* Milestone Marker: Coca-Cola 600 significant in many drivers' careers * In the Loop: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch among Johnson's challengers NEWS AND NOTES Nine And Counting ... Nine times in NASCAR history, drivers have won...
* Milestone Marker: Coca-Cola 600 significant in many drivers' careers
* In the Loop: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch among Johnson's challengers
NEWS AND NOTES
Nine And Counting ... Nine times in NASCAR history, drivers have won a particular event at least four consecutive times. Jimmie Johnson can join this elite group on Sunday by winning the Coca-Cola 600 for a fourth consecutive time.
Coca-Cola 600 Site of Many Milestones ... NASCAR's Memorial Day weekend tradition at LMS began in 1960, when Joe Lee Johnson won the first Coca-Cola 600 -- then called the World 600 -- at what was then Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was the first of many drivers who have experienced career moments at one of the sport's marquee events. Below are drivers who registered their series debut, first series win or first Budweiser Pole during Coca-Cola 600 competition.
• Four former series champions made their debuts in the Coca-Cola 600 -- David Pearson, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) and Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge).
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) and Donnie Allison all won their first career poles during Coca-Cola 600 qualifying.
• Dale Earnhardt made his series debut in the 1975 Coca-Cola 600. Other drivers making their series debut in the Memorial Day weekend event are Earnhardt Jr. (1999), Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) in 1998, Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) in 1993, Brett Bodine (1986) and Michael Waltrip (No. 55 NAPA Dodge) in 1985.
"In The Loop" -- Track Data Shows Johnson Not Alone in Excellence ... Last season, an early accident doomed 2004 series champion Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) to a 43rd-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. But in the track's October event, Busch rebounded to finish second behind winner Jimmie Johnson, a performance good enough to boost him visibly in NASCAR's pre-race Loop Data statistics for LMS.
Busch leads seven categories: Fastest Drivers Early in a Run at 185.242 mph; Fastest Drivers Late in a Run at 184.709 mph; Fastest Drivers by Straightaway (Frontstretch) with an average speed of 191.259 mph; Fastest Drivers in Turn 1(186.659 mph); Turn 3 (183.308 mph); Turn 4 (175.636 mph) and Speed in Traffic (184.225 mph).
Roush Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford) are two other drivers who could challenge Johnson, based on Loop Data statistics. Kenseth ranks in the top five of seven speed-related categories for LMS' pre-race track data, including second in Fastest Drivers in Turn 4, third in Fastest Drivers in Turn 2 and Fastest Drivers Early in a Run, fourth in Fastest Drivers (Frontstretch) and Fastest Drivers in Turn 3 and fifth in Fastest Drivers in Turn 1 and Fastest Drivers (Backstretch).
Biffle leads Average Running Position (8.823) and is second behind Johnson in Driver Rating (114.1).
Tony Stewart continues to dominate the season-to-date loop data statistics. The defending series champion has the highest Driver Rating (110.1), Average Running Position (9.072) and Percentage of Laps Run on Lead Lap (3,585 of 3,650 laps for 98.22%). He is second in the Fastest Lap category behind Greg Biffle, who has had the Fastest Lap a series-high 352 times, compared to Stewart's 347 fastest laps.
Setting The Field: Top 35 In 2006 Owner Points "Locked In" ... Each week in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, teams ranked in the top 35 of the current car owner point standings are guaranteed starting positions, creating a "bubble" consisting of teams on the downside of 35th, trying to reach that position.
Following a 38th-place finish at Darlington, the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge, owned by Ray Evernham and driven by Jeremy Mayfield, remains in the 35th and final locked-in position for a second straight week. The team is 64 points ahead of the No. 55 NAPA Dodge owned by Doug Bawel and driven by Michael Waltrip, which is the first team outside of the "bubble." Waltrip will have to earn his spot in the field based on his qualifying time for the fifth consecutive race.
Ford Scores Second Win In Manufacturers' Standings ... At Darlington, Greg Biffle scored the season's second victory for Ford, which trimmed three points off Chevrolet's lead in the Manufacturers' Championship. Jeff Gordon, who finished second, was the highest finishing Chevrolet driver. Ryan Newman finished sixth, the top honors among Dodge drivers. Chevrolet leads the field with six victories this season, Dodge has three and Ford has two.
On the Right Track ... Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford), who will retire from fulltime NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition following the 2006 season, has four wins in 42 career starts at LMS. His 16 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes lead all fulltime drivers. He has led 1,148 laps at LMS, also the most among active drivers. Martin's last LMS victory was the 2002 Coca-Cola 600. ... Ryan Newman has won five Budweiser Poles at LMS, including four of the last six. He leads all active drivers with a 2.10 starting average in 10 career starts at LMS. ... Kyle Petty leads all fulltime drivers with 48 career starts at LMS. ... Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven Budweiser Poles there.
This Week's Milestones ... Mark Martin is scheduled to make his 650th series start on Sunday, while Bobby Labonte is scheduled to make his 450th series start.
Raybestos Rookie Update ... Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet) finished 10th at Darlington, the highest finishing Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate. He retained his lead in the rookie standings for a second consecutive event. Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) finished 23rd, but also retained his second-place rank in the standings. He trails Hamlin by nine points.
Movement came just below Hamlin and Bowyer. Martin Truex Jr.'s (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) 14th-place Darlington finish boosted him past J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) into third place. Yeley finished 26th at Darlington. Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge), who finished 11th, remains fifth. David Stremme (No. 40 Lonestar Steakhouse Dodge) and Brent Sherman (No. 49 Serta Dodge) follow, respectively, in the rookie standings.
Hamlin Part Of "Racing To Play" In Charlotte ... Denny Hamlin -- along with volunteers from The Home Depot, Joe Gibbs Racing, KaBOOM!, and members of the Charlotte, N.C. community -- will combine their efforts on Wednesday (May 24) to build a racing-themed playground in just one day at the McCrorey YMCA on Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte. The playground is part of The Home Depot's "Racing to Play" program, aimed at making a lasting, positive impression in the lives of at-risk children who live in communities where NASCAR events are held.
The playground's design is based on drawings by children who benefit from the McCrorey YMCA's programs. The playground will provide a safe and healthy play space for the more than 500 children who attend the YMCA and live in the surrounding community.
In 2005, more than 2,300 volunteers donated approximately 16,000 hours of service to build 10 "Racing to Play" playgrounds impacting the lives of more than 6,660 children in race markets across the country. Construction of the playground is scheduled from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., with a "board-cutting" ceremony scheduled for 3:30 p.m. to officially open the facility.
Pit Crew Spotlight: Martin Truex Jr.'s Pit Crew ... The group who services Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet won last week's annual NASCAR NEXTEL Pit Crew Challenge, out-performing 23 other teams. And they must be on their toes this weekend. NASCAR has mandated 14-gallon fuel cells instead of the usual 22-gallon capacity, and Goodyear has manufactured a harder tire to help teams adjust to LMS' newly-repaved surface. So good pit stops will be crucial Sunday night. The state of North Carolina counts two native sons among Truex's crew -- jackman Jeff Kerr from China Grove, and rear tire carrier Mark Kennerly from Salisbury. Both are veteran Dale Earnhardt Inc. employees and both were part of Truex's 2004 and '05 NASCAR Busch Series title teams. Trivia Time: Kerr is a former inside linebacker for Central Carolina State; Kennerly owns his own septic business.
Where In The World Is Ken Schrader? ... If it has gas, four tires and faces a green flag, Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) will hop in the cockpit and drive it. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' oldest -- and arguably the busiest -- competitor just can't resist racing, driving in a variety of series each season, despite the inherent demands of NASCAR's top series.
This week is quiet for Schrader -- he'll make sponsor and charity appearances heading into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. But he did race last Sunday after finishing 10th in the NEXTEL Open -- Saturday's qualifying event for the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge. Schrader won Sunday's ARCA event at Toledo Speedway -- the Hantz Group 200, beating his closest pursers by only .092 seconds.
From The Archives ... The Cola-Cola 600 has produced some very exciting moments since its 1960 debut. One occurred in 1973 when second-generation driver Buddy Baker won from the Budweiser Pole. Baker was known for his relentless driving style, but for this race, he took a new approach. He led the first few laps to see what his car was capable of, then dropped back, staying within range of the leaders.
On Lap 264, Baker cut a tire and spun his Dodge in the fourth turn. But he stayed on the lead lap and recovered to work his way back to the front of the pack. Baker took the lead from David Pearson with 15 laps to go and kept it for a 1.8-second victory over Pearson -- his seventh career win.
Another fact: Baker also became the first driver to win back-to-back Coca-Cola 600s.
On Deck: Neighborhood Excellence 400 presented by Bank of America at Dover International Speedway ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' 13th event of the season is on Sunday, June 4 -- the Neighborhood Excellence 400 presented by Bank of America at Dover International Speedway. Dover, a one-mile oval, has been part of the schedule since 1969. ... Greg Biffle is the defending winner. Jimmie Johnson is the defending polesitter.
Next race: Coca-Cola 600 (Race No. 12 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)
The track: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C. (1.5-mile oval.)
The date/time: Sunday, May 28, 5:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 5 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $6,432,681
Race length: 400 laps, 600 miles.
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.
2005 winner: Jimmie Johnson
2005 polesitter: Ryan Newman
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 1,686. 2. Tony Stewart 1,593. 3. Matt Kenseth 1,592. 4. Mark Martin 1,487. 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1,460. 6. Jeff Gordon 1,391. 7. Kyle Busch 1,388. 8. Kasey Kahne 1,379. 9. Kevin Harvick 1,365. 10. Jeff Burton 1,295.
Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Thursday -- Practice, 3-4:30 p.m. Qualifying, 7:10 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Final practice 6:05-6:50 p.m.