*Jimmie Johnson Riding Recent Momentum *Greg Biffle, Casey Mears, Tony Stewart Top Loop Data *"Texas" Terry Labonte Ready For Last Series Ride News And Notes Jimmie Johnson Back In Title Hunt He's done it with difficulty, but there's no...
*Jimmie Johnson Riding Recent Momentum
*Greg Biffle, Casey Mears, Tony Stewart Top Loop Data
*"Texas" Terry Labonte Ready For Last Series Ride
News And Notes
Jimmie Johnson Back In Title Hunt
He's done it with difficulty, but there's no doubt Jimmie Johnson is a Chase threat, again.
A four-race turnaround has boosted Johnson from eighth place to second in the Chase standings, only 26 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
On Oct. 9, he trailed first place by 156 points following a last-lap incident at Talladega Superspeedway that cost him an opportunity to win and advance in the standings.
A pair of runner-up finishes -- at Lowe's Motor Speedway and Atlanta, plus a win at Martinsville Speedway -- have perhaps put Johnson back on the fast track to his first series title.
There is precedent: Three consecutive victories in the 2004 Chase's fifth, sixth and seventh event propelled Johnson from eighth to second place heading into the season's final three races. He eventually finished second to champion Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) by only eight points, the closest title margin in NASCAR history.
Johnson, a top-five finisher in each of his four previous NASCAR NEXTEL Cup seasons, didn't stumble onto his latest comeback. According to NASCAR's Loop Data statistics, he owns the top Driver Rating (106.9) during the Chase and also has the best Average Starting Position -- 7.6 -- among Chase drivers. More notable topics heading into Texas:
Jeff Gordon Still A Factor -- The four-time series champion is vying for a fifth crown, but he needs luck and exceptional performances at the three remaining Chase venues -- Texas, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway -- also the only current series tracks where he hasn't won.
A Varied Victory Lane -- Texas Motor Speedway will host its 12th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event on Sunday, seeking its 12th different winner or its first repeat winner. Five drivers in the 2006 Chase are former Texas winners. They include Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford).
Career Milestones -- Burton and Earnhardt share the distinction of capturing their first series victories at Texas. Burton did it in 1997; Earnhardt in 2000. Burton's win also came in the first series event at Texas.
A Texas-Sized Challenge -- Kevin Harvick represents the opposite end of the stat sheet. He has only two top-10 finishes in seven career Texas starts, including a fifth-place finish in April.
Keys To Victory: Smart Set-ups, Handling Paramount At Texas
Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile environs is fast and fun for most drivers, but exactness -- both in set-ups and strategy -- is a must for teams pursuing a victory there.
Since its 1997 debut, the track has undergone several changes and a decade's worth of seasoning. This translates into a mature surface with multiple grooves, and an optimal surface for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams.
Here's a quick look at this week's priorities:
Don't Skimp On Set-ups -- Texas is an oval with 24-degree banking in all four turns. Crew chiefs likely will emphasize a set-up that keeps their cars tight entering the turns, maintaining good, consistent speed throughout. But they'll also allow for smooth turning exiting the corners, giving their drivers the best possible positioning for the next turn, or straightaway.
Be Smooth On The Throttle -- Texas' reputation as a fast track means it's tempting to run all-out, all the time. But drivers must temper instinct with handling.
Easing back on the throttle as one exits a corner helps negate a car's tendency to push, keeping it balanced. And drivers can't be too cautious. Jumping back on the throttle to tackle the next straightaway is equally important.
Find Your Groove -- The maturity of Texas' racing surface means drivers have a variety of lines they can use all the way around the track during a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event.
Picking the right one is a bit trickier. Drivers willing to move around and try different grooves usually fare well. And, like working the throttle, it's a balancing act. Searching for the best groove also means not giving up track position, or allowing a competitor to pass.
In The Loop: Chase Drivers Not The Only Ones with Texas-Sized Statistics
Several Chase participants delight in the November return to Texas Motor Speedway, and with good statistical reason. But they're not alone. Former Texas winner Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford) dominates NASCAR's pre-race Loop Data statistics there, leading four categories -- Fastest Drivers Early in a Turn, in Turn 1, Turn 3 and Turn 4. Biffle also ranks third in pre-race Driver Rating (110.6) for Texas.
Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) leads Fastest Drivers Late in a Run and Turn 4. Reigning series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) leads pre-race Driver Rating (111.8) and ranks in the top five of seven other categories.
Defending race champion Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) leads Fastest Drivers on the Backstretch.
As for Chase participants, Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads Quality Passes. Denny Hamlin leads Average Running Position and is second in Driver Rating (111.4). The winner of Texas' spring event, Kasey Kahne, leads Fastest Drivers on the Frontstretch.
Standings leader Matt Kenseth leads Fastest Drivers on Restarts.
