Monday, November 23, 2009

Denny Hamlin Wins at Miami, His Fourth Win of the Season


Hamlin wins at Homestead: #11-Denny Hamlin won the FORD 400 Sprint Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for his 4th win of the season and 8th of his career. It is the first win for Toyota at Homestead. Hamlin started 38th, the farthest a driver has started and won at Homestead. #31-Burton finished 2nd [for the 2nd race in a row] followed by #29-Harvick, #2-Busch, #48-Johnson [the 2009 Sprint Cup Champion], #24-Gordon, #99-Edwards, #18-Busch, #1-Truex Jr. and #44-Allmendinger. Johnson wins his 4th NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in a row, the first driver ever to so in NASCAR's 61 year history. Johnson was presented a check by Sprint for $6,520,800. Rick Hendrick becomes the first owner to finish 1-2-3 in the final Cup standings with Johnson, Martin and Gordon finishing 1-2-3.
There were 7 cautions for 31 yellow flag laps and 18 lead changes among 10 drivers.

Scheduled Race Re-Airs:
ESPN2: Monday, November 23 at 3:00am/et
ESPN Classic: Monday, November 23 at 1:00pm/et
SPEED, Wednesday, November 25 at 12:00pm/et.
For race results, awards and more, see my Homestead Race Results Page.(11-22-2009)

Final UNOFFICIAL 2009 Sprint Cup CHASE Standings
[after Homestead, Chase race 10 of 10; Season race 36 of 36]:
pos, car#, driver, points, behind, [wins], race finish
1) #48-Jimmie Johnson [7 wins], 6652, finished 5th
2) #5-Mark Martin [5 wins], 6511, -141, 12th
3) #24-Jeff Gordon [1 win], 6473, -179, 6th
4) #2-Kurt Busch [2 wins], 6446, -206, 4th
5) #11-Denny Hamlin [4 wins], 6335, -317, WON
6) #14-Tony Stewart [4 wins], 6309, -243, 22nd
7) #16-Greg Biffle, 6292, -360, 14th
8) #42-Juan Montoya, 6252, -400, 38th
9) #39-Ryan Newman, 6175, -477, 23rd
10) #9-Kasey Kahne [2 wins], 6128, -524, 17th
11) #99-Carl Edwards, 6118, -534, 7th
12) #83-Brian Vickers [1 win], 5929, -723, 20th
For the drivers points standings, see my Drivers Points Standings.(11-22-2009)

Jimmie Johnson Wins His Fourth Straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Title

by ESPN News Services

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson was chasing much more than a championship.

He was also chasing NASCAR history.

The most dominant driver of this decade won a record fourth consecutive championship Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he raced hard to finish fifth when 25th place would have gotten the job done.

In doing so, Johnson joined Richard Petty (7), Dale Earnhardt (7) and teammate Jeff Gordon (4) as the only drivers to win more than three titles.

"The cool thing is, we're not done yet," he warned.

All he ever wanted was a chance to race against the very best. Maybe even win a race or two.

Never did he expect to be a champion.

Especially four times over.

"I grew up on two wheels in the dirt," the 34-year-old Californian said. "I had no clue I was going to end up here racing stock cars and doing something that had never been done before. To do something that's never been done in the sport, and love the sport like I do and respect it like I do and the greats -- Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon -- to do something they have never done is so awesome.

"And to win four championships in eight years, what this team has done -- this is unbelievable."

Johnson bulldozed his way into the record books, pouncing when the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship began to pull team owner Rick Hendrick into the record books with him. Johnson's title gave a record 12th overall championship to Hendrick, who was in North Carolina with a niece who was undergoing an emergency liver transplant.

In his absence, Johnson, Mark Martin and Gordon celebrated a 1-2-3 finish in the final points standings, the first time in NASCAR history a team owner has swept the standings with cars he has solely owned the entire season.

Read More Here......

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Homestead-Miami Final Practice: Childress Cars Faster Than Everyone

by M Roberts

The Chase for the Championship comes to a close Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Jimmie Johnson looking to win an unprecedented fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Johnson currently has a comfortable 108-point lead over second place Mark Martin which equates to the difference from first to 25th place.

During the final preparations for the race in Saturday’s practice sessions, both Martin and Johnson look to be equally up for the task for Sunday’s showdown. Johnson, who won the pole on Friday, was strong in both sessions running third fastest in the early session and seventh fastest during happy Hour.

Martin fared better Saturday having the fastest times in the first practice and third best in Happy hour giving the No. 5 Hendrick some semblance of hope that at least they know they’ll have one of the strongest cars on race day.

Both drivers are coming in with winning chassis’ as well. Johnson has the same car that he won with at Indianapolis and Martin brought his same car that won a Darlington and Chicagoland.

While the main story all week has centered around the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers battling for the Championship, two Richard Childress Racing drivers came out blazing during Happy Hour creating their own story and making them serious contenders to win the race itself.

Jeff Burton led Happy Hour with the fastest lap of 165.736 mph and close behind was teammate Kevin Harvick with the second fastest lap. Both drivers laid down the quick times in the early stages of the session.

Burton is looking continue his current hot streak on the season that has seen him finish in the top-10 in his last three races including a season best second-place last week at Phoenix. In his last 1.5-mile high banked track, run at Texas, Burton finished fifth.

Despite the good run at Texas, Burton’s team opted to bring a brand new chassis for this race and if this an indication to what may be in store for 2010 for RCR, missing the Chase likely will not occur again.

Harvick’s good run in practice shouldn’t come as too much of surprise, even though he did beat out the regular practice bully’s of Johnson and Martin. Harvick has finished in the top-10 in six of his last eight Miami starts, including last season’s best of second-place. This week he has brought the same chassis that finished fifth at Texas two weeks ago.

