News and notes off week 2005-03-01

Down Mexico way -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers to participate in historic NASCAR Busch Series event Off to a fast start -- Kurt Busch, Sterling Marlin among those with early incentive, results TV timeout: Ratings soar for California ...

Down Mexico way -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers to participate in historic NASCAR Busch Series event

Off to a fast start -- Kurt Busch, Sterling Marlin among those with early incentive, results

TV timeout: Ratings soar for California event

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 1, 2005) -- Two weeks down, 34 to go. With those numbers looming, an off-week for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is, in reality, anything but that.

The next event -- the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 on March 13 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- is fast approaching.

For some competitors, there's only way to prepare:

Keep racing.

That inclination pairs perfectly this week with a first-ever NASCAR Busch Series event in Mexico City. Six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are making a South of the Border sojourn to compete in a historic event -- Sunday's Telcel Motorola Mexico 200 presented by Banamex at the legendary Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course.

It will mark the first NASCAR Busch Series points event held outside the United States, and the first road-course event for the NASCAR Busch Series since a 2001 event at Watkins Glen. (FOX will televise the Telcel Motorola Mexico 200 presented by Banamex live on Sunday beginning at 3 p.m. (ET).

Among those tackling the 80-lap, 201-mile challenge on the Autodromo's 2.5-mile course will be Robby Gordon (No. 55 Fruit of the Loom Chevrolet), Rusty Wallace (No. 64 Bell Helicopter Dodge), Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco-Havoline Dodge), Kevin Harvick (21 Pelon Pelo Rico Chevrolet), Carl Edwards (No. 60 Charter Communications Ford) and Elliott Sadler (No. 90 Citifinancial Ford).

Another participant with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup experience is Ron Fellows, a road-racing specialist who makes frequent appearances in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen. He'll drive the No. 87 Chevrolet.

"I'm pretty excited about it," said Gordon, a veteran off-road and dirt racer in Baja California. "I think it's a good marketplace for us. It obviously makes a lot of sense because it's in a different country that obviously we can just drive across the border to go down and put on the event. From what I've heard from my fellow friends that have raced there with open-wheel cars, the fans there are pretty cool."

McMurray will be joined by most of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup team, including crew chief Donnie Wingo. His team owners, Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, also plan to be there.

"I'm really looking forward to going down there," McMurray said. "It's my Cup team from Donnie to the pit crew. I'm pretty sure all of them are going down there. They went in and told the guys they didn't have to go, but they gave my team first choice. I think every single one of them signed up to go. It's going to be a lot of fun for us. It won't be as stressful as a typical race weekend and it's going to be fun."

Always room for surprises ... Only two races have been checked off the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule, but fast starters already have emerged, among them Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), who sits a surprising fourth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings heading into the off week thanks to a 12th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 and last Sunday's fifth-place finish at California Speedway.

"It gives us a lot of confidence," said Edwards, who's paired with crew chief Bob Osborne. "It gives me as a driver a lot of confidence. It is different leading these races. It's one thing to follow these guys and change your line a little bit from theirs, but it's another thing to be the guy out front with them chasing you. I'm learning a little bit and I'm just glad to be here."

According to Roush Racing owner Jack Roush, Edwards is following in his teammates' footsteps. But current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Kurt Busch (No. 97 Irwin Industrial Tools/Sharpie Ford) and last Sunday's Auto Club 500 winner, Greg Biffle, also excelled in youthful sink-or-swim situations. Edwards, who also ran fulltime in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2003 and 2004 (he was the Raybestos Rookie of the Year in 2003), was promoted to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series last season, running the final 13 events in the No. 99.

"Carl is a quick study of quick studies," Roush said. "Kurt Busch was a quick study and Greg Biffle has been a quick study, but Carl has done a really nice job. For somebody with his limited experience and being the young guy in, he's probably the guy that had the toughest job in terms of earning the respect of the other guys and he's done that. As far as I know, there's no resistance of Carl being a rookie. When he's got the best car, the guys give him racing room and don't begrudge him racing room."

