Fontana II: Round 25 preview

*Dale Earnhardt Jr. Needs Big Race *Carl Edwards' Win Brings More Bonus Points *Ricky Rudd Hits Milestone Start Chase Window Closing For Dale Earnhardt Jr. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2007) -- After Kurt Busch's (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) win...

*Dale Earnhardt Jr. Needs Big Race
*Carl Edwards' Win Brings More Bonus Points
*Ricky Rudd Hits Milestone Start

Chase Window Closing For Dale Earnhardt Jr.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2007) -- After Kurt Busch's (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) win at Michigan last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) knew he would have to answer with a strong finish at Bristol to stay in contention for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

He did just that -- finishing fifth on the challenging 0.533-mile track.

Unfortunately for Earnhardt Jr., Busch finished right behind him, in sixth, to maintain a lead of 158 points with two races remaining in the Race to the Chase.

"Everybody wants to talk about the points and what we plan to do to make the Chase," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We're going to do what we've been doing all year -- go out and try to win the race. It's all we can do."

That task is easier said than done for the No. 8 team at California. Earnhardt Jr. has a Driver Rating of 68.5 at the track -- 23rd best. He finished 40th there in February after engine problems.

That's not to say Earnhardt Jr. doesn't have a chance.

"If I were 158 points ahead of 13th, I'd still be having trouble sleeping at night," said Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford). "It's not done until it's done."

Edwards' Win Moves Him Up To Fourth Seed

Carl Edwards called his win at Bristol "the biggest win of (his) career." The night Bristol race is one of the marquee events on the schedule and one of the most sought-after victories.

More important for Edwards this season, the win earned him 10 more bonus points when the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup starts, and moved him into the fourth seed. Edwards and Kurt Busch are tied with two wins each, but Edwards gets the edge based on his fourth-place finish at Daytona in July.

Eleven of the 12 drivers currently eligible for the Chase have won at least one race this year. For each win during the first 26 races of the year, drivers accumulate 10 bonus points.

Ricky Rudd To Start 900th Career Race

Ricky Rudd (No. 88 Snicker's Ford) will hit a major milestone this weekend when he becomes the second driver to start 900 races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Rudd -- the series' active starts leader -- sits behind only Richard Petty (1,185) on the all-time list.

"This is a record that just kind of sneaks up on you," Rudd said. "I started out as one of the youngest guys in this sport and now I'm one of the oldest guys out there still racing. It's a real honor to be able to have this kind of longevity with a long and fruitful career."

Rudd is considered the "Iron Man" of NASCAR having competed in 788 straight races, a series record. He took the year off in 2006 only to return this season to compete for Robert Yates Racing. Rudd recently announced that he will retire after this season.

"When I took the 2006 season off, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," Rudd said. "But now I know that after this season I'll be able to spend time with my family and have the opportunity to do whatever it is that I want to do next in my life. I'm kind of excited about the adventure ahead."

In his 899 starts, Rudd has 23 wins (26th all-time) and 29 poles. He also has 194 top-five and 374 top-10 finishes. He was runner-up to Dale Earnhardt for the 1991 championship.

In The Loop: Stars Shine At California

The statistics fit the scene perfectly: there are two races to go before the "playoffs" and bubbles soon will burst. The best usually step up at this juncture.

And the stats say they do.

Over the past five races at California Speedway, NASCAR's top drivers have all enjoyed tremendous success. Five past champions -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) -- are in the top 12 of pre-race California Driver Rating.

And nine of the top-12 drivers in pre-race Driver Rating currently sit in the top 12 of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points standings.

With only two races left to lock up a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the stakes are raised -- and clearly the top drivers bring their "A-game."

Kenseth, who clinched a spot in this year's Chase last weekend at Bristol, leads the pack at California. With two wins there in the past three races, Kenseth has earned the top mark in Driver Rating (116.4), Average Running Position (6.8), Laps Led (244) over the past five California races. He has also notched 86 Fastest Laps Run (third-most) and 1,120 Laps in the Top 15 (second-most).

The magic number this week is 196 -- any driver that far ahead of 13th place will lock up a spot in the Chase.

With a strong performance Sunday night, defending series champion Jimmie Johnson will do just that. Considering his past stats at California, the feat seems likely. Johnson has a Driver Rating of 106.5 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 8.4 (second-best), 59 Fastest Laps Run (eighth-best) and a series-high 1,140 Laps in the Top 15.

Kyle Busch (No. 5 Carquest Chevrolet) also seems destined for his second consecutive Chase appearance. Busch, currently 303 points ahead of 13th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., has a California Driver Rating of 103.7 (third-best) and an Average Running Position of 10.7 (fifth-best). He became the youngest driver ever to win a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race with his win at California in 2005 (20 years, 4 months, 2 days).

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Carl Edwards , Robert Yates , Kyle Busch
Teams Yates Racing