Farewell To A Champion
One of NASCAR's most distinguished competitors will hang up his driving gloves and helmet for good following Sunday's Dickies 500.
Two-time series champion -- and Corpus Christi native -- Terry Labonte will retire following the event, ending a career that includes 25 fulltime seasons and an exceptional reputation.
Labonte, 49, retired from fulltime competition following the 2004 season. He's run a part-time schedule during the past two years for longtime team Hendrick Motorsports, plus the first five events of 2006 for the new Hall of Fame Racing team.
Labonte, who will drive the No. 44 Kellogg's Chevrolet on Sunday, is one of only 14 drivers to win multiple NASCAR NEXTEL Cup titles.
He and brother Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) are the only brothers with series titles; Bobby won his in 2002.
Terry Labonte's titles came in 1984 and 1996.
Locked In: Sterling Marlin Still Solid In Final Guaranteed Spot
While the 2007 season promises to be an eventful one for Ginn Racing, the final three races of 2006 are just as important to a team intent on expanding and improving its performance. Heading to Texas, the importance of the final "locked-in" starting spot for each of the remaining NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events can't be underestimated.
Sterling Marlin (No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet) is doing his part for new car owner, Bobby Ginn. He's 35th in the current car owner standings, significant because any teams outside the top 35 will be forced to rely on qualifying speeds, to make the field for Sunday's Dickies 500.
Even more important, the top 35 in final owner points will be used to help set the field through the first five events of 2007 -- added impetus for Marlin's team and those challenging the No. 14 for that final, locked-in position.
Crew Member Spotlight: No Shortage of Texans In NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Garage
Perhaps the best-known Texas natives in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup garage are drivers, brothers -- and series champions -- Terry and Bobby Labonte, who hail from Corpus Christi.
But the crew rosters link at www.nascarmedia. com offers other Texas natives working in the series in many capacities. Consider Lance Hanna, the rear tire changer for David Gilliland's No. 38 M&M's Ford team. He hails from Weatherford, Texas.
There's also Jason Binger, the rear tire carrier for Jamie McMurray's No. 26 Crown Royal Ford, and Chris Sweeny, who drives the transporter for Kasey Kahne's team.
Bill Saunders, the managing partner for the new Hall of Fame Racing team owned by NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, is a Dallas, Texas native.
Two members of Travis Kvapil's No. 32 Tide-Downy Chevrolet team are Texans -- engineer Ed Nathan, from San Angelo, and jack man Eric Wilson from Palestine.
Rookie Report: Candidates Battle For Position Behind Hamlin
Denny Hamlin isn't slowing down or going away in the battle for the 2006 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. In fact, he continues to be a factor in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- as the first official rookie participant -- and isn't blinking in the face of pressure or inexperience.
This week, Hamlin heads to Texas with a 58-point lead over his second-place rookie rival -- Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet).
The battle behind Hamlin and Bowyer, however, has heated up in recent weeks.
Third-place Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) trails Bowyer by 29 points, while fourth-place Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet), trails Sorenson by only two points.
Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), remains fifth, only nine points behind Truex. David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) is sixth.
Where In The World Is Ken Schrader?
Perhaps the busiest racer in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup garage, Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) is allowing himself a short-track break this week.
Schrader will appear Tuesday and Wednesday at the APEX trade show in Las Vegas before attending a Thursday dinner in honor of fellow driver Terry Labonte on Thursday night. He'll compete at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday.
Manufacturers' Championship Update: Dodge Holds Slim Second-Place Edge
Tony Stewart's victory last week at Atlanta gave Chevrolet its 21st win of the season and a total of 233 wins to date.
Chevrolet clinched its 30th Manufacturers Championship in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series several weeks ago, but Dodge and Ford remain in quite a battle for second-place honors.
Heading to Texas, Dodge leads Ford with 189 points and seven wins in 2006. Ford has 183 points and five wins.
Ford holds a historical edge at Texas, where it has been the winning manufacturer in seven of the track's 11 series races to date. Chevrolet has two wins (1999 and 2000). Dodge also has two wins -- in 2003 and earlier this season in April.
On Deck: Phoenix International Raceway Hosts Penultimate Chase Event
Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz., will host the Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil -- the ninth event in the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- on Sunday, Nov. 12. (3 p.m. ET, NBC).
Chase participant Kyle Busch (No. 5 CARQUEST Chevrolet) is the event's defending champion. It was his second series victory, and helped to propel him to eventual Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors.
This season's Raybestos Rookie leader, Denny Hamlin, was last year's event polesitter -- his first career Budweiser Pole.
The Race: Dickies 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway, Ft. Worth, Texas
The Date: Nov. 51
The Time: 2:55 p.m. (ET)
TV: NBC 2:30 p.m. (ET)
Track Layout: 1.5-mile oval
2005 Winner: Carl Edwards
2005 Pole: Ryan Newman
Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12:05-1:35 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9:30-10:30 a.m. and 11:05-11:50 p.m.