* In The Loop: Johnson Has Best Pre-Race Driver Rating * NASCAR, Etc.: Labonte Pursuing Top-15 Finish Keys To Victory: Kansas Speedway Sunday's event will be the seventh series race at Kansas, which resembles its sister facility, Chicagoland...
* In The Loop: Johnson Has Best Pre-Race Driver Rating
* NASCAR, Etc.: Labonte Pursuing Top-15 Finish
Keys To Victory: Kansas Speedway
Sunday's event will be the seventh series race at Kansas, which resembles its sister facility, Chicagoland Speedway. Both 1.5-mile tracks debuted in 2001, but subtle differences exist due to climate.
* Expect multiple grooves; As track surfaces mature, racing grooves widen, giving drivers more lane choices.
* More grooves equal more options; Fuel mileage factored in last year's race, but no one can predict the final caution. That's why crew chiefs get gray hair.
* Plan ahead for green-flag runs; A mature track means more racing and tougher decisions, such as when to pit, whether to short pit or gamble on two tires.
In The Loop: Gordon's Kansas Statistics Nearly Equaled By Those Of His Pursuers
The two-point lead Jeff Gordon owns over Tony Stewart might evaporate after Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway. And his four-point cushion over teammate Jimmie Johnson might not stick around much longer, either.
Gordon had uncharacteristic troubles last year at Kansas, finishing 39th, and if that continues, those trailing will likely catch him. That's because Stewart and Johnson have been consistently solid over the past two years at Kansas.
Johnson leads the Kansas-specific statistics in several categories including Driver Rating (118.0), Fastest Laps Run (74), Green Flag Speed and Laps in the Top 15 (518 of 534).
Stewart's right behind in each of those categories. With a win and a fourth-place finish in the last two Kansas races, Stewart earned the second-best Driver Rating (116.2), the second-best Average Running Position (5.7), the third-fastest Green Flag Speed and the second-highest number of Laps in the Top 15 (497).
Gordon's stats took a dip because of last year's bad finish. Other than 2006, Gordon has been stellar at Kansas. He won the first two races there in 2001 and 2002, and has four top-10 finishes in his six races. A faulty fuel pump took him out of last year's action after 238 laps, putting his average Kansas Driver Rating at 92.1 and his Average Running Position at 12.6.
Also watch for Kansas native Clint Bowyer to make a move this weekend -- and it could be a major one. Bowyer is only 18 points behind Gordon and performed well in his first start at Kansas last season. In finishing ninth, Bowyer earned a Driver Rating of 106.0, an Average Running Position of 8.8 and spent 199 Laps in the Top 15.
Look for a Kansas surprise, as well. In two of three Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at Kansas, a non-Chase participant won (Joe Nemechek in 2005 and Stewart last year). The most likely upset candidate looks to be Greg Biffle (No. 16 Aflac Ford). Biffle, coming off a second-place finish at Dover, has a Kansas Driver Rating of 115.4 (third-best), Average Running Position of 6.5 (third-best) and 68 Fastest Laps Run (second-most).
NASCAR, Etc.: Bowyer On NASCAR Teleconference; Labonte Eyes Significant Goal
On The Line: Bowyer On Weekly NASCAR Teleconference
Clint Bowyer was the guest on this week's NASCAR teleconference. A first-time Chase participant, he won his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race two weeks ago, at New Hampshire.
Some teleconference highlights:
On returning to Kansas as a Chase participant:
"Oh it's very exciting, just to think about even having a shot at the championship our second year being together at RCR in the Jack Daniel's Chevrolet. It's just a dream come true. We escaped Dover with a decent finish. We dodged a lot of bullets and enabled ourselves to stay in the hunt of this thing. To be able to roll in to our home track right in the thick of things is a lot of fun and very exciting."
On visiting his hometown of Emporia:
"Those are the people you grew up around, those are your people. And back home they still know me, I'm just Clint back there. That's why I enjoy going back to places like that. They don't look at you any differently than they did before. They certainly support you, and that's very gratifying and comforting.
"You know, it is neat to have a small community like that. And it's a big deal. You know, this NASCAR Nextel Cup Series is a big thing. And NASCAR's certainly just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And to be part of all of this is a pretty cool deal."
Non-Chase Participants Have A History of Excellence At Kansas
Although the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup is the primary focus during the season's final 10 events, much remains on the line for every series team.
Kansas Speedway has a history of non-Chase winners, including Joe Nemechek, who won the '04 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event from the pole and also swept the NASCAR Busch Series event the previous day.
Last year, then-11th-place driver Tony Stewart scored at Kansas, winning the first of three '06 Chase events.
Then-Chase participant Mark Martin won the '05 Kansas event.
Labonte Targets Landmark Finish For Petty Enterprises
As NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams embark on the season's final eight events, Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Betty Crocker/Cheerios Dodge) has a goal just as an important as any Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup participant.
The 2000 series champion, he's fighting for a top 15 final finish. Currently 17th, he trails 16th-place Casey Mears (No. 25 National Guard/UAW Chevrolet) by 160 points and 15th-place Greg Biffle by 184 points. If he succeeds, it will equal or exceed the best Petty Enterprises finish since John Andretti finished 17th in 1998.
"Everyone has their own goals until the end of the season," said Labonte, in his second season at Petty Enterprises. "A lot of people are focused on the championship, but every team has a battle to fight. We always want to get better and be better than before. We know we've made progress, but it's slowed a little bit. It's time to get back on track and be even better."
Labonte's newest partner is crew chief Doug Randolph, who joined the team six weeks ago at Michigan International Speedway.
"We were better at California and he's made changes to that part of our program, Labonte said. "I'm anxious to get to Kansas and see what we have because it can be something pretty good.
"It's a track that can help us get started in moving in a faster direction to the front. I'm confident in Doug's abilities to prepare good cars for us."
On Deck: Talladega Hosts Fourth Chase Race
Round Four of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup will combine title drama with history.
Teams return to the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway -- the series' biggest track -- for the first restrictor-plate event with the Car of Tomorrow, NASCAR's next-generation race car that will be used fulltime in 2008.
The UAW-Ford 500 on Oct. 7 will be the 76th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event at Talladega, which first hosted the series in 1969.
Brian Vickers (No. 83 Team Red Bull Toyota) is the defending race winner. David Gilliland (No. 38 M&M's Ford) was last year's polesitter.
The Race: LifeLock 400
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Sept. 30
The Time: 2:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: ABC, 2 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, 1:15 p.m. (ET), Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 128
The Track: 1.5-mile oval
The Distance: 400 miles, 267 laps
The Purse: $6,056,938
2006 Winner: Tony Stewart
2006 Pole: Kasey Kahne
Pre-Race Schedule (local/CT time): Friday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9-9:50 a.m. and 12:50-1:50 p.m.