Early contenders handicap themselves, others ... Only two races have been completed, but the points battle already is shaping up. The target is race No. 26, the cutoff point for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. At the end of that Sept. 10 event at Richmond International Raceway, the NASCAR Top 10 and any drivers within 400 points of the leader will compete for the championship over the season's final 10 races. So there's much ground to make up -- or lose -- even in the spring.

Certainly, people expected to be in the NASCAR Top 10 are there, heading into the off week; current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Kurt Busch leads the standings followed by Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), the series runner-up for the last two seasons. One of Busch's Roush Racing teammates, Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford), who finished fourth last season and is competing in his final fulltime season, sits third.

"You want the competition," Kurt Busch said. "That's what we all come out for on Sundays is to beat the guy that's good and usually, as of late, it's been one of us (Roush Racing drivers) or (Jeff) Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), (Greg) Biffle has been hot, and Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) has really been surprising as well. So it's a lot of fun. You can't just pinpoint one guy. You just have to go and work on your own program and then when it gets down to the last tire run, you see who is there and you race."

Two other drivers who made last year's inaugural Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Elliott Sadler and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), are sixth and seventh, respectively. Gordon, who won the season-opening Daytona 500, is 10th after engine failure relegated him to a 30th-place finish at California.

Then there are the surprises: Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who's retiring following this season, is eighth in the standings following back-to-back 10th-place finishes in the Daytona 500 and the Auto Club 500. Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) is ninth after an eighth-place in the Daytona 500 and a 15th-place finish in the Auto Club 500. Greg Biffle, who's fifth in the standings after last Sunday's win at California, also won last year's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Neither Wallace, Marlin nor Biffle made last year's Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

"I'm sizing up the competition," Johnson said. "I watched Kurt a bunch because I know he's going to be a major player at the end of the season and I wanted to see what his car was like at the start. You evaluate things and get a gauge on the competition."

TV Timeout ... The preliminary results reveal that more households tuned in to the 2005 Auto Club 500 than any other non-Daytona 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event in history, which also made it the highest-rated, most watched event at California Speedway. The Auto Club 500, which followed the Daytona 500 for the first time, enjoyed a 20% increase in households and an 18% increase in viewers over the second event of the 2004 season at North Carolina Speedway.

Chevrolet, Ford tied for lead in Manufacturers standings ... Greg Biffle's Auto Club 500 win gave Ford its first victory of 2005 and tied Chevrolet for the early lead in the 2005 Manufacturers Championship. Both Ford and Chevrolet have 15 points and one win. Dodge has eight points.

QUOTABLE

"I love racing hard with everybody. My opinion has always been that in order to be the best you have to beat the best. I love racing Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch. Greg Biffle has been on the gas. He's fun to race with. He always puts on a good show for you. I love to race with these guys." -- Jimmie Johnson.

"It's way too early to even talk points, but we're having fun. It's a good effort that our team put together to build these cars." -- Greg Biffle.

"When you have a weekend off, sometimes you need it just to rest, but as early as it is in the season right now you want to stay in a routine and keep racing. For me, I guess it's just the routine I miss." -- Jamie McMurray.

Fast Facts

Next event: UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400. (Race No. 3 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)

Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nev.
When: Sunday, March 13, 3:05 p.m. (ET).

TV: FOX, 2 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $6,131,958.

Race length: 400 miles, 267 laps.
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.

2004 winner: Matt Kenseth.
2004 polesitter: Kasey Kahne.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Kurt Busch 340. 2. Jimmie Johnson 335. 3. Mark Martin 301. 4. Carl Edwards 287. 5. Greg Biffle 273. 6. Elliott Sadler 272. 7. Tony Stewart 268. 8. Rusty Wallace 268. 9. Sterling Marlin 260. 10. Jeff Gordon 258.

-nascar-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ron Fellows , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Chip Ganassi , Jack Roush , Elliott Sadler , Felix Sabates , Mark Martin
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing