Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Dodge Avenger 500 preview
May 8, 2007
By Micah Roberts
VegasInsider.com


Darlington is the site of this week’s NASCAR Cup race, the 11th race of the young 2007 season. Darlington Raceway has been part of the regular NASCAR schedule since 1950. The 1.366 mile track has been known as the track “Too Tough to Tame”. It has a bizarre configuration in the shape of what looks like a cross between an egg and an oval. Amid all the similar race tracks on tour, the unconventional Darlington Raceway is a welcome sight this week.

It couldn’t come a better time either.

Thus far into the 2007 season, where four of the ten races have been run with the Car of Today (COT), Chevrolet has dominated by winning 9 of the 10 races. Of those nine races, Hendrick Motorsports has won seven times. Of the 4 COT races run, Hendrick has not just won the races, they have massacred the competition.

Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch have combined to average a finish of 3.8 between the 12 COT starts. Last week at Richmond they finished 1-2-4, the 2nd time that has occurred this season during the COT races by them. Jimmie Johnson has 4 wins this season on 4 different tracks with two totally different cars. Johnson moved up two spots in the standings with win giving him seven top 5’s on the season, an absolute fowl number except when you consider the point leader, Jeff Gordon, has eight top 5 finishes.

You kind of get the idea that something is wrong here? How is possible for one team to be so dominant and all the others be so average?

Better equipment?

Better prepared?

Better Drivers?????

It’s more than likely that Hendrick teams were just better prepared for the new car. While others figured they’d work on their cars and make adjustments as they visited tracks, Hendrick was the aggressor and already had a game plan for each track before they arrived.

The best thing about the race being at Darlington this week is that the track is so different; meaning elements of the uncertainty could see a car other than a Hendrick Chevrolet win the race. Between the weird configuration at each end of the track and the rough asphalt that grinds away at tires like a sand blaster, this week we may even see a Ford win again, or perhaps even a Dodge for the first time this season.

In recent Darlington history there has been assortment of varied manufacturers, drivers, and owners win. The last two races were won by Roush Racing’s Greg Biffle in a Ford. The previous two races were won in the last year Darlington had two races in a single season by Jimmie Johnson. Prior to that, there were some real bombs that hit at Darlington because of all the intangibles. Drivers like Terry Labonte, Ricky Craven, Sterling Marlin, and Ward Burton come from all different makes and all paid very well at the cashiers window when they won.

Let’s not go too far this week and get away from what we know about the COT. On the tiered platform, Hendrick is light years ahead with Gibbs trailing slightly. Then it goes Childress, DEI, and then one step below them is Roush and Penske. You hate to handicap wrecks or tire misfortunes, but at Darlington that has to be part of the thought process. Johnson and Gordon are each 4 to 1 favorites. Wouldn’t it seem logical to think perhaps someone who has had success in the past at Darlington and has a COT capable of hanging around could take advantage of some kind of error or misfortune by the errorless Hendrick team has had up to this point? Aren’t they due for having some type of pit failure?

We don’t want to go too far out there, but it may be safe to include Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle as candidates to win this week with the obvious favorites. The odds are attractive on the two because the books have been raising odds on everyone else to entice action on anyone else but Johnson and Gordon who are apparently can be called “Sure Bets”.

So now you have a situation where there may be a nice overlay on a driver who has won the last two races at the track and is raised only because of the dominance of one team. Biffle also has the luxury of actually testing on the track in the COT. Goodyear did a tire test earlier this season and invited Biffle, Gordon, Dave Blaney, and Juan Montoya to test at Darlington. What ever info obtained by Biffle during the session had to better prepare them for this week. It’s a small piece to the equation, but the info gained from that day is sure to have those drivers a little ahead of the rest……Hey, look, when your grasping for reasons to bet against the 1980’s Mike Tyson, any type of supporting info looks good on the chalk board of your war room. Let’s hope Biffle is Buster Douglas this week.

TOP 5 Darlington Finish Prediction:

1) #16 Greg Biffle (15/1)
2) #2 Kurt Busch (18/1)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (4/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (4/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)

Greg Biffle from Monday (5-7-07) Conference call

Is Darlington the place to stop Hendrick in COT races?

I would think so. And I hope so – let me rephrase that. I hope so. Because I feel like I have a good opportunity to win there.

