Michigan II: News & notes

*With 14 races left, 2003 championship points race is far from over *Earnhardt Jr. makes Michigan fifth-fastest track *Dirt track racing in store for Elliott, Schrader and Evernham DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 13, 2003) -- Alan Kulwicki brought...

*With 14 races left, 2003 championship points race is far from over

*Earnhardt Jr. makes Michigan fifth-fastest track

*Dirt track racing in store for Elliott, Schrader and Evernham

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 13, 2003) -- Alan Kulwicki brought the state of Wisconsin a NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in 1992, by overcoming a 278-point championship points deficit with six races remaining. Eleven years later, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford), a native of Cambridge, Wis., is trying to bring the Badger State another title -- by keeping a 258-point lead intact with 14 races remaining.

History may prove that Kenseth's task is the harder of the two.

Conceding the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points lead with 14 races left is like handing over the pennant to the New York Yankees with 62 games remaining.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series has one of the longest season schedules in all of professional sports and it's only recently passed the halfway mark. In other words, there are a lot of laps yet to be raced and plenty of championship points to be won or lost between now and November.

"I'm excited that we're in a good position to have a shot at [the championship], and that we've been running good enough to win races. We've only been able to win one race so far this year, but we've had ourselves in position to win a lot of races. It's always an exciting time when you're running good and you feel like you can go to the race track and have a chance to win," Kenseth said.

Statistically speaking, a driver can gain or lose as many as 151 points in a single race. For Kenseth, a single DNF or irreparable mechanical problem in the early stages of a race could change his championship outlook dramatically. Last weekend, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) trimmed 28 points from Kenseth's lead by finishing just five positions ahead of him.

So, Kenseth must steer his No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford relatively trouble-free for the next 4,753 laps -- including stops at some of the series' most unforgiving race tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway.

"There is a lot of racing left. A couple of bad days and we could easily squander the lead that we have," Kenseth said.

"We've got to run hard every race and try to build on that lead and get it bigger. Our focus, especially at tracks like Michigan, where we've had some success, is to try and win the race.

"When we're at the race track, we're not trying to beat the No. 8 car or the No. 24 car. We want to go out and win races, run up front and try to beat everybody. That's our goal."

TV Timeout: "non-traditional" markets show increases ...

Overnight television ratings for the Sirius at The Glen showed some interesting trends. In several cities considered "non-traditional" racing markets, where the sport has not historically been followed as closely as other in geographic areas, increases in the average number of households tuned in to the NBC broadcast suggest that NASCAR Winston Cup racing seems to be attracting new fans in cities across the nation.

In Boston, an average of 83,000 households tuned in, a 48% increase over 2002. Likewise, 41% more households tuned in to watch the race in Baltimore and 38% more households watched in New Orleans. An average of 185,000 Los Angeles households watched the race, an 11% increase compared to the same broadcast a year earlier. Overall, among the 55 Local Metered Markets monitored for the Nielsen overnight ratings, the average number of households tuned in for the Sirius at The Glen was up 3%. (Figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research)

Charting the NASCAR Top 10: Harvick's top five makes him No. 5 ...

The top four drivers in the NASCAR Top 10 left Watkins Glen International without any changes to their positions, including Kenseth, who maintains his No. 1 ranking for the 19th consecutive week. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) earned a fifth-place finish at the 2.45-mile road course and advanced to fifth place in the NASCAR Top 10. Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet) and Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) each dipped one position to sixth and seventh, respectively, while Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford) and Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) held down the eighth and ninth positions this week. Robby Gordon (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) returned to the NASCAR Top 10 for the first time since June after winning at The Glen.

Winston Leader Bonus reaches $230,000 ...

As if the $4.25 million champion's share of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series point fund were not a big enough incentive, a record $230,000 Winston Leader Bonus is out there for the taking -- for Matt Kenseth's taking, that is. As the NASCAR Winston Cup points leader, Kenseth is currently the only driver eligible for the cash bonus that is awarded to the series points leader if he wins a race. The Winston Leader Bonus, first introduced in 1996, starts at $10,000 and increases by that same amount at each event until it is won. The bonus has not been awarded this season and the current amount is already $40,000 more than the previous record payout. Bobby Labonte collected $190,000 for winning at Indianapolis in 2000.

Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond means pre-race rock & roll for fans ...

Warner Music Group, Chevrolet and Action Performance Companies Inc. will stage a series of concerts during the NASCAR triple-header weekend, Sept. 4-6 at Richmond International Raceway. The Chevy Rock & Roll 400 on Sept. 6 will include pre-race musical performances by Hootie & The Blowfish, Uncle Kracker and Trapt. On Friday night before the Funai 250 NASCAR Busch Series race, Sugar Ray and Franky Perez will play a trackside concert. Both events are free to ticket holders for the respective races. In addition to the concerts, seven Chevrolet drivers will sport special paint schemes featuring Warner Music Group artists.

Elliott, Schrader and Evernham going dirt track racing ...

Fans at Farley Speedway, a half-mile NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series dirt track in eastern Iowa, will have the opportunity to meet three NASCAR Winston Cup Series stars on Thursday, Aug. 14. Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge) is scheduled to appear at the track along with Ken Schrader (No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge) and Elliott's team owner Ray Evernham. The track's Palace Ballroom will host a pre-race autograph party with the Dodge-sponsored stars beginning at 4:30 p.m. The on track action starts at 7 p.m. with a full program of Farley's weekly racing divisions. Elliott and Schrader are scheduled to race in the Dirt Late Model event while Evernham, a former Modified driver at New Jersey's Wall Township Speedway, plans to compete in the Modified feature race.

Sadler's crew wins McDonald's/POWERade Drive-Thru Pit Championship Award at Watkins Glen ...

The pit crew on Elliott Sadler's No. 38 M&M's Ford won the McDonald's/POWERade Drive-Thru Pit Championship Award at Watkins Glen by getting Sadler in and out of the pits in a total of 84.106 seconds during two pit stops on Sunday. The award, which is presented to the eligible pit crew with the shortest cumulative pit time at each race, culminates with a year-end award based on a points system. Michael Waltrip's No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet crew leads the season-long competition with 794 points. Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 8 crew is second in the contest standings with 717 points.

Lowe's sets Sept. test dates for UAW-GM Quality 500 ...

Lowe's Motor Speedway has confirmed open testing dates for the Oct. 11 UAW-GM Quality 500. NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams will test at the 1.5-mile speedway on Sept. 2-3, from 3-10 p.m. each day. The main grandstand is open free of charge during each of the testing sessions. NASCAR Busch Series teams will hold a separate testing session for their fall race at Lowe's -- the Oct. 10 Little Trees 300 -- on Sept. 29-30.

WHAT THEY'RE WRITING -- ABOUT MATT KENSETH

It takes time to appreciate the system designed by the late Bob Latford, but if you look at it closely, it does what a points system should do. It rewards the driver and team who compete the best throughout the season. Matt Kenseth, the current points leader, has just one victory this season, but he has a 286-point lead because his team has overcome every hazard it has faced and not made major mistakes. Last year, Kenseth led the league with five wins, but he finished eighth because he and his team made some of the same mistakes others are making this season.

-- Sandra McKee, Baltimore Sun

Car owner Jack Roush has assembled his multi-team Ford racing stable the same way he's put together his other successful business ventures. So maybe it's fitting that the driver to bring him his first Winston Cup championship might well be one who's all business. He's not controversial, like defending points champion Tony Stewart. Nor is he considered the People Magazine heartthrob that four-time champ Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. are. What he is, according to team owner Jack Roush, is the kind of solid driver who can stand up to the pressure a Winston Cup stretch run exerts.

-- Nolan Weidner, Syracuse Post Standard

Matt Kenseth put another brick in the championship wall he's steadily constructing when he finished eighth in the Sirius at The Glen at Watkins Glen International. It didn't look that way when Kenseth was trailing his two closest points pursuers and the brakes on his Ford were fading when he sailed off the road in Turn 1 with less than 20 laps remaining. That Kenseth is leading a charmed life in his pursuit of his first Winston Cup championship was apparent after his strong closing finish.

-- Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won two Bud Pole Awards at Michigan-- both during the GFS Marketplace 400 weekend in August. His qualifying speed of 191.149 mph in 2000 was the first Bud Pole speed at Michigan over 190 mph and stands as a track record. That speed places Michigan among the top-five fastest tracks, as determined by the top qualifying speed, on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. (Talladega, Daytona, Atlanta, and Texas have produced faster qualifying speeds.) Although his first few NASCAR Winston Cup attempts at Michigan were not the stuff of headlines, Earnhardt has shown solid improvement here in recent outings. His last two races at Michigan resulted in top-10 finishes including a seventh-place result in June. ... Veteran Bill Elliott leads all active drivers with six Bud Pole Awards and seven wins at Michigan.

QUOTEBOOK

"He says he'll be my boss for the day, and that should be very interesting." -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart is scheduled to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chance 2 Motorsports NASCAR Busch Series team at Michigan.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

By Aug. 19, 2001, the frustration in the Dodge camp was building, as the manufacturer hadn't reached victory lane in the first 22 events of the 2001 season -- the year Dodge made its much-heralded return to NASCAR Winston Cup racing. However, Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) put an end to all of that on a rainy day at Michigan International Speedway. Not only did Marlin give Dodge its first victory since it returned to the series, but he broke his own 169-race winless streak. Ricky Rudd's blown engine left things to be decided between the Dodge Intrepids of Marlin and Elliott and the Ford Taurus of Ricky Craven after the halfway point of the race. Elliott led from laps 129 to 144, but Marlin kept up and took the lead on lap 145. After 162 laps, the race was called due to rain, giving Marlin and Dodge the victory.

FAST FACTS

What: GFS Marketplace 400.
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
When: 2 p.m. ET, Sunday, Aug. 17
TV: TNT, 1:30 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $4,485,337.
Race length: 400 miles/200 laps.
Track layout: 2-mile oval
2002 winner: Dale Jarrett.
2002 polesitter: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR Top 10: 1. Matt Kenseth 3,294. 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3,036. 3. Jeff Gordon 2,898. 4. Jimmie Johnson 2,816. 5. Kevin Harvick 2,778. 6. Michael Waltrip 2,777. 7. Bobby Labonte 2,768. 8. Kurt Busch 2,696. 9. Ryan Newman 2,636. 10. Robby Gordon 2,627

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday--Practice, 11:00 a.m.-12:55 p.m., Qualifying, 3:05 p.m. Saturday--Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. and 11:10 --11:55 a.m.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Ray Evernham , Jack Roush , Elliott Sadler , Alan Kulwicki