Both Harvick and Burton also put together the best average lap speeds during happy Hour which means Mark Martin may have a battle on his hands as he attempts to lead the most laps and win the race.

Top Speeds - Saturday’s First Practice Session:
1) Mark Martin 168.177 mph - AVG 30 laps @ 162.027
2) Denny Hamlin 167.884 mph - AVG 32 laps @ 161.119
3) Jimmie Johnson 167.863 mph - AVG 31 laps @ 161.497
4) Ryan Newman 167.822 mph - AVG 28 laps @ 161.046
5) Kyle Busch 167.811 mph - 24 laps @ 161.554
Top Average speed: Kevin Harvick 24 laps @ 163.194
Most laps run: Brian Vickers 39

Top Speeds - Saturday’s Final Practice (Happy Hour)
1) Jeff Burton 165.736 mph - AVG 44 laps @ 161.439
2) Kevin Harvick 165.375 - AVG 42 laps @ 161.293
3) Mark Martin 165.067 mph - AVG 47 laps @ 160.923
4) Martin Truex Jr 165.022 mph - AVG 48 laps @ 160.923
5) Ryan Newman 164.604 mph - AVG 50 laps @ 160.103

Top-10 Rated Drivers do Homestead-Miami based on final practices, recent performances on high banked 1.5-mile tracks, and current state of the team.
1) Mark Martin
2) Kevin Harvick
3) Kurt Busch
4) Jeff Burton
5) Jimmie Johnson
6) Ryan Newman
7) Denny Hamlin
8) Tony Stewart
9) Kyle Busch
10) Juan Pablo Montoya

Homestead-Miami Qualifying Notes: After Slow First Practice, JJ Finds Pole


Johnson wins pole at Homestead: #48-Johnson won the Coors Light Pole Award for the FORD 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a lap of 173.919mph for his 4th pole of the season and 23rd career pole. #82-Speed was 2nd fastest followed by #47-Ambrose, #5-Martin, #14-Stewart, #29-Harvick, #39-Newman, #16-Biffle, #21-Elliott and #33-Bowyer.
The non Top-35 drivers who made the race: #82-Speed, #21-Elliott, #78-Smith, #02-Gilliland, #36-McDowell, #71-BLabonte, #37-Kvapil and #08-TLabonte [using a past champions provisional].
Five drivers who failed to qualify: #87-Nemecehk, #66-Blaney, #70-Skinner, #13-Papis and #09-Stremme.
See qualifying results, pole progression, starting lineup on my Homestead Qualifying Results/Starting Lineup page.(11-20-2009)

Qualifying Fast Facts - Homestead-Miami Speedway:
#48-Jimmie Johnson won the Coors Light Pole Award for the FORD 400 with a lap of 31.049 seconds, 173.919 mph.
This is his 23rd pole in 291 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
This is his fourth pole and 26th top-10 start in 2009.
This is his second pole in nine races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His first Homestead pole came in 2007. He finished seventh that race.
#82-Scott Speed (second) posted his seventh top-10 start of 2009 and his second in two races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This matches his best career start (Homestead, 2008; Chicagoland, 2009).
#47-Marcos Ambrose (third) posted his first top-10 start at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is his sixth in 36 races this season.(NASCAR Statistics)(11-20-2009)

Homestead starting spots for the 2009 Chase Drivers:
(in order of chase points standings coming into Homestead)
1) #48-Jimmie Johnson, on the pole, 1st
2) #5-Mark Martin, 4th
3) #24-Jeff Gordon, 20th
4) #2-Kurt Busch, 12th
5) #14-Tony Stewart, 5th
6) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya, 23rd
7) #16-Greg Biffle, 8th
8) #11-Denny Hamlin, 38th
9) #39-Ryan Newman, 7th
10) #9-Kasey Kahne, 25th
11) #99-Carl Edwards, 24th
12) #83-Brian Vickers, 33rd.(11-20-2009)

Eight 2008 pole sitters shut out: there are eight drivers who scored a pole in 2008 that did not in 2009. #9-Kahne had a six season pole streak on the line [he has won at least one pole in each of the last six seasons] tha is gone. Other drivers who won a pole in 2008 and none in 2009 were: #16-Biffle [2 straight season with a pole], #88-Earnhardt Jr.[2], #99-Edwards [2], #87-Nemechek[1], Patrick Carpentier [1 - has no ride], #98-Menard [1] and Travis Kvapil [1 - no ride]. See 2009 pole winners, some stats and facts and all time pole winners on my Pole Winners page.(11-20-2009)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Homestead-Miami Preview: JJ has it Locked Up, Kurt Busch Could Benefit at 14/1

by Micah Roberts

There is nothing else you can say about Jimmie Johnson other than just masterful. Winning the race last week at Phoenix in such dominant fashion pales in comparison to the board scope of what he’s doing right now, on the cusp of winning his fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.

This has never been done before, it’s uncharted waters, and I for one have a tough time really grasping what a great feat this is. What in NASCAR history can you compare it to? There is nothing. We’re witnessing the greatest stretch of consistent dominance in the sports history.

For all the great drivers battling for the Championship we’ve seen over the years, only one has done it it four times in a row. Only one, Cale Yarbrough, had done it three times in a row prior to Johnson last year. Jeff Gordon never did it, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, or Darrell Waltrip; nobody in the brief history!

When thinking of where it ranks as one of the unachievable in sports history, it’s hard to come up with great individual accomplishments that match what Johnson is about to do this week in Miami for the final race of the 2009 season.

Maybe a Tiger Woods in golf, or Tennis’ Roger Federer can come close, but can we really say that the level of competition is at it’s height in golf or tennis like it is in NASCAR. The multi-team operations have made it so there are so many more competitive cars as a whole in the series week to week than ever before.

To be able to be at your peak for four straight years, better than everyone, and showing bno signs of slowing is a testament to what has made Johnson so great. And to think he could have easily been going for six straight titles if it hadn’t have been for a few mishaps early in the Chase for the Championship in the years before he finally won.

His performance last week under pressure at Phoenix is just another chapter in his book of excellence. After what happened to him the previous week at Texas, he could have just laid up like a golfer and got par with a top-10 finish, but he went all out like Tin-Cup and got the money shot leading nearly start to finish.

This week at Miami, he’ll win the title and only second-place Mark Martin who is 108 points behind has a mathematical shot at catching him. It would be easy to suggest that Johnson will run conservatively in trying to finish 25th or better which will clinch the title, but somehow that doesn’t sound like Johnson’s style.

Johnson has never won at Miami, one of the few tracks he hasn’t won at, but that may be more attributed to Miami being the final race of the year where he does lay up a bit to win clinch the title.

He’s got the cars capable of winning and nothing would be better than to see a Championship clinch the title and win in the same race, but his race will be all about staying within the top-25.

For the conservative approach that is sure to be Johnson’s game plan this week, it opens up the door for the rest of the field to capture a win and quite possibly at some double digit prices.

The top driver to look at this week looks like Kurt Busch who really looks dialed in. Miami isn’t the same configuration as the SMI sister tracks of Atlanta and Texas which Busch has won at this year, but the distance and banking are similar.

If there was one track that could be called similar to Miami, it would be Dover which is a half-mile shorter than Miami, a place where Busch finished fifth in his last run there in late September.

"We feel like there’s a bit more business to take care of this weekend before the ’09 season is completed," said Busch, currently fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings entering Sunday’s race. "It’ll be our last race with Pat (crew chief Tryson) holding the reins for our Miller Lite Dodge Team and we’re definitely looking to see it all conclude on a positive note.

"I think we do have another win in us," said Busch. "We’re bringing back ‘Patriot,’ the car we won with at Texas. It’s a great car. Our team has an upbeat feel. We’ve had a long year. We’ve had a successful year. There’s no better way than put together a 100 percent effort this week and go out with a bang and hopefully a win."

You have to love the confidence Busch speaks about and love the way the race may unfold with Johnson not running too hard in this race.

"I’ve always thought that it was extremely important to end the season on a high note," said Busch. "Your last race out is the one that’s freshest on your mind and you certainly hope it’s memorable for all the right reasons. Closing out your season with a competitive weekend at Homestead is just that important.

"If you come out of there with great results, it gives all the team members, the sponsors, the media – everyone out there – a super calling card to remember you by," Busch added. "It works to instill optimism and grow the level of confidence through all those cold and dreary winter days. When you look at that period in between the closing of one season till the opening of the next, that’s a long time to think about it."

It sounds good enough for me. In Las Vegas, If Busch wins, the entire city of Las Vegas gets a free Miller Lite at the multiple locations of PT’s Pub’s through out the city. I like beer and I also like 14 to 1 odds at the cashier window. Let’s close out the season strong with a Busch win and free beer.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Kurt Busch (14/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (30/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)

Visit for Much more Stats and Info for this weeks race at Miami

Homestead-Miami Facts

by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media Services

At Homestead-Miami Speedway:

* Groundbreaking for Homestead-Miami Dade Motorsports Complex – as the track was originally named – began Aug. 24, 1993. The first race was a NASCAR Nationwide Series event on Nov. 5, 1995.
* The original configuration was a four-turn, rectangular oval based on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's layout.
* The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Homestead was held on Nov. 14, 1999.
* 2002 was the first season of the Championship Weekend at Homestead, with all three of NASCAR’s national series holding their season finale at the same track.

* There have been 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, one per season since 1999.
* Five drivers have competed in all nine Homestead races: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Elliott Sadler and Tony Stewart.
* David Green won the first pole, in 1999.
* Tony Stewart won the inaugural race, in 1999.
* There have been nine different pole winners. Kurt Busch (2002 and 2004) is the only multiple pole winner there.
* There have been seven different race winners, led by Greg Biffle with three.
* Jack Roush has won six races, most among owners.
* The race has been won from the pole twice: Bill Elliott (2001) and Kurt Busch (2002).
* The race has been won from a top-10 starting position eight of 10 times.
* Greg Biffle won in 2006 from the 22nd starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
* Three active drivers have averaged a top-10 finish: Carl Edwards (6.4), Jeff Gordon (9.9) and Kevin Harvick (9.1).
* Four of the last five races have ended with a margin of victory under one second.

NASCAR in Florida
* There have been 161 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Florida.
* 157 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as Florida.
* There have been 10 race winners from Florida in NASCAR’s three national series.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Johnson Too Good at Phoenix, Widens Lead to 108 Points With One To Go


Johnson wins at Phoenix: #48-Jimmie Johnson won the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway for his 7th win of the season, leading the most laps and winning his 48th race of his career. #31-Burton finished 2nd, followed by #11-Hamlin #5-Martin, #1-Truex Jr. [pole sitter, his first top-5 of the season], #2-Busch, #33-Bowyer, #42-Montoya, #24-Gordon and #00-Reutimann. Johnson's win and Martins 4th place finish allowed Johnson to open up a 108 point lead, so Johnson just needs to finish 25th or better and nothing Martin can do to catch him, Johnson could finish further back if Martin does. Jeff Gordon is eliminated when Johnson starts the car at Homestead. There were only 4 cautions for 23 yellow flag laps and there were 9 lead changes among 4 drivers.

Scheduled Race Re-Airs:
ESPN2: Monday, November 16 at 3:00am/et
ESPN Classic: Monday, November 16 at 1:00pm/et
SPEED, Wednesday, November 18 at 12:00pm/et
For race results, awards and more, see my Phoenix Race Results Page.(11-15-2009)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Phoenix Happy Hour: Johnson and Martin Bringing Their Best This Week

by M Roberts

Any thoughts of Jimmie Johnson having any lingering affects from last weeks disastrous finish at Texas were quickly put to rest during Saturday’s Final Phoenix Practice in preparation for Sunday’s Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series points leader laid out the fastest lap of 132.348 mph early in the practice and appears to be primed at taking care of business and increasing his 73 point lead in the Chase for the Championship.

Johnson has a conceivable chance of clinching the title at Phoenix this week with one race still to go, which would be an unprecedented fourth Championship in a row. However, with another poor performance and good runs by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, Johnson could also find himself leaving Phoenix third in points.

The later scenario seems very unlikely based on his past history at Phoenix that has never seen him finish worse than 15th with a current streak of six straight top-5 finishes that include three wins.

Johnson’s rocket this week is the same chassis he used while finishing second at Martinsville, a track that -- while half the distance of Phoenix -- is still relevant because of relatively no banking.

There are a few other drivers who have brought their Martinsville chassis as well, but most teams opted to go with their Chassis’ that ran at the combination of New Hampshire, Richmond, or the April Phoenix race, which are all flat tracks and similar in distance.

The top driver on the combined trio of similar tracks this year is Mark Martin who captured victories at Phoenix earlier this year and the last race held at New Hampshire. Martin brought the chassis with him that won those two races and was very quick in final practice with the second fastest lap just behind Johnson.

Martin can be expected to go all out on Sunday like we have seldom seem the cool, collective veteran who rarely pushes anything. He’s fighting for a chance at winning his first Cup Championship and is just 73 points behind. Should he finish the season where he’s at, it would be his fifth second-place finish over his great career.

The third fastest in Happy Hour was another Hendrick driver, but wasn’t Jeff Gordon. No, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr who brought the same chassis he ran with at New Hampshire that running in fourth before being wrecked.

The positive for Junior Nation is that they are running very well of late with some of the newer formatted Hendrick chassis’ and he‘s a two-time winner at Phoenix. However, the negative of just not having any luck has outweighed the actual quality of how good his cars have been.

Juan Pablo Montoya had the 17th fastest single lap during happy Hour, but had the best overall average times for the session which should give him his best career finish on the track which is 16th.

Martin Truex Jr won the Pole on Friday and showed on Saturday that he isn’t just fast in qualifying-trim, but that his race set-up is equally as fast. He had the fourth fastest single lap time and the third fastest average speeds. Truex Jr has three top-10 Phoenix finishes over his career.

Last weeks winner, Kurt Busch, came up with the fifth best lap during Happy Hour, laying it down early like all the other top speeds of the day. Busch used the same Chassis this week that led 123 laps in his last two Phoenix starts. Busch has one Phoenix win over his career, along with one, a-hem, suspension for a traffic altercation outside the raceway in 2005.

One of the surprises of the day was how poorly Denny Hamlin ran with having only the 25th best lap. A lot was expected oh Hamlin because of how ell he did on the last runs at like-tracks by winning at Richmond and finishing second at New Hampshire. Hamlin also won on the short flat track of Martinsville just a few weeks ago giving reason to believe he’d be there contending with Johnson and Martin for the win this week.

Of the former Phoenix winners not mentioned, Jeff Burton came in with the sixth best speed, Jeff Gordon seventh, Tony Stewart 11th, Matt Kenseth 17th, Kevin Harvick 22nd, Kyle Busch 27th.

Top Speeds - Final Practice (Happy Hour)
1) Jimmie Johnson 132.348 mph - 64 laps @ 128.333
2) Mark Martin 132.275 mph - 68 laps @ 127.546
3) Dale Earnhardt Jr 132.018 mph - 41 laps @ 128.039
4) Martin Truex Jr 131.878 mph - 52 laps @ 128.210
5) Kurt Busch 131.868 mph - 61 laps @ 127.863

Top-10 Rated Drivers - Ratings based on Happy Hour, recent past performances on the tracks of New Hampshire, Phoenix, and Richmond along with the current state of the team.
1) Mark Martin
2) Jimmie Johnson
3) Kurt Busch
4) Jeff Gordon
5) Jeff Burton
6) Dale Earnhardt Jr
7) Denny Hamlin
8) Tony Stewart
9) Kyle Busch
10) Martin Truex Jr

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Phoenix Preview: Look For Hamlin To Lead The Way Followed by Hendrick

by Micah Roberts

Just when we thought NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship was a runaway lacking any kind drama with Jimmie Johnson running away, Sam Hornish crashed the party by wrecking Johnson last week at Texas.

Johnson lost 111 points and is only 73 points ahead of second place Mark Martin and 112 points ahead of third place Jeff Gordon. He still has a comfortable lead with two races to go, but at least it‘s something to talk about unlike what we’ve had fir the duration of the Chase where Johnson has ran away in his quest to win four straight titles.

This week it’s off to Phoenix where Johnson has three career wins at including a sweep on 2008. Earlier in the season, Johnson finished fourth behind winner Mark Martin making it five straight wins in Phoenix by a Hendrick Motorsports driver.

“Yeah, I would say that looking at the schedule, the best track remaining for us would be PIR, “ Johnson said. “We had a really fast car in the spring and had some different issues on pit road and some bad luck with the timing of the caution that kept us back in the pack, and still ended up with a reasonable finish but we passed a lot of cars, and in our opinion felt like we had the strongest car.

“For me it's a great track but it's also a great track for Jeff. He runs very consistent there, and then Mark won in the spring. The two guys I'm trying to stay ahead of in the points have that track as a strong one, as well.

Johnson will be using his Martinsville chassis from last month in which he finished second to Denny Hamlin in. Though much shorter in length, the flat nature of Martinsville is very suitable for Phoenix. If things don’t work out, they can roll their back-up out which has four of five races it started including Richmond and Phoenix last season.

Jeff Gordon got his first career win at Phoenix in 2007, but had always run fairly well despite the win drought. He’ll be looking to press the issue this week as only two races remain.

“A lot can happen in these final two races,“ said Gordon at an attempt of being optimistic. “There are hundreds of moments that you have as a team every single weekend that maybe don’t materialize, or that don’t get seen by the public or even the media. But we see it. There are close calls all the time, and it can happen at any time. I get through every race and think, ‘whew, we survived this moment or that moment. Phoenix has certainly been on our radar because it’s a track that’s been hit or miss for us. I’m a little disappointed in how we performed earlier this year, and we certainly need to improve on that this weekend. A lot still has to happen if we are going to realistically battle for the championship in the season finale. But we need to make sure we do everything in our control to secure as many points as possible this weekend.”

True, a lot can happen, but the “Lot” happened last week at Texas. We all kind of figured that there would be a lapse by Johnson somewhere and assumed it would be at Talladega, but it happened at Texas instead. Asking for a Johnson collapse on a track like Phoenix where his worst career finish in 15th and he’s finished in the top-5 for six straight races might be a little too much.

The bottom line is that the gift came last week and drivers like Mark Martin and Gordon didn’t capitalize enough on it to make Johnson feel the pressure a little bit. This guy is about as cool as they come and these are the types of moments that have already defined him as one of the best ever.

We have the luxury at Phoenix of looking back at two other facilities to get a better grasp on who may win the race. The flat banking and length of New Hampshire and Richmond are very similar and just about every year we see multiple wins by at least one driver from a team who has figured out the layout.

So far, Mark Martin is that guy having won at Phoenix earlier in the year and New Hampshire in September. The others with one win are Kyle Busch at Richmond, Joey Logano in a rain shortened New Hampshire race, and Denny Hamlin at Richmond.

Martin, Busch and Hamlin will again be contenders to win this week based on their excellence on those tracks this year. Of the three, Martin will be charging the hardest trying to gain as many points possible to ensure he doesn’t just finish second in the points again, something he’s done four times in his career without ever winning the title.

The driver I’m going to key on this week is Hamlin. I like the way he drives on these type of tracks, especially what he‘s done lately. In his last run at New Hampshire, he finished just behind Martin in second place. The race prior to New Hampshire, he won at Richmond and just to boot, he won on the smaller flat track of Martinsville as well. He’s never won at Phoenix, but has finished third on three separate instances.

As for the point leader, Mr. Johnson, the Sports Books have him listed as the favorite to win based on past history, but I’d look for him to play it conservative this week and race for points. 73 points is the margin between running first and 15th. Johnson should finish with a top-10, but after getting a huge scare last week, don’t expect him to let it all hang out and go for the win in a race he’d be normally very capable of winning under different circumstances.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
3) #5 Mark Martin (8/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (10/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Phoenix International Raceway Facts

by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media Services

At Phoenix International Raceway:

• Construction was completed in January 1964. The facility consisted of a one-mile oval and a 2.5-mile road course.
• Alan Kulwicki won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix on Nov. 6, 1988.
• The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debuted at Phoenix on Feb. 5, 1995. Mike Skinner became the series’ first winner.
• The first spring race was held on April 23, 2005 and also the first night race, which was won by Kurt Busch.

• There have been 26 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway, one per season from 1988-2004 and two each season since.
• Geoffrey Bodine won the first pole in 1988.
• There have been 16 different pole winners, led by Ryan Newman with four.
• Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to win consecutive poles. Newman won three straight (2002-04), while Gordon won the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007.
• There have been 19 different race winners, led by Jimmie Johnson, with three. Mark Martin ended Johnson’s streak with his win in the spring.
• The race has been won from the pole three times: Jeff Gordon (spring 2007), Jimmie Johnson (fall 2008) and Mark Martin (spring 2009).
• The race has been won from a top-10 starting position in 13 of 26 events.
• Ricky Rudd won the 1995 race from the 29th-place starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
• Mark Martin has 10 top-five finishes, more than any other driver. Martin (9.0 average finish) is one of two active drivers who average a top-10 finish. Jimmie Johnson (5.4) is the other. Alan Kulwicki (5.2) leads all drivers in average finish at Phoenix.
• Five of the last six races have ended with a margin of victory under one second.
• Jimmie Johnson leads the points standings by 73 points over Mark Martin with two races remaining. The largest points deficit overcome with two races remaining was 85 by Alan Kulwicki in 1992.

NASCAR in Arizona
• There have been 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Arizona.
• 29 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Arizona.
• There have been no race winners from Arizona in NASCAR’s three national series.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kurt Busch at Texas, Second win of the Year on SMI Sister-Tracks


Kurt Busch wins at Texas: #2-Kurt Busch won the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway for his 2nd win of the season and 20th of his career. #18-Kyle Busch led 232 laps and was in position to win the race and set history by winning the Cup, Nationwide and Truck race same weekend/ same track, then ran out of fuel with two laps to go and finished 11th. #11-Hamlin finished 2nd, followed by #17-Kenseth, #5-Martin, #29-Harvick [who was 2nd but ran out of fuel and got passed by three cars], #14-Stewart, #33-Bowyer, #16-Biffle, #31-Burton and #44-Allmendinger. On lap 3, points leader #48-Johnson was involved in a wreck and hit the inside wall, the crew took just over an hour to repair the car and get Johnson out so he could make laps and finished 38th. Johnson's points lead went from 184 to 73 over #5-Mark Martin. There were 5 cautions for 26 yellow flag laps and there were 13 lead changes among 4 drivers.
Scheduled Race Re-Airs:
ESPN2: Monday, November 9 at 3:30am/et
ESPN Classic: Monday, November 9 at 1:00pm/et
SPEED, Wednesday, November 11 at 12:00pm/et
For race results, awards and more, see my Texas Race Results Page.(11-8-2009)

Where the 2009 Chase Drivers finish at Texas in the Dickies 500:
(in order of chase points standings coming into Texas)
1) #48-Jimmie Johnson, 38th, wrecked lap 3
2) #5-Mark Martin, 4th
3) #24-Jeff Gordon, 13th
4) #42-Juan Pablo Montoya, 37th
5) #14-Tony Stewart, 6th
6) #2-Kurt Busch, WON
7) #16-Greg Biffle, 8th
8) #39-Ryan Newman, 12th
9) #9-Kasey Kahne, 33rd
10) #99-Carl Edwards, 39th
11) #11-Denny Hamlin, 2nd
12) #83-Brian Vickers, 26th.(11-8-2009)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Texas Final Practice: Johnson Fastest, But Roush Stable Is On The Prowl

by M Roberts

Happy Hour is any indication of how the Texas NASCAR Sprint Cup race will be run on Sunday, then Jimmie Johnson is likely to widen his lead in the Chase for the Championship and quite possibly win his seventh race of the season.

Johnson laid down the fastest lap in Texas’ final practice session at 186.670 mph while running the second most laps with 49. After escaping Talladega with a gift sixth place finish while simply looking to just finish, Johnson looks like he wants to finish the last three races of the season with his guns-a-blazin’.

A great tool to use helping figure out who may run better than others is by referring to all the other similar track’s data using practices and what happened in the race itself. In Texas’ case, we have six similar instances this year of races run on 1.5 mile high banked tracks that include Las Vegas, Charlotte, Atlanta, and the first Texas race.

The two most recent races run are the most likely indicators of the six as to how well Saturday’s practice times relate to a driver’s actual expected performance.

Without having to look at anything, Johnson stands out despite his practice times just because he’s, well, he’s Jimmie Johnson. Even though he won at Charlotte, the last like-track, he’s had his worst combined season of finishes on these type of tracks which should give hope to some of the others.

What may turn out to be more good news for the field is that Johnson is using that Charlotte rocket as his back-up car this week, opting to go with the chassis that won at Dover instead.

The driver that looked the most promising among those who haven’t done well on these type of tracks this season is Carl Edwards who had the second fastest lap in Happy Hour. He does have two top-5 finishes on these types this season, but Edwards just doesn’t get top-5’s, he gets wins on them and dominates, or at least he did.

Last season at Texas, he continued the Fenway-Roush dominance at Texas by sweeping the season giving him three career wins on the track. It also contributed to Roush’s beefy all-around performance at the track since it opened giving his stable seven wins in 17 races there.

These are supposed to be Roush-friendly tracks and always have been. Yet as the stars aligned in February, everything seemed to change. Roush ended up winning his first Daytona 500 ever, but in the process, sold his season’s soul to do it, or at least that how it looks.

Following Matt Kenseth’s two straight wins to start the season, it’s been one of the worst years ever for Roush.

There has never been a driver so dominant one year with nine wins, to the next having zero wins, while starting every event like Edwards is on the verge of. Greg Biffle won two races late last season and hasn’t won either. David Ragan has gone from barely missing the Chase last season to competing for 26th position in points with the likes of A.J. Allmendinger.

The lone bright spot since Kenseth’s run was the Jamie McMurray win last week, a driver who is in lame duck status. The taint on the bright spot was that the win gave no hope to a once strong program because it was in a restrictor plate race.

Somehow, some way, all things look to be better for Roush this week based on practice. Not only is Edwards second fastest, but Biffle came in fourth, Ragan sixth, McMurray 13th, and Kenseth 27th.

Kenseth’s times are always lousy and he never really puts any emphasis on them. What is encouraging was the nice run he had in the last Charlotte race where he finished second to Johnson as well as his fifth at Texas in the spring.

Denny Hamlin had the third fastest Happy Hour lap and the best average lap times while running his same chassis that led 54 laps at Charlotte last month before having engine problems.

Dale Earnhardt Jr looked solid in his final practice as he came in with the eighth best lap, but more encouraging for him is that he was fast in long runs having the best average lap times over the session. He ran 39 laps in his Kansas chassis, the one that led 41 laps before engine trouble, and has a car capable of winning on race day; something we haven’t been able to say too often this season. It was one of his best practices of 2009.

David Reutimann got off to a blazing start in Saturday’s first practice session by running the overall fastest lap of 186.812 mph on his first of 22 laps run. His fast times should come as no surprise because he’s been doing it all season on the high-banked 1.5 mile tracks.

Not only has Reutimann had great practices for these races, but he’s also turned into success in the actual race. In the six races run on the like-facilities, Reutimann has captured three of his five top-5 finishes, including the only win of his career in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600.

