMING
Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte have run in all nine Nextel Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway. Both will attempt to make it 10 in a row this weekend in the Dickies 500. In addition, Terry's son, Justin Labonte, is entered in the Busch Series O'Reilly Challenge on Saturday as is Uncle Bobby. Brothers Bobby and Terry haven't lived in Corpus Christi, Texas since their teenage years, but the Lone Star State still proudly claims them.
"It's been so long since we have lived there," Bobby said. "The fans there (Texas Motor Speedway) are just incredible though. I feel like I have been adopted in a way since we moved from Corpus when I was about 15 or so. We have lived in North Carolina since that time. When we first went back in 1997 to race at Texas, it was just incredible how the people came up to Terry and me telling us they were so proud of us and what we had accomplished. It has been like that every year and that is kind of cool. We've had a long season, but it'd be nice to put a good run together."
SCHRADER LOVING RETURN TRIP TO TEXAS Ken Schrader, driver of the No. 49 Schwan's Home Service Dodge, can't wait to get out on the track at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. He has driven in all nine Nextel Cup Series events at The Great American Speedway, and says having a second Cup race at Texas is fantastic.
"Texas Motor Speedway is just about to turn 10 years old," Schrader said. "But I can remember when this place opened how everyone said it wasn't that racy, it only had one groove. Well, most 'new' tracks only have one groove, but once this place settled in a bit and got a lot of laps on it, it didn't take long for that second groove to come in. Now, it's become one of the raciest one-and-a-half mile ovals we go to."
In nine Nextel Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway, Schrader's best showing has been a 10th place finish in 2001.
GORDON'S MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
While most of the focus of the NASCAR world is on the 10 drivers in the Chase, there is another chase going on for in excess of $1 million...for finishing 11th in the championship. Coming in to Sunday's Dickies 500, Jamie McMurray currently holds that spot in the standings, but he is just 42 points in front of Jeff Gordon, who is closing fast. Gordon is coming off of a runner-up finish last week at Atlanta and tested extremely well here at Texas Motor Speedway last week. In the past four NEXTEL Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway, Gordon has a second (2002), two third-place finishes (2003, 2004), and finished 15th in the spring Samsung/RadioShack 500.
Ricky Rudd is expected to make his 786th consecutive start in the NEXTEL Cup Series in the Dickies 500, extending the series all-time record for consecutive races by a driver. Ryan Newman, 2003 Samsung/Radio 500 winner at Texas Motor Speedway, is expected to make his 150th NEXTEL Cup Series start this weekend.
Kasey Kahne has started third in both of his NEXTEL Cup Series races at Texas. This weekend he will also be in the No. 6 Hellmann's Dodge for Evernham Motorsports in the Busch Series O'Reilly Challenge on Saturday. .Seven of the nine races at Texas Motor Speedway have been won from a top-10 starting position. The exceptions: Elliott Sadler won from the 19th position in 2004 and Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag from the 31st starting spot.Rusty Wallace is just 59 laps shy of leading 20,000 laps in his career. He has led 97 laps at Texas Motor Speedway and his 19,941 career laps led ranks seventh all-time.