*Johnson, Gordon Apparent Favorites In Week 5 Of Chase *7 Chase Drivers Have Yet To Win At LMS *Time Growing Short For Some In Chase Field *Kahne Looks To Fill Spoiler Role *Blaney Effort Moves BDR Team Into Top 35 Of Owner Points Prime-Time...
*Johnson, Gordon Apparent Favorites In Week 5 Of Chase
*7 Chase Drivers Have Yet To Win At LMS
*Time Growing Short For Some In Chase Field
*Kahne Looks To Fill Spoiler Role
*Blaney Effort Moves BDR Team Into Top 35 Of Owner Points
Prime-Time Race Presents Prime Breakthrough Opportunity
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 9, 2007) -- On paper, the favorites seem apparent going into Saturday night's Bank of America 500, as do the longshots. A have/have-not line of demarcation is drawn statistically.
*Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) have combined for nine victories at Lowe's Motor Speedway;
*The other 10 drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup have accumulated only four wins at the Concord, N.C. oval.
*Seven of the 12 drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup have never won a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at LMS.
Of course, for those seven, this week can also be seen as a glass-half-full scenario, a prime-time race and a prime chance for a breakthrough at the most opportune of times.
And thus far in the 2007 Chase, the word breakthrough has been synonymous with Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet). Bowyer, still riding the momentum of his career-first victory at New Hampshire, an event that opened the Chase, comes to LMS third in the points, only 63 points behind Gordon, who took over the Chase points lead via his victory this past Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson, second at Talladega, likewise has dropped to second in the standings, nine points behind.
Bowyer is one of those seven "Chasers" seeking an initial Lowe's Motor Speedway win. He has only three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup starts at the track, with his best finish a 19th.
"Lowe's Motor Speedway's not a race track where I've been particularly successful," Bowyer acknowledged. "We've always run well there -- been up front and run in the top 10; we've just never finished like we've run. We've wrecked a lot there and gotten caught up in stuff.
"We just have to do better. If we can do what we've done everywhere else and improve on our finishes, we'll be just fine."
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), also winless at LMS, has some encouraging history there. In five starts, he has four top-10 finishes, including two third-place efforts.
Less-than encouraging are the LMS records of Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who are fifth and seventh respectively in the Chase standings. Harvick is 0-for-13 at the track while Busch is 0-for-14. Harvick has led a total of two laps in those 13 races.
But in Harvick's case, it might be worth noting, again, that all of these statistics are gleaned from points-paying series races at LMS. The annual NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge is excluded.
Here's your footnote: Harvick won this year's all-star race, in May.
Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Notebook, Week 5
Jimmie Johnson At LMS Defines Success/ Sponsor Synergy ... Jimmie Johnson has built a remarkable record of success at Lowe's Motor Speedway, a record that is obviously pleasing to his sponsor -- Lowe's.
In 12 starts, Johnson has five victories at LMS, 11 top 10s, eight top fives and a series-best average finish of 6.2. Johnson got the first of his five wins in the 2003 Coca-Cola 600; he then swept four consecutive series races at LMS in 2004 and 2005. And don't forget the fact that in 2003 and 2006 he won the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge there.
"Leading into [an LMS race] we're typically excited about it and I am this year," Johnson said. "I think it's a good opportunity for us to possibility get a win and score some more points in the Chase."
An intriguing battle has developed between Johnson and his teammate Jeff Gordon. Adding to the intrigue: Gordon is a part-owner of Johnson's team. There are all sorts of dynamics swirling around the battle at the top of the Chase points.
"We put a lot of pressure, in a good way, on both of our teams in the friendly rivalry we have between the shops," Johnson said. "I don't see that changing. When I see Jeff go by me I know that he is driving the same stuff. If he is driving by me then I think I had better get up on the wheel and do something better. I think I do the same thing to him.
"There are still a lot of races left. But, as things unfold it could be a situation where we are racing one another. In some ways that is what we would hope for and in other ways it's going to be difficult. If it does come down to the two of us, it would be a good and bad problem all at the same time."
Time Grows Short
... As the halfway point approaches in the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup approaches, several drivers' championship hopes are slipping away. One of those would be Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet), in 12th and last place this week, 336 points behind Jeff Gordon. A comeback is highly unlikely considering that deficit but nonetheless, Burton shouldn't be dismissed going into Saturday night's event. He has two LMS victories and 12 top 10s in 27 starts. Expect Burton to hang tough no matter what happens. "Obviously, last weekend's finish wrapped up our championship hopes but we will keep fighting," he said. "We'll continue to go to the last few races with the same approach we have had all year. All that we can do as a team is our very best and if we do that, the points will add up. We have to focus on what we are doing and do a good job. If we do that, then we'll be able to battle back and move up in the standings."
Two-Time Champion Looks To Mirror 2006 Stretch Run ... Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) has dropped to 154 points back of the lead, into fourth place, but don't forget how he did down the stretch last year when he was outside the Chase field. Two of Stewart's five victories in 2006 came in the season's last five weeks -- at Atlanta and Texas.
Outside The Chase: Kahne, Mears Could Be Spoilers At LMS
Drivers outside the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup field are lining up to play the role of spoiler this week at Lowe's Motor Speedway. At the head of the queue: Kasey Kahne and Casey Mears.
Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) will have to be confident coming into the Bank of America 500 despite a disappointing season that finds him 21st in the series point standings this week. Kahne swept last season's two races at LMS.
Mears (No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet), meanwhile, got his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory earlier this season at LMS, in one of NASCAR's major events, the Coca-Cola 600. And, even though he also is outside the Chase, Mears has been inside the top 10 at the finish of all four Chase races thus far -- the only driver in the series to do so. Mears is 15th in the series standings this week.
Since the start of the Chase in 2004, "non-Chasers" have won 11 times.
Locked In: Blaney Run Puts No. 22 Into The Top 35
This past weekend at Talladega Superspeedway was a good one for Toyota. Victories in both the ARCA RE/MAX Series event and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race ... a Bud Pole Award for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event ... and finally, a third-place finish in that premier event, on Sunday, by Dave Blaney. That tied Blaney's career-best effort in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. But it also inched the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota team into the top 35 of the car owner point standings, ensuring the Bill Davis-owned entry a berth in this week's race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
The top 35 teams in owner points get automatic starting spots each week. Other teams must qualify based on qualifying speeds. So for this week, the No. 22 is in. But the pressure remains; the 36th-place team, the Glen Wood-owned No. 21 Ore-Ida Ford, is only 51 points behind the No. 22 and only 54 behind the No. 45 Tire Kingdom Dodge team of owner-driver Kyle Petty.
Keys To Victory
Lowe's Motor Speedway
*A good handling car is crucial. The team that can keep their car fine-tuned throughout the race will have a good opportunity to come out on top.
*Thursday and Friday's practice sessions will be very important. Crew chiefs will need to develop their strategy based upon tire wear and other adjustments they'll need to make and adapt accordingly during the course of the race. Making the right adjustments at the right time can mean less stress over pit-stop variables.