Loudon: News of note, schedule

No Shortage Of "Race To The Chase" Storylines Loop Data: Stewart, Hamlin Look For Winning Boost The Rest Of The Stories: New Hampshire Kicks Off Both Race To The Chase And The Chase New Hampshire's green hills are a significant site both this...

No Shortage Of "Race To The Chase" Storylines
Loop Data: Stewart, Hamlin Look For Winning Boost

The Rest Of The Stories: New Hampshire Kicks Off Both Race To The Chase And The Chase

New Hampshire's green hills are a significant site both this week, and later, in September.

Not only does the track host the first event in the 10-week "Race to the Chase," it also hosts -- for the fourth consecutive year -- the first Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event.

A scheduling change -- shifting the July 1 New Hampshire event ahead by two weeks -- bestowed that honor, one not lost on NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers.

"We always put a lot of time and effort into the race at New Hampshire," said Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), a two-time winner there "This race is really important because it gets you ready for the second one, which is the first race of the Chase. So running well this weekend and when we come back is pretty important."

Watch the bubble ... Heading into Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 300, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) holds the 12th and final Chase-eligible spot in the standings.

A change to this year's Chase format means the top 12 drivers will compete for the series title following race No. 26 at Richmond. Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge), another two-time New Hampshire winner, is 13th, 96 points behind Earnhardt.

They Like New Hampshire ... Seven of the current top 12 drivers have won at New Hampshire, fact not to be dismissed. Jeff Burton (No. 31 LENOX Chevrolet) leads all drivers with four wins there. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) ranks second with three New Hampshire wins. Kurt Busch, Johnson, Newman and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) each have two wins.

Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet), is Sunday's defending winner. Kevin Harvick won last fall's New Hampshire event.

Montoya Ready To Build On Win ... Fresh off last week's first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory at Infineon, Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) hopes to parlay the success into consistent excellence. Not only did the former Indianapolis 500 champion and Formula 1 star jump two spots in the series standings to 21st, he also extended his leader's margin in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings from four points to 15 over second-place David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford).

More Race to the Chase: Questions Posed, Answers TBD

Consider these crucial queries, all of which await resolution in the "Race to the Chase:"

* Will reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson -- set to make his 200th series start at New Hampshire -- and last year's series runner-up Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Carhartt Ford), also a former champion, qualify for their fourth consecutive Chase -- the only drivers to do so?

* Will two-time series champion Tony Stewart and '05 contender Carl Edwards (No. 99 Lumber Liquidators Ford) return to the Chase after '06 disappointments?

* Can second-year NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Camping World Chevrolet) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) qualify for their first Chase?

* Can four-time series champion Jeff Gordon -- the current standings leader -- capture his fifth series title?

* Add Car of Tomorrow competition as an interesting variable. Teams will run four events in the "Race to the Chase" and five in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup with the new car, which will become a fulltime entity in 2008.

Locked In: Sauter In Final Starting Spot; Elliott Moving Up

For the fifth consecutive week, Johnny Sauter keeps Joe Custer's No. 70 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet in the 35th, and final, locked-in starting position. Haas-CNC Racing teammate Jeff Green -- the Custer-owned No. 66 Best Buy Chevrolet -- fell to 34th following last Sunday's 42nd-place finish at Infineon.

Meanwhile, Bill Elliott's efforts in the No. 21 Little Debbie Ford owned by Glen Wood and are beginning to pay off. Elliott, who started seventh at Infineon, has made five consecutive races and moved the flagship Wood Brothers Racing car to 38th in owner standings. The 21 had moved to 39th following Elliott's work at Michigan two weeks ago.

In The Loop: Stewart, Hamlin Looking For Wins To Validate Statistics

The top two drivers from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable have struggled with some tough luck this season. Though both Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Chevrolet) are in the top 10 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings, neither have wins.

But they have come close. Both Stewart and Hamlin have led the most laps in a race twice (Stewart at Bristol and Phoenix; Hamlin at Darlington and Pocono). Neither resulted in victory.

The drought may end this weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway. Both drivers have had success at the Loudon track and have posted impressive stats there in recent years.

Over the past two years there, Stewart has won once and scored two runner-up finishes. He has by far the top Driver Rating at New Hampshire (122.9) and finds himself at the top of other key Loop Data statistics. He has a series-high 168 Fastest Laps Run, the Fastest Green Flag Speed and the Fastest Speed in Traffic (speed when there is another vehicle within one car length under green).

Hamlin, with two NHIS starts, adapted well to the track in his rookie year. Last season, he had an Average Running Position of 8.758 (second-best), a Driver Rating of 106.8 (second-best), 74 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green) and ran 90% of his laps in the top 15 (548 total).

Standings leader Jeff Gordon, as usual, should also be a threat. He comes into New Hampshire with excellent numbers. He has the top Average Running Position (8.190), the fifth-best Driver Rating (101.8), the second-highest number of Fastest Laps Run (84) and is the only driver with more than 1,000 Laps in the Top 15 over the past two years (1,029).

Also watch for a strong performance by Brian Vickers (No. 83 Team Red Bull Toyota). Vickers, who had his past NHIS success with Hendrick Motorsports, has the third-best Average Running Position (10.312), the eighth-best Driver Rating (99.0) and the sixth-highest total of Fastest Laps Run (62). He also has the third-highest total of Laps in the Top 15 at 953.

Keys To Victory

New Hampshire International Speedway's similarities to Phoenix International Raceway and Richmond International Raceway portend an extremely competitive Car of Tomorrow event; previous races at those tracks went down to the wire. Other points of note:

* 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 -- Do your best on Friday to ensure a good start on Sunday. Starting well 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. ...

Dodge Makes A Move ... Juan Pablo Montoya's win last Sunday at Infineon boosted Dodge's fortunes in the battle for second place in the manufacturers standings.

Dodge and Ford are contesting the spot; Montoya's victory pulled Dodge within three points of Ford and second place. It was Dodge's first win this year.

Ford has 85 points and two wins. Dodge has 82 points and one win. Chevrolet leads the standings with 135 points and 13 wins.

New Hampshire Homecomings ... The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' two annual forays into New England means home cooking and family visits for several members of the garage. Three crew chiefs hail from New England -- Greg Zipadelli, Kevin Manion and Steve Letarte.

Zipadelli (Tony Stewart's crew chief) is from Berlin, Conn. Manion (Martin Truex Jr.'s crew chief) is from Boylston, Mass. And Letarte (Jeff Gordon's crew chief) is from Portland, Me.

Stewart's team claims three other New England natives -- front tire changer Ira-Jo Hussey from Manchester, N.H., jack man Jason Lee from Willimantic, Conn., and car chief Jason Shapiro from Essex, Conn.

Juan Pablo Montoya's car chief, Mike Brill (Woodsville, N.H.) is another New Englander.

Walk For A Good Cause ... New Hampshire International Speedway will hosts its second annual NASCAR Foundation Track Walk on Saturday, June 30, following the NASCAR Busch Series event.

The 2007 NASCAR Foundation Mile of Remembrance encourages participants to walk in honor of loved ones. Proceeds again benefit the Kenny Irwin Jr. Foundation and the Victory Junction Gang Camp, in honor of Kenny Irwin Jr. and Adam Petty, as well as the NASCAR Foundation.

Emphasis On Winning: Drivers Vie For Chase Seeding

Juan Pablo Montoya's career-first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory last Sunday at Infineon came in his 17th series start -- the kind of accelerated learning expected of former Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1 winner. It also was the third for a foreign-born driver -- Montoya is a native of Bogota, Columbia -- and his ascension into winning means he's the 10th different victor thus far in '07.

Winning, always paramount, is especially so this season. Series standings leader Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson are tied for the series lead with four wins each. They're also the only multiple winners in '07, which means they have boosted their standing in future Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup seeding.

Beginning this year, drivers receive an extra 10 points for each win. Seeding for the Chase will be done via the number of wins accumulated through the first 26 races than incremental point totals, as was the case during the Chase's previous three seasons. This year, the driver with the most wins begins the Chase as the top seed. At the moment, that's both Gordon and Johnson.

***

The Race: LENOX Industrial Tools 300

The Place: New Hampshire International Speedway, Loudon, N.H.
The Date: Sunday, July 1

The Time: 2:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: TNT, 1 p.m. (ET)

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

The Purse: $5,315,335

2006 Winner: Kyle Busch
2006 Pole: Ryan Newman

Pre-Race Schedule (ET):
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m. Qualifying -- 3:10 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 9-9:50 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing