Series off-week notes 2010-03-31

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes Legends On New Points Leader: Best Closer, Ever Three members of the 50-win club sat down with Ken Squier on SPEED last Sunday: Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points ...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes

Legends On New Points Leader: Best Closer, Ever Three members of the 50-win club sat down with Ken Squier on SPEED last Sunday: Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).

The interview was a "welcome to the club" session of sorts for Jimmie Johnson, who became only the 12th driver to notch 50 wins in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.

Here is some of what the two Hall of Fame nominees had to say about the four-time defending champion:

Ned Jarrett: "I think Darrell Waltrip said on television a few weeks ago, he said that he was the best closer that he'd ever seen, and I think that he's proven that because he'll sit there and be in the top 10 or get up in the top five and they think, 'Well, we got him beat today.' Then, all of the sudden, he's beating the rest of the field."

Junior Johnson: "He doesn't wear his car out. And he doesn't tear it up until he gets it to where he needs to bear down and drive it better than anybody else. That's a pretty hard accomplishment to be able to sit back and wait until you have good stuff.

Ned Jarrett: "I see Jimmie as sort of a cross between Junior and I as far as our styles were concerned. We already established the fact that Junior was flat-out, belly-to-the-ground all the time. Jimmie can be that way when he needs to be. ... I knew that I needed to finish the races to gain points and also to get as much money as I possibly could to keep going. Jimmie has shown that to me that he's a smart race driver, takes care of his equipment and when the time comes to go, he goes."

With a ninth-place finish at Martinsville -- combined with a 35th-place finish by previous points leader Kevin Harvick -- Jimmie Johnson vaulted to the top of the points standings. This is the third time in his career that he leads the points after race No. 6 (2005 and 2006).

Martinsville Brews Up A Renewed Rivalry Between Gordon and Kenseth

The everlasting image whenever anyone brings up Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWalt Ford) in the same sentence is "The Shove."

It happened in March of 2006, at Bristol Motor Speedway. On the final lap, Kenseth wrecked Gordon. On pit road after the race, Kenseth walked over to discuss the situation. Gordon shoved him away.

That was only the beginning. Later that season, in July at Chicagoland Speedway, Gordon got his payback.

Kenseth was in the lead with four laps to go, with Gordon hard charging in second. Gordon got into the back of Kenseth, and spun him out.

That seemed to square things up. That is, until Monday at Martinsville Speedway -- where a rivalry was reborn.

On the race's final restart, with Gordon in the lead, Kenseth bumped the four-time series champion to the outside groove. The lead -- and win -- had vanished, so Gordon did what he felt he had to do.

He got payback, again, pushing Kenseth out of the way in much the same fashion.

"The way he raced me today I didn't think was the way I would have raced him," Gordon said after the race. "But we've had our ups and our downs. But I feel like we've been past that. I certainly didn't feel like we had any issues.

"If somebody hits me, I'm going to hit them. If he hit me, I'm glad I did what I did on the back straightaway. If a guy gives you a cheap shot like that, he doesn't deserve to win the race, in my opinion."

Kenseth's defense: He had no choice.

"It's nothing Jeff wouldn't have done or hasn't done to me, except he's wrecked me all the way out, so it was just an aggressive race for the end. We were gonna be side-by-side going into three and four, and the outside lane has actually been an advantage anyway, so it wasn't gonna be that big of a deal, but, instead, he decided to run me down as low as he could because he knew I'd wreck when I got to the corner. That's the way it turned out. It was a dumb move on my part."

Turns out, the incident killed a strong points day for Kenseth.

In fact, if none of the above happened, Kenseth would be the series' points leader right now. Instead, he finished 18th, and currently sits third in the points 16 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Look At The Loop: Passing Way Up, Thanks In Part To 'Double File Restarts -- Shootout Style'

The drama that the "double file restarts -- shootout style" have produced is evident.

One need only to look at the green-whitecheckered finish in Monday's race at Martinsville Speedway as proof of that.

But for a more tangible evidence, check out the Loop Data.

Battles for the lead are being waged all around the track at a far larger pace than in any of the previous five seasons --- in part because of double-file restarts.

There have been 332 green flag passes for the lead all around the track through the first six races, more than double the previous high in the category. The previous high through six was 162 -- a difference of 170. (see chart for more information).

Monday's race at Martinsville featured 34 green flag passes for the lead. The previous high at Martinsville since NASCAR started calculating the stat in 2005 was 19, in October of 2006.

The statistics tell another story as well -- the racing has been tight all throughout the field. Through six starts this season, there have been 22,432 passes all around the track while under green flag conditions. That's 3,800 more passes then the previous high through six events -- 18,632 in 2007 since the inception of Loop Data in 2005.

BY THE NUMBERS:

Here are some other numbers gleaned from the first six races of the 2010 season:

.927 -- The average margin of victory, in seconds, in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition.

4 -- Races that have had a margin of victory under one second.

12 -- Average number of different leaders this season.

30 -- Average number of lead changes.

33 -- Number of different drivers who have led at least one lap.

113.4 -- Jimmie Johnson's series-best Driver Rating. Only three drivers have a Driver Rating over 100.0 (Kurt Busch, 105.9; Jeff Gordon, 104.9).

53.9 -- Percentage of cars that have finished on the lead lap. At the end of 2009, a NASCAR Sprint Cup record 51.9% of the cars finished on the lead lap.

796 -- Number of passes by Kyle Busch, most in the series.

Bill France Jr., The Man Who Made NASCAR

A new book about the extraordinary life of Bill France Jr. is available in stores now.

Written by H.A. Branham, NASCAR's Director of Written Communications, with a foreword from legendary newsman Tom Brokaw, the book chronicles France's role in NASCAR's early years prior to taking over for his father, through his battle with cancer and his mentoring of son and current Chairman/CEO Brian France.

Known as a strong leader and colorful character, the stories in this book detail both sides.

For example, from the book: "Bill Jr.'s speeches were sometimes spiced with witticisms that became known as "Billisms." They were short and often politically incorrect. But no matter how they were perceived, they were universally understood whenever they were uttered. One of his favorites, to describe the importance of everyone "being on the same page" when it came to an idea: "We gotta all be pissin' through the same straw."

NSCS Etc.

Surprises Up And Down Standings: Going off last season's performances, and preseason predictions, there are a number of surprises throughout the points standings: Paul Menard is 11th (last year he was 35th after six races); Joey Logano is 13th (was 34th after six in '09); Kasey Kahne is 20th (was ninth after six in '09); Juan Pablo Montoya is 25th (was 14th after six in '09).

Hamlin A Gamer: A true athlete plays in pain. That's exactly what Denny Hamlin has done, driving the first six races of this season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Hamlin, who won Monday's Martinsville race, will have surgery on the knee Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C.

Up Next: Race 7 @ Phoenix

Following this offweek, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action April 10 with the Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway's one-mile in the desert. It will be the first Phoenix race that will be 600 kilometers in length (375 laps).

Phoenix is pretty much Hendrick Motorsports' second home, with Victory Lane its living room.

Hendrick has won the last six races at the one-mile flat track, with three different drivers: Jimmie Johnson four times, and Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy.com/CARQUEST Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon once each.

Johnson's four wins is most all-time. Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) leads all drivers with four career poles.

Also watch for Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, each of whom have scored perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 at Phoenix.

After two consecutive races on short tracks (defined as any track under one mile in length), the series heads to five tracks that have unique layouts.

First is one-mile Phoenix, followed by 1.5- mile Texas Motor Speedway, the 2.66-mile restrictor- plate track Talladega Superspeedway, .75-mile Richmond International Raceway and the egg-shaped 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway.

Fast Facts

The Next Race: Subway Fresh Fit 600
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, April 10
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 603 km/375 laps (375 miles)

TV: FOX , 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: Mark Martin
2009 Winner: Mark Martin

Schedule prior to race day:
Friday -- Practice, 10:10-11:55 a.m. and 12:35-2 p.m. Qualifying, 4:10 p.m.

-source: nascar

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Hendrick Motorsports