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* Dale Earnhardt Jr. stays in front, in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 * Tony Stewart making rare appearance in NASCAR Busch Series 2* Chevrolet, Ford deadlocked in manufacturers' standings * Texas installing SAFER walls NEWS & NOTES Charting...

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. stays in front, in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10
* Tony Stewart making rare appearance in NASCAR Busch Series 2* Chevrolet, Ford deadlocked in manufacturers' standings
* Texas installing SAFER walls


Charting the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: Dale Earnhardt Jr. still front-runner ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) finished second last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, retaining the lead in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10.
    ... Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick had the biggest jumps this week, each moving four positions, to third and sixth, respectively.
    ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 takes on added importance this season. After 26 races of the 36-race season, the top 10 drivers in points -- plus anyone within 400 points of the points leader -- qualify for the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" that will determine the series champion.

On the NASCAR bubble ... The new format for determining the series champion has created a "NASCAR bubble" between the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 and those on the outside looking in. This week, the drivers ranking 11th-15th are all within 105 points of 10th-place Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Eleventh-place Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco-Havoline Dodge) is 28 points behind; 12th-place Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is 30 behind; 13th-place Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) is 36 behind; 14th-place Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) is 80 behind; and 15th-place Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) is 105 back.

Chevrolet, Ford deadlocked in manufacturers' points ... Post-Talladega, Chevrolet and Ford are in a dead-heat, in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Manufacturers' Championship points, with 58 points and four victories apiece. Dodge is third with 55 points and one victory.

Stewart doubling up at California, driving in NASCAR Busch Series race ... Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, also will drive the No. 29 Employer Support of Guard and Reserve Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in Saturday's Stater Bros. 300 presented by Gatorade NASCAR Busch Series race at California Speedway. ... This will mark Stewart's first NASCAR Busch Series start of 2004. Stewart's most recent start in America's No. 2 motorsports series came last August at Michigan International Speedway when he drove the No. 8 Chevrolet for the Chance 2 Motorsports team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart led twice for 85 laps.

Stewart's foundation sets benefit concert ... Tony Stewart announced earlier this week that his charitable foundation -- the Tony Stewart Foundation -- will hold a benefit concert Oct. 6 at the Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center in Paducah, Ky. The "Tony Stewart Foundation Benefit Concert presented by Bass Pro Shops and Hultman Inc." will feature Arista Recording artist Diamond Rio and Capitol Recording artist Trace Adkins, along with guest appearances by NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Petty. Stewart said all money raised will go to charity. A portion will benefit local charities in the Paducah area, with the rest benefiting Kyle and Pattie Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C.

SAFER walls going up at Texas ... Texas Motor Speedway announced Tuesday that it has scheduled installation of the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers to begin the week of May 10. The project is scheduled to take two to three weeks.

Warning: Milestone ahead ... The MBNA America 400, set for June 6 at Dover International Speedway, will be the 1,000th premier-series race in the modern era (since 1972).

Opening Day" at The Glen aids Victory Junction Gang Camp ... The Victory Junction Gang Camp, a Proud Charity of NASCAR, will once again receive a portion of the proceeds from Watkins Glen International's "Opening Day," which is scheduled this year for Sunday. The annual event provides race fans and car enthusiasts with the opportunity to drive the same historic track where the likes of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers Jeff Gordon (four wins), Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford -- three) and Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia Pacific/Brawny Dodge -- one) have claimed victories. "Opening Day" signals the start of the 2004 racing season at The Glen. Victory Junction Gang Camp, founded by Petty and his wife Pattie in honor of their late son Adam, is scheduled for completion in June and will provide camp sessions year-round for children ages 7-15 with life-threatening illnesses. The venue will be located on 72 acres in the heart of the North Carolina foothills in Randleman, N.C., the hometown of the Petty family. When complete, Victory Junction will have more than 36 buildings, including a dining hall, gym, pool, theater, therapeutic equestrian center, arts and crafts center, race shop and cabins. Most importantly, the camp will offer a sophisticated medical facility staffed by a team of professionals capable of administering to the needs of these children, up to and including the administering of chemotherapy.

Tire test at Richmond ... NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers Kevin Harvick, reigning series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) and Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) participated in a two-day Goodyear tire test session this week at Richmond International Raceway. RIR embarked on another multi-million dollar capital improvement campaign during the off-season that included the installation of a new sub-surface, under drain system and track repaving project. The tests will be the first of the season at Richmond, site of the Chevy American Revolution 400 on May 15 as well as the all-important 26th race of the year on Sept. 11, where those drivers who are in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 and also within 400 points of the leader qualify for the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Jeff Gordon has finished 11th or better in six of the seven NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races held at California Speedway. He has two victories, the first coming in the track's debuting premier-series event. Gordon has led 329 laps at California Speedway, more than any other driver.

Rusty Wallace leads drivers who have competed in all seven California Speedway races, with a 10.428 average start.

Defending race champion Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford) has run only three of the seven California Speedway races, but he has a 5.33 average finish.


"My feelings on NASCAR's realignment are no secret, and California Speedway is a great example of the positives expansion will bring to the sport. ... The larger markets are better for television and for our sponsors." -- Ken Schrader (No. 49 Schwan's Home Service Dodge).

"We had a shot to win at Texas and Martinsville. Unfortunately, things didn't go our way and we just made the most of it. Instead of getting down, I think it fired this team up." -- Jeff Gordon, on winning for the first time this season last Sunday at Talladega.

FROM THE ARCHIVES The state of California has always played an important part in the history and growth of NASCAR. It may seem hard to believe, but this week's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway is the 110th event staged in the Golden State for NASCAR's premier series. Early star Marshall Teague won the first California race, wheeling his low-slung Hudson Hornet to victory on the half-mile dirt surface of Carrell Speedway in Gardena, way back on April 8, 1951. Three very successful races were held at that track during the '51 season and soon, other California speedways were holding events.

Oakland Stadium, Bay Meadows horse track in San Mateo, Merced Speedway, San Jose's Santa Clara Fairgrounds, Redwood Speedway in Eureka and Ascot Stadium were among tracks which were a part of NASCAR's schedule in the 1950s. Sacramento boasted two NASCAR-sanctioned speedways; the California State Fairgrounds and Capital Speedway.

Marchbanks Speedway, a 1.4-mile track in Hanford, was the scene of Fireball Roberts' historic victory on March 12, 1961. Roberts dominated the race, leading every lap. It was the first time a driver led wire-to-wire in a NASCAR superspeedway event.

Road courses have played a big part in California's NASCAR racing past. One of the more unusual tracks was the Willow Springs facility in Lancaster. It was 2.5-mile dirt road course in the 1950s. The famed Riverside Raceway held its first NASCAR race in 1958 and held 48 premier-series events, the most of any California track, through 1988. Bobby Allison led in victories there with six. Infineon Raceway in Sonoma has been on the schedule since 1989.

The "megatrack" at Ontario opened in 1971 with A.J. Foyt taking the inaugural race. The speedway closed shortly after Benny Parsons' win in 1980. Today's California Speedway is one of the most beautiful and competitive tracks in motorsports.

Fast Facts

What: Auto Club 500 (Race No. 10 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: California Speedway; Fontana, Calif.

When: Sunday, May 2, 3 p.m. (ET).
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $5,785,656

Race length: 500 miles/250 laps.
Track layout: 2-mile oval.

2003 winner: Kurt Busch.
2003 polesitter: Steve Park.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Steve Park , Kyle Petty , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Bobby Allison , A.J. Foyt , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing