* Dale Earnhardt Jr. penalty returns Chase lead to Kurt Busch * New format has top four drivers separated by less than 100 points * Kansas Speedway's brief history favors Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman * Tony Stewart Foundation hosting benefit ...
* Dale Earnhardt Jr. penalty returns Chase lead to Kurt Busch
* New format has top four drivers separated by less than 100 points
* Kansas Speedway's brief history favors Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman
* Tony Stewart Foundation hosting benefit concert
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s loss was Kurt Busch's gain on Tuesday, as the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points lead changed hands for the second time in three days.
Earnhardt (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) was penalized 25 driver points (plus $10,000) on Tuesday, because of inappropriate post-race language this past Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, after he won the EA Sports 500 to take over the Chase points lead from Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet).
Tuesday's penalty dropped Earnhardt to second, 12 points behind Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Ford), who was elevated to the lead. (Earnhardt's team plans to appeal the penalties.) In fact, it's become increasingly crowded at the top of the standings, going into Kansas Speedway, site of Sunday's Banquet 400. After three rounds of the Chase, the top four drivers are separated by less than 100 points.
The second half of that foursome is ominous to say the least. Four-time series champion Gordon is third, only 48 behind Busch; four-time series runner-up Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) is fourth, 98 behind.
Kansas Speedway seems to present a prime opportunity for Gordon to retake the lead, or at the least, close in. There have been only three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events at the 1.5-mile track; Gordon won the first two, in 2001 and '02. He followed that up with a solid fifth-place finish last year.
Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) won last year at Kansas, which surprised no one, since he finished second to Gordon in each of the first two Kansas events. Newman is seventh in the Chase standings, 146 behind Busch. Newman's average finish at Kansas is a series-leading 1.7.
"How could I have anything but good things to say about Kansas?" Newman said. "The ALLTEL team just naturally clicked with this race track. I've had a great race car every time we've raced at Kansas. I hope this weekend is the same way."
Newman has bounced back from a 33rd-place finish in Round 1 of the Chase, Sept. 19 at New Hampshire. He won Round 2 at Dover, and finished 16th at Talladega.
"We're still in the thick of things, points-wise," Newman said. "The ALLTEL team has really clicked when it counted. We know that a couple more wins would catapult us to the top, so that's what we're hoping for right now. If we just keep concentrating on winning some of these last seven races, the points will take care of themselves."
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
• Three reasons for Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) to feel confident this weekend: He has finished in the top 10 in all three previous Kansas events. Here's a fourth reason: Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway are remarkably similar in appearance and racing characteristics -- and Stewart won this year's Chicagoland race, in July. "[The tracks at Kansas and Chicago] are about as close as you can get to being the same," he said. "You aren't going to find any two tracks that are more identical than Kansas and Chicago. The only difference between the two tracks is that -- the backstretch at Chicago is a little bit rounded while Kansas' is straight." ... Stewart, the 2002 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion, is sixth in the Chase for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings.
• Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is in 10th place, in the Chase standings. He needs a quick rebound, and Kansas Speedway appears favorable. Mayfield has two top-10 finishes there -- ninth in 2002 and third last year.
• Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) has fallen to ninth place. But, like Mayfield, he has to like his chances for improvement this weekend. Johnson has finished in the top 10 both times he has raced at Kansas, and won the Bud Pole there last year.
THE PRESSURE'S ON
For the following drivers, Kansas Speedway represents a stern challenge at a tense time:
• Kurt Busch may have the points lead but he also has a history of struggling at Kansas. Busch's best finish there was ninth in 2001. His average Kansas start is 24.7, his average finish 26.7.
• Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) is eighth in the Chase standings. The previous three years suggest he'll be hard-pressed to rally this weekend. His best Kansas finish was an 18th in 2002. His average start of 26.7 and average finish of 27.7 are the lowest Kansas numbers among Chase competitors.
• Mark Martin has a sixth-place finish in 2001 as his Kansas highlight. He averages a 17th-place result at Kansas.
STEWART'S FOUNDATION HOSTING BENEFIT CONCERT
The charitable foundation of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart will hold its first benefit concert on Wednesday night, 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 stars Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Petty.
"This concert is going to be a first-class production, with all of the money raised going to charity," said Stewart.
A portion of proceeds are planned for charities in the Paducah area, with the balance earmarked for the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C.
For ticket information, call the Carson Center box office at (270) 450-4444 or visit the Center's website: www.fourriverscenter.org. Prices range from $75-$100.
The concert will be filmed by Great American Country (GAC), a 24-hour country music video network with 27 million customers nationwide, for air in mid-November.
Dodge swept the top-three finishes in the 2003 Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway with Ryan Newman, Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield running 1-2-3. While there have been several times that two Dodge drivers have finished in the top three, that remains the only sweep of the top three for Dodge since the manufacturer returned to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing full-time in 2001. ... Kurt Busch is the only driver that has scored top-five finishes in each of the first three races in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Busch and Earnhardt Jr. are the only drivers to score top-10 finishes in the first three races of the Chase. ... A Chevrolet has won two races at Kansas Speedway. Dodge has one victory and Ford still seeks its first.
• "We take each race one week at a time just like we've done every other season. You can't be worrying about the points. If you do your job each week and try to win the race, it's like I've always said, the points will take care of themselves -- no matter what the format is. If you change what you're doing just to adjust to the new points system, I think you're going to run into trouble. If you always try to win, then that means you're always trying to get as many points as possible. I don't know why anyone would go away from that." -- Tony Stewart, on the new Chase format's possible effect on his approach to racing.
• "In order for us to get back in the championship chase we need to win some races." -- Eighth-place Elliott Sadler.
What: Banquet 400 (Round 4 of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup/Race No. 29 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Kansas Speedway; Kansas City, Kan.
When: Sunday, Oct. 10, 2 p.m. (ET).
TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $5,696,382
Race length: 400 miles/267 laps.
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.
2003 winner: Ryan Newman.
2003 polesitter: Jimmie Johnson.
Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings: 1. Kurt Busch 5,530. 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5,518. 3. Jeff Gordon 5,482. 4. Mark Martin 5,432. 5. Matt Kenneth 5,393. 6. Tony Stewart 5,391. 7. Ryan Newman 5,384. 8. Elliott Sadler 5,377. 9. Jimmie Johnson 5,371. 10. Jeremy Mayfield 5,263.