* The race for the rest -- Kahne hoping to wrap up 12th place, rookie honors * Win, then go home -- Teams prepping for upbeat finish, off-season energy NEWS & NOTES The race for 11th place: With McMurray clinched, Kahne eyes 12th place...
* The race for the rest -- Kahne hoping to wrap up 12th place, rookie honors
* Win, then go home -- Teams prepping for upbeat finish, off-season energy
NEWS & NOTES
The race for 11th place: With McMurray clinched, Kahne eyes 12th place ... With Jamie McMurray having clinched the 11th-place spot, the jockeying beneath him continues. Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is 12th, moving up one spot in the standings thanks to last week's fifth-place finish at Darlington. He leads 13th-place Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) by 80 points. Labonte also jumped two spots in the standings, aided by a ninth-place Darlington finish. Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) tumbled two spots to 14th and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) fell one spot to 15th. Jarrett finished 37th at Darlington; Harvick finished 32nd.
So here's what's at stake: Aside from finishing 12th in the final standings, Kahne also can tie Ryan Newman's (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) record of most top-five finishes in a season. Newman posted 14 top fives in 2002; Kahne currently has 13, including three consecutive top-five finishes. He's also a threat at Homestead, having won last year's NASCAR Busch Series season finale, the Ford 300, for his first NASCAR Busch Series win. He's still searching for his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup win; no word on whether Kahne's brother Kale, who travels with him, will sustain a vow not to cut his tousled blond hair in the off season if Kahne doesn't win at Homestead.
No matter what, the 24-year-old from Enumclaw, Wash., appears to have validated himself within the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup garage.
"I like his demeanor," said Ricky Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) of Kahne. "He's a good kid. He's not here to be a Hollywood star. He's here to race."
Top priority: Finishing strong ... Thirty-five down, one to go. With Sunday's Ford 400 looming as the last of this season's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events, teams and drivers want to enter the off season with a boost, not bummed out. Winning the race, securing the highest possible finish in the point standings and completing the afternoon unscathed are the top goals for most teams.
"This sport is built so much on momentum and you want to have 'em all saying, 'Yeah, we're really gonna come back and get 'em next season,' " said Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge). "That kind of positive attitude is very infectious -- I've seen that first-hand through the years."
For Dale Jarrett, who finished 26th in last year's point standings, this week's trip to Homestead is almost like chasing a rainbow compared to the No. 88's trials of 2003.
"Yeah, because when we got to Homestead last year and the checkered flag waved on that race, I think we were all just relieved the year was over," Jarrett said. "This year, we are ending the year with something to build on and look forward to as we go into the off season and continue getting ready for 2005. We've made a lot of progress as a team in 2004 and it really makes me optimistic about where we're headed and I believe we will be a championship contender in 2005."
"It's important to get a win, not so much for keeping a streak alive or anything like that, but more just to get a win," said Bobby Labonte, who hasn't won yet in 2004 and has won at least one race in his previous nine NASCAR NEXTEL Cup seasons. "We've struggled this year, obviously, and it'd be nice to finish out strong. We enter the '96 and '97 season finales without wins and won both of those races, so I'd like to do that again."
Jarrett believes he's got an advantage in crew chief Mike Ford, who's led the No. 88 team's reconstruction this season, and who nearly won the 2003 season-finale with Bill Elliott (Ford and Elliott also combined on Elliott's 2001 win at Homestead). Ricky Rudd thinks he's got an ace, too, in crew chief Michael "Fatback" McSwain, with whom he was reunited late this season. He's climbed from 27th to 24th in the point standings since McSwain's late-August arrival.
"But I'm excited about what I'm seeing shaping up for next year and it's already starting to come together now," Rudd said. "Sometimes you enjoy seeing winter come. But, I like seeing what I'm seeing right now and the team's success."
Robby Gordon in the Baja 1000 ... If it's got four wheels and an engine, Robby Gordon (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) will race it -- even in the desert. He's spending the first half of this week traveling to Baja California, Mexico, where he'll compete in the 37th annual Tecate/SCORE Baja 1000. The famous cross-desert race begins Thursday at 10 a.m. PST and Gordon has drawn the eighth-place starting position. His No. 31 Red Bull Trophy Truck is powered by a Richard Childress Racing engine, and Gordon will be accompanied by longtime navigator Greg Till. He'll run the majority of the race, but will yield to another driver, Steve Barlow, so he can arrive at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Friday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series practice and qualifying events. His father, Bob Gordon, also is standing by to drive, if needed, and Robby plans to board a plane no later than 10 p.m. PST on Thursday. Brandon Miller, recently signed by RCR to combine with Kevin Harvick behind the wheel of RCR's No. 21 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series, will sub for Gordon during Thursday's NASCAR Busch Series practice and qualifying events; Miller will drive Gordon's No. 55 Chevrolet.
"Metro Girl" Evanovich to attend championship events ... Author Janet Evanovich, whose latest novel, "Metro Girl," topped last week's New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction, will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend. Evanovich's "Metro Girl" features the lead character of Alexandra Barnaby, who's looking for her missing brother in Miami -- with the help of a NASCAR driver named Sam Hooker. Evanovich also is the author of the popular "Stephanie Plum" mystery series.
More book news: Rex White's autobiography ... Former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Rex White has collaborated with writer Anne B. Jones to produce "Gold Thunder: Autobiography of a NASCAR Champion." Published by McFarland & Company, Inc., the book details White's childhood love of racing and his ascent in the 1950s and '60s to NASCAR's upper echelon. Billed as a first-hand account of NASCAR's early years, the book includes stories from fans, participants and White contemporaries such as Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett. It also contains 83 photographs, many from White's personal collection. A Georgia resident, White won the 1960 series title and was runner-up in 1961. He owned his team, and is one of only five owner/drivers to have won a series title.
Chevrolet-Ford-Dodge in Manufacturers standings ... Jimmie Johnson's (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) win at Darlington gave Chevrolet its series-high 22nd victory of the season. Chevrolet has clinched the 2004 Manufacturers Championship, but keeps adding to its points total, which now stands at 260. Ford has 215 points and Dodge has 190 points. Ford has nine wins and Dodge has four. As for an edge at Homestead, no manufacturer can claim one. Bobby Labonte won the 2003 race in a Chevrolet and current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point leader Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Ford) won the 2002 race. Bill Elliott won the 2001 race in an Evernham Motorsports Dodge. Prior to that, Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) won the first two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at Homestead (1999 and 2000) -- in a Pontiac.
CONTINGENCY CORNER ... Kurt Busch's pit crew will receive the fourth quarter Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award during pre-race ceremonies at the Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend. His crew was selected as the fourth quarter winners by vote of their NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series peers at Darlington; the award is performance-based. Busch's team, along with Jimmie Johnson's team, Jeff Gordon's (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) team and Matt Kenseth's (No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford) team are eligible for the Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew of the Year Award, which will be voted on this week at Homestead. Johnson's crew won the third quarter award, Gordon's won the second quarter award and Kenseth's crew won the first quarter award. ... Gordon also clinched the inaugural Wix Filters Lap Leader Award by winning the race award at Darlington. He led the most laps there, and the annual award goes to the driver who wins the most lap-leader awards during the season.
"You need to close out the year on a positive note. There's a period of almost three months between the drop of the checkers in Homestead and when the clock starts all over again at Daytona. So that's an awful lot of days for them to talk about what you did the last time out." -- Rusty Wallace.
"Momentum is a lot like confidence. You don't know you have it. You don't know what you did to get it, but when you don't have it you don't know how to get it back. When it's on your side, you feel like you can't do anything wrong." -- Jamie McMurray.
"The track's changed a little bit, grayed up a little bit. Last year the asphalt was so new, there really wasn't a visible groove, because it was so black. Now, you can kind of see a groove and a little bit of a second groove in the corners." -- Bobby Labonte on Homestead-Miami Speedway.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Homestead-Miami Speedway first hosted the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series in 1999. Tony Stewart, then a rookie with Joe Gibbs Racing, won that event for his second victory of the 1999 season. Stewart started seventh and moved into the lead on lap 123. His JGR teammate Bobby Labonte scored 10 bonus points for leading the most laps, but it was Stewart who brought home the victory. He proved his win was no fluke by scoring back-to-back Homestead triumphs with a win in 2000. Stewart remains the only driver with multiple Homestead wins.
What: Ford 400. (Race No. 36 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla.
When: Sunday, Nov. 21, 1 p.m. (ET).
TV: NBC, 12:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $5,155,338.
Race length: 401 miles, 267 laps.
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.
2003 winner: Bobby Labonte.
2003 polesitter: Jamie McMurray.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Kurt Busch 6,346. 2. Jimmie Johnson 6,328. 3. Jeff Gordon 6,325. 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6,274. 5. Mark Martin 6,264. 6. Tony Stewart 6,161. 7. Ryan Newman 6,102. 8. Matt Kenseth 5,963. 9. Elliott Sadler 5,963. 10. Jeremy Mayfield 5,942.