The Chase, Race 5: Jimmie Johnson Tough "At Home" *Triple Threat: Kasey Kahne Looking To Win All 3 LMS Events *On The CAM: Tony Stewart *In The Loop: Catching Johnson At LMS No Easy Task *Three Drivers Hope To Make Series Debuts Chase Intrigue,...
The Chase, Race 5: Jimmie Johnson Tough "At Home"
*Triple Threat: Kasey Kahne Looking To Win All 3 LMS Events
*On The CAM: Tony Stewart
*In The Loop: Catching Johnson At LMS No Easy Task
*Three Drivers Hope To Make Series Debuts
Chase Intrigue, Johnson's Title Quest Headline Return To LMS
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Get all you can.
That's this week's mantra for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors, whose ranks were stirred last Sunday at unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway and whose opportunities for advancement are dwindling.
Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway may represent an ideal follow-up; it's proven ground for many of the 12 teams battling for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, and also represents the opportunity to rebound, or establish momentum.
The fifth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Saturday's event marks the halfway point, and with seven of the 12 Chase participants switching positions after Talladega, those out front likely have eyes on rear-view mirrors.
Only 99 points separate the top four Chase drivers, who all retained their spots; only 27 points separate second from fourth.
Reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) extended his lead over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) to 72 points.
Edwards leads third-place and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) by five points, while Biffle leads fourth-place Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) by 22 points.
Johnson will be formidable at LMS, where he has five career wins and a series-high Driver Rating of 116.5. He's attempting to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to win three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. Cale Yarborough (1976-78) is the other driver to do so.
Saturday also marks Johnson's 250th career start.
"I'm fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living," he said. "I'm so thankful for the success this team has had. I also know that I wouldn't be where I am today without the hard work of (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and my guys. This sport is a total team effort and I am so lucky to have such an awesome team."
Other Bank of America 500 storylines:
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is the defending winner of Saturday's Bank of America 500. It's also the last time he won. Gordon, currently eighth in the Chase standings, hasn't had a winless season since his rookie year of 1992.
Edwards, Biffle and teammate Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Carhartt Ford) all hope to right themselves at LMS, after getting caught in a Lap 175 accident at Talladega. All three excel at LMS -- Kenseth notched his first career win there, Biffle finished second in the May event and Edwards has an average LMS finish of 7.6.
Despite a wreck-induced 38th-place finish at Talladega, Gordon is optimistic about his chances this weekend. He finished fourth two weeks ago at another 1.5-mile track -- Kansas Speedway -- and posted the fastest speed during last month's series test at LMS.
"There's still a lot of racing left this year, and I'm not counting anybody out just yet," Gordon said.
On The CAM: Tony Stewart On NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference
Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) was this week's guest on the NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference, held Monday afternoon, from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.
Some excerpts follow:
On Saturday's Bank of America 500: "We've had a lot of success at all these tracks coming up, but I think the way that we have ran the last three races at Charlotte here, we're pretty excited about it. We felt like we had a good test there a week ago and we're looking forward to it. I feel like we've got a shot at this weekend's race. If we can do what we've been doing, we've got just as good a shot as anybody else. ...
On becoming a team owner (Stewart-Haas Racing) in 2009: "It's an exciting time for me. It's the busiest I've ever been in my life right now, but at the same time, this is normally the point of the season where I'm starting to get rundown.
"But I think this new race team has been kind of a shot in the arm to me and giving me a lot of motivation that at this time of the year it's easy physically to get rundown and mentally.
"But to have an opportunity like what I have for next year, there's just that much more motivation, and I think it's helping me not only like (last Sunday) and for the rest of the season this year, but I'm really excited about next year. I'm enjoying spending the time. Any time that I get a second to work on it, to try to get things going for next year. ...
On the pressure to get the season's first win: "Obviously you want to win every race you run, but when you're leading with a quarter lap to go, it's not so much the pressure, you're just going through the motions of doing what you do as a driver. You're not thinking about the pressure, you're not thinking about where this win could come at. You're just strictly doing your job as a driver behind the steering wheel. ...
On 2008 title hopes: "If we have a chance to win the championship at the end, trust me, we're all for that and we would love nothing more than that. But I think right now where we're at and how many points we're at, I think it lets us have a go-for-broke attitude and just go out and try to do what we did (last Sunday) and win races. ...
On not climbing the frontstretch fence after winning at Talladega: "I'm kind of big on not necessarily tearing the equipment up, especially now that I'm a car owner. I don't want to rip the transmissions out and hurt the motors, too. So just being able to turn around and get that close to the fans and drive down that whole front straightaway grandstand and see all those fans was important to me, not just that one little section by the flag stand. That seemed to me to be more special than just climbing the flag stand. ...
One reason the win was so special: "Just the fact that those guys have worked so hard all year and haven't had the results, it's like (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) Zippy said, 'We win as a team, we lose as a team.' But those guys had to put in hours and time and effort that is above and beyond a typical race weekend and above and beyond the typical hours that they have to spend at the racetrack. ...
On winning his 33rd race with Joe Gibbs Racing, which he will leave at the end of the season to oversee Stewart-Haas Racing: "It's easy to look on paper and 33 is just a number. But when we think back at some of these wins and the obstacles that we had to overcome to accomplish those numbers, and when you look in the record books and look at guys that have over 30 wins, you start getting yourself in a smaller elite group every time you win another race."
NASCAR Reiterates Position On Racing Below The Yellow Line At Daytona And Talladega
On Monday, NASCAR President Mike Helton reiterated the sanctioning body's rule about passing below the yellow line at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
It applies to all three NASCAR national series, which compete annually at both tracks.
Drivers and crew chiefs are reminded of the yellow-line policy during each pre-race drivers meeting at Daytona and Talladega. The verbatim language is read aloud and included in a handout.
"This is your warning: race above the yellow line. If, in NASCAR's judgment, you go below the yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR's judgment you force someone below the yellow line (in an effort to stop him from passing you), you may be black-flagged."
Helton further clarified that language on Monday.
"Since the end of the race there has been some confusion as to what is allowable during the last lap at Daytona and Talladega," he said. "To be clear, as we go forward, there will be no passing under the yellow line at any time during NASCAR races at Daytona or Talladega, period. This includes any passing below the yellow line near the start/finish line on the final lap."
Times Three: Kahne Going For The Three-Peat At LMS
Lowe's Motor Speedway may be known as Jimmie Johnson's house, but Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) can stake a claim, too.
The reigning series champion usually rules at what's considered the industry's home track in Concord, N.C., just outside Charlotte, but Kahne maybe the driver to beat in Saturday night's Bank of America 500.
He's attempting something not even Johnson has accomplished -- to become the first driver to sweep all three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at LMS.
Earlier this season, Kahne's back-to-back wins at LMS kick-started a run to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup,
He first won the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race there on May 17, following with a victory on May 25 in the Coca-Cola 600.
Kahne didn't make the Chase -- he's currently 14th in the series standings -- but making history would be a high note.
"Lowe's is definitely one of my favorite tracks and we have a unique opportunity to win all three races here this year," Kahne said. "We've won all the races here -- we are just trying to get it done in one year. It would be a huge accomplishment for me personally and everyone at Gillett Evernham Motorsports to be able to complete the sweep."
Kahne has three wins, three top fives, four top 10s and one DNF (did not finish) in nine career starts at LMS (this doesn't include non-points All-Star events).
He also ranks well in pre-race NASCAR Loop Data statistics for LMS -- third in Driver Rating (98.4) behind Johnson and Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's/Susan G. Komen For The Cure Toyota), respectively. He also ranks third in Average Running Position (12.7) and Quality Passes (296).
Kahne ranks second in Fastest Laps Run (227) and Green Flag Passes (516).
"It's a track where I seem to know what the car needs to go fast," he said of LMS. "The line that you need to run here is so crucial. Lowe's Motor Speedway is such a sensitive track, you can really mess up here by missing your line by just a little bit or not slowing down quite enough getting to the white line throughout the race.
"It's a great track and hopefully we can continue to keep up the success here and get a win in the Bank of America 500."
In The Loop: Johnson Solidly Out Front At LMS
How can you explain Jimmie Johnson's success at Lowe's Motor Speedway?
Is it just coincidence? Is it that LMS suits Johnson's style perfectly? Or maybe there's added pressure to succeed considering the number of sponsor eyeballs on the No. 48, and Johnson is certainly a driver who thrives on added pressure.
Whatever the reason, Johnson is always the man to beat at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
In just 14 starts, Johnson has five wins (tying Jeff Gordon -- who has 31 LMS starts -- for the active lead in LMS victories), eight top fives and 11 top 10s.
Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Johnson is far and away the class of the field at LMS -- despite having two of his three non-top-10 finishes fall during that span.
Over the last seven LMS races, Johnson owns series-high statistics in Driver Rating (116.5), Average Running Position (7.7), Fastest Laps Run (260), average Green Flag Speed (176.860 mph), Laps in the Top 15 percentage (88.5) and Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15), with 388.
What makes his stats even more impressive are the numbers of those who rank second in each of the above categories. They're not really close:
Kyle Busch is second in Driver Rating with a 98.7, 17.8 points behind Johnson.
Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet) is second in Average Running Position with a 12.2, 4.5 positions lower than Johnson.
Kasey Kahne ranks second in Fastest Laps Run with 227, 33 fewer than Johnson.
Busch ranks second in average Green Flag Speed with 176.378 mph, .483 mph slower than Johnson.
Martin ranks second in Laps in the Top 15 percentage at 74.5%, 14 percent worse than Johnson.
Busch ranks second in Quality Passes with 335, 53 fewer than Johnson.
In other words, if Johnson wins, it won't be a surprise. But who could be a surprise winner this weekend?
Martin has won four times at LMS and has posted solid stats recently there. He has a Driver Rating of 91.5 (fourth-best), an Average Running Position of 12.2 (second) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 74.5% (second).
Also watch for a strong run from Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet), who had a strong run at Talladega before getting caught up in a late-race accident.
He'll look to rebound at LMS, his home track. He has yet to win at LMS, but has three top-10 finishes in the last four races there.
Over the last seven, he has a Driver Rating of 89.7 (fifth), an Average Running Position of 16.2 (seventh) and 106 Fastest Laps Run (fifth).
Three Drivers To Attempt Series Debuts This Weekend
Much is on the line in Saturday's Bank of America 500, but so too could be the start of three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series careers.
Brad Keselowski, Bryan Clauson and Scott Speed all will attempt to make their series debuts in the race, and all three first must qualify on speed during Thursday night's qualifying session.
Keselowski will qualify Hendrick Motorsports' No. 25 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. Clauson will qualify Chip Ganassi Racing's No. 40 Target/Sony's Motorstorm: Pacific Rift Dodge. Speed will qualify Team Red Bull's No. 82 Red Bull Toyota.
All three drivers are considered future talents and all are busy in separate series this season.
Keselowski, 24, who drives the No. 88 Navy Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is third in that series' standings. He'll also attempt to qualify for one other NASCAR Sprint Cup event this season, at Texas Motor Speedway.
Clauson, 19, has 18 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, with one pole and one top-five finish.
Speed, 25, who will drive the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season, currently leads the ARCA RE/MAX Series standings. He's a former Formula One driver making the transition to stock cars.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Milestone Watch ... Several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will mark personal series milestones in Saturday night's Bank of America 500.
Jimmie Johnson will make his 250th career start. Kasey Kahne will make his 175 career start. If he qualifies the No. 70 Hunt Broithers Pizza Chevrolet on Thursday night, Tony Raines will make his 125th career start.
This weekend also means a milestone for LMS, which will host its 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup and 54th NASCAR Nationwide events. A total of 499 drivers have competed there.
Four will attempt to make their first LMS starts this week -- Brad Keselowski, Bryan Clauson, Scott Speed and Chad McCumbee (No. 45 Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil Dodge).
Allmendinger Back In Action ... Two weeks after parting ways with Red Bull Racing, AJ Allmendinger is back behind a steering wheel.
Michael Waltrip Racing announced this week that Allmendinger will qualify the No. 00 Champion Mortgage Toyota for Saturday's Bank of American 500.
Owner Michael Waltrip said following the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Kansas Speedway that several drivers will be used during the remainder of the season. The No. 00 currently is 36th in the owner standings; the top 35 each week are guaranteed starting positions.
Michael McDowell had driven the No. 00 since the fifth race of the season. Kenny Wallace drove it last week at Talladega and finished 12th -- the team's best result this season.
Jail And Bail For A Good Cause ... Many in the NASCAR industry, including nearly a dozen drivers, will participate in a Jail and Bail Charity Event benefitting the Brienne Davis Scholarship Fund on Wednesday, Oct. 8. It's from 5-11 p.m. at the Brickhouse Tavern in Davidson, N.C.
The scholarship honors Davis, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series official, who passed away earlier this year.
Up Next: Chase For the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Race 6 at Martinsville Speedway
Another hurdle awaits those who would be the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion -- Martinsville Speedway.
The .526-mile short track in Virginia has hosted the series since 1949 and is considered an always-worthy opponent.
This time, it's the TUMS Quik Pak 500 on Sunday, Oct. 19. (1 p.m., ET; ABC)
Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon -- who leads all active drivers with seven Martinsville wins -- is the defending pole winner. Johnson swept both Martinsville events last year.
This season, it's Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) who will attempt the Martinsville sweep. A Virginia native, he won the March event.
The Race: Bank of America 500
The Place: Lowe's Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Oct. 11
The Time: 7:25 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 1.5-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 501 miles/334 laps
TV: ABC, 7 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS Satellite. (Locally on WSOC-FM 103.7).7
2007 Winner: Jeff Gordon
2007 Polesitter: Ryan Newman
Pre-Race Day schedule (all times local/ET):
Thursday -- Practice, 3-4:30 p.m. Qualifying, 7:10 p.m.
Friday -- Practice, 5-5:45 p.m. and 6:20-7:20 p.m.