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Sep 11

NASCAR National Series News and Notes + Fast Facts

Past Champions’ Luster Makes Winning ’12 Title Challenging

NASCAR logoThere are four good reasons why becoming a first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is supremely difficult. This year’s challenge is to beat four competitors who have been to the top of the mountain before – 13 times, to be exact.

Past Champions’ Luster Makes Winning ’12 Title Challenging

There are four good reasons why becoming a first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is supremely difficult. This year’s challenge is to beat four competitors who have been to the top of the mountain before – 13 times, to be exact.

The 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ roster is stacked with veterans, headed by former champions Jimmie JohnsonJeff GordonTony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

Johnson won five consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010. Gordon counts four championships. Stewart is a three-time and reigning titleholder. Kenseth’s single championship came in 2003, the season before the Chase format was introduced.

The four have won a combined 91 times on the 10 tracks comprising the Chase schedule. Johnson and Gordon each have won 31 Chase-track races.

Johnson enters the Chase as the No. 2 seed with 2,009 points – three behind leader Denny Hamlin. Stewart, also a three-time winner, is seeded third also with 2,009 points. Gordon must come from the rear as the 12th and final seed, claiming the second Wild Card by three points over Kyle Busch. He starts with 2,000 points.

  • Johnson statistically is the top contender with a Chase track Driver Rating of 108.7. He claims the best average start (10.6) and average finish (10.1) and has led 14.2% of laps run. He is without a victory at Chicagoland and Homestead but has finished second twice at both tracks.
  • Gordon, whose last championship came in 2001, is the all-time leader among this year’s qualifiers on Chase tracks with 278 starts, 122 top-five and 167 top-10 finishes. He has a second Driver Rating of 97.3. Homestead is the only Chase track on which Gordon has failed to win, his best a third in 2004.
  • Stewart is the only driver in the postseason to have won at every Chase track and is the defending winner of Chicagoland’s GEICO 400. He has 21 victories on the 10 post-season stops, third-best to Johnson and Gordon. His Driver Rating (94.9) ranks third among Chase qualifiers.
  • Kenseth, who’ll run his final 10 races for Roush Fenway Racing, counts eight victories on five of the 10 Chase tracks – but none at Chicagoland, where he has a pair of runner-up finishes. He won the Coors Light Pole in Joliet a year ago. Kenseth has a fourth-best Chase track Driver Rating of 94.0.

All 12 Chase qualifiers have been in the postseason before. Johnson has qualified for all nine under the format. The 12 drivers have won a combined 318 NASCAR Sprint Cup races.

They represent seven different organizations, with Hendrick Motorsports having put all four of its drivers (Gordon, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne) into the Chase. Roush Fenway Racing (Kenseth and Greg Biffle) and Michael Waltrip Racing (Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.) each have two drivers. MWR reaches the Chase for the first time since becoming a full-season team in 2007. Joe Gibbs Racing (Hamlin), Penske Racing (Brad Keselowski), Richard Childress Racing (Kevin Harvick) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Stewart) complete the field.

Chevrolet represents half the Chase field with six drivers. Toyota fills three spots, Ford two and Dodge one.

 

No. 1 Chase Seed Hamlin Predicts Wins To Be Crucial

Denny Hamlin has no illusions about what it will take to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. And as the Chase’s No. 1 seed, the Virginia driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota has proved so far in 2012 he’s capable of meeting the challenge.

“It’s going to take wins. That’s going to be the most important thing,” said Hamlin, whose four regular-season victories give him 2,012 points heading to Sunday’s GEICO 400.

Seeding gives a driver bragging rights – for exactly one week. But No. 1 seeds have become the champion just twice under the Chase format: Tony Stewart in 2005 and Jimmie Johnson in 2007. (see chart page 2)

Stewart was winless a year ago before winning at Chicagoland Speedway and the following week in New Hampshire en route to a Chase-record five victories.

Hamlin had the championship trophy all but engraved with two races remaining in 2010 but finished second. JGR has added a key ingredient it lacked, a championship crew chief, Darian Grubb, who backed Stewart’s title run a year ago.

“What took us out of the championship in 2010 really were a lot of different circumstances,” Hamlin said. “I think I’ll just be a lot more relaxed this time around.”

 

Earnhardt-Letarte Bond Makes Championship Realistic Goal

This could be the season Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins it all. And if he does, he’ll credit crew chief Steve Letarte to pushing him over the top.

The second season with Letarte calling the shots for Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet has been a hit – and then some.

Earnhardt qualified for consecutive Chases for the first time. His 17 top-10 finishes in the season thus far are the most in HMS equipment. And there’s that elusive Michigan victory, which broke a four-year drought in June.

“You know, I just think that Steve deserves a lot of credit for our performance. Steve puts a lot into the program,” Earnhardt said of Letarte’s skills. “He’s helped me as a driver. He’s helped me become a better driver. He’s shown me how I can be a better asset to the team inside of the car and outside of the car. I think he’s improved me in a lot of areas.”

 Earnhardt has thrived as a true member of a team – something lacking earlier in his career.

“I never really had anybody ask much of me other than bring the helmet, get in, [ask] ‘How does it drive?’” he said. “He’s a lot more detailed and wants a lot more information. It’s just a totally different atmosphere, a totally different culture than I’m used to being around.”

The team has taken the season one race at a time and will continue to do so in the Chase.

“I think you can’t think too far ahead of yourself,” Earnhardt said. “You just got to be smart and try not to make any mistakes or get yourself in any holes early on.”

Where Do We Start?

Below is each Chase champion’s seed at the start of the 10-race Chase …

 

Year Champion Seed

2004 Kurt Busch 7

2005 Tony Stewart 1

2006 Jimmie Johnson 2

2007 Jimmie Johnson 1

2008 Jimmie Johnson 3

2009 Jimmie Johnson 3

2010 Jimmie Johnson 2

2011 Tony Stewart 9

 

Bad Brad Anything But In Race To The Chase

Looking for a dark horse pick to win the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship? Try Brad Keselowski on for size (if you can even call him a dark horse anymore).

Keselowski enters the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with the second-highest points total (2,009), and more momentum than any other driver. He scored more points in the Race to the Chase – the 10 races preceding the Chase – than any other driver, by a wide margin. His other stats also trumped his competitors. A breakdown …

  • Keselowski scored 378 points over the last 10 races. Second-highest in points scored were Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, who each tallied 363. 
  • He scored nine top 10s in the previous 10 events, two more than Gordon’s seven.
  • Keselowski and Gordon each had six top 10s in the last 10 races, which ranks atop that list.

The question now becomes: Can Keselowski continue his consistent ways? He couldn’t last year, when he made his first Chase appearance. Last season, Keselowski entered the Chase with six top-10 finishes in seven races. He ripped off another two top 10s in the first two races (at Chicagoland and New Hampshire), but stumbled down the stretch with six finishes outside the top 15.

Martin Truex Jr., who made his second career Chase and first since 2007, might surprise a few spectators over the next two months. He, too, comes in hot. Along with top 10s in five of the last seven events, Truex has eclipsed the 100.0 Driver Rating barrier in six of the last seven races.

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon look to continue a recent trend in sports these days – championships won by Wild Card teams. Major League Baseball instituted the wild-card system in 1994, with five wild-card teams winning the World Series since (four of them since 2000). The defending champion St. Louis Cardinals were a wild-card team. The most recent National Football League wild-card Super Bowl champions were the Green Bay Packers in 2010. NASCAR implemented the Wild Card last season, with Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin as the first two winners. Keselowski had the better championship finish – fifth. … Milestone Watch: Hamlin will make his 250th start and Scott Speed will attempt to make his 100th series start. … Last weekend at Richmond, Joe Nemechek became the fifth driver to reach 1,000 NASCAR national series starts. … Danica Patrick will make her sixth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. She has either improved or matched her previous finish in each start.

 

Sadler, Stenhouse Face Heated Final Championship Stretch Run

Eight races left, two drivers on top of their game and just one point separates the fierce competitors as the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway. 

Standings leader Elliott Sadler just barely held on to the points lead following last weekend’s race at Richmond. Sadler and the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team rebounded from an accident involving the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of rival Ricky Stenhouse Jr. that sent the points leader behind the wall. Sadler finished 12th and Stenhouse went on to finish second, closing a 12-point gap to just one. 

Last season Stenhouse turned it on and closed out the championship over the last eight races. Starting with Chicago all the way to Homestead, Stenhouse had an average finish of 5.4 compared to Sadler’s 9.8. Stenhouse also led more laps over that span than Sadler, leading a total of 117 laps to Sadler’s 35.  

But this could be Sadler’s year. Sadler (5.5) did better than Stenhouse (6.7) in average starting position over the last eight races of the 2011 season. Minus Sadler’s accident at Phoenix, the two drivers almost mirrored each other in 2011. This season, Sadler has posted three Coors Light poles, four wins and 18 top 10s; Stenhouse has four poles, four wins and 19 top 10s.

Heading to Chicago this week is like pouring gas on the fire. Sadler and Stenhouse finished one-two respectively at the 1.5-mile track earlier this season. Stenhouse sat on the pole and dominated the race leading 135 laps, but Sadler took the lead late for the victory. Stenhouse’s performance at Chicago gives him an edge in the pre-race Driver Rating category (110.6) over Sadler (85.7).

 

Illinois Natives Return Home For Dollar General 300 Powered By Coca-Cola

On Saturday, three NNS regulars return to their home state of Illinois for the Dollar General 300 Powered by Coca-Cola at Chicagoland Speedway. Justin Allgaier (Riverton), Danica Patrick (Roscoe) and Erik Darnell (Beach Park) are all hoping to impress their home-state crowd.   

Allgaier, currently fifth in points (-95), has one victory (Montreal), six top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 2012. In June 2011, he earned his only victory at Chicagoland after leading only the final lap. In five NNS races, he has two top-five and four top-10 showings.

In three appearances at Chicagoland, Patrick has one top-10 effort. Her best finish at Chicagoland is 10th place in June 2011. In the track’s first race this season, Patrick finished 14th, the last driver on the lead lap. She is 11th in the standings (-351). 

This Saturday will be Darnell’s second NNS start at Chicagoland. Darnell, who is in 16th place in the standings (-581), made his only other start at the track earlier this season, when he placed 30th. His best finish of the year is 14th at Talladega in May.  

 

Six Former NNS Champions Make The 2012 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup

Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. are just two of the six former NASCAR Nationwide champions who made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. Joining them is their former boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as Greg BiffleClint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick.

Truex makes only his second Chase appearance, but he does have championship experience having won back-to-back NNS championships in 2004 and 2005 with Chance 2 Motorsports, which was co-owned by Earnhardt. 

This is also Keselowski’s second stint in NASCAR’s playoffs. He won the NNS championship in 2010 while driving for Penske, but drove for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports from 2007-2009.   

Earnhardt, who also won NNS titles in back-to-back years (1998-99), enters the Chase for the fifth time. The 2002 NNS champion Biffle returns to the Chase after missing it last year. It is his fifth appearance in the playoffs. In 2008, Bowyer won the NNS title, but he also qualified for his second Chase. This year marks his fourth trip. Harvick, another two-time series champ (2001 and 2006), enters the Chase for the sixth time in his career.

 

NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.

 Owners Championship Update: With just eight races left in the 2012 season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 team is leading the owner standings by 13 points over Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 team. Just one point behind the No. 2 team is Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 team in third. … Milestone WatchJoey Logano attempts to post his 50th NNS top-five finish this weekend at Chicago. …  Lap Leaders: RCR’s No. 33 car has led the most laps this season with 948. Two-time series champ Kevin Harvick owns most of the laps led in the No. 33 with 787. Harvick matched 2007 series champ Carl Edwards for third on the all-time NNS wins list with his 38th victory last weekend at Richmond.  Paul Menard is in the No. 33 this weekend. … All-time NNS starts leader (532) Kenny Wallace returns to the series this week in the No. 99 car. … Million Dollar Quartet will make its second appearance of the season in pre-race activities at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, Sept.15.

 

Jeff Choquette Filling Shoes Of Champion Grandfather

Racing may have skipped a generation of the Choquette family, but without a doubt Jeff Choquette has inherited his grandfather’s talent behind the wheel of a race vehicle.

Choquette, driver of Gary Adrian’s No. 97 Chevrolet will make his second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series appearance in Saturday’s American Ethanol 200 presented by Hy-Vee. The 25-year-old driver from West Palm Beach, Fla., finished 11th in his debut July 14 at the 0.875-mile Newton, Iowa, track.

Without a pit road speeding infraction – “Racing in modifieds, we don’t do a lot of pit stops,” Choquette said – the result could have been even better. He returns with a goal of a top 10 or even a top five.

Choquette’s grandfather, Jack Choquette, now 83, won the 1954 NASCAR Modified championship driving the 97B car. He competed in six NASCAR Sprint Cup – then Strictly Stock – races in 1955-56. Choquette finished second to two-time champion Herb Thomas at Palm Beach Speedway, a 0.5-mile dirt track, in his first Strictly Stock appearance, a performance that could have presaged a stellar racing career in a later era.

 

Points Leader Peters Pursues Season Sweep In Iowa

With only four tracks hosting more than one NCWTS race a year, a season sweep is a rarity.

Only four drivers have accomplished the feat, three of them series champions. Jack Sprague was the first at Phoenix International Raceway in 1996. Mike Skinner swept both Martinsville races in 2007 while Ron Hornaday Jr. won back-to-back in Texas in 2008.

The gold standard is Brendan Gaughan’s four consecutive wins at Texas in 2002-03.

Timothy Peters can join the select group on Saturday at Iowa Speedway, having won there in July. He’ll have the usual cast lurking to ambush the No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota but some unfamiliar ones as well.

Foremost is David Mayhew, a Keystone Light Pole Award winner last year in a Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet. Mayhew, who finished third, drives Brad Keselowski’s No. 19 Ram this time out.

Drew Herring becomes the latest to drive the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. He finished 11th for Joe Gibbs Racing at Iowa Speedway in August 2011. He logged a pair of top-10 finishes while leading 39 laps in a limited NNS campaign last year.

August Grill, who has more than 60 career late model victories and won the Snowball Derby in 2007 and 2008, is set to make his series debut in the No. 4 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet.

 

Green A Lucky Color When It Comes With Sponsorship

Superstition around the race track isn’t what it used to be. Especially where the color green is concerned.

Nobody can say with certainty why green cars historically were considered “unlucky,” but some date the fear from 1920 Indianapolis 500 champion Gaston Chevrolet’s fatal accident in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Green being the color of a potential sponsor’s livery did much for erasing the green car stigma. NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip (Mountain Dew) and Harry Gant (Skoal) proved green cars can be successful.

Four-time NCWTS champion Ron Hornaday Jr. thus has no misgivings about his Joe Denette Motorsports’ No. 9 Chevrolet coming to Iowa Speedway this weekend. The Silverado carries the green, black and gold colors of new sponsor Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, a tobacco-free smokeless product. 

Hornaday is reluctant to discuss personal superstitions – although he admits picking up former owner Dale Earnhardt’s habit of always leaving a building through same doorway in which he entered. He’s hopeful his return to Iowa can erase 2012’s winless season. The 51-time winner finished second in July’s race after surrendering the lead with 10 laps to go.

 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

 Peters carries a nine-point lead over James Buescher into the season’s 15th of 22 races. Atlanta winner Ty DillonParker Kligerman and Justin Lofton complete a top five separated by just 31 points. … 2011 Iowa winner Matt Crafton is looking for his 55th top-five finish. He’s seventh in points. … With Dillon becoming the season’s sixth first-time winner, the record (seven, 1997 and 1998) appears in reach. … Three of four Iowa winners, including Peters, started from the pole.

 

Fast Facts

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

  • The Race: GEICO 400 
  • The Place: Chicagoland Speedway 
  • The Date: Sunday, Sept. 16 
  • The Time: 2 p.m. (ET) 
  • TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)
  • Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90 
  • Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

  • The Race: Dollar General 300 powered by Coca-Cola
  • The Place: Chicagoland Speedway
  • The Date: Saturday, Sept. 15
  • The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)
  • TV: ESPN2, 3 p.m. (ET)
  • Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
  • Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

  • The Race: American Ethanol 200 presented by Hy-Vee
  • The Place: Iowa Speedway
  • The Date: Saturday, Sept. 15
  • The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET) 
  • TV: SPEED, 8 p.m. (ET)
  • Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
  • Distance: 175 miles (200 laps)

source: nascar.com

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