Off-week news of note 2007-04-03

COT Back At RIR Fast Start: 3 Hendrick Drivers in Standings' Top 5 Top 35 In Owner Points: Who's In and Who's Out Carl Edwards Building His Record Collection David Ragan Leads Rookie Standings COT Testing Continues At Richmond International ...

Fast Start: 3 Hendrick Drivers in Standings' Top 5
Top 35 In Owner Points: Who's In and Who's Out
Carl Edwards Building His Record Collection
David Ragan Leads Rookie Standings

COT Testing Continues At Richmond International Raceway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 3, 2007) -- Two races down, the future to go.

Call it an unofficial theme for this week's latest Car of Tomorrow test, being held Tuesday and Wednesday at Richmond International Raceway. The "COT" was used in competition for the first time the last two weeks at the Bristol and Martinsville short tracks. Next up for the COT: Phoenix International Raceway on April 21.

Fifty NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams are at Richmond for this week's test, preparing for next month's "Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400" at the .75-mile oval. That event will be the fourth one featuring NASCAR's next-generation race car.

A seven-year project by NASCAR's Research & Development Center, the Car of Tomorrow was tested for the first time in the summer of 2004 -- at Richmond. This week's test follows the series-wide session at Bristol Motor Speedway last month, and Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford) says much has come to light since.

"I think this is going to be one of the best tests for the Car of Tomorrow car other than Bristol was the first time we were all together," Biffle said Tuesday before teams took the track.

"This is going to be an important test for guys for Phoenix and all over the place, especially when we come back here."

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams will run 16 of this season's 36 scheduled events with the Car of Tomorrow. "I think it's going to go really well," Biffle said of the RIR test. "We've learned a lot about the car in the last two races. Definitely there are some things that we've picked up on, some scenarios that we've learned a little bit about and have made changes to."

As teams learn more about the Car of Tomorrow via testing and competition, so too does the sporting public. Biffle said he's noticed the fan response to the Car, and isn't surprised.

"The COT car has created some buzz and some excitement," he added. "Of course it's going to because there are a lot of unknowns. It would be like watching the space shuttle launch for the very first time. Everybody is going to be looking at that thing. Nobody knows what's going to happen with this new car, so a lot of people are interested in watching, and that's created some buzz. "

Along with further research, Biffle and his No. 16 team -- which includes many new crew members -- will be pursuing breakthroughs to better finishes this week.

Biffle, the 2005 series runner-up, is rebounding from a sub-par 13th-place finish in 2006 and is currently 21st in the standings, with just one top-five finish.

"You know, we've run extremely, extremely well for a new team, and I think that we've got a lot of strength," Biffle said.

"I think that's going to come through quick. I think we'll break through in the next five or so races and win one of these things and be a threat to win a lot more coming up in the future."

Fast Start: Hendrick Teams Already Eyeing Chase Places

If you're looking for an early-season favorite for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship -- or at the very least, candidates to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- you might want to start with Hendrick Motorsports which has three of its four drivers in the point standings' top five, after the season's first six races.

It's the definitive fast start, one paced by four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), the current points leader, and reigning champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).

Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won the last four races -- including the last two at Bristol and Martinsville, the first two Car of Tomorrow events, bringing Hendrick Motorsports' win total in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series to 153.

Here's a recap of the Hendrick drivers' seasons thus far:

• Jimmie Johnson has been the most successful of the Hendrick drivers this season collecting three wins in the first six races of the season. Johnson is currently third in the standings only 32 points behind second. Johnson has won this season at Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Martinsville. "I couldn't be more proud of the start that Hendrick Motorsports is off to," Johnson said. "It has been a lot of hard work that has gone in to this. We have had a very strong current car program and the Impala SS program has been good for us."

The last driver to win three events in the first six races was Johnson's teammate Jeff Gordon in 1996.

* Jeff Gordon sits atop the standings for the second week in a row. Gordon started the season with four top fives and two poles. Gordon has finished 12th or better in the first six events this season. Gordon has adapted to the Car of Tomorrow quickly, placing third at Bristol and second at Martinsville.

"I think we're just building on momentum from last year's success," Gordon said. "We're taking advantage of the people and the resources that we have and I think the driver-crew chief combinations are very strong right now."

* Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) sits fifth in the standings. Busch has started the season with four top-10 finishes, one of which was a victory at Bristol in the Car of Tomorrow debut. "It's so hard to win races these days, and, to be honest, I would have never thought we'd win the first race in the Impala SS," Busch said. "It's been a big boost for this team. I'm looking forward to getting better at driving these [COT] cars and hope for more of the same results.

* Casey Mears (No. 25 National Guard/GMAC Chevrolet) is the new driver at Hendrick Motorsports and unlike his teammates, Mears has been struggling, currently 33rd in the series standings.

"I can't wait till Casey Mears and [crew chief] Darian Grubb get a little bit more experience and get the cars working the way they want them to because I think they're capable of being right up there too but it's going to take some time," said Gordon.

Home-Grown Approach For Edwards, In Building His Record Collection

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) is mostly known for driving a race car for Roush Fenway Racing, but for Columbia, Missouri musicians, Edwards is a record label owner helping out local musicians get their start.

Edwards started the recording company in 2006 with his friend Aaron Hayes to focus on Columbia, Missouri musicians. Edwards has always been a fan of different kinds of music, and it shows because the list of different musicians on the label touches several different music genres.

"We were sitting around one night in my house in Columbia, and I was listening to one of the artists telling me how tough it was to get somebody to produce their music," Edwards said. "I just decided, 'Well, we'll just buy the recording equipment and make our own record and do it that way."

Edwards has chosen seven artists to start the company out with that are from his hometown -- Taylor Marie, Dex Hayes, Christopher Hatfield, Jonathan Truth, Stevie Stone, Savage and Omega.

"It's something that will help get them out there and help them with their careers." Edwards has decided to first put out a compilation album of all the artists on the label. "Everybody knows somebody who has the ability to do something, and all they need is the opportunity," said Edwards.

Ever since then Edwards has been a small business owner helping out his local community. His sponsor Office Depot liked the idea and is doing a promotion called the 'Small Business of NASCAR' program which helps small businesses get national exposure. "It's the American dream to start a business and grow it and make it work," said Edwards.

Locked In: Top 35 Guarantees Now Determined On Weekly Basis

This past Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway was the sixth of the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season. That meant the event had significance far beyond the fact that it was the second-ever race for the Car of Tomorrow.

For the first five races of a new season, the weekly guaranteed starting spots for the top 35 teams in car owner point standings are based on the previous season's final point standings.

After five races, the "locked-in" spots are based on current car owner points, creating a weekly drama for teams on the "bubble."

Coming out of Martinsville, the 35th and final guaranteed berth this week goes to the No. 70 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet owned by Gene Haas and driven by Johnny Sauter.

In 36th heading into Texas, is the No. 21 Little Debbie/Air Force Ford driven by Ken Schrader and Jon Wood and owned by Glen Wood, nine points out of 35th; two-time Daytona 500 winner and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Champion Dale Jarrett is 38th, driving the No. 44 UPS Toyota owned by Michael Waltrip; in 39th is the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota driven by Dave Blaney and owned by Bill Davis.

In The Loop: Plenty Vying For Gordon's Top Spot

Jeff Gordon best stay on his toes, because there are a plenty of drivers who are nipping at his points lead.

Three in particular have posted better marks than Gordon in practically all of the Loop Data's most critical categories. Those drivers are Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) (second in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings), Jimmie Johnson (third) and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) (eighth).

For instance, Johnson and Stewart rank 1-2 in the all-important Driver Rating standings. Johnson has a Driver Rating of 110.6, while Stewart has a 108.8. Right behind them is Gordon at 108.7 and Burton at 105.3. So while the consistent Gordon has a 28-point lead in the series standings, he should consider himself lucky that Johnson and Stewart have stumbled this season (most notably at Daytona and Bristol). The same holds true in the Average Running Position statistics. Johnson leads the category with an Average Running Position of 9.436 and Burton ranks second with a mark of 9.594. Gordon is third with 9.919. While Gordon ranks high in many of the speed figures, there are those who rank higher. For instance, Stewart has been faster on the straightaways this season (Gordon is the second fastest) and both Johnson and Stewart are faster in the turns than Gordon has been. And in arguably the most telling of all the speed figures -- Fastest Laps Run -- Stewart and Johnson rank 1-2, while Gordon ranks third.

