* Season winds down, but still plenty of excitement left * Sorenson looks to make NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut at Atlanta * Chevrolet opens slight gap in race for Bill France Performance Cup DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 26, 2005) -- The...
* Season winds down, but still plenty of excitement left
* Sorenson looks to make NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut at Atlanta
* Chevrolet opens slight gap in race for Bill France Performance Cup
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 26, 2005) -- The way the season has played out thus far, one last off-weekend for the NASCAR Busch Series comes at an opportune time for drivers and teams to take one more breather before the final three races of the season at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.
The break is also welcome considering what's still at stake.
The championship will come down to the last three weeks of the season. Defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. (No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) has been trying to shake Clint Bowyer (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet) since Bowyer took over second place in the points standings in early July.
Bowyer is 100 points behind Truex, but does have a positive precedent for motivation. In 1989, Rob Moroso was in third place in the standings, trailing Tommy Houston by 125 points with three races left. He overcame both Houston and second-place Tommy Ellis to capture the title that season.
The battle for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title between Carl Edwards (No. 60 Charter Communications Ford) and Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Discount Tire Co. Dodge) is the closest in NASCAR Busch Series history. Where the award has all but been decided in NASCAR's other two national series, Edwards has a slim eight-point lead over Sorenson with three races to go. Both drivers have held the series' lead this season, a first for a NASCAR Busch Series rookie.
To date this season, 10 races have been won by a margin of a half-second or less. Two of the three race tracks left on the schedule produced split-second finishes the last time series drivers took them on. Kasey Kahne (No. 6 Hellman's Mayonnaise Dodge) edged Greg Biffle (No. 66 Duraflame Ford) by .304-second at Texas Motor Speedway this past April. And at the season finale last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kevin Harvick (No. 21 Reese's Chevrolet) slipped by Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Bell Helicopter Dodge) by just .218-second.
Four drivers are keying on the last three races to secure a final spot in the NASCAR Busch Series Top 10. David Green (No. 27 Kleenex Ford) is eighth with 3,520 points, but his ranking is within striking distance of ninth-place Jason Keller (No. 35 McDonald's Ford), who is 16 points behind (3,504). David Stremme (No. 14 U.S. NAVY Dodge) is 10th with 3,457 points, but J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Vigoro/Home Depot Chevrolet) is making a late-season surge and sits 47 points behind Stremme. Not to be overlooked is Biffle who, despite missing eight of the season's 32 races, is 102 points out of 10th. He is scheduled to participate in the final three races of the year.
And, there's the five-race winning streak of Ryan Newman (No. 39 Sony Dodge). Newman has created a new line in the NASCAR Busch Series record book by winning races in his last five starts. Those starts haven't been consecutive, but they have been in the same season. Sam Ard won four consecutive races in 1983, which is still the series standard. Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured wins in five successive starts, but those starts were over a three-season period and all but one victory (Richmond) was secured at a restrictor-plate track.
Newman, who is entered at Texas, has registered his wins at different tracks beginning with the road course at Watkins Glen. He followed with a win at Michigan's 2-mile oval, and then won at the .533-mile bullring at Bristol. He was victorious at Dover's "Monster Mile," before claiming his most recent victory at the 1.5-mile Lowe's Motor Speedway.
NEWS & NOTES, PART II
Bowyer still hanging on ... Clint Bowyer set a preseason goal of three victories in his first full NASCAR Busch Series season. His win at Memphis last Saturday was his second of the year and enabled him to gain 26 points on Martin Truex Jr. in the championship points standings. But he'll have to put more distance in between his finishes and Truex's if he is to catch the reigning series champion in what is now a three-race sprint to the finish. Although there's still plenty of ground for Bowyer to make up, he's confident heading into the last three races of the year as there are two 1.5-mile tracks -- next week at Texas and the season finale at Homestead-Miami. Bowyer believes his team has an advantage at those tracks despite a 15.0 average finish at 1.5-mile tracks this season, while Truex averages a 12.4. Bowyer likes his chances heading to Texas where he finished sixth this past April. Truex, however, had a bad day, finishing 35th, at the time his worst finish since his series debut in 2001 when he was 38th at Dover. Truex has the edge at Homestead-Miami. Last year, even with the title clinched, he raced to a ninth-place finish while Bowyer finished 39th. Sandwiched in the middle of the remaining schedule is the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway, where Truex finished ninth earlier this year while Bowyer was 13th. Truex has a 5.6 average finish at 1-mile tracks this season while Bowyer has a 9.2, including second-place efforts in his last two outings.
Sorenson debuts at home ... Reed Sorenson, a native of Peachtree City, Ga., will attempt to make his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. The 19-year-old is fourth in the NASCAR Busch Series points standings, and is battling Carl Edwards for third place in the points as well as for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Busch Series. Sorenson led 47 laps at Atlanta last October in his first NASCAR Busch Series race at the track. He was relegated to a 29th-place finish following an accident, but was a threat to win the race up to that point. Sorenson will drive the No. 39 Discount Tire Co. Dodge, the same car he will drive on a fulltime basis in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition next season, in addition to participating in a full season in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2006. Sorenson is also entered in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event at Texas in two weeks. "I'm glad that my debut will be at my hometown track," Sorenson said. "I always want to do well in front of the hometown crowd. I have a lot of friends and family members that come out to the track, and it's a track that has been instrumental in my career since I was a kid."
