NASCAR Changes Qualifying Format
posted by Summer Bedgood
Tuesday March 11, 2014
Following safety concerns regarding NASCAR’s new qualifying format, the sanctioning body is introducing some changes in preparation for this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. According to the Associated Press, NASCAR is banning teams from cool-down laps after their qualifying attempts, but will instead be allowed to hook up cool-down units to the engine through hood flaps.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a release from NASCAR fully detailed the changes. Teams will be allowed a single cool down unit to be connected through the right or left side hood flap, however the hood must remain closed. Additionally, two crew members will be allowed over the wall while cooling down.
“The qualifying is new to all of us and as we have said over the past several weeks, we are looking at it from all aspects,” said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition and racing development. “Following discussions, both internally and with others in the garage area, we moved quickly to make a few revisions that will be effective starting with our two national series events at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. We believe this will only enhance and improve what has demonstrated to be an exciting form of qualifying for our fans, competitors and others involved with the sport. Moving forward we will continue to look at it and address anything else that we may need to as the season unfolds.”
The move comes after three weeks of NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying system, where multiple cars are allowed to make qualifying attempts at the same time instead of the traditional one-car-at-a-time procedure. Drivers and teams had complained that the new rules didn’t allow them to cool their engines down on pit road, and the cool-down laps caused a dangerous situation with slower cars staying on the track at the same time that other cars were running by them at much higher speeds.
The rule will begin this weekend in Bristol, a track that has a much narrower racing surface than Daytona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Thomas Bowles · Tuesday September 9, 2008
After seven months, 26 races, and a rollercoaster of ups and downs, the 2008 Chase for the Championship field is now set. This year’s twelve participants will go at it in the fifth edition of NASCAR’s new format, battling through a ten-week playoff push that will culminate with a 400-mile shootout at Homestead in November. On that fateful Sunday, the sport will reach a new milestone, awarding the 60th championship trophy in the history of what’s now known as NASCAR’s Sprint Cup division.
This latest version of the Chase, as has been the pattern in recent years, represents a little of the best and worst the sport has to offer. On the plus side, you’ve got some of the most legendary active drivers battling with some of the sport’s newest young guns. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and two-time defending champ Jimmie Johnson have nine series titles between them, and they’ll battle the momentum established by regular season standard-bearers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. But this year’s group comes from just four organizations – the fewest number of car owners in Chase history – which means the concept of “team play” will jump to new levels as they stop at nothing to end the year on top.
As we’ve seen in the past, it can sometimes be difficult to sort out playoff contenders from the pretenders. But on paper, who’s entering this year’s Chase with an edge over the competition? Read on below to find out Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading into the final ten-race stretch:
Jimmie Johnson — Entering the Chase third, 40 points behind leader Kyle Busch, Johnson’s hoping three becomes his lucky number this Fall; but in some ways, it already is. Seeking a third straight championship for Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson will go for his third straight win in the Cup Series at Loudon, following a convincing victory at Richmond to finish off the regular season. And while much of the focus as of late has been on Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, it’s Johnson who’s heated up over the last two months. He’s matched Edwards with three wins since Indianapolis in July, leading 379 laps in the process while racking up – you guessed it – three pole positions.
With all that said, it’s still likely you’re considering Johnson as the third-best option in this year’s title field. But be aware the stats show this is the best summer Johnson’s had leading up to the playoffs … and all we know how good they were in ’06 and ‘07. It won’t be a shoo-in like the last two seasons, but this is a team that should not be counted out.
Carl Edwards — Seeded second in this year’s Chase, 30 points behind Busch, Cousin Carl won’t be sneaking up on anybody this Fall. And while he ended Richmond a disappointing 13th, the fact it was his worst run since Chicagoland in July tells you all about the momentum this driver’s bringing into the playoffs. Since Indianapolis, Edwards has matched Johnson’s success, claiming three wins of his own while racking up a scintillating average finish of 4.7. With those kind of numbers, it’s hard not to label the No. 99 as one of your title favorites – although I wouldn’t expect any kind of miracle at the Magic Mile. Edwards struggled to 17th in July, failing to lead a lap while extending a streak of four straight finishes outside the Top 10 at New Hampshire.
Kyle Busch — NASCAR’s Bad Boy enters the playoffs struggling a bit, but remains the number one seed on the strength of eight regular season victories. That gives Busch a small cushion to hold off Edwards and Johnson as the No. 18 team gets itself in order for the stretch run. With six Top 10s in his last nine starts – including five finishes of second or better – it’s not like the No. 18 car has lost his mojo altogether. For Busch to win the title, though, he’s going to have to avoid embarrassing incidents like his Richmond wreck, coming courtesy the front bumper of the No. 88. With all the feathers he’s ruffled this season, Busch learned at Richmond that payback can be a bitch, intentional or not; and he can’t afford for it to happen again during the playoffs.
Kevin Harvick — Many think the top three have done enough to be in a league of their own, but Harvick’s recent performance deserves a mention. While a winless season has the ’07 Daytona 500 winner seeded ninth in the Chase, six consecutive Top 10 finishes have left him a darkhorse title contender. And of the four drivers we just listed, it’s Harvick who’s got the best shot to get off to a strong start at Loudon. He led 54 laps there en route to a 14th place finish in July, and won the ’06 version of the playoff opener there in dominating fashion. Is an 80-point deficit on Busch too much to make up over the ten-race stretch ahead? We’ll have to wait and see; but there’s no question the No. 29 team will be the strongest championship entry out of the RCR camp.
