* The race for 11th place -- This week's mantra: Catch McMurray if you can * Switching seats -- Jeff Burton to drive No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet in 2005 NEWS & NOTES The race for 11th place: McMurray extends lead ... Jamie McMurray...
* The race for 11th place -- This week's mantra: Catch McMurray if you can
* Switching seats -- Jeff Burton to drive No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet in 2005
NEWS & NOTES
The race for 11th place: McMurray extends lead ... Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) appears to be on cruise control, retaining the 11th-place spot for the ninth consecutive week. He leads 12th-place Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) by 221 points; last week, McMurray led Jarrett by 197 points. Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) jumped two spots to 13th thanks to a fifth-place finish last week at Atlanta; he trails McMurray by 280 points and has an opportunity to tie Ryan Newman's (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) record of most top-five finishes in a season. Newman posted 14 top fives in 2002; Kahne currently has 11. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) tumbled to 14th in the standings and Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) also fell one spot to 15th.
Meanwhile, McMurray surges on. He finished eighth last week at Atlanta, his 10th top-10 finish in his last 11 races, and is heartened by his team's late-season excellence.
"If we keep running like this and continue this performance in 2005, we won't have to worry about being the first ones on the outside looking in," McMurray said of his near-miss at making the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."
RCR's Jeff Burton switches to No. 31 in 2005 ... He's only worked at Richard Childress Racing for a couple months, but already Jeff Burton is shop-hopping. Actually, he's just swapping car numbers. Team owner Richard Childress announced last Saturday at Atlanta that Burton will replace Robby Gordon in the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet next season. Burton will finish 2004 with the No. 30 team, then drive for the No. 31 team in 2005. Cingular also announced that it has extended its sponsorship contract with RCR through 2007. Burton has nine top-15 finishes in 11 races since joining RCR in mid August. No word yet on who will replace him in the No. 30. Gordon announced last week he'll leave RCR at the end of the season; he's expected to move his NASCAR Busch Series team to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series next season as an owner/driver.
Helton to attend historic SAE Conference ... NASCAR president Mike Helton is among the noted participants for the 2004 SAE Motorsports Engineering Conference & Exhibition in Dearborn, Mich., this fall. Held from Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn, the event focuses on high-performance technology in the racing industry. Particularly significant is the executive business panel on Tuesday, Nov. 30. Geared toward the theme of "Change for Relevance," the panel will bring together -- for the first time -- the heads of the racing industry's top sanctioning bodies: Max Mosley (FIA, Formula One's global sanctioning body), Helton (NASCAR), Tony George (Indy Racing League), Tom Compton (National Hot Rod Association) and Steve Johnson (Sports Car Club of America). All five executives will discuss challenges and topics relevant to the current industry, including cost control, maintaining a competitive product, safety advances and the business of racing.
Hendrick Marrow Program information ... Fans looking to show their support for those affected by the recent Hendrick Motorsports aviation tragedy can turn to the Hendrick Marrow Program. For a $1 donation, fans will receive a blue wristband with the inscription "LIFE IS A TEAM SPORT." All proceeds from sales of the wristband, which was worn by Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) during his win last week in the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, helps support those diagnosed with leukemia, or one of 70 other life-threatening blood diseases. Wristbands will be available on NASCAR.com as well as through Hendrick Motorsports.
Chevrolet-Ford-Dodge in Manufacturers standings ... Jimmie Johnson's win at Atlanta gave Chevrolet its series-high 20th victory of the season. It's also Johnson's and Chevrolet's third consecutive victory. Chevrolet has clinched the 2004 Manufacturers Championship, but keeps adding to its point total, which now stands at 242. Ford has 205 points and Dodge has 180 points. Ford has nine wins and Dodge has four. Ford, however, owns a definite advantage at Phoenix International Raceway, having won 11 of the 16 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at the track. Chevrolet has three victories there and Pontiac has two.
CONTINGENCY CORNER ... Three races remain on the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule, yet two drivers have clinched separate season-ending contingency awards. Last week's victory at Atlanta -- his third straight -- allowed Jimmie Johnson to clinch the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Favorite Driver of the Year Award. It goes to the highest-finishing eligible driver at the end of each event, and the driver who wins it most often during the year collects $75,000 at season's end. Johnson has won the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Favorite Driver of the Year Award 11 times this season. He's also the defending 2003 year-end winner. ... Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) has clinched the Goodyear Gatorback Fastest Lap Award, given to the driver who wins the weekly award most often during the season. After each race, the Goodyear Gatorback Fastest Lap Award goes to the driver who turns the fastest lap while leading an event. To date, Gordon has won the weekly award seven times this year. He'll collect $75,000 at season's end. Both the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Favorite Driver of the Year Award and the Goodyear Gatorback Fastest Lap Award will be presented during the Myers Brothers Award Breakfast on Friday morning, Dec. 3, at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York -- site of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series awards banquet that evening.
"Phoenix's characteristics are different than what we experience at New Hampshire or Richmond. It's the kind of track where we have struggled this year as a team, which is why we decided to test there. For some reason we have just not been able to put together a solid package for the short, flat tracks and hopefully we'll change that this weekend." -- Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford).
"I'm really looking forward to Phoenix because the track is a combination of New Hampshire and Richmond -- it's right up my alley. Those have been two good tracks for me." -- Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet).
"It's hard to think back to last year at this time, but I think we had about as much fun at Phoenix last year as we did this past weekend at Atlanta ... or at least as much as we did in the last 30 laps at Atlanta." -- Robby Gordon (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet).
FROM THE ARCHIVES
The first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway happened on Nov. 6, 1988. Geoffrey Bodine, then driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for owner Rick Hendrick, won the Checker 500 pole with a speed of 123.203 mph. Bodine led the first two laps, but the lead eventually changed 15 times among seven drivers. This event is probably best remembered as Alan Kulwicki's first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victory. He won by an 18.5-second margin over second-place finisher Terry Labonte, and after receiving the checkered flag, Kulwicki spun his Ford Thunderbird in the opposite direction. He took a backward victory lap, a trademark some drivers still use to celebrate a win.
What: Checker Auto Parts 500. (Race No. 34 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Ariz.
When: Sunday, Nov. 7, 3 p.m. (ET).
TV: NBC, 3 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $4,844,100.
Race length: 312 miles, 312 laps.
Track layout: 1-mile oval.
2003 winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2003 polesitter: Ryan Newman.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Kurt Busch 6,052. 2. Jimmie Johnson 5,993. 3. Jeff Gordon 5,980. 4. Mark Martin 5,971. 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5,954. 6. Tony Stewart 5,907. 7. Ryan Newman 5,866. 8. Elliott Sadler 5,815. 9. Matt Kenseth 5,795. 10. Jeremy Mayfield 5,736.