Now, they may finish first, second, third again, we don't know, but we feel like – I feel like we have a good opportunity there. I tell you, to be honest with you, I was a little bit better in the 48 this weekend at times. I don't know if they worked on their chassis or not, but, you know, I was as good as the 5. The 24 was right in front of me for the whole run, and I caught the 48 and passed him at one run. And then we had a couple bad pit stops in a row and I got cycled back a little bit and then got spun out by the 66. So I don't think we were that far off at Richmond. You know, even though they both finished first and second and were way up front, I don't think they were that far off.

Catching up to Hendrick Motorsports by end of the year

There's a couple of things that come to mind when you talk about that, and you know, these just may be rumors of people saying, you know, things. But, they say that Hendricks have almost 100 days of testing in the COT car. I don't know if that's true or not. I don't know if that's double what they have. I have no idea. It seems pretty farfetched to have that many days testing in that car to date. I do know that they have done a tremendous amount of testing and spent a lot of time working with that car.

The second thing is, we've spent nine days testing. So a little bit of a difference between how many days spent at the racetrack between the two groups. The second thing is, that everybody said that this car was going to level the playing field for everybody. That's the whole key to this COT car is it's going to level the playing field and put everybody on the same even keel. It hasn't done that to this point.

It has, although, raised a few of the other teams, which it intended to do; the 96, the 70, the 66, the 22. They have run better as a group than in past years with this car. So maybe it has brought the teams a little bit closer together. But it not the great equalizer that everybody suspected it was going to be in the beginning.

The other thing, we just – you've got to catch up. The teams that there's no way to level out the powerfulness of certain teams and how much technology and how advanced they are. Richard Childress put in this – and Gibbs put in seven post shaker rig which you hear a lot of people talking technical stuff, terms about today, years ago, 2001, or 2000. So they spent seven years or six and a half years, six years, messing with this thing. We have one on order and we're going to have it toward the end of the year.

So, you know, those are things that have got us a little bit behind and other teams have gotten behind. You know, the thing that gets that you far behind is having success. You know, we've won championships. We've won a lot of races without those things. So it's hard to justify yourself to say, gosh, that's what we need, you know, because look at Childress three years ago. They were – Kevin Harvick couldn't finish on a lead lap on a lot of those races and then he wins a lot of races, makes the Chase and then you've got the organization really turned around.

So it was hard to say five years ago, four years ago that, gosh, we'd better get that stuff or we're going to be behind in 2007. But that's what happened. That's what happened. And it's really hard to catch up. The hardest thing about catching up is it just like trying to catch up to somebody that's older than you in age. You're not going to get any closer because the more that they learn, the more you're learning. So you're both learning at the same acceleration, but you're behind them.

So it's really hard to leapfrog and then get to their level. It's difficult to do.

NASCAR Darlington loop data on Top Drivers to Win this week

Greg Biffle

--Two wins, three top 10s

--10.0 average finish

--Led 427 laps

--Series-best Driver Rating of 143.8

--Series-best Average Running Position of 2.519

--Series-best 131 Fastest Laps Run

--Fastest Green Flag Speed

--731 Laps in the Top 15, second-most

--58 Quality Passes – passes of cars in the top 15 under green – fourth-most

--Third-Fastest Speed in Traffic – speed when there is another car within one car length

Kyle Busch

--One top 10

--15.0 average finish

--Driver Rating of 92.8, 10th-most

--608 Laps in the Top 15, seventh-most

--51 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

--Two top fives, five top 10s

--15.583 average finish

--Average Running Position of 10.975, ninth-best

--Best “Closer” – five positions improved over the last 10% of two races

--Driver Rating of 98.8, eighth-best

--95 Green Flag Passes, tied for third-most

--603 Laps in the Top 15, eighth-most

--58 Quality Passes, tied for third-most

Jeff Gordon

--Six wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s; three poles

--12.231 average finish

--Average Running Position of 6.476, fourth-best

--Driver Rating of 112.4, fourth-best

--35 Fastest Laps Run, tied for fifth-most

--Fourth-fastest Green Flag Speed

--727 Laps in the Top 15, third-most

--Series-high 63 Quality Passes

Denny Hamlin

--One top 10

--Average Running Position of 7.921, sixth-best

--Driver Rating of 100.7, sixth-best

--Seventh-fastest Green Flag Speed

--Fifth-fastest Speed in Traffic

Jimmie Johnson

--Two wins, four top fives, seven top 10s

--7.250 average finish

--Average Running Position of 5.502, third-best

--Driver Rating of 120.3, second-best

--78 Fastest Laps Run, second-best

--Second-fastest Green Flag Speed

--675 Laps in the Top 15, fourth-most

--Fastest Speed in Traffic

Kasey Kahne

--Two top fives; three poles

--10.5 average finish

--Driver Rating of 106.4, fifth-best

--Average Running Position of 6.535, fifth-best

--49 Fastest Laps run, third-most

--Sixth-fastest Green Flag Speed

--658 Laps in the Top 15, sixth-most

--88 Quality Passes, third-most

Ryan Newman

--Four top fives, five top 10s; one pole

--11.5 average finish

--4.293 Average Running Position, second-best

--Driver Rating of 117.6, third-best

--30 Fastest Laps Run, tied for eighth-most

--Third-fastest Green Flag Speed

--Series-high 737 Laps in the Top 15

--Second-fastest Speed in Traffic

Tony Stewart – Track apparently IS Too Tough to Tame for T-Stew

--Two top fives, seven top 10s

--12.357 average finish

--97 Green Flag Passes, second-most

--458 Laps in the Top 15, 11th-most

--60 Quality Passes, second-most

Darlington Odds and Ends

--There have been 103 NASCAR Cup races at Darlington Raceway since the first race there in 1950 – two in 1952 and two a year from 1960-2004.

--Curtis Turner won the first Cup pole at Darlington in 1950.

--Johnny Mantz won the first Cup race at Darlington in 1950.

--Ken Schrader (1987), Kurt Busch (2001) and Elliott Sadler (2003) won their first career pole at Darlington.

--There have been 43 different Bud Pole winners at Richmond; 23 have won more than one.

--There have been 42 different drivers who have won races at Richmond; 24 have more than one victory there.

--The track opened in 1950 as the first paved superspeedway on the Cup circuit.

--The track was re-configured from 1.25-mile to 1.375 in 1953.

--The current 1.366-mile configuration was established in 1970.

--The race was moved to Saturday night of Mother’s Day weekend in 2005’(bad move).

--Junior Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports each have won 11 races at Darlington.

--Jimmie Johnson has finished on the lead lap in 87.5 percent of his Darlington races, the best percentage of any active driver with more than one race there.

--Kasey Kahne has won the last three Bud Poles at Darlington. Qualifying was canceled for the fall race in 2004.

--Eighteen of the 103 races at Darlington have been won by the pole winner; Dale Jarrett was the last to win from the pole there in the spring of 1997.

--Seven of the past 12 races at Darlington have been won from a top 10 starting position. Three of the remaining seven races were won from outside the top 30 starting positions.

--The furthest back in the field that a Darlington race winner started was 43rd in the inaugural race won by Johnny Mantz.

--Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge have all posted at least two victories at Darlington since Dodge returned to the series in 2001.

--Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin have won both a Cup and Busch Series race at Darlington. Martin (eight), Burton (four) and Jarrett (two) have multiple Series wins there.

Darlington Streakers

--Greg Biffle has two consecutive wins at Darlington.

--Jeff Gordon has three consecutive top 5’s at Darlington.

--Jimmie Johnson has finished in the top 10 in five consecutive Darlington races and the top five in four out of the last five Darlington races.

--Kasey Kahne has two consecutive poles at Darlington and has won the pole in three of the last four Darlington races.

--Mark Martin has four consecutive top 10 finishes at Darlington.

--Ryan Newman has started in the top 10 in six consecutive Darlington races.



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NASCAR - DODGE AVENGER 500 - Odds to Win


Jimmie Johnson     4-1

Tony Stewart     7-1

Jeff Gordon     4-1

Matt Kenseth  12-1

Kevin Harvick  12-1

Denny Hamlin  12-1

Kyle Busch     10-1

Dale Earnhardt Jr 15-1

Jeff Burton     15-1

Kurt Busch     18-1

Mark Martin     30-1

Carl Edwards   25-1

Kasey Kahne   30-1

Greg Biffle       15-1

Clint Bowyer     25-1

Jamie McMurray     30-1

Martin Truex Jr   50-1

Ryan Newman    40-1

Juan Pablo Montoya 75-1

Casey Mears     75-1

Scott Riggs     100-1

Elliott Sadler     100-1

Reed Sorenson     100-1

Bobby Labonte     100-1

David Stremme     100-1

Joe Nemechek     100-1

Dave Blaney     100-1

JJ Yeley     100-1

Jeff Green     100-1

Ricky Rudd     100-1

Tony Raines     100-1

David Gilliland  100-1

David Ragan     100-1

Field (Any Other Driver) 50-1

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RacingOne Power Rankings

Driver Ratings

The latest edition of the RacingOne NEXTEL Cup Series Power Rankings as the series heads to Darlington Raceway for Saturday's Dodge Avenger 500, which features NASCAR's comprehensive statistical ratings system using a detailed formula to calculate each driver's performance.

