NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series News & Notes – Chicago

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 10, 2007) ? Jamie McMurray?s (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford) win on Saturday night did more than return him to Victory Lane for the first time in 166 races. The victory catapulted McMurray into 13th place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings, just 49 points out of 12th ? the final position in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

McMurray had struggled of late, finishing 24th or worse in three of the previous five races. However, he was able to gain 135 points on 12th place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) who finished 36th after a Lap 14 accident.

With eight races left until the Chase begins, the field is far from set. At the same point in 2005, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford) was 16th in the standings, 202 points out of a Chase berth. He put together six top-10 finishes, including a win, heading into the Chase to earn a spot.

?I think everybody in the top 15 thinks they are going to make the Chase,? McMurray said. ?If you?re within a couple hundred points, you feel like you can make that up. I think we?re running well enough to make it, but you can?t make any mistakes or have any failures.?

Chicagoland Kicked Off Gordon?s Top-10 Streak

Last year, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) was 12th in the standings heading to Chicagoland Speedway. After missing the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in 2005, Gordon was determined not to miss it a second-consecutive season.

Gordon won at Chicago, holding off Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) by 0.461 seconds. The win propelled the four-time champion to 10th place, a position he has not been below since.

The streak of consecutive weeks in the top 10 ? currently at 37 ? seems to be safe for the rest of the season. Gordon leads the series standings and is in position to make the Chase for the third time. Gordon has four wins this season, which will give him 40 bonus points once the Chase starts. He currently would be the top seed in the Chase.

While the 37-week streak is impressive, it is only the second highest active streak. Burton has been in the top 10 for 44 consecutive weeks, dating back to Darlington last May.

Gordon?s teammate Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe?s Chevrolet) had a 105-race streak until he finished 39th in this year?s Daytona 500. The all-time leader is Dale Earnhardt, who spent 174 consecutive weeks in the top 10 from 1986-1992.

Close Finishes The Norm For 2007

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) set the tone for tight races in 2007 when he beat Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) to the checkered flag by 0.02 seconds in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Half of a season later, that finish ? the ninth closest since the advent of electronic timing in 1993 ? was outdone, on the same stage.

Jamie McMurray?s 0.005 second victory over Kyle Busch (No. 5 Carquest/Kellogg?s Chevrolet) on Saturday night tied for second-closest finish. The tightest margin involved Kyle?s big brother Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who finished second to Ricky Craven at Darlington in 2003.

Saturday?s last-lap battle was as intense as the finish, as McMurray and Busch swapped the lead seven times. The close battle may be indicative of the rest of the season. In 18 races, there have been 10 finishes under one second. In addition, the average margin of victory for the season is 2.031 seconds.

Part of the reason for the close competition is the Car of Tomorrow, which has produced finishes of under one second in six of the eight races in which it has been run. The new car will be used at eight of the remaining 18 events. The next scheduled race with the car is August 12 at Watkins Glen International.

Closest Finishes of 2007
Track Winner MOV (sec)
Daytona (July) McMurray 0.005 *
Daytona (Feb) Harvick 0.020 **
Bristol Ky. Busch 0.064
Martinsville Johnson 0.065
New Hampshire Hamlin 0.068

* Finish tied for second-closest since advent of electronic scoring in 1993
** Finish ninth-closest since electronic scoring

In The Loop: Kenseth Dominates Chicagoland Loop Statistics

If you subscribe to the ?due? theory, go with Matt Kenseth at Chicagoland Speedway this Sunday.
Over the past two years at Chicagoland, Kenseth leads in just about every statistical category except one ? wins.

Kenseth finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2005, but led a race-high 176 laps. Then last year, Kenseth was leading before Jeff Gordon got into the back of his No. 17 Ford and knocked him out of contention. Kenseth again was the race?s lap leader, this time with 112 laps led.

Since 2005, Kenseth sits atop the following pre-race Chicagoland Loop Data statistics, and in most instances is far and away the leader:

– Driver Rating (130.0 compared to second-place Kevin Harvick?s 112.1)
– Average Running Position (3.4 to Harvick?s 5.9)
– Fastest Laps Run (128 to Jeff Gordon?s 52)
– Laps in the Top 15 (529 to Harvick?s 499)
– Laps Led (288 to Jeff Burton 60)

The numbers certainly suggest Kenseth will visit Victory Lane sooner than later.