Why, then, is Gordon sitting in first with a relatively healthy points lead? The answer is in the passing. The four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion has passed more cars than any other driver on the circuit -- and apparently has not looked back. Gordon has 609 passes this season, which is a whopping 40 more than second-place passer Matt Kenseth. And from the numbers, there's no telling where Gordon will make the pass. Of the 609 passes, 301 have come in the turns and 308 have come on the straightaways. From the looks of things, it's impossible to devise a plan to combat Gordon.

Also, Gordon makes his passes when they count -- at the end. He's the second-best "Closer" with 24 positions improved over the final 10% of the six races. That's an average of four positions improved per race -- which, considering Gordon's finishes, equates to as many as 20 points per race.

But it's not only when Gordon makes his passes, it's who he passes. Gordon ranks fifth in Quality Passes -- passes of cars in the top 15 while under green flag conditions -- with 311. The leader in that category is Burton with 451, which explains why both drivers sit comfortably in the top five of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings.

Ragan Takes The Lead In Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings

David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford) has taken the lead of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings following the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Ragan leads Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) by one point. Ragan has raced at Texas Motor Speedway before, in 2005 in the NASCAR Busch Series, but did not finish due to an oil pump failure. David Reutimann (No. 00 Domino's Toyota) has moved into third only three points ahead of fourth place, Paul Menard (No. 15 Menards Chevrolet), after finishing 33rd at Martinsville. AJ Allmendinger (No. 84 Red Bull Toyota) is currently in fifth but still is 12 points back from fourth place.

NNCS, Etc.

Most of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers will be taking this weekend off to spend Easter with their families, but a select few never get tired of being behind the wheel and are entered into this week's NASCAR Busch Series event at Nashville Superspeedway.

Carl Edwards will continue to drive the No. 60 Dish Network Ford for owner Jack Roush. Edwards continues to lead the standings in the NASCAR Busch Series with five top fives, including a win at Bristol.

Boris Said will be attempting to qualify for the Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway this weekend driving the Ray Evernham owned No. 9 Stanley Tools Dodge. This will be Said's second NASCAR Busch Series start this season. Said is well known for his road course skills he finished 3rd at Mexico City in his first NASCAR Busch Series start in 2007.

J.J. Yeley will be making his sixth start in the NASCAR Busch Series this season. Yeley finished the season fifth in the series standings driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2006. This season Yeley is driving the No. 1 Miccosukee Indian Gaming and Resort Chevrolet for car owner James Finch. Yeley has had some success at Nashville posting two top-10 finishes.

David Stremme will be piloting the No. 41 Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Dodge for car owner Chip Ganassi for the first time this season in the NASCAR Busch Series. This will be Stremme's fourth attempt at a NASCAR Busch Series event but the three previous events he entered he drove for car owner Armando Fitz. Stremme has posted a 12th at Fontana, fifth at Las Vegas, and 11th at Atlanta this season in the NASCAR Busch Series.

Jon Wood (No.47 Armor All Ford) will also be entering the Pepsi 300 this coming weekend. Wood has posted two top-10 finishes the two times the NASCAR Busch Series visited Nashville in 2006.

Dave Blaney (No. 10 Toyota) and David Reutimann (No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) are two of only three Toyotas entered this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. Blaney hasn't raced at Nashville since 1999 driving for car owner Bill Davis.

Chevrolet Leads Manufacturers Standings

A Chevrolet Impala won for the second time this season this past Sunday, but overall, Chevrolet has five wins in six events -- and thus, also has the early lead in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Manufacturers Championship standings.

Ford is second, 14 points back, with one victory thus far.

On Deck: Samsung 500 at TMS

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series moves on to Texas Motor Speedway for Race No. 6 on Sunday, April 15 for the Samsung 500 (FOX, 1:30 p.m. ET).

Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is the defending champion who has yet to win this season.

In 12 Texas Motor Speedway races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, there have been 12 different winners.

There have been nine different Budweiser Pole winners at Texas with two repeat winners: Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) in 2003 and in '04 Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) who swept the poles for 2005's two events.


Next Race: SAMSUNG 500

The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

The Date: Sunday, April 15

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

Track Layout: 1.5-mile oval
Distance: 501 laps (334 miles)

Purse: $7,253,642

2006 Winner: Kasey Kahne
2006 Pole: Kasey Kahne

Texas Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12:30- 2 p.m.; Qualifying, 4:10 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 10:30-11:20 a.m.; Final Practice, 12:20-1:20 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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