Surprising Hamlin also heads to Atlanta ... Denny Hamlin (No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet) is no longer a surprise in the NASCAR Busch Series, having been in the top 10 for the last 29 weeks. The Raybestos Rookie will take a fifth-place ranking in the series standings into Texas next week. However, the 24-year-old from Chesterfield, Va., has been quite a surprise in his brief NASCAR NEXTEL Cup career, which looks to extend to four races at Atlanta this weekend. After what was called a successful debut at Kansas earlier this month, where he started seventh and finished 32nd in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet, Hamlin has posted consecutive eighth-place finishes at Charlotte and Martinsville. "I really thought that it (NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing) would be [more challenging] because it's the hardest sport on earth to get into, but I thought I would struggle a lot more," he said. "But I might still do it down the road." Hamlin registered a seventh-place finish at Memphis last Saturday before pulling "double-duty" at Martinsville on Sunday. He did not practice or qualify at Memphis prior to the race, which was his first in the NASCAR Busch Series on the .75-mile track.
Chevrolet extends lead in Manufacturers race ... Clint Bowyer's come-from-behind win at Memphis last Saturday helped Chevrolet extend its slight lead in the Bill France Performance Cup standings. Bowyer's victory -- the first for Chevy in three races -- gives the manufacturer 13 wins for the year and upped its point total to 213. Ford is second in the points standings with 203, but is one victory behind Dodge; Dodge has 10 wins and 192 points while Ford has nine wins. Chevrolet and Ford have each won four times at Texas Motor Speedway in NASCAR Busch Series competition.
Martin Truex Jr. will attempt to qualify for his sixth race in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition this season at Atlanta. In addition, Truex will compete in the final race of the IROC season with a chance to capture second place. He enters the finale in fourth. ... Johnny Sauter (No. 1 Yellow Transportation Dodge) will also try to qualify at Atlanta this weekend. ... Ashton Lewis Jr. (No. 25 U.S. Marine Corps Ford) will spend his off-weekend running in the 31st Marine Corps Marathon 8K in Washington, D.C. Lewis has been training for the Oct. 30 event for the last few months. He will run the race with Team Rensi Motorsports Marketing Director Rob Winchester, Major, USMC (Ret.). This will be Lewis' first race using his legs rather than his car. ... Mark Green and Tim Sauter have parted ways with their teams, effective immediately. Green had driven the No. 23 BMAR/Vassarrette Chevrolet for Keith Coleman Racing, while Sauter competed for Mac Hill Motorsports in the No. 56 Lester Buildings Chevrolet. ... Ray Evernham and Erin Crocker were scheduled to appear with executives from The Stanley Works outside the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday to assist in showcasing the company's motorsports marketing program that includes sponsorship for Evernham's teams in each of NASCAR's national series.
"Restarts earlier this season, do we have to talk about them? I've cost us a couple wins on restarts this year. That's something I've worked really hard on this year, and it showed. I got good jumps, especially the last five times." -- Clint Bowyer following his win at Memphis.
"We'll take another top-10 finish and hope we can just continue on this roll we're on at the last three races." -- Paul Menard (No. 11 Menard's Chevrolet), who has 14 top-10 finishes in his last 17 races, after his sixth-place finish at Memphis.
"I've learned a lot and it's been great racing with all the other champions from the different series." -- Defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. on competing in IROC this season.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Harry Gant enjoyed one of the most successful careers in NASCAR Busch Series history. Gant's 21 series victories tied him with Dale Earnhardt for sixth place on the all-time win list.
Gant's 21st and final series win came at Atlanta Motor Speedway in October 1994 at the wheel of Ed Whitaker's Chevrolet. Gant started 23rd in the field but moved to the front on Lap 70. He led nearly half the race to win by 2 seconds over Larry Pearson. A surprising rookie, Randy Porter, came home third.
Gant's winning speed of 127.649 mph set a race record, breaking the mark of 124.412 set in the first NASCAR Busch Series race at Atlanta by a driver named Jeff Gordon, who won his first NASCAR national series race by capturing the inaugural series event at the 1.54-mile track in 1992.
ON DECK: TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
The NASCAR Busch Series counts down its final three races of the season beginning with a return to Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 5. This race is the inaugural event for the series at Texas; the spring race this past April was won by Kasey Kahne, who nipped Greg Biffle at the finish line by .304-second. A.J. Foyt IV (No. 38 Great Clips Dodge), a native of Hockley, Texas, made his series debut at Memphis and will race for the first time at his home track in the NASCAR Busch Series. Justin Labonte (No. 44 U.S. Coast Guard Chevrolet), returns to his family's home state as well; the Labonte clan hails from Corpus Christi.
Next Race: O'Reilly Challenge (Race No. 33 of 35 in the NASCAR Busch Series season).
Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Ft. Worth, Texas
When: 2:00 p.m. ET, Saturday, Nov. 5.
Track Layout: 1.5-mile oval.
Race Length: 300 L/200 M.
Posted Awards: $1,155,720.
TV: TNT, 2 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2004 Winner: Inaugural event.
2004 Polesitter: Inaugural event.
NASCAR Busch Series Top 10: 1. Martin Truex Jr. 4,511. 2. Clint Bowyer 4,411. 3. Carl Edwards 4,140. 4. Reed Sorenson 4,082. 5. Denny Hamlin 3,842. 6. Kenny Wallace 3,786. 7. Paul Menard 3,710. 8. David Green 3,520. 9. Jason Keller 3,504. 10. David Stremme 3,457.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Fri., Nov. 4 -- Practice, 9-11:15 a.m.; Qualifying 5:05 p.m. (impound).