Phoenix: Round eight preview

* Phoenix Hosts 3rd Car Of Tomorrow Race * Will 2007 Champion Be 8th Race Winner? * Jeff Gordon Seeking 1st Win, Higher Chase Seed * Mark Martin Completes Team For Ginn Racing * New Crew Chief Is Answer For McMurray Car of Tomorrow Back On ...

* Phoenix Hosts 3rd Car Of Tomorrow Race
* Will 2007 Champion Be 8th Race Winner?
* Jeff Gordon Seeking 1st Win, Higher Chase Seed
* Mark Martin Completes Team For Ginn Racing
* New Crew Chief Is Answer For McMurray

Car of Tomorrow Back On Track

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 17, 2007) -- The Car of Tomorrow returns to action this weekend at Phoenix, the first time it will race on a 1-mile track.

The new car was used during races at Bristol and Martinsville and resulted in winning margins of 0.064 and 0.065 seconds. Teams tested their COT at Bristol before the races to learn different car setups.

Teams recently completed a similar test at Richmond International Raceway.

"There are definitely some things from Richmond that we're able to bring to Phoenix to get the car to roll through the middle (of the turns)," said Steve Letarte, crew chief for Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). "Richmond is a really tight race track and to get a car to turn there has really given me some optimism going to Phoenix."

Can Race Winner Continue Trend?

If history is any indication, the winner of Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 will win the 2007 championship.

In 1957, 1977, 1987 and 1997, the winner of the eighth race of the season went on to win the series championship. Buck Baker, the 1957 champion, won at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway, Cale Yarborough won at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1977, Dale Earnhardt won at Martinsville Speedway in 1987 and Jeff Gordon won at Martinsville in 1997.

The only blip in the trend came in 1967 when David Pearson won at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, but finished seventh in the standings.

Gordon Still Seeking Wins, Chase Bonus Points -- And Higher 'Seeding'

Jeff Gordon is leading the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings -- but has not won a race.

Down the road, that could cost him dearly.

Winning has never been more important. This year, race winners get 185 points -- an increase of five points from last season. And, in an even more dramatic rule change, drivers who qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup will get 10 bonus points for each victory during the 26-race span leading up to the Chase, which consists of the last 10 races.

Drivers qualifying for the Chase will have their point totals "reset" to 5,000, whereupon bonus points will then be added, in effect creating a "seeding" to start the Chase.

Example: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), who has three victories thus far this season, would start the Chase with 5,030 points.

Gordon -- who has three runner-up finishes and finished fourth Sunday at Texas -- would start the Chase in fifth place because he would have no bonus points.

Mark Martin Leads Turnaround At Ginn Racing

Mark Martin surprised the NASCAR world when he announced he was leaving long-time owner Jack Roush to join Ginn Racing and the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet.

The surprise continued in the Daytona 500, when Martin finished second, his highest finish in 23 career starts. Martin went on to lead the point standings for the first four weeks of the season, bringing doubts that he would step away from the car at Bristol as originally planned.

Martin, who has been lured out of retirement a handful of times in recent years, surprised once again by staying true to his word and turning the wheel over to rookie Regan Smith. Martin's decision snapped a series-high 621 consecutive race streak.

Even with Martin missing two of the seven races, the No. 01 Chevrolet sits fourth in the owner point standings, unchartered territory for the team.

Crew chief Ryan Pemberton credits the turnaround to Martin's presence within the organization.

"A guy like Mark brings so much to an organization and we are just starting to see some of the payoff with that," Pemberton said.

"Obviously Mark is one of the best drivers in the business and a guy with a Hall of Fame type career," Pemberton said. "I think that says a lot about what we've been able to do this year."

For his part, Martin credits Pemberton and the team for this year's success.

"This team is just awesome," Martin said. "They are the best team that I've ever worked with. Ryan Pemberton is definitely one of the best in the garage and for sure one of the best that I've ever worked with in my career. These guys just keep giving me fast cars, great pit strategy and fast stops in the pits."

Martin will be starting a new consecutive start streak this weekend at Phoenix where he will make his second straight start. It will be Martin's first start in the Car of Tomorrow.

"I love working with these guys on the No. 01 crew and I look forward to taking on the challenge with them," Martin said.

Larry Carter Helps Jamie McMurray Get On Right Track

Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford) is in the top 10 for the first time since Sept. 2005 and is quick to point out the reason for his success.

"Our crew chief Larry Carter has a way about him," McMurray said. "He has built a team of guys that want to work hard each week. Guys that enjoy working with Larry and more importantly, they believe in him."

Carter joined the organization in the off- season after guiding Rusty Wallace to the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in 2005.

In the past five races, Carter has led McMurray to four top-10 finishes -- three short of McMurray's total from 2006.

A lot has changed for McMurray since last season. In addition to his crew chief change, McMurray changed his approach to the daily grind of the sport over the off-season. He took positive-thinking courses and started a new workout regime.

The changes have made McMurray stronger both physically and mentally, but it was the addition of Carter that has made his team stronger.

"Larry has such an ability to build a strong group of guys and have them work towards a common goal," McMurray said. "I really can't say enough about him and the relationship we have all created in such a short period of time."

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Regan Smith , Jack Roush , Cale Yarborough , Mark Martin , David Pearson