Tony Stewart — While Smoke was clearly fuming following a near-miss at Richmond, don’t read too much into his post-race fracas with crew chief Greg Zipadelli over the radio. Once cooler heads prevail – and they will – both will look ahead and see a solid summer has put them in position to have an outside shot at a third title. Three runner-up finishes in his last six starts have pushed Stewart up to sixth in regular-season points, and the playoff format leaves him just 80 behind teammate Kyle Busch. With the No. 20 team poised to end their winless drought this weekend – Stewart led a race-high 154 laps at Loudon in July before circumstances left them 13th at the finish – look for them to emerge from the pack in their 10th and final season together.
Denny Hamlin — With his back against the wall after an engine failure at Michigan, Hamlin shined through the final three weeks of the regular season. Indeed, three was the number of choice for the third-year driver, who racked up thirds at Bristol, California, and Richmond to solidify his spot in the 12-driver field. With just one win so far this season, Hamlin may not be deserving of the Chase’s fourth seed – but after an ’07 playoff in which he slid to 12th, it’s doubtful we’ll see a disaster happen twice in a row. The key for this team will be getting over the mechanical problems that have plagued them in recent weeks; Hamlin’s got more DNFs in 2008 (two) than he’d had the previous two years combined.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver showed signs of life after a fourth place finish at Richmond. But to give you a clue of how bad things were at the No. 88 camp, that marked Junior’s first Top 5 since his lone win of the season at Michigan – back in June. Over the last 13 races, he’s led just 269 laps, and the communication with crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. is iffy at best. With an average finish of 29th this season at Loudon and Dover – the first two Chase events – it’d be a shocker if Junior contends for a title in his first season with HMS.
Matt Kenseth — The ’03 champ pulled one of the biggest comebacks of his career to remain one of two men to make all five Chase for the Championships (Jimmie Johnson is the other). After falling outside the Top 20 in points, Kenseth closed with 11 Top 10 finishes to end the regular season 11th in the standings. But a wreck at Richmond had him limping home in 39th, and just 12 laps led this summer doesn’t inspire confidence that his season-long winless streak will come to an end anytime soon. After two straight seasons of solid Chase performances, it’d be a surprise to see this team finish in the top half.
Greg Biffle — While all twelve men have made the Chase before, there’s no one happier to be here than Biffle –he’s making his first appearance in the playoffs since a runner-up finish in 2005. But while the No. 16 team’s had a renaissance season, duplicating that ’05 performance will be nothing short of a miracle. Coming into the Chase on the strength of four Top 15 finishes, that streak’s likely to end for Biffle at Loudon – he finished a ho-hum 21st there in July. And while he’s the defending champ at Kansas, the expectations are low for a man that looks to be third or fourth best within his own organization.
Jeff Gordon — Coming home with a Top 10 finish at Richmond, the four-time champ buckled down and played it safe to make the playoffs. But twelve months removed from a dominating season, just getting to the Chase will likely be the biggest accomplishment for Gordon in ’08. Just one Top 5 over the past month had him limping to the finish line, leaving the Rainbow Warrior a few steps below not just Jimmie Johnson, but new teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as well. Crew chief Steve Letarte believes there’s magic left in the tank for the playoffs, but with the type of year this legend’s had, that seems like wishful thinking. Right now, Gordon has a better chance of getting to Homestead in jeopardy of his first winless season since 1993 rather than on the verge of completing his Drive For Five.
Clint Bowyer — Bowyer made the Chase at Richmond, but it wasn’t easy, with the No. 07 Chevy suffering handling problems that took him outside the Top 20 at one point. Some say he might have played dirty by using Regan Smith as a pinball to bodyslam Chase rival David Ragan, but you can’t argue with the final result: Bowyer’s in, Ragan’s out, and that’s the bottom line people will remember 10 years from now. However, it’s going to be nearly impossible for Bowyer to duplicate last season’s unlikely run as Chase Cinderella. His RCR team’s been behind the curve for most of the year, and Bowyer’s failed to lead a lap since pulling the upset at Richmond in May. Add the distractions of a pending fourth car and a switch to the new No. 33 for 2009, and this is one driver who’s going to have his hands full to simply finish these playoffs in the Top 10.
Jeff Burton — The oldest driver in this year’s Chase at 40, Burton’s looked his age over the season’s second half. Leading just 14 laps in the last 20 races of the regular season, the No. 31 car has gone the entire summer without a Top 5 finish. If it wasn’t for the strong start over the season’s first three months, we’d be talking about Burton, not Kasey Kahne, as the odd man out in this year’s Chase. Can this team pull things together over the season’s final 10 races? Given their experience, it’s certainly possible … but don’t expect too much. If Burton doesn’t get off to a solid start this Sunday at Loudon – he leads all drivers with four career wins there – expect him to be at or near the back of the pack throughout most of the ten-race playoff.
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