Rockingham II: News of note, schedule

Barker among 2003 ARETE Honors recipients BP, Bobby Labonte to take Rockingham "Victory Lap" NEWS & NOTES * Charting the NASCAR Top 10 -- Slots 2-5 separated by 101 points, $1.6 million ... Matt Kenseth is finally allowing himself to think...

Barker among 2003 ARETE Honors recipients
BP, Bobby Labonte to take Rockingham "Victory Lap"

NEWS & NOTES

* Charting the NASCAR Top 10 -- Slots 2-5 separated by 101 points, $1.6 million ... Matt Kenseth is finally allowing himself to think about winning the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship and the $4.25 million check that comes with the title. But drivers in positions 2-13 are looking toward these final two races to secure their spots on the Waldorf=Astoria stage in New York City on Dec. 5, while those in slots 25-27 are battling to reach the Top 25 in the final point standings and earn a cut of the $17 million total that makes up this season's NASCAR Winston Cup Point Fund. Over $12 million will be awarded to the final NASCAR Top 10. Second-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds a slim 13-point lead over No. 3 Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and a 72-point advantage over four-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Ryan Newman (No. 12 Mobil 1/ALLTEL Dodge) sits 101 points behind Earnhardt Jr. in fifth. Those positions carry a difference of over $1.6 million in prize money.

* Other end of NASCAR Top 10 skirmish involves five drivers ... Meanwhile, a battle royale is being waged where No. 11 Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's/got milk? Chevrolet), No. 12 Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet) and No. 13 Jeff Burton (No. 99 CITGO Ford) are all within striking distance of a trip to New York and the $50,000 that separates 10th from 11th. Labonte, a two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion who hasn't finished in the NASCAR Top 10 since 1998, was pushed out of the rankings for the first time in nine weeks, but is just 54 points behind 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), himself absent from a final spot in the NASCAR Top 10 since 1997. Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford) crept back into ninth this week and is 71 points up on Labonte. Waltrip is looking for his first-ever post-season visit to New York while Burton is hoping to find his way back after a one-year absence.

* Pride and payout for 25th ... The $17 million NASCAR Winston Cup Point Fund is distributed among places 1-25, and like the NASCAR Top 10, the fight is on to finish in the Top 25 to receive the $132,000 award for that cut-off slot. Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), who has finished in the NASCAR Top 10 in each of the last seven years, has never finished out of the top 25 in any of his 15 full-time NASCAR Winston Cup seasons. He is 25th this week, 12 points ahead of Ricky Craven (No. 32 Tide Pontiac) and 17 points better than defending Rockingham fall race winner Johnny Benson (No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac).

* Barker recipient of 2003 "ARETE" Honors ... Robert "Bootie" Barker, who served as crew chief of the No. 77 Jasper Motorsports Ford before taking a leave of absence from the team in mid-October, was recognized as one of six recipients of the 2003 "ARETE" Honors, an annual award for selected athletes who have overcome tremendous obstacles in pursuit of their goals. "ARETE" (ah-REE-tee) is what the ancient Greeks termed as the embodiment of excellence and valor. Now in its 14th year, the ARETE Honors for Courage in Sports was broadcast on CBS on Nov. 2. Barker, who is confined to a wheelchair but refused to allow that challenge come between him and his dream of becoming a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief, was honored along with open-wheel driver Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a 2001 racing accident; cycling's Tyler Hamilton, who finished the 2003 Tour de France with a broken collarbone; high school football player Jake Porter, who despite a disease limiting his ability to learn and process information, scored a touchdown on a 49-yard run; Loyola women's lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens, who led her team to the 2003 Final Four while partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair due to the effects of an inoperable brain tumor and the "Greensboro Six," a group of men who challenged segregation at a golf course. Past recipients have included Arthur Ashe, Walter Payton and Lance Armstrong.

* California wildfire victims receive aid from NASCAR drivers, sponsors ... Jimmie Johnson and Lowe's, along with DEWALT, sponsor of the No. 17 Ford of points leader Matt Kenseth, have stepped in to aid in the relief efforts to assist victims of the wildfires that have recently plagued areas of Southern California. Johnson completed all 312 laps at Phoenix last Sunday, raising nearly $15,000 for the American Red Cross' relief efforts. The sponsor of Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet, Lowe's, also donated $100,000. It was the second time in six weeks Johnson and Lowe's has supported the Red Cross through its "Racing for Relief" program. Johnson raised nearly $60,000 at Dover in September for victims of Hurricane Isabel. "As a Southern California native, this disaster is close to home," Johnson said. "I'm glad I could do my part." DEWALT also provided assistance, donating several of their tool lines to California Speedway's "Race for Relief" fund. The tools will be utilized by firefighters who are battling the blazes. "I think the job they do is remarkable considering the circumstances and we wish them safety and success during this tough time," Kenseth said of the firefighters.

* "BP," Bobby Labonte run "Victory Lap" at The Rock ... NASCAR's tribute to 33-year NASCAR Winston Cup Series sponsor R.J. Reynolds takes place this week at North Carolina Speedway, the next-to-last stop of the nine-event "Victory Lap" tribute program. NASCAR Winston Cup Series champions Benny Parsons (1973) and Bobby Labonte (2000) will take a parade lap prior to the start of Sunday's race. Parsons will be back in the No. 72 Victory Lap Chevrolet, while Labonte will run his No. 18 Interstate Batteries/Victory Lap Chevrolet. Parsons, winner of the 1975 Daytona 500, was the first driver to qualify a stock car at more than 200 mph and finished in the top 10 in 283 of 526 (54%) events. One of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers, he is also a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Labonte's win at Atlanta in March brings his career NASCAR Winston Cup victory total to 20. He has 100 top-five and 164 top-10 finishes in his 12-year career. Reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart and seven-time series champion Richard Petty will close out the tribute program at Homestead on Nov. 16.

* NASCAR Performance brand launched ... NASCAR has announced the launch of the NASCAR Performance brand. Targeted to installers and consumers, NASCAR Performance will appear on more than 25 aftermarket brands such as Mobil 1 Oil, Goodyear belts and hoses, Moog Chassis parts, Exide Batteries and Wix Filters. The brand will serve as a NASCAR "seal of approval" for quality and reliability. The new brand will be made visible through the NASCAR Performance Network -- a marketing program that promotes vehicle maintenance and directs consumers to nearby service facilities. The network, housed on NASCAR.com, features a shop locator service for driving directions, store hours, services and certifications. An ad campaign (TV, print, radio and internet) for the NASCAR Performance Network uses NASCAR crew chiefs such as Greg Zipadelli (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), Slugger Labbe (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet) and Ryan Pemberton (No. 01 U.S. Army Pontiac).

* Winston Leader Bonus now at $350,000 ... Time is running out on the NASCAR Winston Cup season as well as the opportunity to claim the Winston Leader Bonus, which has grown to a record $350,000 entering Sunday's race at Rockingham. Matt Kenseth is the only driver who can claim the Leader Bonus, which is awarded to the driver who wins the race and is also the points leader. Established in 1996, the Leader Bonus has never gone unrewarded throughout an entire season. It starts as a $10,000 bonus available only to the previous year's NASCAR Winston Cup champion should he win the next year's season-opening Daytona 500, then grows in increments of $10,000 in every points race thereafter until claimed. Once awarded, it would then revert to its original $10,000 award, growing incrementally thereafter if unclaimed. The NASCAR Winston Cup Leader Bonus has been collected on 47 occasions by seven drivers, most recently by Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) at Darlington in September of last season. If the Leader Bonus goes unclaimed through the entire year, the remaining money will be divided incrementally among the NASCAR Top 10.

* Closing in ... Waltrip's crew wins pit award at Phoenix ... Michael Waltrip's pit crew came one step closer to claiming the McDonald's/POWERade Drive-Thru Pit Championship Award Sunday at Phoenix. Waltrip's crew spent a total of 159.435 seconds in the pits, the lowest total among teams competing in the program. Waltrip's crew leads the overall season standings by 22 points over teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew with two races to go. The title is worth $20,000 to the winning team. Bill Elliott's crew has a competition-leading seven wins this season while Waltrip's and Earnhardt's crews each have five.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) has the most wins at Rockingham among active drivers with five. Wallace won back-to-back races in the fall of 1988 and the spring of '89, then won three consecutive events at "The Rock" with a sweep in '93 and the spring race in '94. ... Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) and Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge) each have five Bud Poles at Rockingham, the most by active drivers. ... Terry Labonte leads active drivers with 13 top fives and 25 top-10 finishes at Rockingham. ... Ricky Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) has more Rockingham starts than any active driver -- 52.

QUOTEBOOK

* "Last year's win was great, but with what has been going on here lately, another win at Rockingham would be even better. We have had it circled on the calendar for awhile. Heck, we have even talked about how we would celebrate if we were lucky enough to win again. It will be something you have never seen before. We are motivated. We want to win. This team has been together for four years and we want to win Rockingham or Homestead just as much as we wanted to win Daytona when we first started. That would be going out in style." -- Johnny Benson, Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 defending champion -- which was his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series win.

* "This will be the first race for Pat (Tryson) as our new crew chief, so he'll be challenged right off the bat. However, I'm confident that we can go to Rockingham this weekend and put together a strong run. We've mixed some things up and we have a little bit of a new look with Pat. Hopefully that can be the right catalyst to help get us back on track." -- Mark Martin, whose former crew chief, Ben Leslie, this week switched with Tryson and moved to the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford of Ricky Rudd.

* "I've won there and it's a great feeling. The place can be really tough but you can be in a 'zone' there. You've heard guys like Michael Jordan get into a 'zone' where, all of the sudden, the basket is as big as a barrel in their minds and they can't miss anything. You can get into a 'zone' in race cars, too. That's the feeling I got the times I won at Rockingham. It's like the car is just perfect. You always hit your marks because they look enormous in your mind, and the car feels like a dream. It's a feeling you can't beat." -- Kyle Petty, who has three of his eight career NASCAR Winston Cup victories at Rockingham.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On October 31, 1965 at North Carolina Speedway, Curtis Turner was making his seventh start since returning to NASCAR Grand National (now NASCAR Winston Cup) racing in September. He was driving a first-class Ford for the famed Wood Brothers, but Turner had to be a bit rusty and, after all, he was over 40 years old, very unusual for race drivers in that era when most had retired by their late 30s. Turner qualified fourth in the first series event at the venue, but could he win? He hadn't seen a NASCAR victory lane since March 1959. In contention for most of the race, Turner took the lead for the final time on Lap 474. The last 25 laps saw the "old pro" wage a duel with young upstart Cale Yarborough. It was a classic scene of age and wisdom against youth and nerve, with Turner winning out. The race closed a chapter in NASCAR history. It was Turner's last win and the final victory for any of NASCAR's pioneer drivers. A new generation was coming on, such as Yarborough. Gone from the headlines were the names of Flock, Roberts, Thomas and Weatherly. In a year or two, names like Bobby Allison, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Richard Petty and David Pearson would dominate.

What: Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 (NASCAR Winston Cup Series race No. 35 of 36.)
Where: North Carolina Speedway, Rockingham, N.C.
When: Sunday, Nov. 9, 1 p.m. ET.

TV: TNT, 12:30 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.

Race length: 400 miles/393 laps.
Track layout: 1.017-mile oval.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday--Practice, 11:20-1:20 p.m. Qualifying, 3:05 p.m. Saturday--Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. and 11:10-11:55 a.m.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Alex Zanardi , Johnny Benson , Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Richard Petty , Bobby Allison , Mark Martin , David Pearson