This Week in Auto Racing May 4 - May 5

This Week in Auto Racing May 4 - May 5

This Week in Auto Racing May 4 - May 5
May 1st, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Its another Car of Tomorrow race for the Nextel Cup Series, this time on the 0.750-mile Richmond International Raceway short track.

NASCAR

Nextel Cup

Crown Royal 400 - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, VA

Now that the hubbub of Jeff Gordon passing Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list is over, the series goes back to racing and its emphasis on making the "Chase for the Nextel Cup."

Gordon's first nine races this season have put him in great position to not only make the "Chase" but to compete for a fifth Nextel Cup title. The No.24 Hendrick Motorsports driver is off to one of the best starts in a very long time. Gordon's two wins, seven top-fives and eight top-10s has garnered him 1521 points in nine races. Not since "The Intimidator" started the 1987 season with six wins and eight top-10s has anyone begun the season this well.

In the 1987 season Earnhardt won the championship by a whopping 489 points. But this is 2007 and you can't win the Nextel Cup championship in April, you can only lose it. So Gordon has positioned himself to be in the "Chase"

As has his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. In fact, if the "Chase" started today, despite being behind Gordon in the standings by 231 points, the No.48 Chevy driver would start 10 points ahead of Gordon because of his three Nextel Cup wins this year.

This year, the driver with the most wins will begin the Chase as the top seed. Drivers will be seeded second through 12th using their win totals as the determining factor.

Also solidly in the "Chase" are Jeff Burton (-203) despite losing 195 points to Gordon over the past two weeks, Matt Kenseth (-229) and Denny Hamlin (-332).

In the "Chase" but still needing to work hard are: Tony Stewart (-443), Jamie McMuuray (-462), Kyle Busch (-467), 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick (-469), Kurt Busch (-483), Clint Bowyer (-500) and Carl Edwards (-517).

Notice that the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not on the list. "Junior" is in 13th overall, certainly not out of it and just 10 points behind 12th-place Edwards. And for Earnhardt Jr., Richmond is the site of his last Nextel Cup win almost one year ago.

While all of the above drivers are still competing for a title, there are a number of "big" names that have struggled through the first nine races and have almost no chance of making the "Chase."

First a history of the "Chase."

Last year, Denny Hamlin was 19th after nine races and made the "Chase," the furthest back anyone came in 2006. In 2005, Matt Kenseth was 23rd overall and still made the "playoffs." And in the first year of the "Chase" Jeremy Mayfield came from 16th after nine events to make the "Chase." There is one caveat. The "Chase" has been expanded from 10 to 12 drivers in 2007.

Some of the "big" names who are 20th or worse include: Bobby Labonte, J.J. Yeley, Ryan Newman, Sterling Marlin, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears and Dale Jarrett.

Kahne and Newman are surprises since both were expected to compete for the title.

"We have a lot of work to do on our COT," Kahne said after finishing 31st in Phoenix. "It's certainly disappointing."

"We made a lot of adjustments but couldn't find the answer to our handling problems," said Evernham Motorsports team director Josh Browne. "We've got a lot to learn about this Car of Tomorrow."

This week's race in Richmond will be the fourth of the season with the Car of Tomorrow. To date, Hendrick Motorsports cars have won the first three events. Gordon, in particular, has been stellar finishing third at Bristol, second at Martinsville and then taking the first of two straight victories with a win at Phoenix.

Is three in-a-row for Gordon possible?

Busch

Circuit City 250 - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, VA

It's been more than two years since anyone other than Kevin Harvick has won a NASCAR Busch Series event at Richmond. The 2006 Busch Series champion and current Daytona 500 champion could make track history with another Busch win at Richmond this weekend.

If he's victorious in Friday night's Circuit City 250, Harvick will become the first driver to win four consecutive Busch Series events at Richmond in the series 26-year history.

He also won three of Richmond's four NASCAR events last season - both Busch Series events and the fall Nextel Cup event.

Carl Edwards finished 10th in last week's Busch race at the Phoenix International Raceway...ho hum. It was Edwards' 10th top-10 this season in 10 starts. It was also his worst finish of the season. Previously, Edwards' worst finish was a sixth place at Las Vegas.

With two wins among his 10 top-10s, Edwards has built a commanding 443-point lead over Harvick (1,664 - 1,231). Of course Harvick is not racing a full schedule in 2007 and in fact is second despite already missing two events (Mexico City, Nashville). He is also scheduled to miss more events so he will not have a shot at repeating his 2006 championship.

The closest full-time competitor is Dave Blaney, who is a distant 496 points behind Edwards.

And leading the "Busch Series only" drivers is rookie Marcos Ambrose who is 655 points behind the points leader.

But this series title should be wrapped up some time around Independence Day as Edwards continues to march inexorably towards a championship.

"I'm really proud to be a part of such a winning organization," said Edwards after winning in Nashville in early April. "I just can't say enough about Jack (Roush) and everyone that works at Roush Fenway Racing."

The win for Edwards and Roush, on April 7th, was the 350th for the organization (Nextel Cup - 101; Busch Series - 90; Craftsman Truck Series - 43, various road racing - 116).

Since then, Roush Fenway Racing has already added to the list winning a another Busch race behind Matt Kenseth and a Craftsman Truck Series race with Erik Darnell.

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