NASCAR News & Notes: Texas Motor Speedway

Texas: Dickies 500

  • Chase Race 8: Jimmie Johnson Leads The Way To Texas
  • Texas Challengers: Roush Fenway Racing and Jeff Burton
  • One Crew Chief To Another: Dale Inman On Chad Knaus
  • On The Line: Carl Edwards This Week’s Teleconference Guest
  • Five Points Separate Top Three In Manufacturers’ Battle

Jimmie Johnson Bolsters Chase Lead, Hopes To Defend Texas Win

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 28, 2008) — Reigning and two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson’s (No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet) is in familiar territory as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prepares for Sunday’s Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

He’s out front, leading the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings by 183 points over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) and 185 over third-place Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford). And once again, Johnson heads to a track where he won during last year’s remarkable, late Chase run.

In 2007, Johnson won four of the final five races to clinch his second series title. He didn’t win last week at Atlanta, but he rallied from early trouble to finish second behind Edwards, the winner.

Now, he approaches the fall event at Texas with similar confidence, thanks in part to excellent pre-race Loop Data statistics.

Johnson is tied with two-time series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) for the top pre-race Driver Rating (107.9). His average finish of 9.2 is second-best.

Certainly, much racing remains. Johnson must average a ninth-place finish over the final three races — at Texas, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway — to clinch a third consecutive series title.

“I’m living inside my own head,” Johnson said. “I feel very good about where we’re at and I’m trying hard not to pay attention to outside opinions and what’s really going on out there. So, I’m just keeping my head down and staying focused on the things I can control.”

What To Expect At Texas: A Roush Fenway Charge

While Jimmie Johnson continues to pursue a championship, many factors loom at Texas Motor Speedway, where Roush Fenway Racing in general and Carl Edwards in particular have excelled.

Roush Fenway drivers have won six of the 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup events held at Texas, including the April race, which Edwards won.

Edwards has two wins, two top fives, two top 10s and one DNF (did not finish) in seven career starts at Texas. He claims the sixth-best pre-race Driver Rating (96.0) and is second in Fastest Laps Run with 177.

Biffle has one win, one top five, two top 10s and four DNFs in nine career starts there. His pre-race Driver Rating for Texas ranks 10th, at 88.8, but he’s second in Fastest Laps Run there with 178.

Former Roush Fenway driver Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet), fourth in the Chase and in his third season with Richard Childress Racing, has two wins, three top fives, seven top 10s and one DNF in 15 career starts at Texas.

He’s also the only driver with two wins there.

Edwards may be on a mini-roll. He won last Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway and also won Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Memphis. He has seven wins this season, trailing only Kyle Busch’s (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) series high of eight.

And Edwards’ wins have come in bunches.

Twice, he’s won back-to-back races in 2008 — at Las Vegas and Atlanta in March, and at Michigan and Bristol in August.

On The Line: Carl Edwards on NASCAR Teleconference

Carl Edwards was this week’s guest on the NASCAR Teleconference, held Tuesday afternoon. Excerpts follow:

On trying to catch Chase leader Jimmie Johnson (Edwards is second in the standings): “The last couple of weeks, we have to go out and try to win all of these races, which we do normally. But at this point it’s pretty much all or nothing. We just go out to win. If we can catch Jimmie on a day where he has some trouble or something happens, we have to be there getting the most amount of points we can so that we can capitalize on that …

On trying to catch NASCAR Nationwide Series leader Clint Bowyer (Edwards is second and the defending champion): “It would just be a huge, huge accomplishment. You know, last week was a spectacular race for us. Everything went our way at Memphis in the Nationwide Series. And it’s the first time in a long time we’ve picked up a bunch of points on Clint, so that was definitely a pleasant surprise.
“We didn’t expect to go there and be able to close that many points on him. But I feel like if we do our jobs and we keep running like we’re running, you know, then we’re putting ourselves in the best position to, like I said, capitalize if Clint or Jimmie has any trouble …

On his appreciation for fan support during tough economic times: “You can’t get around the fact that right now are tough times. It just makes everybody more grateful for the fans that do decide to come spend their entertainment dollars and their shrinking discretionary income on auto racing.

“I think as long as we keep giving them the racing that we’ve been giving them, and we keep doing all the things that we’re doing on the racetrack to make it exciting, we’ll have fans. And, hopefully, we’ll get through this time and it won’t cost the sport anything that we can’t rebound from. …

On his friendship with University of Missouri head football coach Gary Pinkel: “He’s got a pretty tough schedule, and so do I. So we end up texting each other back and forth all the time. But I’ve been following him. He’s an inspiring guy. He’s an amazing person and a really great competitor …

On his recent engagement to his girlfriend, Kate: “I can’t believe I’m getting married, but I mean just if you asked me four years ago if I’d be proposing to someone I would have said, no way, but she just got me. She’s awesome. She couldn’t be any better. So I’m really excited about it. So it’s something that no one could have described to me, and I’m really, really pumped about spending my life with her.”

Legendary Crew Chief Dale Inman On Chad Knaus’ Title Pursuit

If two-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson clinches his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title, crew chief Chad Knaus will join him in the historical spotlight.

NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough is the only driver to win three consecutive series titles. He did it in 1976-78, but with different crew chiefs — Herb Nab in ‘76 and ‘77 and the combination of Tim Brewer and Travis Carter in ‘78.

Knaus, 37, would be the first crew chief to oversee three consecutive title runs.

“There’s so many things that you can’t control and there‘s so many things you can control,” said former Petty Enterprises crew chief Dale Inman of Knaus’ possible accomplishment. “And if you don’t make mistakes there, you’re in good shape.”

Inman, 72, knows. He’s won more NASCAR Sprint Cup titles than any other crew chief — the architect of Richard Petty’s NASCAR-record seven series titles, plus two-time series champion Terry Labonte’s 1984 title run.

Twice, “The King” and Inman won back-to-back titles, in 1971-72 and again in 1974-75.

Each time, a third one eluded them.

Inman says so many uncontrollable variables are part of what make winning three consecutive titles so difficult. He cites the 1968 season, which followed his and Petty’s 1967 title run.

“In ‘67 we couldn’t do no wrong and ’68 we couldn’t do anything but wrong,” Inman said of an eventual third-place finish in the standings. “Stuff broke that you weren’t supposed to be able to break with a hammer.”

As for Knaus, Inman marvels at the work ethic and commitment he’s observed from afar.

“Chad’s on top of his game right now,” Inman said. “To win two in a row is big. It’s just about a foregone conclusion. And they’ve worked hard for it, and he gives his all on it and I’m sure the crew chief and the driver are on the same page.”

Although a crew chief’s job has changed over the years, Inman warns that chemistry between driver and pit box can’t be overestimated.

“You’ve got to believe in each other,” he says. “There’s no question about that. And the driver’s got to explain to the crew chief what he wants and you’ve got to be able to interpret that.

“In mine and Richard’s case, we grew up working on his daddy’s (Lee Petty’s) race car, so it was a foregone conclusion for us. We just put it to good use and it worked out for us.”

Johnson and Knaus hail from different backgrounds, but their seven-year partnership has proven productive.

“Give it to Chad,” Inman said. “He’s been on top of his game all season long and it’s looks like he’s going to win it again.”

Recaptured Form: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wrapping Up Solid Debut With Hendrick Motorsports

NASCAR’s most popular driver once again looks like one of NASCAR’s best drivers.

That’s a summation of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 2008 season, with three weeks remaining. It’s also solace for the millions of fans who support the driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet.

Earnhardt has fallen out of contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, but from a big picture perspective, what’s important is that he was in contention to begin with. Earnhardt returned to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field this season, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports following his dramatic departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Earnhardt comes into Texas 10th in the series standings He also comes in with a lasting memory: In 2000, as a rookie fresh off winning back-to-back championships in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Earnhardt got his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Texas.

Afterward, he was joined in Victory Lane for an emotional celebration with his father, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt.

“I feel pretty good about how we ran this year and how we have been able to be fast pretty much every week,” Earnhardt said last week at Atlanta, where he finished 11th. “I will just try to go in, do it again, do it better next year … I’m real confident in our ability to go out next year and make a better showing.”

Double-Duty Paying Off Big For Edwards, In Quest For Two Titles

Carl Edwards nabbed victories in two different series – and two different states – this past weekend, further proving his NASCAR versatility.

His Memphis and Atlanta wins tightened a championship gap, as Edwards sits second in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series. His double duty performance this season is shaping up to be the best in NASCAR history. A driver has finished in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide standings top 10 eight times, the first being Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) in 2001. Edwards, who accomplished the feat in both 2005 and 2007, is a near-lock to do it again.

His ultimate goal, though, is not to finish in the top 10, but to win the championships.

Three races remain for Edwards to close triple-digit deficits to Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Clint Bowyer in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Edwards’ biggest challenge is overtaking two-time defending champion Johnson, who holds a 183-point edge over Edwards.

The comeback is daunting, but not impossible. Edwards can turn to history for hope. The winner of the Atlanta race has followed up with a Texas win in each of the last three seasons. Earlier this season, Edwards made a points gain on Johnson of more than 183 points in three consecutive races. At Richmond, Darlington and Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Edwards scored a combined 454 points. During that stretch, Johnson scored 248 points – a difference of 206 points.

Carl Edwards is currently having the most successful national series double-duty season ever. Below are the top five double-duty drivers who have ranked in the top 10 in both series:

NSCSNNS
Driver Year Point Pos. Point Pos.
Carl Edwards 2008 2 2
Kevin Harvick 20064 1
Carl Edwards 20053 3
Denny Hamlin 20063 4
Clint Bowyer 2008 7 1
Kevin Harvick 2001 9 1
Carl Edwards 2007 9 1

Texas Loop Data: Stats Indicate Stewart Could Intrude On Championship Battle

Much of the Tony Stewart news throughout 2008 has centered on off-track activities – mainly about his 2009 endeavors.

Stewart, who will leave Joe Gibbs Racing to become part-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, may again appear in the news because of his on-track prowess once the checkered flag falls at Texas Motor Speedway.

He is strong at Texas, with a win, three top fives and eight top 10s in 13 starts. He also ranks atop most of the pre-race Loop Data statistical categories at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth tracks.

Since 2005, Stewart has a 107.9 Texas Driver Rating, which ties him with Jimmie Johnson for best in the series. He also has series-best stats in Average Running Position (8.0), Fastest Laps Run (196) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (89.8%). Over the last seven Texas races, Stewart has been passed 222 times, the fewest among drivers who have competed in all seven races.

Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford)will likely be another growing storyline over the next three races. The two former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions have yet to win a race in 2008. Gordon has won at least two races in each of the last 14 years. Kenseth has won at least one race in the last six seasons.

Time is running out for both.

Statistically, Texas sets up better for Kenseth. Over the past seven Texas races, Kenseth has a Driver Rating of 104.9 (third-best), an Average Running Position of 9.6 (third), 120 Fastest Laps Run (sixth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 76.3% (fourth). In his 12-race Texas career, Kenseth has one win, five top fives and seven top 10s.

Gordon has had an uncharacteristically difficult time at Texas in his career. He finished 43rd there this spring, and Texas is one of only two tracks at which he has yet to win (Homestead is the other).

Since 2005, Gordon has a Driver Rating of 85.1 (12th-best), an Average Running Position of 16.0 (13th), 90 Fastest Laps Run (ninth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 55.2 (14th).

On The Bubble: Scott Speed And No. 84 Toyota In 35th

With three races remaining in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, those teams involved in the top-35 “bubble” battle are just as driven as their Chase peers.

Each week, the top 35 in the owner standings are guaranteed starting positions, while those outside the cutoff must qualify on speed. And there’s crucial carryover at season’s end.

The top 35 teams in the owner standings from the previous year are guaranteed starting berths through the first five races of the following season. So much is at stake.

This week, the No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota driven by Scott Speed and owned by Dietrich Mateschitz is 35th in the owner standings, heading to Texas.

Speed, whose team had been 34th, dropped one spot in the owner standings after a 34th-place finish at Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the No. 7 Mapei/Menards Dodge owned and driven by Robby Gordon, climbed one spot to 34th in the owner standings.

The No. 7 team is 55 points out of 33rd. The No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota driven by Dave Blaney and owned by Bill Davis, holds the 33rd spot heading to Texas.

The No. 84 team trails the No. 7 — and 34th place — by 25 points.

Behind 35th, the No. 47 Little Debbie’s Toyota driven by Marcos Ambrose and owned by Rob Kauffman is 36th, 80 points out of 35th.

The No. 77 Penske Truck Rental Dodge, driven by Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Sam Hornish Jr., and owned by Roger Penske is 37th, 130 points out of 35th.

Note: Hornish leads Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s Regan Smith (No. 01 DEI/The Principal Financial Group Chevrolet) by three points in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.

The No. 10 Country Crock Dodge, driven by AJ Allmendinger and owned by George Gillett Jr., is 37th, 101 points out of 36th and 231 points out of 35th.

NSCS Etc.

TripleheaderKyle Busch will have a busy weekend at Texas, competing in Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series events in addition to Sunday’s Dickies 500.

Germain Racing Debut … Veteran open-wheel driver Max Papis will attempt to qualify the No. 13 Geico Toyota for Germain Racing this weekend. If successful, it will be the team’s NASCAR Sprint Cup debut. Germain fields teams in NASCAR’s other two national series, and recently announced plans to run 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2009 with Papis.

Manufacturers Battle On … With three events remaining in the 2008 season, three manufacturers are locked into a race of their own for the annual manufacturers’ title.

Heading into Sunday’s Dickies 500 at Texas, Chevrolet holds the top spot with 198 points and 10 wins.

Close behind is Toyota, also with 10 wins, and 197 points. Ford is third, with 193 points and nine wins.

Chevrolet, the defending champion, has won six of the last seven manufacturers’ titles, including five straight since 2003.

Up Next: Phoenix International Raceway

Race 9 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will be the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil, Sunday, Nov. 9 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Two-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, also the current standings leader, is the defending race champion.

Carl Edwards was last year’s polesitter.

Three Chase participants — Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — are tied with Davey Allison for the most wins at Phoenix, two each.

Dickies 500: Race 8 in the Chase
The Place
: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Nov. 2
The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 1.5-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 334 laps/501 miles
TV: ABC, 3 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN (Local Affiliate: KLLI-Live 105.3), SIRIUS Satellite Radio
2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2007 Polesitter: Martin Truex Jr.
2008 Points
Driver Points
1 Johnson 6,248
2 Edwards 6,065
3 Biffle 6,063
4 Burton 6,030
5 Harvick 5,941
6 Gordon 5,936
7 Bowyer 5,934
8 Stewart 5,847
9 Kenseth 5,835
10 Earnhardt Jr. 5,829
11 Hamlin 5,823
12 Ky. Busch 5,783
Pre-Race Schedule: Friday—Practice, noon-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 12:50-1:50 p.m.