*Bowyer A Surprise Star As 'Names' Falter In Chase Week 1 *Slam-Bang Beginning Suggest This Chase To Be Rugged Affair *Hamlin Remains The Leader But Has Doubts Going To Dover Worst To First For Surprising Bowyer; Breaks Own Position Gained ...
*Bowyer A Surprise Star As 'Names' Falter In Chase Week 1
*Slam-Bang Beginning Suggest This Chase To Be Rugged Affair
*Hamlin Remains The Leader But Has Doubts Going To Dover
Worst To First For Surprising Bowyer; Breaks Own Position Gained Mark
Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) spent the final weeks of the Race to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup sweating bullets, wondering if he'd be joining his Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) and Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) for a run at the 2010 championship.
He didn't exactly squeak in -- finishing sixth at Richmond to lock up the 12th and final position -- and now it's safe to say the pressure is off.
Bowyer literally went from worst to first winning Sunday's opening round of the Chase at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The Sylvania 300 victory vaulted him all the way to the runner-up position in the standings just 35 points behind No. 1 seed Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota). Bowyer's gain of 11 positions is an opening race record -- three more than he gained in 2007 when he also won at New Hampshire (that year, he vaulted from 12th to fourth).
No. 12 seeds, or in other sports "wild card" teams, often amount to after thoughts.
But Bowyer's surprising victory, moving him ahead of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's/Johns Manville Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Facebook Chevrolet), Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet) and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), definitely gives the Kansas native a realistic second shot at the big prize.
"I know we have what it takes. We have the equipment. We have the race team. It's up to us to get it all together," said Bowyer, who broke an 88-race winless streak. "You know, (today) reminded me a lot of 2007; that first win of the season, the first win. That was our first win as a group, too, just like it was here. That confidence, the momentum, everybody, not just for me, the crew chief, and all of his decisions, the over the wall guys, everybody has a major pep in their step right now and they are going to carry that through on to next week and if we can continue to ride that momentum wave through this Chase, we can have a shot at it just like we did in 2007."
Chase Has 'Boys, Have At It' Feel From Drop Of The Green Flag
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup may consist of 10 races but last Sunday's opening affair at New Hampshire Motor Speedway appeared more like the last set of laps than the first.
The Sylvania 300 was three-wide racing from the drop of the green flag and pretty much slam-bang thereafter.
By the time the checkered flag waved, more than half the field of 12 Chase qualifiers had been a part in bringing out the caution flag -- two of them, former champions and New Hampshire winners Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch, twice.
Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota), Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) and Matt Kenseth also were involved in a variety of incidents.
Ironically, No. 1 seed and current point leader Hamlin was the first to spin on Lap 215 along with Edwards. Being first, however, may have contributed greatly to Hamlin's runner-up finish. The ensuing pit stop allowed him opportunity to regain lost ground as the yellow appeared again and again.
"Boys, have at it" has been the theme of the 2010 season since the Daytona 500 in February. New Hampshire suggests it definitely will carry over into the Chase.
Points Leader Hamlin Admits 'Monster Mile' Could Be Major Hurdle To Overcome
Denny Hamlin breathed a sigh of relief after finishing fourth at Dover International Speedway in May.
That's because the "Monster Mile" has not been kind to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader.
Consider this: Hamlin has led just one Dover race, heading 61 laps of the 2007 AAA 400. That was the good news.
The bad news is Hamlin was involved in an accident with Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch shortly after the race's mid-point and finished 92 laps down in 38th place.
May's fourth-place finish was just Hamlin's second top-five performance on a track where he'd been 22nd or worse in his previous five Dover starts.
Thus, Hamlin's advantage over his 11 rivals heading into Round 2 of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup would seem precarious at best.
"We all know how Dover is for me," said Hamlin after battling his way to a second-place finish in New Hampshire. "We've just got to minimize a bad day at Dover next week. That's our goal. You've got to set a number, a number you're satisfied with and try to reach that goal at Dover."
Dover has been a mixed bag for Hamlin. The Monster's 24-degree concrete banks haven't been the friendliest confines. He was eliminated by accident in the spring races of 2008-09.
"It's just every time I went there, I either wrecked or broke something or ran terrible," he said. "So with the exception of the spring, that's about the only good run I've had there.
"So, yeah, we do shift our expectations based off of this week."
Historically, Dover has allowed the eventual champion to take a deep breath. Jimmie Johnson won last year's AAA 400 but finished 13th in 2006 and 14th the following year.
Tony Stewart was 18th when he won the title in 2005 but he's probably used his mulligan after coming up a lap short on fuel at New Hampshire to fall all the way to 11th, 124 points behind Hamlin. He's not out of it; Johnson came back from 139 points out after finishing 39th in 2006.
Stewart has pair of victories at Dover although both came in 2000.
Johnson owns the most Dover wins by an active driver, five. A sixth victory would be a nice bounce-back since Johnson, seeded No. 2 entering the Chase is now seventh, 97 points down.
Other Chase qualifiers who have won at the Monster Mile are Jeff Gordon (four), Kyle Busch (two) and Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, one win apiece. Busch was the winner in May.