Harvick, with his bevy of impressive numbers, also seems in contention for the win. But so does Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt, who finished 36th at Daytona last weekend, needs a solid finish if he wants to regain some of the Race to the Chase cushion he lost after Daytona. Earnhardt sits just 49 points ahead of 13th-place Jamie McMurray. Earnhardt, though, has fared well at Chicagoland. He has the third-best Driver Rating (106.8), the seventh-best Average Running Position (9.5), the third-most Fastest Laps Run (37) and the third-most Laps in the Top 15 (473).

Jimmie Johnson is another driver who falls under the ?due? category. His career Chicagoland finishes are as follows: fourth, third, second, third and sixth. He has a Driver Rating of 105.4 (fourth-best), 19 Fastest Laps Run (sixth-most), a 10.0 Average Running Position (ninth-best) and 440 Laps in the Top 15 (sixth-most).

Drivers, Celebrities Gather For Fourth Annual Softball Challenge

Several drivers will trade in the steering wheel for bats and gloves for the Fourth Annual Racin? The Bases Celebrity Softball Challenge. The charity softball game will take place at Silver Cross Field in Joliet, Ill. on July 12.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne (No. 9 UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge), Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota), Tony Raines (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet) and J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) as well as NASCAR Busch Series drivers Regan Smith and Kevin Conway are expected to play. They will be joined by former Chicago Bulls teammates Will Purdue and Bill Wennington and members of the media for the game.

?I love the Racin? The Bases game with the media,? Kyle Busch said. ?It?s always fun and it?s for a good cause. Last year I was trying to teach some guys how to spit sunflower seeds. I love baseball and it?s fun to raise money and awareness for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.?

The event is put on by Chicagoland Speedway, Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Joliet Jackhammers. Over $150,000 has been raised over the past three years for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

Locked In: Sauter Continues Strong-Hold On Final Starting Spot

2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Owner Points ? After 18 Races

Position Points Team Owner Driver
30th 1,503 No. 41 Dodge Chip Ganassi Reed Sorenson
31st 1,502 No. 66 Chevrolet Joe Custer Jeff Green
32nd 1,497 No. 88 Ford Robert Yates Ricky Rudd
33rd 1,471 No. 13 Chevrolet Bobby Ginn Joe Nemechek
34th 1,458 No. 45 Dodge Kyle Petty Kyle Petty

35th 1,431 No. 70 Chevrolet Joe Custer Johnny Sauter

36th 1,253 No. 22 Toyota Bill Davis Dave Blaney
37th 1,224 No. 21 Ford Glen Wood Bill Elliott
38th 1,205 No. 10 Dodge James Rocco Scott Riggs
39th 1,172 No. 15 Chevrolet Teresa Earnhardt Paul Menard
40th 1,057 No. 83 Toyota Dietrich Mateschitz Brian Vickers

Keys to Victory

Chicagoland Speedway joined the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule in 2001, making it the youngest track on the circuit. The track continues to mature with each race. Here is what to watch for on Sunday:

? Groove ? The groove continues to widen, making Chicagoland a track where you can run two or three wide. The 2006 race was decided by 0.461 seconds; look for another close finish in 2007.

? Curved Backstretch ? The backstretch is unique, in that it has a slight curve to it that other 1.5-mile tracks do not. This makes for good passing down the backstretch.

Raybestos Rookie Standings

Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Wrigley?s Big Red Dodge) continues to lead the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings over David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford).

Montoya has three top-10 finishes this season, including his win at Infineon Raceway. Ragan finished fifth in the Daytona 500, his only top 10 of the season.

Paul Menard (No. 15 Menard?s Chevrolet) has made four of the last five races after missing four of the previous nine.

Manufacturers? Standings

Jamie McMurray?s win Saturday night was the third of the season for Ford, which trails Chevrolet by 50 points in the Manufacturers? Standings. All three victories are by Roush Fenway Racing ? Matt Kenseth won at Las Vegas and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) won at Michigan.

