* On the "Chase" bubble: Jamie McMurray holds 10th-place spot in standings, must fend off challengers * Daytona farewell: Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace prepare for final Daytona outing * History lesson: July event at Daytona rich in patriotic ...
* On the "Chase" bubble: Jamie McMurray holds 10th-place spot in standings, must fend off challengers
* Daytona farewell: Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace prepare for final Daytona outing
* History lesson: July event at Daytona rich in patriotic flavor
NEWS AND NOTES
On The NASCAR Bubble: 10th Place belongs to McMurray ... With the beginning of the "Race to the Chase," the spotlight is on 10th place, and the "bubble" of drivers battling for that spot, or to remain within 400 points of the leader. Jamie McMurray is this week's 10th-place driver. He claimed the position with a 13th-place finish last week at Infineon, and has climbed from 13th-place in the standings to his current spot over the last four weeks. Heading into the Pepsi 400, only 96 points separate drivers in positions 11-15 from McMurray.
Here's a look at the drivers on the cusp of 10th place, or on the "bubble:"
• Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is in 11th place, just 21 points behind McMurray and 348 points behind standings leader Greg Biffle. Mayfield raced his way into the Chase field last season by winning the September event at Richmond, and earning the 10th-place position in the point standings.
• Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) is 12th in the point standings, just 53 points behind McMurray and 32 points behind Mayfield.
• Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) is 13th, just 68 points behind McMurray and 15 points behind Jarrett.
• Jeff Gordon is 14th, just 78 points behind McMurray and 19 points behind Harvick.
• Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet) is 15th, just 96 points behind McMurray and nine points behind Gordon.
Determined Gordon Looks Ahead to Daytona ... As a four-time series champion, Jeff Gordon isn't used to being outside the top 10 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. However, that's his status heading into Saturday night's Pepsi 400, and he intends to turn an aggravating situation into a good one.
"We've just got to get things going in the right direction and make some good decisions and get that -- I think that we haven't really lost confidence," Gordon said. "I mean, that's still there and the attitude of the guys is good as it could be under the circumstances."
Recent mechanical problems and bad on-track luck account for much of Gordon's uncharacteristic slide. He's finished worse than 30th in five of the past six races, and has fallen from third to 14th in the point standings. He trails leader Greg Biffle by 414 points, the first driver outside the 400-point cutoff to make the Chase.
History is on Gordon's side, however. Last season, he won back-to-back races at Infineon Raceway and Daytona, sweeping the Dodge/Save Mart 350 and the Pepsi 400 on consecutive weeks. Then, in successive July weeks, he finished fourth at Chicagoland, second at New Hampshire and fifth at Pocono before winning at Indianapolis on the first weekend in August.
"This is the NEXTEL Cup Series," Gordon said. "It's tough, it's competitive. Just because we've won four championships, there's no guarantees, especially when you have some of the issues that we've had."
Pepsi 400 a Significant Event for Chase Contenders ... The who's-in, who's-out questions loom large at Daytona International Speedway this weekend. Saturday's event is the season's third restrictor-plate race, and the inherent unpredictability of restrictor-plate competition has the potential to jumble the point standings.
Here's why: Seven of the current top-10 drivers switched positions following last weekend's road-course action at Infineon. The biggest switch was at the top, where Greg Biffle seized the standings lead from Jimmie Johnson, who had led since the season's fourth weekend in Atlanta. Johnson trails Biffle by 22 points.
Also, the Pepsi 400 could be a boon to drivers currently struggling to regain, or find their on-track form. Jeff Gordon's Daytona history -- he's the defending Pepsi 400 champion as well as the current Daytona 500 champion -- means he knows his way around Daytona's 2.5-mile environs. So does Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), who also excels at restrictor-plate tracks, along with his Dale Earnhardt Inc., teammate Michael Waltrip.
Earnhardt's 2005 struggles continue; he's currently 18th in the point standings, 543 points behind Biffle. But he has two Daytona victories -- the 2004 Daytona 500 and the 2001 Pepsi 400 -- and his plans to compete in Friday night's NASCAR Busch Series' Winn-Dixie 250 presented by PepsiCo may help him regain his comfort zone.
"We can't worry about the points or the Chase," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We just need to concentrate on running well. That's the only way we're going to make any difference in the points. These guys work just as hard every week as when we're doing well, so it just makes me want to win that much more."
NBC & TNT To Resume Series Coverage ... It's that time: FOX and NBC, which share television coverage of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, are at their annual crossroads. FOX, along with its cable partner FX, completed its 2005 broadcasting duties with last weekend's event at Infineon, and NBC and its cable partner TNT take over beginning with this week's Pepsi 400 at Daytona.
Martin, Wallace To Bid Daytona Farewell ... Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace are retiring at season's end, and this weekend represents a bittersweet milestone for both drivers. Each will make their final competitive appearance at historic Daytona International Speedway, and neither has won the Pepsi 400 or the Daytona 500. Wallace finished 10th in the 2005 Daytona 500; Martin finished sixth.