Editor's Note: Top 10 rankings are generated by a formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race. Must have raced in 75 percent of scheduled point-paying races.

1. Jeff Gordon - Will look to reclaim previous Darlington magic this weekend, where he's winless since 2002.

Darlington Finishing Average: 12.2
Darlington Wins: 6

2. Jimmie Johnson
- Piling up the wins in the regular season, which will be very important when the "Chase" begins.

Darlington Finishing Average: 7.2
Darlington Wins: 2

3. Tony Stewart - Get the feeling once he does get a victory, more will follow in quick order.

Darlington Finishing Average: 12.4
Darlington Wins: 0

4. Denny Hamlin
- Will the fifth time in the COT be the charm this weekend?

Darlington Finishing Average: 10.0
Darlington Wins: 0

5. Jeff Burton - A return to former Darlington glory would be a good way to put two bad weeks behind him.

Darlington Finishing Average: 11.6
Darlington Wins: 2

6. Matt Kenseth - Should get a thank you e-mail from FoMoCo every day of the week.

Darlington Finishing Average: 20.4
Darlington Wins: 0

7. Kurt Busch - Has turned things around this year and a trip to victory lane seems on the horizon.

Darlington Finishing Average: 18.7
Darlington Wins: 0

8. Kyle Busch - The "forgotten" man of the Hendrick juggernaut has put together a stellar early season.

Darlington Finishing Average: 15.0
Darlington Wins: 0

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr
. - Tick tock, the clock is running on a fast pace for Junior to win and finalize his contract situation.

Darlington Finishing Average: 15.6
Darlington Wins: 0

10. Kevin Harvick - Has to avoid the mistakes made on pit road at Richmond on Sunday to have any chance at winning a race - or the title.

Darlington Finishing Average: 19.4
Darlington Wins: 0

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Analyzing the Dodge Avenger 500 NASCAR Race at Darlington Raceway
Daytona Beach, Fla.
May 08, 2007

Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson better take advantage of the Darlington Raceway they know so well.

Because soon, it’ll change.

Saturday night’s Dodge Avenger 500 will be the final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race before the historic South Carolina track gets repaved.

It’s safe to assume Biffle and Johnson wouldn’t mind if the surface remained the same.

In the past four races held at Darlington, there have been only two different winners: Biffle and Johnson.

Biffle won there last year and in 2005, and Johnson won both races in 2004.

Biffle, who led 283 of a possible 737 laps over the last two Darlington races, needs another strong finish there. Right now, Biffle sits in 15th place and hasn’t scored a top-five finish since Texas (sixth).

Johnson, though, looks safe as far as the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup goes.

But a win would mean a lot for the reigning champion:

- He would extend his potential Chase bonus point lead to 30 points.

- He would match last year’s season-long total of five victories in just 11 races.

- It would put him closer to first place – Johnson is now 211 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

- It would give Hendrick Motorsports eight wins out of nine races – including all five Car of Tomorrow races.

Among those hoping none of that happens is Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart.

Earnhardt is making his first appearance in the top 12 this week, while Stewart has yet to notch a win at Darlington.

Selected Driver Highlights

Note: All driver stats are from Darlington. NASCAR’s scoring loops began collecting data for statistical purposes in 2005. That is why the Loop Data statistics in this release cover the last two races at Darlington.

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford)


• Two wins, three top 10s

• 10.0 average finish

• Led 427 laps

• Series-best Driver Rating of 143.8

• Series-best Average Running Position of 2.519

• Series-best 131 Fastest Laps Run

• Fastest Green Flag Speed

• 731 Laps in the Top 15, second-most

• 58 Quality Passes – passes of cars in the top 15 under green – fourth-most

• Third-Fastest Speed in Traffic – speed when there is another car within one car length

Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet)

• One top 10

• 15.0 average finish

• Driver Rating of 92.8, 10th-most

• 608 Laps in the Top 15, seventh-most

• 51 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet)


• Two top fives, five top 10s

• 15.583 average finish

• Average Running Position of 10.975, ninth-best

• Best “Closer” – five positions improved over the last 10% of two races

• Driver Rating of 98.8, eighth-best

• 95 Green Flag Passes, tied for third-most

• 603 Laps in the Top 15, eighth-most

• 58 Quality Passes, tied for third-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)

• Six wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s; three poles

• 12.231 average finish

• Average Running Position of 6.476, fourth-best

• Driver Rating of 112.4, fourth-best

• 35 Fastest Laps Run, tied for fifth-most

• Fourth-fastest Green Flag Speed

• 727 Laps in the Top 15, third-most

• Series-high 63 Quality Passes

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet)

• One top 10

• Average Running Position of 7.921, sixth-best

• Driver Rating of 100.7, sixth-best

• Seventh-fastest Green Flag Speed

• Fifth-fastest Speed in Traffic

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)

• Two wins, four top fives, seven top 10s

• 7.250 average finish

• Average Running Position of 5.502, third-best

• Driver Rating of 120.3, second-best

• 78 Fastest Laps Run, second-best

• Second-fastest Green Flag Speed

• 675 Laps in the Top 15, fourth-most

• Fastest Speed in Traffic

Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)

• Two top fives; three poles

• 10.5 average finish

• Driver Rating of 106.4, fifth-best

• Average Running Position of 6.535, fifth-best

• 49 Fastest Laps run, third-most

• Sixth-fastest Green Flag Speed

• 658 Laps in the Top 15, sixth-most

• 88 Quality Passes, third-most

Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge)

• Four top fives, five top 10s; one pole

• 11.5 average finish

• 4.293 Average Running Position, second-best

• Driver Rating of 117.6, third-best

• 30 Fastest Laps Run, tied for eighth-most

• Third-fastest Green Flag Speed

• Series-high 737 Laps in the Top 15

• Second-fastest Speed in Traffic

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet)


• Two top fives, seven top 10s

• 12.357 average finish

• 97 Green Flag Passes, second-most

• 458 Laps in the Top 15, 11th-most

• 60 Quality Passes, second-most

Darlington Tidbits

• There have been 103 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at Darlington Raceway since the first race there in 1950 – two in 1952 and two a year from 1960-2004.

• Curtis Turner won the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup pole at Darlington in 1950.

• Johnny Mantz won the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at Darlington in 1950.

• Ken Schrader (1987), Kurt Busch (2001) and Elliott Sadler (2003) won their first career pole at Darlington.

• There have been 43 different Bud Pole winners at Richmond; 23 have won more than one.

• There have been 42 different drivers who have won races at Richmond; 24 have more than one victory there.

• The track opened in 1950 as the first paved superspeedway on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit.

• The track was re-configured from 1.25-mile to 1.375 in 1953.

• The current 1.366-mile configuration was established in 1970.

• The race was moved to Saturday night of Mother’s Day weekend in 2005.

• Junior Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports each have won 11 races at Darlington.

• Jimmie Johnson has finished on the lead lap in 87.5 percent of his Darlington races, the best percentage of any active driver with more than one race there.

• Kasey Kahne has won the last three Bud Poles at Darlington. Qualifying was canceled for the fall race in 2004.

• Eighteen of the 103 races at Darlington have been won by the pole winner; Dale Jarrett was the last to win from the pole there in the spring of 1997.

• Seven of the past 12 races at Darlington have been won from a top-10 starting position. Three of the remaining seven races were won from outside the top-30 starting positions.

• The furthermost back in the field that a Darlington race winner started was 43rd in the inaugural race won by Johnny Mantz.

• Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge have all posted at least two victories at Darlington since Dodge returned to the series in 2001.

• Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin have won both a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and a NASCAR Busch Series race at Darlington. Martin (eight), Burton (four) and Jarrett (two) have multiple NASCAR Busch Series wins there.

Darlington Active Streaks

• Greg Biffle has two consecutive wins at Darlington.

• Jeff Gordon has three consecutive top-five finishes at Darlington.

• Jimmie Johnson has finished in the top 10 in five consecutive Darlington races and the top five in four out of the last five Darlington races.

• Kasey Kahne has two consecutive poles at Darlington and has won the pole in three of the last four Darlington races.

• Mark Martin has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Darlington.

• Ryan Newman has started in the top 10 in six consecutive Darlington races.

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Dodge Avenger 500 Predictions
by Jimmy Boyd

The race may be called the Dodge Avenger 500, but all signs point to seeing a Chevy finish first at Darlington, most likely Jimmie Johnson’s or Jeff Gordon’s Chevy.

Jeff Gordon has finished in the top five in 6 of the last 12 races at Darlington including three top five finishes over the last three years.

The Dodge Avenger 500 is the result of a merger between the Carolina Dodger Dealer’s 400 and the Mountain Dew Southern 500. Jimmie Johnson won both of those events in 2004 and has finished 7th and 4th in the new once a year race format the past two seasons. His dominance at Darlington makes him another strong candidate.

Some of you race junkies might be saying “what about Greg Biffle”? Before the race merged, his best finish at Darlington was tenth, but he has won the first two Dodge Charger 500’s (the race’s previous name) and he’s looking to make it three straight in 2007. I’m sorry to say I’m not buying. He’s only finished in the top 10 twice in 2007 and not better than fifth. He’s looked soft behind the wheel his last three races and really all season. I don’t think his Ford car gets it done again this time around.

Jeff Gordon is at the top of the leader board heading into this one. I normally don’t like a lot of favorites, but he is out for blood in 2007 to prove that he is still the man to beat in NASCAR. He has six poles including four straight, three first place finishes, three seconds, a third, and two fourths. That’s the kind of domination that made Jeff Gordon a household name.

Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, is tearing up the track as well and currently ranks second in the 2007 NASCAR standings. He has more first place finishes, with four, than Gordon. He has eight top five finishes and has been in the top five in seven of his last nine races. With his solid history at Darlington, you can bet he will be amond the leaders.

I’m not going to just tell you to take your pick even though it looks like it could be a dead heat between the two teammates. Johnson has maybe driven slightly better in 2007 on race day, but he is yet to capture a pole. Gordon’s six poles have been huge for him this season. I’m siding with the NASCAR leader to dethrone Greg Biffle at Darlington. You won't find a safer bet.

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'IN THE LOOP' AT DARLINGTON RACEWAY

End of the Trend?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 9, 2007) -- A pattern has developed over the past two years at Darlington.

The pattern is a simple one: A Greg Biffle win followed by a Greg Biffle win.

During a press conference this week during testing at Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway, Biffle adamantly proclaimed his love for the historic South Carolina track.

But the trend of Biffle dominance is, at best, a question mark going into this weekend. The unknown is the Car of Tomorrow, which will run on its longest track to date -- 1.366 miles (the previous longest was Phoenix at one mile).

Biffle has tremendous statistics at Darlington in the non-COT over the past two years. But after four races in the COT, Biffle has had up and down efforts.

The question this Saturday night: which Biffle will show up? Will it be the Biffle who has owned Darlington the past two years? Will it be the Biffle who has struggled in the COT? Or will it be a combination of both?

First take a look at some of the startling stats Biffle has accumulated over the past two years at Darlington. His average Driver Rating at Darlington is an amazing 143.8.

NASCAR's Loop Data includes a statistic called Laps in the Top 15. Biffle's dominance allows the stat to be pared down even further. Check out the Laps in the Top Five. (A total of 737 laps were run at Darlington over the past two years.):

Laps in the Top Five at Darlington (2005-2006)
1. Greg Biffle -- 699 of 737
2. Ryan Newman -- 510 of 737
3. Jimmie Johnson -- 507 of 737
4. Kasey Kahne -- 470 of 737
5. Jeff Gordon -- 305 of 737

As the above shows, Biffle spent only 38 laps outside the top five the last two years.

Now the bad news for Biffle.

In the COT races, Biffle has finishes of fifth, 32nd, 17th and 19th.

All that should make for an interesting watch come Saturday night. Usually, Biffle would be considered a top-five lock at Darlington. But with the COT, who knows?

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Stewart hopes to reverse his trend
By Kurt Knapek
The Sun News

Tony Stewart has a unique, and often controversial, way of looking at racing.

He's honest, funny, sometimes brash and doesn't hide his feelings ... as was the case when he spoke about his recent struggles at Darlington Raceway.

Stewart has had success at the 'Lady in Black,' but little in the last seven trips. His first victory at the track would put him in special company. To do so, he'll have to win on the 1.366 egg-shaped oval which he compared to racing down an alley.

"If you can win at Darlington - that's a feather in your cap," said Stewart, who has never finished better than fourth in 14 attempts. "That's something to be proud of, knowing that you're in a group of drivers with names like Pearson and Petty ... the pioneers of our sport.

"Darlington has always stood out on its own. That's what makes tracks like Darlington so special to go to and win at. It's not the typical cookie-cutter shaped track. It's nice to go somewhere and have a challenge once a year that's totally different from anything else you do."

Stewart had success early in his career at Darlington. In his first seven races, he had five top 10 finishes. But since the Southern 500 in 2002, Stewart has finished no better than 10th.

"I could run backward and probably run the same as I do going forward," he said. "That's how close I am to figuring out Darlington."

Which is odd since Stewart is considered one of the best all-around drivers on the circuit. The former Indy car driver is a threat to win on any given weekend, be it an oval, restrictor-plate track, road course ... you name it.

He said racing at Darlington is like racing down an alley because it's not wide. Passing can be extremely difficult. And he knows tire management - on a track he called "just worn out" - will come into play.

"It takes a lot to get around that place consistently and fast all day," he said. "There's a group of guys that get around there well every time we go there. It's like we're on the verge of being one of those guys. We just need to find a little something that can get us into that elite group."

That group includes drivers like Pearson (10 wins), Dale Earnhardt (nine) and Jeff Gordon (six), who are the three most successful drivers at "The Track Too Tough Too Tame."

There is one aspect that Stewart has come to love at Darlington - night racing. He'd much rather race at night in the spring, than during a Labor Day weekend afternoon.

"When I was inside the car I normally felt like I was a Thanksgiving turkey," he said of the fall races, "and I was looking on my body for that little red pill to stick out and tell me that it was time to take me out of the oven.

"And you don't see as many people in the stands looking like cooked lobsters when they leave. I think we all benefit from racing under the lights."

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Driver Handicaps: Darlington
Jeff Wackerlin
Senior Editor

DARLINGTON, S.C. - This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway for the Dodge Avenger 500 - the fifth Car of Tomorrow event of the 2007 season. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 367-lap event.

Who's HOT at Darlington

Greg Biffle has won the last two races.
Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with six wins.
Jimmie Johnson has the best average finish among all drivers at 7.3.
Kasey Kahne has three poles and two top fives in four starts.
Ryan Newman has the second-best average running position (4.3) over the past two events.

Mark Martin has four consecutive finishes of eighth or better.

Keep an Eye on at Darlington

Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have respective average finishes of 3.5 and 5.8 with the COT.

Matt Kenseth has the best average finish among the Ford COTs at 9.0.

Tony Stewart will be back behind the wheel of the same car this weekend that led a race-high 257 laps at Bristol.

Jeff Burton has the best average finish (10.5) among all drivers that have entered all Darlington events since 1998.

Kevin Harvick showed some strength with COT chassis No. 190 last Sunday at Richmond and will return in that same car at Darlington.

Carl Edwards, who has two top 10s at Darlington, considers this track as one of his favorites.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has an 11.0 average finish and has led 137 laps in COT competition.

COT Performers
Hendrick Motorsports has dominated Car of Tomorrow competition in the four races the car has been run in so far in 2007. Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson lead all drivers with respective average finishes of 2.5, 3.5 and 5.5. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin is not far behind with an average finish of 5.8 and Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth is the only other driver with a top 10 average finish at 9.0. Although he only led one lap at Richmond, Tony Stewart still leads all drivers with 401 laps led with the COT. Hamlin (384), Gordon (265), Johnson (218) and Kevin Harvick (168) round out the top five in laps led. Greg Biffle, the two-time defending race winner at Darlington, is 14th in average finish (18.3) among all drivers that have competed in all four COT events. COT Driver Averages | COT Lap Leaders

Darlington Rookie Report
None of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates have made a NEXTEL Cup start at Darlington Raceway. Only Paul Menard and David Reutimann have started a Busch Series race at the track. Although he was not on the original invitation, rookie leader Juan Pablo Montoya did turn some laps at Darlington in March during a Goodyear tire test. Rookie Standings

Qualifying Tidbits
Kasey Kahne has won the last three Bud Poles at Darlington Raceway. Dodge has won the last four with Ryan Newman winning in 2003. Rain has canceled qualifying three times in the last 12 races and there have been seven different winners in that span. Chevrolet's last pole at Darlington came in 2000 with Jeff Gordon. Ford's most recent was in 2003 with Elliott Sadler. Ward Burton's 1996 speed of 173.797 mph still stands as the qualifying record. Seven of the last 12 races, including the last three, have been won from a top-10 starting position. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Darlington Winners

