Published On: Tue, Jul 3rd, 2012

Wins Take Center Stage With Chase Seedings At Stake

Dale Storm: Points Lead Hunt Continues For Junior

Wins Take Center Stage With Chase Seedings At StakeWith the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign reaching its halfway mark with Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (TNTlive 7:30 p.m.EDT), points are good but wins are better.

In fact, wins are best. Matt Kenseth leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 11 points with nine races remaining before the top 10 in the standings plus two “Wild Card” qualifiers are seeded into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.

Seeding is key. Were the Chase to begin today, the 10th driver in points –Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski – would be the No. 1 seed by virtue of his three victories.

All qualifiers begin the Chase with 2,000 points. Drivers one through 10 then are awarded three bonus points per victory, hence Keselowski’s current advantage. “Wild Card” qualifiers, regardless of how many times they win, get no bonus points. Ironically, Keselowski qualified for his first Chase in 2011 as a “Wild Card” and got zero bonus points despite winning three times. What a difference a year makes.

Eight of the current top 10 drivers have at least one victory

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have two victories apiece. Kenseth, Earnhardt, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer each have won once. Only Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have been shut out.

Keselowski’s Kentucky victory was crucial in another respect. Coupled with Carl Edwards’ 20th-place finish, it allowed the 28-year-old Michigan native to strengthen his grip on 10th place. His pre-Kentucky lead over Edwards grew from 11 to 34 points – or more than half what could be gained or lost in a single race.

There are no guarantees for anyone currently among the top 10 staying there, but the odds are becoming longer for others to race their way in. There is another reason you won’t see Keselowski and his Paul Wolfe-led Penske Racing No. 2 Dodge team taking their collective feet off the gas.

“Got to win races. Tony [Stewart] proved that last year,” said Keselowski in his post-race interviews

A single victory can be the difference between winning and losing a championship. Had Edwards won more than once in the regular season, he would have captured last year’s title by three points instead of losing it to Stewart on a most-victories tiebreaker.

Roush Fenway Drivers In 400 Spotlight For Different Reasons

Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400. Same track, 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, but separated by 4-1/2 months, two seasons and distinctly different temperatures and humidity. As different as night and day? You could say that, although this year’s Daytona 500 became a night race due to its first postponement.

Perhaps that’s why only four drivers – Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, LeeRoy Yarbrough and Fireball Roberts – have been able to win both Daytona races in the same season. Allison’s sweep, the most recent, came 30 years ago when he drove a DiGard Racing Buick toVictory Lanein 1982.

Matt Kenseth, who’ll make his final Daytona start for Roush Fenway Racing, can become the fifth, having won February’s Daytona 500. Kenseth also won NASCAR’s crown jewel in 2009. Kenseth isn’t the only member of the Roush Fenway organization hopeful of duplicating February’s success. Greg Biffle finished third and Coors Light Pole winner Carl Edwards was eighth.

The race looms particularly large for Edwards, who rides a 50-race winless streak as he battles for a Chase position. Right now, he’s neither in the top 10 (11th) nor a potential “Wild Card” qualifier and has yet to win a restrictor-plate race. The current “Wild Cards” are held by Kyle Busch, the 2008 Coke Zero 400 winner and holder of the top Driver Rating (97.5) in the past 15 races at Daytona. Busch, 12th, is 42 points out of the top 10.

The battle for the second “card” is a three-way dead heat – literally. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logan, 14th-16th, each have tabulated 463 points with one victory apiece. Kahne would be the second and final “Wild Card” qualifier were it to be awarded today.

NASCAR’s rule book breaks ties by comparing drivers’ best finishes. Kahne owns the top secondary performance of the trio, his second place in Saturday’s race at Kentucky Speedway. Newman’s next best is a third while Logano’s comparison is an eighth. A driver must rank 11th through 20th to be eligible to take a “Wild Card” spot in the Chase.

Dale Storm: Points Lead Hunt Continues For Junior

In this “turn back the clock” season for NASCAR’s nine-time Most Popular Driver, many “most since” statistics help illustrate Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s phenomenal season. His seven top-five finishes are already his most since 2008 – and as many as the last two seasons combined. … His 13 tops 10s (which ties Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson for a series-high) are his most since 2008. … His 218 laps led are his most since 2008. … And, of course, his win atMichiganwas his first since 2008.

Seemingly all that’s left to attain is the points lead, a hurdle Earnhardt hasn’t leapt since October 2004 afterTalladega. He has flirted with the points lead on numerous occasions, sitting second in the points after six races this season. His average points position this season: 3.1. That’s the second-best average points position through 17 races of his career. His best was 1.9 in 2004.

Earnhardt, second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, sits 11 points behind leader Matt Kenseth heading into Saturday night’s race at Daytona.

A runner-up in this year’s Daytona 500 (to, coincidentally, Matt Kenseth), Earnhardt has two series points wins at Daytona. The first, famously, came in the July night race in 2001 – the first visit to the track after his father’s passing in that year’s Daytona 500. The second was the Daytona 500 in 2004.

Celebration Of American Service An Independence Day Tradition

NASCAR founder Bill France referred to Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 as “America’s largest Independence Day celebration.” NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway continue to honor the nation’s service men and women – veteran and active duty – with NASCAR Unites – An American Salute, which culminates this weekend.

Four Vietnam War Congressional Medal of Honor recipients will be hosted during this week’s activities, continuing a traditionFranceimplemented in 1969 when he invited all living Medal of Honor recipients to his Independence Day party. Eighty-seven of them attended the race.

Veterans have been a large part of NASCAR since its formative years. France built submarine chasers in the Daytona Beach boat yard. Among its pioneers who served in World War II – several of whom were wounded in action and earned Purple Hearts – included NASCAR Hall of Famer Bud Moore, 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Cotton Owens and NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees Red Byron, Raymond Parks,Fireball Roberts and Joe Weatherly.

Others – drivers, owners, mechanics and race inspectors – used their military experience to build the sport. Marvin Panch, whose 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories included the 1961 Daytona 500, used the word “loyalty” to explain why veterans made great competitors. Panch served in a stateside U.S. Army motor pool during the Korean War.

The King’s Birthday Celebration Rolls To Daytona

Richard Petty has been around racing nearly all his life – all 75 years. On Monday, July 2, Petty celebrated his 75th birthday in Level Cross, N.C.

Less than two years after Petty started his first NASCAR premier series race, he claimed his inaugural victory in the series at Southern States Fairgrounds in Charlotte, N.C., onFeb. 28, 1960. From that point on, the victories, records and accolades never stopped piling up.

For a driver to hold just one of the records Petty set is considered impressive, but for one driver to collectively set all the records Petty has is what legend is made of. In his career, he has set records that likely will never be broken: 200 career wins, 27 wins in one season, 10 wins in a row, 123 career poles, 555 Top-5 and 712 Top-10 finishes. In addition, he is tied with Dale Earnhardt with seven championships in the premier series.

His success continues today, now as an owner of cars driven by Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola. Ambrose had back-to-back poles at Michigan and Sonoma and has four finishes in the top 10. Almirola has one pole at Charlotte and two finishes in the top 10.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Daytona this weekend, expectations are high for Petty’s team. He returns to the track where he made 74 starts and tallied a record 10 victories. The No. 43 car, now piloted by Almirola, has visitedVictory Laneat Daytona 10 times.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

TNT’s Wide Open format will return for the sixth consecutive year during the network’s exclusive coverage of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. In addition to the TNT telecast, the race will also be simulcast for the first time ever on truTV.  Wide Open coverage will provide continuous race coverage free of national commercial breaks and offers more than 20 percent unobstructed race action than the standard telecast by using a letterbox widescreen format to allow for a continuous scroll of race information. … HLN’s Robin Meade will sing the national anthem and conduct interviews with troops attending the race. HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade features a regular “Salute to Troops” segment on the show, and will incorporate those interviews during the week following the race. … Milestone Watch: Ryan Newman’s next Coors Light Pole will be No. 50. Daytona is one of eight tracks at which Newman has yet to win a pole. … Jamie McMurray’s next top-10 finish will be No. 100. Daytona is one of two tracks at which McMurray has multiple wins.Charlotteis the other.

Patrick Working To Become First Female To Win At Daytona

Make no mistake, Danica Patrick wants to win at Daytona. She has openly spoken about the extra track time she has specifically scheduled to gain more experience.

In February, Patrick became the second woman to capture a NASCAR national series pole and first at Daytona. Patrick’s shine seems to blaze even brighter on the biggest stages. But in the season-opening race, she had an unlucky outcome due to an accident with JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt and finished 38th.

As she returns to Daytona, redemption may be on her mind. And why not? In this race last year, she finished 10th, sliding across the finish line during a last-lap melee. It was her best Daytona performance to date. She posted a 115.4 Driver Rating, with an Average Running Position of 6.2. She spent 100 percent of her laps completed in the top 15 and she led 13 percent of the race. In the latter stages of the race, she was in position for what could have been a historic win.

Patrick is currently ninth in the standings, having posted one top-10 finish (Texas) this season. But she comes into Daytona following two solid runs at Road America and Kentucky, where she finished 12th in both events.  Her season-to-date Driver Rating is 76.9, which is ranked 11th in the series.

The Man In The White Hat: Dillon Taking No. 3 Car Back To Prominence

Along pit road and in the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage these days, you will see a young man in a distinctive white hat. His name is Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress and driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Dillon posted his first series win this past weekend, kicking open the door on a possible points championship.

Dillon, 22, won his first career series race last week at Kentucky and also took the points lead. He was the first Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to lead the standings since Reed Sorenson in 2005. On Monday, he was docked six driver championship points after his No. 3 Chevrolet was found to be too low in post-race inspection, putting him four points behind current leader and Richard Childress Racing teammate Elliott Sadler. But Dillon must be considered a title threat in the season’s second half. History could be made, as well: There has never been an NNS champion who in the previous season won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title. A Sunoco Rookie of the Year has also never won the series championship.

Over the last three races, Dillon has earned the first two poles of his series career. He has four top fives in his last seven events, including his win, which was the 151st victory by the No. 3 car/truck throughout the NASCAR national series – 97 in NASCAR Sprint Cup, 29 in the NNS and 25 in Trucks.

Dash 4 Cash Kicks Off With Daytona Qualifier

Daytona serves as the qualifying race for the popular NASCAR Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash (follow on Twitter – #Dash4Cash) bonus program that awards the highest-finishing eligible driver in each of this season’s four D4C races a $100,000 bonus on top of their race winnings. For the first time in the program’s three-year history, the bonus races are consecutive – New Hampshire, Chicagoland, Indianapolis and Iowa.

The four highest-finishing NNS driver championship contenders at Daytona will be eligible for the $100,000 D4C bonus atNew Hampshire. The driver who finishes the highest among those four at NHMS – he or she does not have to win the race – will win the first $100,000 bonus and also become eligible for the next Dash 4 Cash race at Chicagoland. The next three highest-finishing series regulars atNew Hampshirewill then be eligible for Chicagoland, and these same rules will apply for Indianapolis and Iowa. Should the same driver capture the three previous D4C bonuses and win theIowarace outright, he or she will win an extra $600,000, bringing the total payout to $1 million.

Like last year, a fan element is also in play. Fans can enter the NNS $100,000 Sweepstakes at www.nascar.com/dash4cash and vie for a chance to win a trip and be paired with an eligible driver for the final D4C race atIowaon Aug. 4. The fan paired with the driver who wins the bonus also wins $100,000.

NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.

All-time wins leader Kyle Busch (51 wins) returns to the series this weekend at Daytona, where he leads the series in laps led (247). …Michael Annett gave his team owner, Richard Petty, an early birthday present last week at Kentucky when he posted his career-best, fourth-place finish. The King celebrated his 75th birthday on July 2. Annett comes to Daytona seventh in the standings. … Reigning series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. may be graduating to NSCS next year but still has work to do at this level. He’s 21 points behind Sadler. Last year heading to Daytona he also was third, seven points out. He left in worse shape, still third but 31 points back, yet righted himself in the second half en route to his championship. … Joey Logano is defending winner of this race. Despite taking last week off, he is one of the hottest NNS drivers with five wins in 11 races this year, including four of his last five. … James Buescher, who won the February NNS race at Daytona – his first national series win – is entered this week. … Latin crossover singer-songwriter Paty Cantú will sing the national anthem for the 11th annual Subway Jalapeno 250 Powered By Coca-Cola Friday night.

Points Logjam Spotlights Four Championship Contenders

And then there were four?

Eight races down – more than a quarter of the season complete – nine points cover the first four names in the championship standings. Fifth-place Parker Kligerman, 32 points behind, isn’t out of the running by any measure but the smart money right now is on one of the top four to win his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.

Timothy Peters is back on top for the second time in 2011 following last week’s fifth-place finish at Kentucky Speedway. Previous leader Justin Lofton was swept up in a mid-race accident but recovered to finish 14th.

Peters’ lead is miniscule: four points overCharlottewinner Lofton and Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader Ty Dillon, who finished third.

Momentum, however, has swung toKentuckywinner James Buescher. Buescher, the first to capture two wins in 2012, occupies the No. 4 position in the standings. The 22-year-old Texan, who’s also running a majority of the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule including Friday night’s Subway Jalapeno 250, leads or shares eight Loop Data categories. He’s the series leader with a Driver Rating of 117.0.

Peters’ Title Bid No Mirage In 2012

Timothy Peters could describe the 2011 season as a mirage. He contended for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship appearing as high as second in points before settling for a final ranking of fifth behind champion Austin Dillon.

The mirage part? Peters and his No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota were fast but inconsistent.

Peters won in Indianapolis among seven top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. But the season’s highs were more than offset by lows which came in bunches. One stretch in late spring saw theProvidence,N.C.driver follow three finishes of sixth or better by five out of six performances of 16th or worse.

Dillon motored off into the record book in the late going while Peters struggled with a single top five over the final nine races.

The organization appears to have learned its lesson. Through eight races, Peters has finished no worse than 11th and has completed every lap. He has yet to win but finished second at Daytona andKansas.

“I think it’s a team effort. We have taken what we have and really made the best of it; Going out to get the best finish with what our Toyota Tundra gives us.,” said Peters. “All the guys work hard and I try to not mess up where they are making gains. Our pit crew has also done a great job on pit road. I’ve always been the type of racer, not to jeopardize the equipment. We really want to get that win and I think we will soon.”

Truckers Holding Their Own Inside, Outside Comfort Zones

In recent years, NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide series drivers have invaded the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series carrying away a significant share of the hardware.

Not this year. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points-eligible drivers have won six of eight events.

And they’ve also turned the tables so to speak on their fellow NASCAR national series competitors winning outside of what might be considered their comfort zone.

James Buescher started the trend, winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener in Daytona. More recently, Nelson Piquet Jr. claimed victory in the same series’ event at Road America in Wisconsin.

Three NASCAR Camping World Truck campaigners have entered Friday night’s Subway Jalapeno 250 in Daytona: Buescher, attempting to become only the second to score a Daytona NASCAR Nationwide season sweep; Bryan Silas and John Wes Townley.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

T3R Racing’s Bryan Silas and his wife Misty welcomed the couple’s second child, Braydon Walter Lee Silas on June 26. … NCWTS drivers Max Gresham and Cale Gale will compete in Gresham (Ga.) Motorsports Park’s annual July 3-4 World Crown 400 late model event. NSCS’ David Ragan and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competitors Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott also have entered. … NCWTS competition resumes with the July 14 American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway. The race kicks off a two-week swing through the Midwest that continues with a Truck-NNS doubleheader July 21-22 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Fast Facts: NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

The Race: Coke Zero 400

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Saturday, July 7

The Time: 7:30 p.m.(ET)

TV:TNT*,6:30 p.m.(ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XMCh.90

Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

The Race: Subway Jalapeno 250

The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Friday, July 6

The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN,7 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XMCh.90

Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The Race: American Ethanol 200

The Place: Iowa Speedway

The Date: Saturday, July 14

The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: SPEED, 8 p.m .(ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XMCh.90

Distance: 175 miles (200 laps)

*  – NSCS race simulcast on truTV.

Photo Credit:6/17/2012| Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Source: NASCAR

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