"This is my last shot at victory at Daytona, so I'm optimistic going into it," Wallace said. "I am at almost every track. The car I'm going to run is the car that ran the 500. We took the car back after the 500 and rebuilt it completely, made it a lot better. My guys assure me it's a good car. I can understand how you'd ask that question from all the bad luck I've had in the past, but lately I've run well there."
Martin is scheduled to make his 20th Pepsi 400 start, and Wallace is scheduled to make his 22nd.
Four NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Drivers in Grand-Am Event ....Road racing isn't over for several NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competitors, even though last week's event at Infineon is in the books. Four drivers will compete in Thursday night's Brumos Porsche 250 Rolex Sports Car series at Daytona and all will drive Daytona Prototype cars that can reach 185 mph.
Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), last week's winner at Infineon, will team with British sports car driver Andy Wallace in the No. 20 CITGO Pontiac Crawford. Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) and Terry Labonte will share driving duties in the No. 44 Daytona USA Pontiac Doran Daytona Prototype. And Kyle Petty (No. 45 Stars and Stripes Georgia-Pacific Dodge) will help drive a new Pontiac Riley Daytona Prototype; he'll share the wheel with team owner and driver Brian Tuttle of West Palm Beach, Fla.
Ford Leads Chevrolet In Manufacturers Standings ... After 16 races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, Chevrolet got its seventh victory of 2005 last Sunday thanks to Tony Stewart's win at Infineon. The win also vaulted Chevrolet back in the lead in the series' Manufacturers Championship standings, albeit by one point (115-114) over Ford, which has eight wins. Dodge is third with one win and 67 points. ... Chevrolet has won the Manufacturers Championship 28 times while Ford has won 15 times; the other 10 years the championship has been awarded, it has been won by Hudson (3), Dodge (2), Buick (2), Oldsmobile (1), Pontiac (1) and Plymouth (1). ... Points are earned in this fashion: Nine points to the highest-finishing car type; six points to the second-highest finishing type; four points for the third-highest finishing type. ... Chevrolet has won the championship the last two years. ... Jimmie Johnson is currently the leading Chevrolet driver, second in the standings. Greg Biffle, as the series leader, is the top Ford driver. Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) is the leading Dodge driver, seventh in the points.
Milestone Markers ... Ricky Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Ford) should make his 58th career start at Daytona International Speedway this weekend. That will break the fourth-place tie he holds with Cale Yarborough for all-time Daytona starts. Richard Petty holds the all-time record with 74 Daytona starts, followed by Dave Marcis (67) and Buddy Baker (64).
• Saturday also should be Rudd's 30th Pepsi 400 start. His first, as a 19-year-old, came on July 4, 1976. He finished 10th in a Chevrolet owned by his father, Al Rudd.
• Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) is scheduled to make his 375th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. is scheduled to make his 200th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start.
On the Right Track
• Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six wins at Daytona.
• Jimmie Johnson's average starting position of 9.3 and average finishing position of 8.0 is the best among all drivers with one Daytona start.
• Tony Stewart has three straight top-10 finishes at Daytona.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished seventh or better -- including one win -- in his last four Daytona starts.
From the Archives: Patriots Abound in July Race at Daytona ... The Pepsi 400 is July 4 holiday weekend tradition, and often with patriotic overtones. Originally known as the Firecracker 250 in 1959, then the Firecracker 400 beginning in 1963, the event received a new name in 1969, when it was dubbed the Medal of Honor Firecracker 400 to salute winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor. More than 100 Medal of Honor winners and their wives were guests of Daytona International Speedway that weekend, and LeeRoy Yarbrough drove Junior Johnson's Ford to victory.
Daytona again hosted Medal of Honor heroes in July 1971, the year defending series champion Bobby Isaac won in dramatic fashion in his Harry Hyde-prepared Dodge.
The 1973 race saluted Medal of Honor honorees for the third time with David Pearson winning his second of three straight 400-mile races at Daytona; Pearson drove the Wood Brothers' Mercury that day.
The final Medal of Honor Firecracker 400 was held in 1976 in conjunction with America's bicentennial. Cale Yarborough took his Junior Johnson-owned Chevrolet to victory for the third of four career Pepsi 400 wins.
On Deck: Chicagoland Speedway ... Race No. 18 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule will be Sunday, July 10 -- the USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Chicagoland, a 1.5-mile tri-oval, has been part of the schedule since 2001 when the race winner was Kevin Harvick. ... Tony Stewart is defending champion. Jeff Gordon was last year's polesitter.
The race: Pepsi 400 (Race No. 17 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
The track: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona, Fla. (2.5-mile tri-oval.)
The date/time: Saturday, July 2, 8 p.m. (ET).
TV: NBC, 7 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $5,972,320.
Race length: 400 miles, 160 laps.
Track layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.
2004 winner: Jeff Gordon.
2004 polesitter: Jeff Gordon.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Greg Biffle 2,250. 2. Jimmie Johnson 2,228. 3. Elliott Sadler 2,073. 4. Tony Stewart 2,052. 5. Mark Martin 2,022. 6. Rusty Wallace 2,013. 7. Ryan Newman 1,994. 8. Kurt Busch 1,978. 9. Carl Edwards 1,963. 10. Jamie McMurray 1,923.