NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes Chase Bubble Tightens After Chicagoland Race
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The top-12 cut-off bubble — which will decide who earns a spot in the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup — is must-see stuff this time of the year. After each race, there’s something new — and unexpected. Two races ago, after the night race at Daytona International Speedway, ninth-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) was a comfortable 114 points ahead of 13th-place Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet). Pretty safe, right? Wrong. Just a week later, a dominating win at Chicagoland Speedway by Martin and an uncharacteristic 31st-place finish by Biffle led to a major shuffle around the all-important top-12 bubble. Currently, only 13 points separate 10th-place Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) and 13th-place Biffle. Expanding the view a little further doesn’t make the bubble much wider. Only 100 points separate seventh-place Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) from Biffle. (Ask Biffle how quickly a 100-point lead can vanish.) In other words, much of the top-12 field could come down to race No. 26 at Richmond International Raceway, a.k.a. the Chase cut-off race. The names directly circling the bubble are a fascinating bunch: Kyle Busch, has three wins, second-most in the series. But earning a Chase berth is about success over the entire 26-race regular season, something Busch hasn't exactly enjoyed. He has two DNFs and eight finishes outside the top 20 over the first 19 races. Mark Martin, is 11th in the standings and owner of a series-high four wins. But he has suffered a similar fate as Busch all too often this season. Martin has six finishes outside the top 30, which include three DNFs (most of any driver in the top 15). Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), 12th in the standings, won the first two races of the season, but has only two top fives since then. The 2003 champion is looking to make his sixth Chase in six tries. Greg Biffle is in an odd position. Currently in 13th, Biffle was in the top 12 for 10 consecutive weeks prior to being bounced on Saturday night. Martin, Busch Would Catapult To Top — If They Make It Winning means everything. Take a look at what the standings would look like if the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup began today (graphic on right available at NASCARMedia.com). Once the Chase starts, the top-12 drivers will have their points reset to 5,000. An additional 10 bonus points will be added to that total for each win in the first 26 races. Mark Martin would launch up the standings, leapfrogging 10 other drivers, to take the top seed. Currently in 11th place, and fighting to hang on to Chase spot, Martin’s four wins would give 40 potential bonus points. Kyle Busch would also benefit from his frequent visits to Victory Lane. He currently has 30 potential bonus points, thanks to his wins at Las Vegas, Bristol and Richmond. Busch would jump from 10th place to the second seed in the Chase. And though Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) currently enjoys a top-five points position, he has no wins and zero potential bonus points. His lack of victories would make him the ninth seed if the Chase started today. Gold Standard: Martin Enjoying Best Year In Over A Decade The wins list for drivers in Mark Martin’s age bracket is a short one. Only four drivers over the age of 50 have won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race: Martin, Harry Gant, Bobby Allison and Morgan Shepherd. This season, Martin joined Gant as the only over-50 drivers to win multiple races. Gant won eight after his 50th birthday, including five in 1991 as a 51-year-old. But Martin says he doesn’t feel like a 50-year-old — while in the race car, anyway. “That adrenaline is something, there's nothing like it,” Martin said after his win on Saturday. “When I'm pumped up driving fast racecars, I certainly don't feel 50. But I do on Monday mornings, or tomorrow Sunday morning. It's going to be nearly daylight by the time I get home. I don't care. But that is certainly past my bedtime.” Martin’s season — his first with Hendrick Motorsports — is the definition of a rebirth. Prior to 2009, he had run two partial, winless seasons in 2007-08. His last win came in 2005. And the last time he won this many races was over 10 years ago, when he visited Victory Lane a career-high seven races. That 1998 season, he finished second in the series standings, 363 points behind Jeff Gordon. It was the third time Martin — considered by many as the best never to win a championship — finished runner-up in the points standings. Already, 2009 is arguably a top-five season in Martin’s 27-year career. It’s the fourth time he has won four races in a season. The 5’s Alive Mark Martin needed only 19 races to make 2009 the most successful season ever for the No. 5 car. Below are the top four seasons for wins by the No. 5 car. Year Driver Wins 2009 Mark Martin 4 1995 Terry Labonte 3 1994 Terry Labonte 3 1984 Geoffrey Bodine 3 Off Weekend? What Off Weekend? NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Stay Busy During Break Some NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will take advantage of the penultimate off weekend of the 2009 season, using the time to relax from the rigors of racing in the world’s most competitive motorsports series. Still others can’t get enough. Four NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars will head to the St. Louis area to race in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at Gateway International Raceway. Another heads close to home for some dirt track racing. Here’s a breakdown of how some of the NSCS stars will spend the break: Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford): No surprise here, Edwards will be competing in the NNS race at Gateway, attempting to cut a 192-points deficit to points leader… Kyle Busch: Busch owns a season-high five NNS wins this season. This weekend, he’ll try to make it six at Gateway. Reed Sorenson (No. 43 McDonald’s Dodge): Sorenson has joined the NNS Braun Racing No. 32 Toyota stable on a part-time basis. His first race behind its wheel is this weekend at Gateway. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet): Harvick will run his fourth consecutive race in his own NNS equipment — the No. 33 Chevrolet. He has finished in the top 10 in his last three NNS races — but has 15 consecutive finishes outside the top 10 in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition. Greg Biffle: The Vancouver, Wash. native returns to the Pacific Northwest and the local dirt track for a Saturday night race. Biffle will run a 10-lap exhibition race at Sunset Speedway in Banks, Ore., which is just over 30 miles from his hometown. This is Biffle’s second trip to Sunset Speedway. Last year, he won the event. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet): Gordon will be a presenter at Wednesday night’s ESPY Awards, where his teammate Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) is nominated in two categories: Best Male Athlete and Best Driver. Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota): The 26-year-old Speed will wed fiancé Amanda Mathis on Saturday in a ceremony to be held at Graylyn Estate in Winston-Salem, N.C. Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Hamburger Helper/Cheerios Chevrolet): Bowyer will head home to Kansas to spend the off-week with friends and family at the lake. But it won’t be all relaxation. He’ll also be getting things in order for his charity golf tournament to be held in August. Loop Data: 2009 A Serious Numbers Game The statistics coming out of this season have storylines galore. For instance: 1.004 — The average margin of victory in seconds this season. Last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway had a miniscule MOV of .415 seconds that put the average a shade over one second. 11 — It’s the number of different winners this season (compared to 12 different winners in all of 2008); the average number of different leaders per races; and the number of races with an MOV under one second. 7 — Number of drivers who won last season, but who have yet to win in 2009. The list is a who’s who: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. 109.9 — Jimmie Johnson’s series-best Driver Rating. Quietly — and despite a third-place points position — Johnson has earned the top statistics in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season. He also leads the series in Average Running Position (8.3), Fastest Laps Run (568) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (83.5%). 773 — Number of times Mark Martin has been passed during a green flag run, fewest on the series. The number is staggeringly low, especially considering where everyone else stands in the category. Jeff Gordon has been passed the second fewest times at 967, the only other driver under the 1,000 mark. 7.6 — Tony Stewart’s average finish, the only driver to average a top-10 finish. 7.8 — Kyle Busch’s average start. But here’s the problem for Busch: his average finish is 17.0. The start-to-finish difference of 9.2 is the worst of any driver who has started all 19 races. Logano Shrugs Off Rough Start, In Fast Lane To ROY Award Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) came into 2009 with much fanfare, discussion, expectations and pressure. Not since Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) in 2007 has a rookie been expected to perform so well so immediately. After all, Logano had excelled while climbing NASCAR’s developmental ladder, winning the NASCAR Camping World Series, East championship in 2007. And when he finally turned 18 last year and was eligible to run in any of NASCAR’s three national series, it took Logano only three races to nab his first win, at Kentucky Speedway. So the pressure to perform was massive, to say the least. Immediately, it looked like the competition might be too great for Logano. He finished last in the season-opening Daytona 500, and outside the top 20 in seven of his first eight races. But those struggles now seem forever ago. Since that rocky start, Logano has earned his first victory — at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — and four top-10 finishes. Logano’s success has launched him to the top of the Raybestos Rookie standings, 23 points ahead of second-place Scott Speed. He’s met most of those preseason expectations, as did Montoya in his rookie season. In fact, the two share a number of rookie similarities. Through 19 races in 2007, Montoya had one win, three top 10s and sat 20th in the standings. Through 19 races this season, Logano has one win, four top 10s and also sits 20th in the points standings. Through 19 races in 2007, Montoya held a 14-point lead in the Raybestos Rookie standings over David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford). Logano’s in a more favorable position with his 23-point lead over Speed. Up Next: Indianapolis Motor Speedway The 16th annual Allstate 400 at The Brickyard takes place Sunday, July 26 at 2 p.m. ET at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Fans and competitors alike consider the event, in an historic racing setting, one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ marquee races. Defending and three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner and pole sitter at Indianapolis. He seeks his third victory there. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with four wins at Indianapolis. He also leads all drivers with three poles, nine top fives and 12 top 10s in 15 starts there. Fast Facts Next Race: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard The Date: Sunday, July 26 The Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; 2.5 mile oval The Time: 2 p.m. ET The Distance: 160 laps/400 miles TV: ESPN , 1 p.m. ET Radio: IMS Radio and Sirius Satellite 2008 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson 2008 Winner: Jimmie Johnson Schedule: Friday—Practice 2-3 p.m.; 3:30-4:30 p.m.; Saturday—Qualifying, 10:10 a.m.; Practice 2-3 p.m.; Final Practice, 3:30-4:30 p.m.