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* Loop Data Explains Johnson's Dominance at Lowe's Motor Speedway Times Are Tough: Former Series Champions Among Those Outside Top 35 A vivid illustration of just how deep -- and how competitive -- the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series has become is...

* Loop Data Explains Johnson's Dominance at Lowe's Motor Speedway

Times Are Tough: Former Series Champions Among Those Outside Top 35

A vivid illustration of just how deep -- and how competitive -- the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series has become is provided by this week's car owner point standings. Two former series champions' teams are outside the top 35 this week.

The rest of that story: One of those former champs, Dale Jarrett, has already used up his allotment of six "past champion provisionals" which got him into races if he didn't qualify well enough to make a race based on speed -- a requirement for teams outside the top 35 in owner points each week.

The other former series champion, though, is Bill Elliott, who has joined the Glen Wood-owned No. 21 Motorcraft Ford team. Elliott, who is "semi-retired," has used none of his provisionals this year.

As for the "bubble," this week finds Casey Mears, in the Mary Hendrick-owned No. 25 National Guard/GMAC American Heroes Chevrolet, holding the precious 35th spot. He's got a little breathing room, too, 75 points ahead of the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota owned by Bill Davis and driven by Dave Blaney.

In The Loop: Johnson Looks As Good On Paper As He Does On LMS' Oval

Even when Jimmie Johnson doesn't win at Lowe's Motor Speedway, he comes awful close.

He proved it in last Saturday's NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, with a near-pass of Kevin Harvick on the final lap. He also proved it in both LMS races last year, where Kasey Kahne and Johnson finished 1-2 in each race.

Prior to 2006, Johnson had won four in a row at LMS and five out of six.

Even with Kahne's 2006 LMS dominance, Johnson still holds the advantage in nearly every Loop Data statistic.

Also, Johnson has 104 Fastest Laps Run over the past two years, second to Kahne (159).

Kahne, though sitting in 30th place in standings, has to be optimistic. In sweeping the 2006 LMS races, Kahne improved his LMS statistics.

Over the last two years, Kahne has an Average Running Position of 10.423 (second), Driver Rating of 107.2 (second), 308 Green Flag Passes (tied for sixth), fifth-fastest Green Flag Speed, and 1,041 Laps in the Top 15 (fourth).

Four others have excelled at LMS the last two years: Biffle, Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet), Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford).

Biffle has the third-best Driver Rating at 100.9, the fourth-best Average Running Position at 13.340 and 64 Fastest Laps Run (fifth-most).

Martin, whose stats have all been accumulated in a Roush Fenway Ford, has the third-best Average Running Position at 11.488 and the fourth-best Driver Rating (96.5).

Busch has the fifth-best Driver Rating (91.3) and the third-most Fastest Laps Run (70).

Edwards, who has finished in the top 10 in each of his four LMS starts, has more Green Flag Passes than any driver at 354. His Driver Rating, 88.6, is sixth-best.

We Have A Battle: Heavy Favorite Montoya Clinging To Rookie Points Lead

When word arrived that the legendary Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) was coming to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, it was only natural to assume he would easily win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title.

Eleven races into the season Montoya has a battle on his hands. He comes into the Coca-Cola 600 with a slim four-point lead over David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford). ... The latest Manufacturers Championship standings show on-a-roll Chevrolet with a 35-point spread over second-place Ford.

NNCS, Etc. ...

The "NASCAR: Back to the Future" exhibit returns to Lowe's Motor Speedway this weekend. Located outside the track at the corner of Highway 29 and Morehead, it traces the Car of Tomorrow's safety, competition and cost-management innovations back to earlier eras.

Several Car of Tomorrow "ancestors" are featured, including a 1972 Dodge Charger driven by Richard Petty, a 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Darrell Waltrip and a 1987 Chevrolet driven by Terry Labonte. The exhibit also includes an informative video detailing the evolution of a stock car, plus a template inspection grid.

Hours are 2-6 p.m., on Thursday, 12-7 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m., on Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) is one of eight NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers who will run a special paint scheme saluting a military entity this weekend. Others include Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ward Burton (No. 4 State Water Heaters Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), Casey Mears (No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet) and Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet).

NASCAR Busch Series drivers Shane Huffman and Jon Wood also will run special military paint schemes in Saturday night's CARQUEST Auto Parts 300.

In honor of the Memorial Day weekend, the teams' participation is called the American Heroes Memorial Day Tribute. It's a joint effort with branches of the United States military to raise funds for four major military support organizations, U.S. soldiers and their families.

Several personalities from the military, political and entertainment worlds will attend the Coca-Cola 600. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, will be on hand. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen will serve as Grand Marshal. Arizona Sen. John McCain will serve as Honorary Starter. And singer LeAnn Rimes will perform the national anthem.

***

The Race: Coca-Cola 600

The Place: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.
The Date: Sunday, May 27

The Time: 5:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 5 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 1.5 mile oval
The Distance: 600 miles; 400 laps

The Purse: $6,569,628

2006 Winner: Kasey Kahne
2006 Pole: Scott Riggs

Pre-Race Schedule (local/ET time): Thursday -- Practice, 3-4:30 p.m. Qualifying -- 7:10 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 3-3:50 p.m. and 6:20-7:20 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya