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Terry Labonte leads Travis Kvapil (No. 32) and Michael Waltrip (No. 55) during his final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR) 


NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series News & Notes -
Phoenix International Raceway

• Several Chase Drivers Remain Close to Cup
• Driver Rating Helps Predict Winners
• Stewart Continues To Rack Up Wins
• Petty Enterprises Moves Into Crucial 35th Spot

Phoenix To Set Championship Stage

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2006) – Two races remain in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season and while all 10 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are still mathematically eligible for the title, at least five have a realistic chance.

Only 105 points separate the top-five drivers, one of the closest margins in series history.

For the second time in this year’s Chase, all 10 drivers changed positions. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) used a second-place finish last week at Texas Motor Speedway to climb back on top of the standings where he had been most of the season.

Johnson became the fourth different driver to lead the 2006 Chase field – the most in the format’s young history.

Things weren’t looking as bright for Johnson early in the Chase. He considered his championship hopes dashed after falling to eighth in the standings, 156 points behind then-leader Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) after four Chase races. Johnson fought back with four consecutive finishes in the top five. He won at Martinsville and finished as the runner-up in the other three races. During that stretch, Johnson gained 173 points, climbing from eighth to first.

Johnson now leads the standings by 17 points over Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford) - the second closest margin under the current points system, which began in 1975. Richard Petty led Darrell Waltrip by eight points with two races remaining in 1979.

There isn’t much breathing room behind Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), a two-time winner at Phoenix is third. Fourth-place Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Chevrolet) sat on the pole for last year’s race and finished 13th. And fifth-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Reese’s Cookies Chevrolet) won the spring race at Phoenix.

Phoenix Tale Of The Tape

Driver              Starts     Top 5    Top 10    Wins        Phoenix Driver Rating*
Jimmie Johnson     6             1           4            0          105.6
Matt Kenseth         8             3           4            1          90.8
Dale Earnhardt Jr.  8             4           4            2           82.2 
Denny Hamlin        2             0           0            0           74.1
Kevin Harvick         7             2           2            1           102.9  
Jeff Gordon          15             6         12             0           95.2
Jeff Burton           14             5          7              2           83.6
Kyle Busch           3             1          2              1           91.0
Mark Martin         20             8        13              1           91.6
Kasey Kahne        4             1          2               0          74.2
* -- Driver Rating based on Loop Data from 2005 and ’06 races at Phoenix (total of 3 races)

Keys To Victory:  Phoenix Offers Unique Challenges

Phoenix International Raceway is a unique one-mile oval that presents challenges at both ends of the track. Turns 1 and 2 each have 11 degrees of banking compared to nine degrees in Turns 3 and 4. The backstretch is also unique, with a bit of a dogleg heading into Turn 3.

Here are some “keys” drivers will be aiming for during Sunday’s race:

 Must Find Balance In Set Up – With the different degrees of banking on each end of the track, teams need to find a car set up that works well with each.
• Pick The Right Groove – Each driver needs to find the groove his car handles best in, at each turn. As track conditions change, drivers need to be able to make the proper adjustments to their line.

• Getting Through The Corners – A major key at Phoenix is getting the car to turn and carry the speed through the center of the corner. A good entry into the turns can make a big difference.

Stewart’s Win Adds To Driver Rating Prediction Success

Tony Stewart’s (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) victory on Sunday should give Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford) a little more confidence heading into Phoenix.

Stewart entered the race at Texas with a pre-race Driver Rating of 111.8 – the highest of any driver. His win marked the eighth time this year that the driver with the top pre-race Driver Rating won the race (a 23% success rate). In addition, the driver with the top pre-race Driver Rating has finished in the top five in 21 of the 34 races to date (62%).

Biffle leads all drivers entering the Checker Auto Parts 500 with a pre-race Driver Rating of 123.3.

Race Winners With Top Pre-Race Driver Rating

Date  Track           Winner     Rating
3/12   Las Vegas     Johnson    140.5
4/2     Martinsville    Stewart     130.7
5/13   Darlington      Biffle         144.4
7/1     Daytona        Stewart     124.3
7/23   Pocono         Hamlin      137.1
8/26   Bristol           Kenseth   125.9
9/9     Richmond     Harvick     125.5
11/5   Texas           Stewart     111.8

Top Phoenix Pre-Race Driver Ratings

1. Greg Biffle – 123.3
2. Kurt Busch – 116.5
3. Jimmie Johnson – 105.6
4. Kevin Harvick – 102.9
5. Carl Edwards – 102.7
6. Tony Stewart – 100.0
7. Bobby Labonte – 99.2
8. Jeff Gordon – 95.2
9. Brian Vickers – 93.0
10. Mark Martin – 91.6

In The Loop: Biffle Leads Several Pre-Race Loop Data Categories

In addition to leading the pre-race Driver Rating category, Greg Biffle holds the edge in several Loop Data categories that will benefit him this weekend.

Biffle tops all drivers in Fastest Early in a Run (127.562 mph), Fastest on Backstretch (140.690 mph), Fastest in Turns 1 and 3 (113.939 mph, 115.672 mph) and Fastest on Restarts (126.311). Of the 936 laps run in the past three races, Biffle has had the Fastest Lap 186 times (23.2%).

An important factor at Phoenix is to have a car that runs well Early In a Run. Eight of the top-ten drivers in Driver Rating are also among the top ten fastest early in a run.

Biffle, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) are all in the top five in Driver Rating and the top six in Fastest Early in a Run.

Defending Champion Tony Stewart Racks Up Wins

After barely missing the cutoff for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, several voices in the garage predicted Tony Stewart would race ‘with nothing to lose’ and would be in contention to win every race.
Those predictions aren’t too far off.

After Sunday’s victory at Texas Motor Speedway, Stewart has three Chase wins, including two in a row. His team is moving in the right direction to grab wins at the final two races and head into the off-season with as much momentum as anyone.

'It's a very good goal to shoot for right now,” Stewart said. “Win these last two races and be able to say we've won the last four races of the Chase.”

A string of wins wouldn’t be new territory for Stewart. In 1999, his rookie season, Stewart won back-to-back races at Phoenix and Homestead at the end of the season. He has won consecutive races on six different occasions (including twice within a seven-week span last summer).

But to win four in a row would give Stewart an accomplishment shared by only seven drivers since the Modern Era began in 1972. The drivers that won four in a row are Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993) and Jeff Gordon (1998).

Locked In: Kyle Petty Takes Over Final Guaranteed Position

For the first time since the Labor Day race at California Speedway, the No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge owned and driven by Kyle Petty will have a guaranteed spot in the field on Sunday.

Petty finished 11th at Texas, passing the No. 14 Principal Financial Chevrolet owned by Bobby Ginn and driven by Sterling Marlin for the 35th position in the current car owner standings. The top 35 cars are guaranteed a starting spot in the field.

Petty was 106 points behind Marlin’s team after the race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Since then he has finished 10th, 17th and 11th. Marlin finished 40th at Texas.

If Petty can hold on to the 35th position for the remaining two races of the season, he will be locked-in for the first five races of 2007. Per the NASCAR rulebook, the first five races of a new season revert to the previous year’s points.

2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Owner Points

Position    Points            Team                  Owner              Driver

30th         3,025               No. 01 Chevrolet    Bobby Ginn       Joe Nemechek
31st         3,003               No. 7 Chevrolet      Robby Gordon   Robby Gordon
32nd        2,882               No. 21 Ford           Glen Wood        Ken Schrader
33rd         2,849               No. 40 Dodge        Felix Sabates    David Stremme
34th         2,811               No. 19 Dodge        Ray Evernham   Elliott Sadler

35th        2,761 (bubble)  No. 45 Dodge       Kyle Petty        Kyle Petty

36th        2,742 (-19)         No. 14 Chevrolet    Bobby Ginn       Sterling Marlin
37th        2,493 (-268)       No. 32 Chevrolet    Cal Wells           Travis Kvapil
38th        2,343 (-418)       No. 55 Dodge        Doug Bawel        Michael Waltrip

Manufacturers’ Championship Update: Dodge Extends Second-Place Lead

Although Chevrolet has already clinched its 30th Manufacturers Championship in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, second place continues to be a battle between Dodge and Ford.

Dodge currently is in second with an eight-point lead over Ford (195-187). Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) finished seventh on Sunday – the highest of any Dodge or Ford competitor – which extended Dodge’s lead.

Dodge has only one second-place finish in the manufacturer’s standings since rejoining the sport in 2001. In 2003, Dodge edged out Ford 203-200 for second place.

Rookie Report: Bowyer Adds Another Top-Five Finish

Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet) finished fifth at Texas Motor Speedway to claim his eighth Raybestos Rookie of the Race Award. Bowyer is currently second in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, trailing Denny Hamlin by 51 points (284-233).

Hamlin has led the standings for most of the season. He began to pull away from the pack after sweeping both races at Pocono Raceway. Hamlin is the only rookie with a victory this season.

Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) is third in the rookie standings with 196 points. He is trailed by Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) with 195 points; J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) with 185 points and David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) with 159 points.

Where In The World Is Ken Schrader?

Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) continues to be, arguably, the busiest auto racer in the country, finding time to race in a variety of disciplines in addition to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition.
This week, however, Schrader will take it easy. Sunday’s race at Phoenix is the only one he is scheduled to participate in.

Driver Availability

Each race weekend, NASCAR schedules driver media availability for the top-10 drivers in the point standings, to facilitate coverage of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. The interview sessions typically last 15-20 minutes and take place outside the drivers’ transport haulers in the garage area.
For the complete list of availability and times, go to

On The Right Track Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Burton and Davey Allison are the only drivers with more than one victory at Phoenix. They have each won there twice. … Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) leads all drivers with eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 20 races at Phoenix. Martin is one of only three drivers to start all 20 races at Phoenix. The other two are Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) and Ken Schrader. … Six of the Chase drivers posted top-10 finishes at Phoenix in April (Harvick - first, Kenseth – third, Kahne – sixth, Johnson – seventh, Burton – ninth, Gordon – 10th). … Six different Chase drivers have won a race at Phoenix – tied for the highest at any Chase track. Six drivers have also won at Dover, Lowe’s and Atlanta. … Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) leads all drivers with four consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix. … Five of the last six races at Phoenix have been won from outside a top-10 starting position. ... Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with 22 top-10 finishes in 2006.

On Deck: Homestead-Miami Speedway Hosts Season Finale

Homestead-Miami Speedway will host the 36th – and final – event of the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season on Sunday, Nov. 19 (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Greg Biffle is the defending race winner, while Carl Edwards started on the pole.

Several of the drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup are expected to be eligible for the championship heading into the race.

The Race: Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway
The Date: Nov. 12
The Time: 3:25 p.m. (ET)
TV: NBC, 3 p.m. (ET)
Track Layout: l-mile oval
Distance: 500 kilometers/312 miles/312 laps
Purse: $4,892,924
2005 Winner: Kyle Busch
2005 Pole: Denny Hamlin
Pos.  Driver            Pts.
 1      Johnson          6,157
 2      Kenseth          6,140
 3      Earnhardt Jr.   6,079
 4      Hamlin            6,077
 5      Harvick            6,052
 6      Gordon            6,000
 7      Burton             5,973
 8      Busch             5,924,
 9      Martin             5,904
10     Kahne             5,867
***     ***********         ******
11     Stewart           4,488
12     Edwards          4,131
13     Biffle                3,829
Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday—Practice,  11:35 a.m.-1:05 p.m. and Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 12:05-12:50 p.m.
Track Contact: Tami Nealy (623) 463-5613;