Chicagoland: News of note

NEWS & NOTES On the NASCAR Bubble: Harvick still the gate-keeper ... The new format to determine the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion creates a standings "bubble" between the Top 10 and the rest of the field, leading up to the final 10 races. This...

NEWS & NOTES

On the NASCAR Bubble: Harvick still the gate-keeper ... The new format to determine the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion creates a standings "bubble" between the Top 10 and the rest of the field, leading up to the final 10 races. This week, Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) remains in control of that 10th-place spot for a third consecutive week, but now, he also enjoys a bit of breathing room. Prior to this past week's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Harvick clung to a 26-point lead over 11th-place Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Entering Chicago, Harvick holds a 111-point cushion over Kahne, who remains 11th. Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), Kahne's Evernham Motorsports teammate, remains 12th, 147 points behind Harvick. Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) also retains the 13th position for another week, 151 points behind Harvick. NASCAR's new method to determine the premier series champion redefines the term "contender."

In previous years, drivers who trailed the leader by 400 points at this stage of the season could, in effect, start thinking about the proverbial "next year." Now, thanks to the "NASCAR Bubble," or bubbles, drivers who are struggling somewhat -- i.e., Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) and former series champion Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), who are 14th and 15th this week -- can still focus on 10th place or the 400-point cutoff as reasonably attainable targets. Martin trails Harvick by 156 points. Jarrett trails by 177 points.

"This weekend's race should be a good test for how far we have come with our chassis program," Jarrett said. "We have some more tests lined up for the next month that should help us learn even more and make some gains. Once we get to where we are competing in the Top 10 and the top five on a regular basis, then we should be able to compete for wins on a weekly basis, and start worrying about contending for a championship, which is where we are hopefully heading."

Charting the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10; Johnson motoring along ... Jimmie Johnson finished second this past Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, posting his series-high 12th top-five finish this season. The result allowed him to maintain his lead in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for a third consecutive week. Johnson heads into Chicago with a 27-point cushion over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Earnhardt had led the Top 10 for seven consecutive weeks prior to finishing 21st at Michigan. ... No. 3 Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), No. 4 Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), No. 6 Bobby Labonte, and No. 7 Kurt Busch all climbed a spot thanks to strong Daytona finishes. Elliott Sadler took the week's biggest tumble, falling three spots to No. 8 because of a 26th-place showing. Yet, he trails the seventh-place Busch by only one point. Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) following his 39th place finish at Daytona.

NBC/TNT back in booth ... This week's Tropicana 400 will be televised by NBC, which will air, along with sister network TNT, the final 18 events in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season. NBC takes over from FOX, which televised the season's first-half events and ended its 2004 schedule with this past week's Pepsi 400 at Daytona. The Tropicana 400 actually is NBC's second race this season; it televised the 2004 Daytona 500, the season-opening event that both NASCAR television partners rotate each year.

"We'll be able to tell more championship stories this year with 10 cars in the 'Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup' and all the cars trying to get into the final 10," said Sam Flood, coordinating producer of NASCAR on NBC and TNT. "Having more characters involved makes the stories all the more interesting, but first and foremost, we're covering the story of the race. Who wins that race is the story. It's not easy to win a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race.

"NBC will debut several new elements, including "Inside the Field," a showcase that builds on the previous "Through the Field" element, which spotlights the race field through 20th-25th place several times during an event.

"We understand that not every car runs in the top 20, so we've created a new vehicle -- Inside the Field -- in which our pit reporters will dig up stories about non top-20 drivers," Flood said. "We'll talk to 10-11 drivers in our pre-race telecast each week and this week we'll hear from 18 different drivers in our special hour-long pre-race show.

Play-by-play announcer Allen Bestwick returns for a fourth season along with analysts Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach, and pre-race host and lead pit reporter Bill Weber. Along with Flood, the four will participate in a media teleconference on Wednesday, July 7 at 4 p.m. ET. The number to call to participate is 719-457-2600.

Back home again in Indiana ... Three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams planned to test this week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Bobby Labonte, Jeff Green (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) and Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge) were scheduled this week for Tuesday and Wednesday. All preparation is for the 11th annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 8.

Chevrolet-Ford-Dodge in Manufacturers standings ... Jeff Gordon's win at Daytona increased Chevrolet's lead in the Manufacturers Championship standings. Chevrolet leads with 122 points, followed by Ford's 103 and Dodge's 98. Chevrolet has a series-high 10 victories while Ford has five and Dodge has two. ... Momentum could be in Chevrolet's corner at Chicago. Kevin Harvick won the track's first two premier series events in 2001 and 2002.

STATS, ETC.

Although it's still early in both his and the track's history, Kevin Harvick feels right at home at Chicagoland Speedway. He's the only driver who has led all three of the track's previous NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races -- for a combined 188 laps, more than any other driver. And did we mention Harvick also won the first two Chicagoland races, in 2001 and 2002? Harvick also is one of five drivers to post two top-five Chicago finishes. The others are Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, 2003 winner Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. ... More Harvick: He's been running at the finish now for 56 consecutive races, tying Jeff Gordon for the longest modern-era streak without a DNF. ... More Gordon: Not only has he won back-to-back races (Infineon and Daytona), he's also won them from the pole -- the second time in his premier-series career he's accomplished that feat. The first time Gordon won consecutive races as the pole-sitter came in June 1996 (Dover and Pocono). Thanks to his latest back-to-back wins, he's also climbed from sixth to third in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 in the last two weeks.

QUOTABLE

"We're looking at getting back up there in the Top 10 as the big goal right now, but we're certainly not freaking out about it and calling 911." -- Rusty Wallace.

"I don't think there is anywhere on the series right now where we don't have the potential to go and race competitively in the top 10 and if everything works out, get a top five or a victory." -- Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson.

"If you get too worried about the last 10 (races) and don't worry about these, you're gonna be out of that top 10. It's too competitive to be acting like that, so we need to stick to it and work hard to stay in the top 10." -- Matt Kenseth.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

The Chicago area has a unique racing history. The first auto racing event held in the United States took place in Illinois on Thanksgiving Day 1895. It was a 55-mile road race from Chicago to Evanston and back to Chicago. Six cars started the race and J. Frank Duryea won the event with an average speed of seven mph.

The next chapter in Chicago's racing history came in 1915, when the two-mile, high-banked wooden track known as Maywood Speedway opened. Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Resta dominated events at this track until it was torn down in 1918 to clear the way for a hospital for World War I veterans. Loyola Medical Center now occupies the site.

In the 1950s, entrepreneur Andy Granatelli promoted races at Chicago's famed Soldier Field. In 1956, the venue hosted NASCAR's top drivers. Fireball Roberts won a 100-mile event, beating Jim Paschal and Ralph Moody. But it wasn't until 2001 that NASCAR's premier series returned with the opening of Chicagoland Speedway. Then-rookie Kevin Harvick won both the inaugural event and the 2002 race, while Ryan Newman won the 2003 race.

Fast Facts

What: Tropicana 400 (Race No. 18 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Chicagoland Speedway; Joliet, Ill.
When: Sunday, July 11, 3:30 p.m. (ET).

TV: NBC, 2:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $5,751,382.

Race length: 400.5 miles/267 laps.
Track layout: 1.5-mile tri-oval.

2003 winner: Ryan Newman.
2003 polesitter: Tony Stewart.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 2,545. 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,518. 3. Jeff Gordon 2,313. 4. Tony Stewart 2,203. 5. Matt Kenseth 2,189. 6. Bobby Labonte 2,164. 7. Kurt Busch 2,153. 8. Elliott Sadler 2,152. 9. Ryan Newman 2,112. 10. Kevin Harvick 2,095.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Jeff Green , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Benny Parsons , Elliott Sadler , Chad Knaus , Mark Martin