Top Speeds - Saturday’s Final Practice (Happy Hour):
1) Jimmie Johnson 186.670 mph - AVG 49 laps @ 179.239
2) Carl Edwards 186.265 mph - AVG 34 laps @ 179.479
3) Denny Hamlin 185.810 mph - AVG 29 laps @ 179.604
4) Greg Biffle 185.503 mph - AVG 31 laps @ 178.739
5) Bill Elliott 184.894 mph - AVG 33 laps @ 177.448

Top Speeds - Saturday’s First Practice:
1) David Reutimann 186.812 mph - AVG 22 laps @ 181.520
2) Tony Stewart 186.716 mph - AVG 16 laps @ 182.866
3) Juan Pablo Montoya 186.265 mph - AVG 11 laps @ 181.639
4) Kyle Busch 186.252 mph - AVG 32 laps @ 180.853
5) Kurt Busch 185.714 mph - AVG 28 laps @ 180.381

Top 10 Rated Drivers at Texas following all qualifying and practice sessions. Ratings based on those practices, recent results on similar tracks, and current state of the team.
1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Carl Edwards
3) Greg Biffle
4) Matt Kenseth
5) Denny Hamlin
6) Jeff Gordon
7) Dale Earnhardt Jr
8) Kyle Busch
9) Tony Stewart
10) Mark Martin

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Jeff Gordon Wins Texas Pole: First of 2009, 17th Straight Year with Pole


Jeff Gordon on pole at Texas:
#24-Jeff Gordon won the Coors Light Pole Award for the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway with a lap of 191.117mph for his 1st pole of the season and 68th career pole, Gordon has now won at least one pole every season for 17 straight seasons and has won 17 races from the 1st starting position. #9-Kahne was 2nd fastest followed by #2-Busch, #14-Stewart, #18-Busch, #99-Edwards, #5-Martin, #16-Biffle, #88-Earnhardt Jr. and #33-Bowyer.

The non Top-35 drivers who made the race: #02-Gilliland, #70-Skinner, #71-Labonte, #82-Speed, #78-Smith, #87-Nemechek, #36-McDowell and #21-Elliott.
The four drivers who failed to qualify: #37-Raines, #66-Blaney, #13-Papis and #09-Bliss.(11-6-2009)

Qualifying Fast Facts - Texas:
* #24-Jeff Gordon won the Coors Light Pole Award for the Dickies 500 with a lap of 28.255 seconds, 191.117 mph.
* This is his 68th pole in 579 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. He has now won a pole in 17 consecutive seasons.
* This is his first pole and 24th top-10 start in 2009. His last pole came at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2008.
* This is his second pole in 18 races at Texas Motor Speedway.
* #9-Kasey Kahne (second) posted his 18th top-10 start of 2009 and his seventh in 11 races at Texas Motor Speedway.
* #2-Kurt Busch (third) posted his fourth top-10 start at Texas Motor Speedway. It is his 17th in 34 races this season.
* #20-Joey Logano (14th) was the fastest qualifying rookie.
(NASCAR Statistics)(11-6-2009)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Texas Dickies 500 Preview: Kenseth Could Be a Live Underdog This Week

by Micah Roberts

Race No. 34 of 36 on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule takes us to Texas where we can get back some normal racing instead of the garbage witnessed last week at Talladega.

The best thing about Texas is that you can use a wealth of data from the long season to help handicap for this race. You have results from the similar sister-tracks of Las Vegas, Atlanta, Charlotte, and the spring Texas race to go off of. Most of those tracks are all banked about the same and are very similar despite some unique traits of their own.

The most recent race run should get higher regards than the one ran earlier. If we sift through all the results I would pay more attention to the Charlotte race from a few weeks ago more than I would the March Vegas race, but necessarily more than the April Texas race.

Take Jeff Gordon for example. He won the first Texas race this season and has finished well at every one of the sister-tracks. His worse finish was at Charlotte in May when he finished 14th, but that was in part because of rain ending the race. Gordon was in that race as a strong contender to win. Even if we use that finish, Gordon’s average finish on the combined tracks is 5.8.

Jimmie Johnson almost went the entire season without winning on one of these type of tracks, which would have been a major shock because he has dominated on them since he came into the series. No one has been better. He didn’t get the win until a few weeks ago at Charlotte. In the five previous 1.5-mile high-banked races he had struggled, at least by his standards. He did finish second in Texas, but that was the only top-5.

Johnson will be bringing his chassis that he won at Dover with. His backup chassis will be the one he won with at Charlotte. He’s got a nice lead in points and we can expect him to let it all hang out, unlike last week. Knowing Johnson’s style, he’d love nothing more than to win his fourth title in a row in style.

Matt Kenseth hasn’t been good at too many places other than the first two stops of the season he won -- remember the Daytona 500 winner. Yeah, I know, it seems like two years ago since then. Anyway, Kenseth falls into that category of a driver that should do well based on his last race on these type of tracks and Texas itself.

Last month at Charlotte, Kenseth gave everything he had to beat Johnson but had to settle for second. In one of his rare six top-5 finishes on the year, Kenseth was able to finish fifth in the April Texas race. This is one driver that may slip under the Sports Books radar and present great value in all betting propositions.

Kasey Kahne started out slow, but was still respectable on these type of tracks at the beginning of the season. He really came on late with a win at Atlanta in September and then came back with a strong third in Charlotte. The former Texas winner looks like a top contender to win again this week.

Even though the 1.5-mile high banks appear to be the same as results show, Kahne has some particulars that are different to the driver.

"Getting into Turn One can be tricky,” Kahne said. “It is real flat and then as you are coming into the corner, you get into the banking. It’s almost like you fall into the corner at 190 miles per hour. Turn Three is similar but it is not as drastic. It is a difficult place to get your car to handle the way you want. It is a great track, but you really need your car to handle well on entry to be competitive."

This type of track usually doesn’t allow for many surprises, at least to the magnitude we saw the with the last two Talladega winners of Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray winning.

Speaking of Keselowski, he’ll be getting his first run with his new job in 2010 running for Penske Racing in the No. 12 Dodge. He’ll be running the final three races this season. Unlike David Stremme, Keselowski will be getting brand new equipment beginning this week.

TOP 5 Finish prediction:
1) #9 Kasey Kahne (12/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
3) #17 Matt Kenseth (20/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)

Last weeks race at Talladega was going so well with all kinds of lead changes and drivers shuffling from way back to the front in one or two laps. In was an exciting race, at least until the end.

In was supposed to be a Green-White-Checkers end, but it didn’t seem like they got to the White flag when all the action started. The caution flag came out a little too late and it seemed like they were in a hurry to call the thing to avoid any more delays, and wrecks, or at least that‘s the way I wanted to believe it.

In all NASCAR’s efforts since the Carl Edwards flip into the catch-fence at Talladega in the spring to avoid those type of occurrences, they threw gasoline on the fire. It seems to me that the folks in NASCAR may want to do a better job a separating the cars more, because that seems to be where the big accidents always come from.

The answer isn’t making the hole in the restrictor plate smaller to slow the fuel down because all that does is make the cars take longer to get up to full speed and then once the drafting starts, they go about 10 to 15 miles an hour faster.

If they want to solve the problem, the best way may be to go with a smaller engine that still has some response to the throttle and use some skinnier tires. If drivers start wrecking because they can’t grip, they’ll learn to control their throttle more instead of the full out mash on the gas they do now.

The late Dale Earnhardt used to always complain about not having control over his throttle in plate races, even after he’d won.

Picture going uphill to an expressway driving a Yugo, trying to get up to speed, but getting no response as you continue to chug at 25 mph.

NASCAR has put these drivers in this position and they’re not happy about it. Poor Ryan Newman had to sit crammed in flattened car for 20 minutes until they opened his car like a can of sardines to get him out and it was a direct result of what NASCAR has done.

For my own benefit, If I’m going to spend the bulk of my Sunday morning watching a race that is competing for air-time with my previously unbeaten Denver Broncos, then I at least want to see a finish. Don’t give me all the fun and a frills of what looks to be great racing and then give me an ending like Geraldo’s search for Al Capone’s Lost Vault.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Texas Motor Speedway Facts

by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media Services

At Texas Motor Speedway:

• Construction on Texas Motor Speedway began in 1995.
• The first NASCAR race at Texas was a NASCAR Nationwide Series event on April 5, 1997.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas was on April 6, 1997.
• In 1998, Turn 4 at Texas was reshaped to ease the transition from the turns to the front straightaway.
• A second renovation started after the 1998 race and eliminated dual banking and gave the track its current configuration.

• There have been 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway, one per season 1997 through 2004 and two races per year since 2005.
• Four drivers have competed in all 17 Texas races: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin.
• Jeremy Mayfield won the first timed qualifying on April 4, 1998. Qualifying for the inaugural race in 1997 was canceled.
• Jeff Burton won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
• 12 drivers have scored poles at Texas, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman with two each.
• 14 drivers have won races, led by Carl Edwards, with three. Jeff Gordon won at Texas for the first time, in April. Gordon has won at every track he has run except Homestead-Miami Speedway.
• 13 of 17 races have been won from a top-10 starting position. Only one has been won from the pole (Kasey Kahne in 2006).
• Matt Kenseth started 31st en route to his victory at Texas in 2002, the deepest in the field that a race winner has started.
• Both Jeff Burton (1999) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) scored their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Texas.
• Five of the last six races have had a margin of victory under one second.
• Jimmie Johnson (8.5) and Matt Kenseth (9.7) each average a top-10 finish.

NASCAR in Texas
• There have been 26 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Texas.
• 71 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Texas.
• There have been seven race winners from Texas in NASCAR’s three national series.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

McMurray Wins at Talladega, Johnson 6th Secures Peace of Mind

By Ed Hinton

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Jimmie Johnson opened the drain NASCAR poured its season down Sunday.

Now get this for working a system and a screwball race made screwier by NASCAR's pre-race antics (I mean edicts): Riding around 30th or worse for most of the afternoon, Johnson blew the Chase to smithereens and turned the rest of it into his personal, three-city victory parade through Fort Worth, Phoenix and Miami.

All that's left to mop up is a little math. He'll likely clinch at Phoenix in two weeks, show up at Homestead-Miami only if he feels like it, then hit Las Vegas for the official celebration of his historic fourth straight championship.

This one may not be over, but it's over.

Win the Amp Energy 500? Nah. Who needed that? (For those who care, Jamie McMurray won the worse-than-usual mess at Talladega Superspeedway.)

This was better than a win for Johnson. A lot better. He finished a slick sixth and escaped Casino de Alabama decisively ahead of those who didn't -- 184 points ahead of Mark Martin, 192 up on Jeff Gordon and 239 over Juan Pablo Montoya, all of whom wrecked on the inevitable big one that came at the white flag of a green-white-checkered overtime.

"Yes, I do feel better than a race win with today's finish," Johnson confirmed when I asked him.

But there was the somewhat hollow feeling of leaving teammates Martin and Gordon so far back in the Chase due to the crapshoot circumstances that got them caught up in the big one that started just feet behind Johnson's right-rear fender.

He felt "still in shock" with elation, but, "I'm trying to keep it back because I do feel bad that the guys crashed coming to the finish. … I was really concerned for Mark, because when I looked in the mirror I saw the 5 roof number tumbling and flipping and then hitting the outside fence. I hate to see things take place that way …

"But [gaining] points on them, that's what we're here to do. I wish it would have been under fuel circumstances [which got Martin and Gordon back into the crazy areas of the draft lines], not a crash, for sure. But we'll take them."