Off-week news of note 2008-03-18

On The Bubble: 2008 Top 35 Standings Now In Effect RCR Riding Momentum Into Martinsville Earnhardt Jr. The Leading Man At Hendrick Motorsports The Top 35: Who's In and Who's Out? DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 18, 2008) -- For the first five...

On The Bubble: 2008 Top 35 Standings Now In Effect
RCR Riding Momentum Into Martinsville
Earnhardt Jr. The Leading Man At Hendrick Motorsports

The Top 35: Who's In and Who's Out?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 18, 2008) -- For the first five races of 2008, the top 35 teams in the final 2007 owner points were assured starting spots. Beginning with this season's sixth race, March 30 at Martinsville Speedway, 2008 points determine the weekly top-35 guarantees. Teams outside the top 35 must qualify based on speed.

Heading to Martinsville, the coveted 35th spot belongs to the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge team owned by Roger Penske and driven by Sam Hornish Jr., who will make his first start at Martinsville next week.

Four points behind in 36th is the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford team owned by Geoff Smith, and driven by Jamie McMurray, who has six top-10 finishes in 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Martinsville.

Following McMurray in 37th is the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota team owned by Bill Davis, and driven by Dave Blaney, making his 15th start at Martinsville next week with a best finish of 16th back in 2005.

David Reutimann, driver for the No. 44 UPS Toyota owned by Michael Waltrip, is facing a whole new set of challenges after racing the No. 00 to 26th place in the standings. Reutimann is taking over the No. 44 after veteran Dale Jarrett competed in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points event at Bristol.

Two rookie drivers are trying to move up: Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 40 The Hartford Dodge owned by Felix Sabates, and Regan Smith, driver of the No. 01 Principal Financial Chevrolet owned by Teresa Earnhardt are 38th and 39th, respectively.

1-2-3 Bristol Finish Big Boost For Richard Childress Racing

Richard Childress Racing started off this season somewhat low-key, but that has changed, after the one-two-three finish that Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet), Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), and Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) pulled off at Bristol, respectively.

While much of the talk this season has been about Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) and his big start, RCR has been collectively moving to the top of the point standings as the only NASCAR Sprint Cup team with all of its drivers in the top 12.

Harvick currently is third in the standings with two top fives and four top 10s. His best finish at Martinsville is seventh (twice) in 2003 and '06. Burton, coming off his win at Bristol, is fourth in the standings with two top fives and three top 10s. Burton won at Martinsville in 1997 driving for Jack Roush, and finished sixth there last April. Bowyer currently is ninth in the standings with one top five and two top-10 finishes. He finished 11th last spring at Martinsville.

In The Loop: Storylines Abundant

Parity has reigned in the first five races of this NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

The proof:

All four manufacturers have at least two cars in the top 12.

Only 96 points separate first-place Kyle Busch from fifth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet).

Six drivers have Driver Ratings above 100.0, and one other -- Earnhardt -- is one-tenth off at 99.9.

The parity in the series is just one story. A look at the Loop Data box score tells some other interesting tales.

For instance, there is a reason Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) hasn't been his usually dominant self. The statistics show a huge dip in the way he closes out races this year. Gordon's "Closer" number (the positions gained/lost in the last 10% of races) is last at -31. Last season he led the stat with a +78.

Furthermore: Gordon's average starting position this season is 3.4. At mid-race, he's averaging a sixth-place position. His average finish, though, takes a huge dive at 18.6.

But the stats show Gordon's been better than his finishes -- as his Driver Rating of 102.9 is fourth-best in the series.

The side of that scenario explains the huge comeback year Greg Biffle (No. 16 Jackson Hewitt Ford) is having. Biffle, improving throughout, averages a start of 13.0, a mid-race of 9.2 and a finish of 7.4.

Overall this season, Biffle has a Driver Rating of 102.1 (fifth-best), an Average Running Position of 9.5 (fourth) and 1,372 (88.6%) Laps in the Top 15 (second-best).

Another storyline: The speed Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) has flashed this season. He has 213 Fastest Laps Run, by far the highest total in the series (second most is Kyle Busch at 125).

The statistical story of points leader Kyle Busch begs to be told. The stats show his tremendous passing ability this season -- he's first in Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) at 126. Busch is the only driver in triple-digits in the stat, and is far ahead of second-place Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) with 72.

Hendrick Motorsports: Earnhardt Leads The Way

Last season at this time, Hendrick Motorsports had set themselves apart by notching three wins and two poles; three of the four Hendrick drivers were sitting in the top six of the standings.

Much has changed -- for now.

During 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of the most coveted free agents in NASCAR history, and this season he is validating the hype. He is one of only four drivers to post four top-10 finishes in the first five races of the season. The only race he didn't finish in the top 10 was California, due to an accident.

Earnhardt currently is fifth in the series standings -- the highest-ranked Hendrick Motorsports driver. He continues to be consistent -- a solid formula to follow, en route to making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

NASCAR Loop Data statistics show Earnhardt is ranked near the top of several pre-race categories at Martinsville, including Driver Rating (95.8) and Average Running Position (11.897).

Earnhardt's teammate Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) has not had the start of the season he was hoping for, with one top-10 finish at California. Johnson is currently 13th in the standings, 14 points out of 12th place. Johnson is looking forward to Martinsville, having won four races there, the last three consecutively (fall 2006 and both in 2007).

The NASCAR Loop Data statistics show Johnson near the top of several pre-race categories at Martinsville, including Driver Rating (120.8), Average Running Position (7.348), and Laps in the Top 15 (86.2%).

Jeff Gordon has had both ups and downs this season with two top 10s and two DNFs. Last season at this time he was leading the standings, but this season he sits in 14th after an 11th-place finish at Bristol.

But don't count Gordon out at Martinsville. He has the most wins of any active driver in the series with six, and the most poles with six. Pre-race NASCAR Loop Data Statistics show Gordon at the top of the Driver Rating category with (124.5). Gordon also is ranked second in the following categories: Average Running Position (7.272) and Laps in Top 15 (86.7%).

Casey Mears (No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet) is currently 33rd in driver and owner point standings. He finished 42nd in the spring and 20th in the fall at Martinsville in 2007.

Next week seems to bode well for a turnaround. At Martinsville, Hendrick drivers have won eight of the last 10 races.

Kyle Busch Can't Stop Making It Look Easy

Kyle Busch will not be kicking back this weekend because he leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings, but rather he will be competing in Nashville to improve upon his 10th-place position in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings.

Busch has been red-hot since the start of the season with a win at Atlanta -- the first for Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- and three top-five finishes. Though Bristol didn't yield the same result this season as last year, Busch did manage to finish 14th after racing back from an early race accident caused by a power steering failure.

Looking forward to Martinsville Speedway next weekend, Busch has posted three top-five and four top-10 finishes in six starts.

The NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data statistics show Busch near the top of several categories, including Driver Rating (98.0), Average Running Position (10.91) and Laps in the Top 15 (80%).

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.

8th In the No. 8: Aric Almirola (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet) finished eighth at Bristol in his first start of the season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Almirola is scheduled to participate in 12 races this season for Dale Earnhardt Inc., sharing a ride with veteran Mark Martin. Currently the No. 8 team owned by Teresa Earnhardt is 16th in the owner standings.

Almirola finished 43rd last season at Martinsville after leaving the race early due to electrical problems. In 2006 Almirola raced at Martinsville in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series where he finished 18th in the spring race and 16th in the fall.

The Fun Never Ends: Six drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will spend their off-weekend in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, making their way to Nashville for the Pepsi 300.

Last year's NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Carl Edwards will be accompanied by last year's NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year David Ragan as the two Roush Fenway Racing and NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers participating this weekend. Edwards returns to Nashville after winning the last three races there.

Clint Bowyer will make the trip to Nashville for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 2 Chevrolet. Bowyer won the fall race at Nashville in 2005.

Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the two NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing.

David Reutimann also will attend the event in Nashville for Michael Waltrip Racing.

2008 Rookie Standings: Another week in the books and the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings are still tight as NASCAR Sprint Cup teams take the week off and prepare for Martinsville.

Dario Franchitti leads the rookie standings with 50 points, just one point over Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith who are tied with 49.

Smith was the highest-finishing rookie at Bristol posting a 26th, after finishing 38th at Atlanta. Smith is the only rookie this season to have competed at Martinsville; he posted a 26th-place finish last April in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Hornish Jr. finished 26th at Atlanta and 29th at Bristol, but has never raced at Martinsville.

Patrick Carpentier (No. 10 Valvoline Dodge) sits third in the rookie standings with 21 points. Carpentier finished 35th at Atlanta, but due to qualifying being cancelled, did not start at Bristol. This will also be the first time Carpentier has competed at Martinsville.

2008 Manufacturers' Standings: Competition amongst manufacturers is extremely close, with all four manufacturers represented in the top 12 of the driver standings, and all four manufacturers having won at least one race in the first five races of the season. Plus, for the first time in Bristol Motor Speedway history, 42 cars finished the race last Sunday, a clear testimony to the "new car" being used in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

In the Manufacturers' Standings, Ford and Chevrolet both have 31 points, but Ford has two wins to Chevrolet's one. Chevrolet grabbed its first win of the season at Bristol and has the most wins by a manufacturer at Martinsville with 43.

Up Next: Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway

The sixth race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will be Sun., March 30 at Martinsville Speedway.

Last year at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson won his third consecutive race there, becoming the sixth driver to accomplish the feat.

Jeff Gordon captured the Coors Light Pole last season and led the most laps with 164, but was unable to parlay his good starting position into a win.

The Next Race: Goody's Cool Orange 500

The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 30

The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
The Track: .526-mile oval
The Distance: 500 laps/263 miles

TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2007 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Pre-Race Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.; Final Practice, 12:50 -1:50 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Casey Mears , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , David Reutimann , Carl Edwards , Regan Smith , Clint Bowyer , Jack Roush , David Ragan , Denny Hamlin , Dave Blaney , Aric Almirola , Roger Penske , Felix Sabates , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing