Loudon II: News of note, schedule

* Chase Drivers Set For "Big Apple" Media Blitz * Car Of Tomorrow Tests At Talladega Superspeedway In The Loop: Data Analyzes All 10 Tracks In The Chase Two angles need dissection when handicapping the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup:...

* Chase Drivers Set For "Big Apple" Media Blitz
* Car Of Tomorrow Tests At Talladega Superspeedway

In The Loop: Data Analyzes All 10 Tracks In The Chase

Two angles need dissection when handicapping the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup: the present and the future.

There's this weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway, the first test in the 10-week playoff.

The Driver Rating leaderboard at New Hampshire (compiled over the past five NHIS races) is littered with Chase contenders. Tony Stewart, with two wins at NHIS, leads the bunch with a Driver Rating of 116.9. But, close behind are teammate Denny Hamlin (109.5), Jeff Gordon (106.4) and Kevin Harvick (104.4).

Jimmie Johnson, the top seed who has a 20 points lead on second place Gordon, is only 10th-best in Driver Rating with 93.0.

The gap from first to second could significantly close if Gordon continues his New Hampshire magic. Along with his third-best Driver Rating, Gordon holds the top mark in Average Running Position (7.4) and Laps in the Top 15 (1,321). He also has 122 Fastest Laps Run over the past five races, second only to Stewart's 173.

The other angle is much broader. A 10-race sampling gives the edge to Johnson. In combining statistics from the 10 tracks in the Chase since 2005, Johnson earns a Driver Rating of 106.0. Stewart comes in second with a Driver Rating of 100.2, the only other driver with a rating over 100.

Arguably more impressive, is Johnson's Laps in the Top 15 percentage. In the 10 tracks represented in the Chase, Johnson has spent 81.3% of the Laps in the Top 15. That's 10 percentage points ahead of second-place driver Stewart (71.5%).

At the 10 tracks, Johnson, the defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion, also leads the top 12 in Average Running Position (9.9) and Fastest Laps Run Percentage (8.4%).

Keys To Victory

New Hampshire International Speedway leads off the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Sunday's race marks the second time for the Car of Tomorrow to be featured at this 1.058-mile oval. Denny Hamlin won here in the new car back on July 1, holding off Jeff Gordon by .068 of a second. Some things for the drivers to consider:

* For the Chase drivers, get off to a good start: If you're a Chase driver, it's important for you to have a solid performance and come out of this race still in the hunt.

* Pit Stops: With a 300-lap race, teams must think ahead, reserving final adjustments for their final stop. Track position is too crucial to forfeit in the closing laps.

* Qualifying: A good qualifying position is important at New Hampshire.

* Braking: maneuvering through the corners means more speed and less worries. Going in too loose and wide means scraping walls.

NNCS, Etc. ...

NASCAR Teleconference: Kurt Busch Talks About The Chase And The Talladega Test

This week's NASCAR Teleconference featured Kurt Busch, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion. Kurt enters the Chase as the # 5 seed, with two victories on the season.

Some highlights from Busch's comments:

"I think the first few events of the Chase are very important. To get off to a good start is key. I just feel that you're not, I guess digging out of a hole so to speak. So it's great to start off on a good foot and I'm excited about New Hampshire and some of the success I've had in the past and just getting the Chase underway. ...

"It's an incredible group of guys this year that have made the Chase, five past champions are in. And the way that everybody is running with race wins, even a guy that doesn't have a win that's in the Chase, Clint Bowyer, he's fast. So this is definitely probably the best group of drivers that I've seen in all of the Chases."

Ragan, Sauter Turn In Career-Best Finishes At Richmond

David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford) came up through the field to finish third at last Saturday's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond, his career best NASCAR NEXTEL Cup finish. Ragan is in close competition with Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award. Montoya is the leader with 218 points, followed by Ragan with 204.

"We had good pit stops and everything worked out good," said Ragan. "We've had good cars this year, but in Cup racing you can't have any mistakes. Everybody on the (AAA) pit crew did an awesome job on pit road and it shows they can hang in there with top-five or top-10 teams."

Johnny Sauter likewise turned in his career-best performance last Saturday by finishing fifth. "This is incredible," said Sauter following the race. "We knew we were going to have a good car and everything just came together. The car was good, the Team Yellow crew was awesome, as usual, and Bootie (crew chief Robert "Bootie" Barker) made some great calls on the pit box."

Chase Drivers Make Pit Stop In The "Big Apple" ... The 12 drivers in the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup will hit New York City this week to do a whirlwind media tour before they head to the first race in the Chase in Loudon, N.H. On Wednesday evening, all 12 drivers will tape "Late Night with David Letterman" for airing later that evening. On Thursday, drivers will do a blitz of media that will include Good Morning America, The Early Show, FOX and Friends, a taping at Regis and Kelly, a print roundtable and a general media session and interactive Q&A with fans at the ESPN Zone in Times Square.

Car Of Tomorrow Tests At Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams completed a two-day test at Talladega Superspeedway on Tuesday, ahead of next month's UAW-Ford 500 on Oct. 7 -- the first restrictor-plate race for the Car of Tomorrow.

A total of 52 teams tested the new car, NASCAR's next-generation race car that will be run fulltime in 2008. Both Tuesday sessions were given to drafting; teams ran a slightly smaller restrictor plate than the one-inch plates used in Monday's sessions. The Oct. 7 event will be the longest yet for the new car, which is being used in 16 of 36 events this season. Talladega's event will be the 14th of those 16 events.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Director John Darby said he was pleased with the teams' progress during the two-day session, citing its smoothness and feedback gleaned from drivers, crew chiefs and crew members. He added that the next step will be to fine-tune what was learned.

"Right now we're trying to focus on making it comfortable for the drivers so that they have the confidence in the car to put on the kind of show that the fans expect at Talladega," Darby said.

On Deck: Chase, Week 2

The second race in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup takes place at Dover International Speedway, Sunday, Sept. 23 with the running of the Dodge Dealers 400 at Dover. Air time on ABC is 1 p.m. (ET).

Jeff Burton is the defending race champion. Jeff Gordon was last year's pole sitter.

The Race: Sylvania 300

The Place: New Hampshire International Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Sept. 16

The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
TV: ABC, 1 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 1.058-mile oval
The Distance: 300 laps/317 miles

The Purse: $5,319,880

2006 Winner: Kevin Harvick
2006 Pole: Kevin Harvick

Pre-Race Schedule (local/ET time): Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday--Practice, 9-9:50 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya