Loudon II: Round 27 preview

Week 1: The 2008 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup *Third-Seeded Jimmie Johnson Making A Title Move *New Hampshire Sets The Stage With Drama *Gordon, Stewart Could Grab First 2008 Wins The Chase Begins: New Hampshire Always An Exciting Start The...

Week 1: The 2008 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup
*Third-Seeded Jimmie Johnson Making A Title Move
*New Hampshire Sets The Stage With Drama
*Gordon, Stewart Could Grab First 2008 Wins

The Chase Begins: New Hampshire Always An Exciting Start

The 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins with Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It's the fifth consecutive Chase, the process which determines the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, and, as always, intriguing title possibilities exist.

So why not start at the beginning?

The kick-off event at New Hampshire is renowned for immediate drama. Drivers have been known to zoom to the top or bottom of the Chase standings after only one event, with new contenders emerging.

First, a reminder:

The top 12 drivers following the 26th of 36 events are eligible to compete for the series title during the season's final 10 events, or the Chase.

The format debuted in 2004.

Drivers have their point totals reset to 5,000, and are seeded according to the number of wins they accrued over the first 26 races. Each win during that 26-race span is worth 10 bonus points.

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota), the standings leader after 26 races, also is this year's top Chase seed with a series-high eight wins (80 bonus points).

And he's undoubtedly aware of New Hampshire's propensity for action.

Brother Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) won the inaugural Chase event there in September 2004 to establish himself as a contender. The elder Busch didn't win another Chase race, but the momentum helped propel him to that year's series title.

Also in that race, Chase participants Ryan Newman (No. 12 Kodak Dodge) and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) suffered engine problems and an accident, respectively, that handicapped their title chances.

The reverse held in 2005, when track troubles limited then-defending champion Kurt Busch to a 35th-place finish at New Hampshire. Stewart finished second in that season's first Chase race, en route to his second series title.

Witness last season's Chase kick-off at New Hampshire -- a career-changing event for defending race winner Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet).

The then-second year driver was participating in his first Chase as the lowest, and 12th seed, and considered a title afterthought by many prognosticators.

Not only did Bowyer win his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup and Chase race, he did so from the pole, eventually finishing third in the final Chase standings.

Chasing History: Johnson Eyeing Third Consecutive Victory; Series Title

Two-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) isn't leading the pack as the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sunday at New Hampshire.

He's third behind top seed Kyle Busch (5,080 points) and second seed Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), who has 5,050 points.

But Johnson -- with 5,040 points -- may be the frontrunner in the momentum department.

He's fresh off two consecutive victories, two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway and last week at Richmond International Raceway -- the cutoff event that set the 12-driver field for the Chase.

And he's putting both out of his mind.

"I'm trying to show up at next week's race scared, worried about 11 other guys, and worry about doing my part," Johnson said. "And the thing is I have confidence in what my abilities are and what my team is capable of and the packages we have put together in the last five or six months -- short track, big track, all of it."

In addition to consecutive series titles, Johnson also has won 11 Chase races since the format's 2004 debut, more than any other driver. He also owns the best Chase Driver Rating -- 106.3.

And while he's seventh in pre-race Driver Rating for New Hampshire (98.3 compared to category leader Tony Stewart's 118.6), Johnson has two wins, three top fives and eight top 10s in 13 career starts there.

"With the way the pack is running, especially the 99 (Edwards) and the 18 (Busch), you can't show up and run at 80 percent and just hope that a top 10 is going to get the job done," Johnson said. "You have to show up and bring your A Game each week. I feel confident that we are there now and that we can run with these guys."

On The Line: Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer, the fifth-seed in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and defending champion of Sunday's Sylvania 300, was the guest Tuesday on the weekly NASCAR Teleconference. Following are some excerpts.

Q: On returning as a Chase participant:

Bowyer: "This is where you want to be. Obviously you can't even have a chance to win a championship without being a part of the Chase, and we're part of it."

Q: On the role momentum may play:

Bowyer: "Just having the confidence and knowing that you're a part of this Chase is a big, big momentum-booster.

"Knowing now that we are in the Chase, that we are going to New Hampshire where I won last year and we've run well there. Dover is a good track for us. These are two places where we can get things started on the right foot. And then going into Kansas the third race of the Chase, my home track, where we almost won last year.

"These are good tracks for me in the Chase and it's time for me to pull out all the stops and go for broke. Now that you're in this thing, you owe it to everybody -- you don't want to be the 12th guy."

Q: On the difference between being chased and being a target during these last 10 races:

Bowyer: "You've got to keep your nose to the grindstone and stay focused and that's what's good about this Chase. It's only ten races long. It's time to see what you're made of, pull out all the stops and go for broke.