'Spoilers' Look To Tame The Monster
After finishing second in last year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Mark Martin has experienced a forgettable year. Tire issues relegated the 2009 New Hampshire winner to a finish of 29th, Martin's fifth consecutive finish outside the top 20.
This week's Dover race, however, could be a turnaround for the 51-year-old veteran -- at least based on past statistics.
Martin has four Dover victories and more top fives (22) and top 10s (30) than any driver in the history of the track.
Other non-Chase qualifiers who have won at Dover include Ryan Newman (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet), Bobby Labonte (No. 09 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 NAPA Toyota).
Earnhardt finished fourth in New Hampshire after starting 32nd. He was the highest finishing of the Hendrick Motorsports teams.
Also positioning himself in the spoiler's role is Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet), who led at New Hampshire before finishing third. McMurray, unlike Hamlin, has a fondness for Dover. "That's my favorite track to get to go to," he said. "We ran really well there in the spring. I can't wait to get to Dover on Friday."
Gordon's Winless Streak Grows But This Could Be The Week His Frustration Ends
The cliche goes that knock long enough and the door will open.
By this point, however, Jeff Gordon's knuckles would have to be raw.
Gordon has done everything but enter Victory Lane in 2010. Last weekend's race at New Hampshire was typical of the season to date: the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion ran solidly, mounted a charge and ultimately fell short finishing sixth. His winless streak continues to grow reaching 56 races.
Still, Gordon is hardly out of championship contention, just 75 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. And he's got one of the best records at Dover -- four wins among his 14 top-five finishes.
The race is likely the last at Dover for longtime backer DuPont as a fulltime sponsor of the No. 24 team giving Gordon additional incentive. DuPont, a Delaware-based corporation, has been Gordon's sponsor for each of his 82 victories.
Gordon's best Chase finishes at Dover are thirds in 2004 and 2006.
In The Loop: Monster Mile The Perfect Rx For RFR
Many prognosticators point to Roush Fenway Racing members as both the possible favorite, and dark horse, of the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The reasons were just.
Carl Edwards had scored more points than any other driver in the Race to the Chase -- the 10 races preceding the Chase. He also has Chase expertise, finishing second in NASCAR's playoffs just two years ago. Though Edwards failed to win a race during the regular season -- and his win drought is now at 63 races -- many tapped his as a possible favorite.
The dark horse, according to some: Greg Biffle. In the races leading up to the Chase, Biffle's name was rarely mentioned as a favorite. But maybe his should be. He certainly has a championship pedigree, winning titles in both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He also has past Chase success, finishing second in 2005 and third in 2008.
Then there's Matt Kenseth. Oddly, he came into this Chase as the forgotten driver. That's a tough task, considering he's a past series champion (2003).
There was also the key ingredient of strength in numbers. Roush Fenway was one of two teams (Richard Childress Racing) that had three members in the Chase. Surely, that had to account for something.
Well, there was a team-wide hiccup last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. None of the three finished in the top 10, and two of the three dropped in the points standings. Edwards did lead four laps and had a Driver Rating of 109.9 in an 11th-place finish.
But there are two reasons for optimism. One: History. Even Kenseth, who fell to 136 points behind leader Denny Hamlin, is not out of it. He need only to look to 2006, when Jimmie Johnson overcame a 139-points deficit after New Hampshire to win the title.
Two: Dover International Speedway.
The threesome is tremendous at the high-banked one-mile Delaware track, ranking 2-3-4 in pre-race Driver Rating (Johnson ranks first with a 113.8).
Edwards: Coined "Concrete Carl," Edwards is strong at Dover. He won this race in 2007, has a Driver Rating of 102.2 (fourth-best) and an Average Running Position of 10.4 (fourth).
Biffle: He has two wins at Dover, including this race in 2008. At Dover, Biffle has a Driver Rating of 112.2 (second) and an Average Running Position of 7.4 (second).
Kenseth: He conquered the Monster Mile in 2006, and has a Driver Rating of 111.8 (third) and a series-best Average Running Position of 7.3.
On The Line: Kyle Busch Assesses His Chase Chances On NASCAR Teleconference
(Note: Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, was the guest Tuesday on the weekly NASCAR Teleconference. Following are excerpts from the teleconference transcript. A full transcript plus audio files of the teleconference are available at NASCARMedia.com.)
Q: Does starting the Chase a little bit under the radar compared to being the top guy, as you were in '08 at the start, does that matter to a team? Does it help a little bit for a team to come in like that as opposed to being in the limelight?
KYLE BUSCH: "I don't think it really matters. Teams do what they got to do to try to run well and win races.
"Obviously with all the attention being drawn to Denny's team or Jimmie's team, they're the guys that have gotten it the past two years. If you're referring to Clint Bowyer being one of the dark horses, winning his first race out, I don't think it's coincidence. I just think it happened that way.
"It's the way the racing gods like to play games with us all."
Q. You worked just as hard the first year you broke into Cup as this year. Can you compare your driving from the first year to this year?
KYLE BUSCH: "I think the first year you're trying to learn everything you could about every different race track, about the cars, about the horsepower level, different setups, what you're going through.
"This year now, I mean, with where we're in the sport, with where JGR is at, with my relationship with the team, I guess I'm considered one of the veteran drivers. For myself, I feel a little bit more at home. I feel more comfortable going to the race tracks. I know what to expect when I come to those race tracks. I'm not really learning my way to the race track or around the race track, I'm learning the tire or the car or the way the setup is, how the rubber goes down, what happens in the weekend and stuff. That's the big stuff nowadays versus what it was in the rookie year."
Q: Martinsville and Talladega -- do you consider those the two wild cards for the Chase?
KYLE BUSCH: "Yeah, anything can happen at those places. Talladega, you're running in a pack of 43 cars. Somebody makes one bumpdrafting mistake like I did in the spring, causes a wreck, you're in it, you're tore up. Anything can happen at Martinsville [too].
"You'd rather some of these races finish out the way it's supposed to finish out. But they call a caution for something that maybe you don't agree with or you don't see on the race track as a hazard.
"It's part of racing. That's why we do it every week. If it wasn't so different and so fun for the fans, then they would know who the [winner] was going out every week."
NSCS Etc.: Dover Notebook, Kansas Preview
Milestones This Week. This week's milestones include Mark Martin continuing to seek his 50th career Coors Light Pole. Kevin Harvick will make his 350th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. Sam Hornish Jr. will make his 100th start while Marcos Ambrose will make his 75th start.
Foreign Born Drivers
Australian-born Marcos Ambrose will make his 75th NASCAR Sprint Cup start this weekend at Dover International Speedway. Ten foreign-born drivers have made at least 20 starts in the series.
Southern pop artist Jessie James will sing the national anthem prior to the start of the "AAA 400". James' recent single and upcoming album title, "Boys in the Summer," was featured on the Billboard charts in several categories this summer, and she'll also entertain fans with her hit song during pre-race for the AAA 400.
Thirteen NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will attempt to do double duty during the weekend taking part in the AAA 400 and NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200. Kyle Busch continues to pursue a record 11th season NASCAR Nationwide victory having matched Sam Ard's mark for the second time at Bristol in August. Busch scored his 80th NASCAR national series win on Sept. 18 at New Hampshire in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The win was his 18th of 2010 across the three series.
Dover International Speedway and Grand Touring (GT) Vodka have entered into a multi-year agreement that names GT Vodka as the "Official & Exclusive Vodka" of Dover International Speedway. The agreement includes extensive signage at the Monster Mile that will also place GT Vodka's logo on the entire length of the inside of the pit road wall. In addition to its new partnership with Dover, GT Vodka is also in its first year as a sponsor with JR Motorsports that has featured primary sponsorship of the No. 88 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
NASCAR's annual visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center is set for Thursday, with a total of 10 drivers scheduled to attend along with NASCAR President Mike Helton.
Drivers expected to visit include AJ Allmendinger (No. 43 Insignia HDTV Ford), Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, David Gilliland (No. 38 Taco Bell Ford), Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski (No. 12 Penske Dodge), Paul Menard (No. 98 Sylvania/Menards Ford), Joe Nemechek, Ryan Newman and Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota). Show cars on display are expected to be No. 39 U.S. ARMY Chevrolet, No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, No. 99 Scotts Ford, No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, No. 11 FedEx Toyota, No. 24 National Guard Chevrolet, No. 10 Sprint show car and a NASCAR/Walter Reed Army Medical Center car.
Media are invited to take photos and b-roll while patients and staff enjoy the show cars on display and get driver autographs.
This is NASCAR's sixth visit to the medical center to thank "Wounded Warriors" for their service -- and their interest in stock car racing. Drivers, team owners and NASCAR executives will visit with patients and their families on the wards before coming to the display and autograph area, and they will host a dinner with singer Jessie James in the evening. Neither the ward visits nor the dinner are open to media.
Up Next -- Kansas
Tony Stewart is the defending winner of the Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft Foods. Stewart twice has won the race, once as a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifier in 2009 and as an "outsider" in 2006. The two-time champion isn't the only non-Chase driver to win at Kansas Speedway. Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Nemechek Motorsports Toyota) picked up the checkered flag in 2004, the first year the championship was determined under the current format.
Jimmie Johnson (2008) and Jeff Gordon (2001) are the only drivers to win at the 1.5-mile track in their championship seasons. Gordon also won the race in 2002. Greg Biffle (2007) is the fourth member of the current Chase with a Kansas Speedway victory.
Other winners expected to compete in Kansas are Ryan Newman (2003) and Mark Martin (2005).
The Next Race: AAA 400
The Place: Dover International Speedway (1-mile concrete)
The Date: Sunday, Sept. 26
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
Race Distance: 400 miles / 400 laps
TV: Pre-race-12 p.m. ET on ESPN2; Race-- 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128
2009 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
2009 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Schedule Prior To Race Day:
Friday--Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.;
Saturday--Practice, 12:30-1:15 p.m.; Final Practice 1:50-2:50 p.m.