Chevrolet has 14 victories, led by four each for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

Dodge is third, 60 points out of the lead. Juan Pablo Montoya has the sole win for the manufacturer.
Toyota is currently fourth, 94 points behind Chevrolet. Brian Vickers finished fifth at Lowe?s Motor Speedway, the highest finish for Toyota this season.

Ganassi Drivers Go Out To The Ballgame

All three drivers for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates ? Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge), David Stremme (No. 40 Tums Dodge) and Juan Pablo Montoya will take a trip to Wrigley Field on Monday to watch the Cubs take on the San Francisco Giants.

As part of their excursion, Sorenson will throw out the first pitch, and all three drivers will sing ?Take Me Out To The Ballgame? during the seventh inning stretch.

?I threw the first pitch out at Wrigley Field a couple of years ago and I didn?t make it to the plate,? Sorenson said. ?Needless to say I got booed and laughed at. I?m hoping to redeem myself this time around and I?m definitely going to practice. I?m a little nervous about it, but not near as nervous as I am about singing during the seventh inning stretch.?

SprintSpeed Million To Reward Fans

The SprintSpeed Million, a $1 million giveaway by Sprint Nextel, will launch this Sunday. The sweepstakes will award $1 million to a fan based on the outcome of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Fans can register at Sprint Nextel stores,, via their Sprint Nextel handset or at the Nextel Experience at the track.

When fans register, they will choose the driver they think will win the championship. One fan will be paired up with each driver in the Chase. The fan paired with the champion will win the $1 million prize.

Biffle, Kluever Will Hit The Dirt

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Aflac Ford) and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Todd Kluever will take their dirt track skills to Wisconsin on Thursday. The duo will compete in the ?Race of Champions? at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wisc.

?I have very limited experience racing on dirt tracks so this should be interesting,? Biffle said. ?No matter what happens, I?m sure we?ll have fun.?

Program Encourages Kids To Read
The Spoonfuls of Stories program of Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) and Cheerios is holding the ?First Book Speed Read? at Jewel-Osco in Naperville, Ill. on July 14 at 11 a.m. The event, hosted by Labonte?s wife Donna, will challenge participants to read as many words as possible in 15 seconds. First Book and Cheerios will donate one new book for every word read to local programs serving children in need.

The Spoonfuls of Stories program already donates 43 books for each lap that Labonte completes during the 2007 season. If Labonte completes all 267 laps this weekend, the program will donate more than 11,000 books to children in the region.

Hamlin To Visit Children?s Hospital
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet) will make a visit to Children?s Memorial Hospital in Chicago on Thursday. As part of the visit, FedEx will donate $25,000 to the hospital. Hamlin also will receive a special helmet designed by several Children?s Memorial patients.

Hamlin will wear the helmet for all on-track activity this weekend. It is the sixth of 11 helmets specially designed by children?s hospital patients. All 11 race-worn helmets will be displayed and auctioned to benefit the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

On Deck: Off-Week Precedes Big Indianapolis Weekend

Teams will enjoy a week at home before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. The event at the Brickyard is the fourth race in the Race to the Chase, the 10-week stretch leading into the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

It also marks the return of NASCAR to ESPN. ESPN and ABC will broadcast the final 17 races of the season.

The Race: USG Sheetrock 400
The Place: Chicagoland Speedway
The Date: Sunday, July 15
The Time: 4 p.m. (ET)
TV: TNT, 4 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 1.5-mile oval
The Distance: 400 miles, 267 laps
The Purse: $6,056,938
2006 Winner: Jeff Gordon
2006 Pole: Jeff Burton

Series Standings
Pos Driver Pts.
1 Gordon 2,773
2 Hamlin 2,496
3 Kenseth 2,390
4 Johnson 2,366
5 Burton 2,345
6 Edwards 2,308
7 Stewart 2,234
8 Kyle Busch 2,190
9 Harvick 2,172
10 Truex Jr. 2,157
11 Bowyer 2,142
12 Earnhardt Jr. 2,040

Pre-Race Schedule (local/CT time): Friday?Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Qualifying?3:10 p.m.; Saturday?Practice, 9-9:50 a.m. and 12:20-1:20 p.m.

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