"That's what you're going after. You know that it's a championship -- the checkers are for records, that's what this Chase is about.

"But you've got to be able to run up front. If you don't, if you're not running in the top five and winning races, let's face it, you're not going to win the championship and that's what it's all about.

"That's what the Chase is about -- winning the championship."

Q: On beginning the Chase as the fifth seed:

Bowyer: "We come into this thing a little bit better than we did last year. Last year all the naysayers: 'He's the only one in the Chase who has not won a race,' and now we have won a race this year and you can't say that about us.

"We have struggled this summer. There's no way getting around that. We are not happy with the way we have run this summer but in the last two or three weeks, things have been looking for the better ... and it shows me that, hey, we can pick the program up again like we did last year and make some noise in this thing."

In The Loop: Stewart, Gordon Looking For Chase Boost At New Hampshire

While winning the first race of the Chase -- at New Hampshire -- doesn't guarantee a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, it certainly helps the cause.

Kurt Busch proved it from the outset. In the very first Chase in 2004, Busch won at New Hampshire on his way to the championship.

Last year, Clint Bowyer notched his career-first victory in the first race of the Chase, and finished the season a surprising third -- battling for the title until the season's final races.

A win Sunday automatically puts a driver in the title hunt. That could be good news for two who know about winning a championship: Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. Stewart has won two championships, Gordon has four.

They also rank one-two in pre-race Driver Rating. Stewart has finished in the top-three at New Hampshire in four of the last seven races (including a win in the spring race of 2005).

Over that span, the 2002 and 2005 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has series-highs in Driver Rating (118.6), Fastest Laps Run (223) and average Green Flag Speed (124.508 mph). He also ranks second in Average Running Position with a 9.2.

Gordon has three career wins at New Hampshire, but none since 1998. He has come close recently, though, finishing in the top three in three of the last four races (including two runner-up finishes last year).

Since 2005, Gordon has a Driver Rating of 108.7 (second-best), 183 Fastest Laps Run (second) and series-high statistics in Laps in the Top 15 percentage (88.7%) and Average Running Position (7.0).

This Sunday could also be the start of three-in-a-row for Jimmie Johnson, the two-time defending champion.

Johnson, who has a series-high 11 victories during the Chase's 40-race history, has a New Hampshire Driver Rating of 94.6 (seventh), an Average Running Position of 11.9 (fifth), 100 Fastest Laps Run (sixth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 80.4% (third).

NSCS, Etc.

Excellence At The Top ... There's a reason Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson will begin the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup seeded first, second and third, respectively.

They've combined for a total of 18 victories thus far this season. The previous best win totals by three drivers heading into the Chase was 13, accomplished each of the previous four years of the Chase (2004-'07).

Needing A Win ... The opposite holds true for several drivers in this Chase, all former series champions. Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 CARHARTT Ford) are the four former champions in this year's Chase.

But only Johnson has a victory in 2008.

His titles came in '06 and '07. Kenseth is the 2003 series champion. Gordon's titles came in '95, '97, '98 and 2001.

Earnhardt Jr. In Championship Mix ... In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet) joins teammates Johnson and Gordon as a Chase contender.

He's the fourth seed, right behind Johnson with 5,010 points. This is Earnhardt's third Chase appearance. He missed it in 2007 while competing for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.

Delayed Debut For Logano ... Joe Gibbs Racing's 18-year-old Joey Logano, who will succeed Stewart in the No. 20 Toyota in 2009, is scheduled for his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut this weekend at New Hampshire.

He'll attempt to qualify the No. 02 Home Depot Toyota with crew chief Wally Brown.

Logano hoped to debut last weekend at Richmond, but didn't get the chance after rain washed out qualifying, forcing last Sunday's field to be set per the NASCAR Sprint Cup rule book.

Up Next: Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup, Week 2 At Dover International Speedway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns for the second of two 2008 events at Dover International Speedway next week -- the Camping World RV 400 Presented By AAA 400.

Carl Edwards is the defending champion. Jimmie Johnson is the defending pole winner.

NASCAR legends Bobby Allison and Richard Petty lead all drivers with seven wins each at Dover.

Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) lead all active drivers with four wins each there.

The Race: Sylvania 300
The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, Sept. 14
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 1.058-mile oval
The Distance: 317.4 miles300 laps

TV: ABC, pre-race @ 1 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS Satellite

2007 Winner: Clint Bowyer
2007 Polesitter: Clint Bowyer

Pre-Race Schedule:
Friday -- Practice, noon-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice -- 9-9:50 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Carl Edwards , Bobby Allison , Clint Bowyer , Joey Logano , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing , Dale Earnhardt Incorporated , HART