Looking For Speed
Although he has the best starting average (15.6) at Darlington Raceway among the drivers required to qualify on time, Ken Schrader has missed the last two races, including last weekend's COT race at Richmond. Scott Riggs and Dave Blaney are the only ones among the group that have qualified for all four COT races. Both Riggs and Blaney hold respective qualifying averages of 10.3 and 12.5 in the COT races. Brian Vickers, who holds a 17.0 average start at Darlington, has missed the last three COT races on speed. Ward Burton has an average start of 16.3 at Darlington and was able to qualify for his third COT race last weekend. Problems continue with two of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas, as Dale Jarrett missed his first race in 424 events and Waltrip FTQ'd for the ninth consecutive race last weekend. In the event qualifying is cancelled the following drivers would make the race: Jarrett, Vickers, Riggs, Blaney, Schrader, Paul Menard, David Reutimann and Kenny Wallace. Qualifying Averages

Top 20 Driver Notes - Based on Current Standings

1. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind: 1691): Gordon leads all active drivers with six victories at Darlington Raceway. The only two drivers that stand ahead of Gordon in wins at "The Track too Tough to Tame" are Dale Earnhardt (9) and David Pearson (10). In the 2004 spring race Gordon placed 41st, his worst performance and sixth DNF at Darlington, after he was involved in an accident with Andy Hillenburg on lap 28. That same season he led 155 laps in the fall and finished third after a pit mis-cue under caution cost him a shot at victory in the closing laps. Last year he started 12th and led five laps en route to his second consecutive runner-up finish. In 26 Darlington races, Gordon has led in 21 for 1,558 laps, won three poles and holds a 12.2 average finish. Gordon is the current leader among finishing average with the new Car of Tomorrow at 2.5.

2. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind: -211): Johnson has competed in eight races at Darlington Raceway. He has finished in the top-10 in every race except the 2003 spring race where he finished 27th after making contact with Sterling Marlin on lap 22. In 2004, he swept both races at Darlington after leading 69 laps in the spring event and 124 in the final Southern 500. Johnson's 7.8 average finish leads all active drivers that have entered seven or more events at the 1.366-mile speedway. He is the only driver that has two wins with the new Car of Tomorrow. In four races with the COT, Johnson holds an average finish of 5.5 and has led 218 laps. This weekend's chassis (No. 413) is the same one that posted his only finish outside the top 10 in COT competition - 16th at Bristol.

3. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind: -260): Last year, Kenseth scored his first NEXTEL Cup top five at Darlington Raceway in his 13th start. The race also saw him lead a Darlington personal best 64 laps. Prior to 2006, Kenseth captured three top-10 finishes and led a combined 42 laps. Although the same can not be said in the Busch Series, Darlington is one of Kenseth's worst Cup tracks on finishing average at 20.4. His stellar career in the Busch Series at Darlington consists of two wins, eight top fives and 11 top 10s. Kenseth also has completed all 1764 of the laps in 12 NBS races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind: -332): Hamlin has yet to finish outside the top 10 in four combined starts in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series at Darlington Raceway. Last year he won the Busch Series race from the pole and then went on to finish 10th in his first Cup start at the 1.366-mile speedway the next night. He scored both finishes last year with 19 stitches in his left hand after he cut it on his team's hauler. Hamlin is second in laps led with the Car of Tomorrow with 384.

5. Jeff Burton (Points Behind: -339): At Darlington Raceway, Burton has two wins, which came back-to-back in 1999. As rain began to fall at both the events in 1999, Burton, who was leading, was named the winner when the races were called. In his 24 starts at the track, he has eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes and has led 786 laps. Burton's ninth-place finish in this event last year was his first top 10 in three track starts with Richard Childress Racing.

6. Kyle Busch (Points Behind: -462): Busch, who has one top 10 at Darlington Raceway, is second among all drivers in Car of Tomorrow competition. He will look to continue his success by driving a new COT chassis (No. 423) in the Dodge Avenger 500.

7. Tony Stewart (Points Behind: -466): Stewart has captured two top fives and seven top 10s in 14 starts at Darlington Raceway. Last year he started 13th and finished 12th. Stewart's only Darlington DNF came in the 2002 spring race after being collected by a spinning Buckshot Jones. The accident didn't stop there when Stewart’s heavily damaged car then drifted down the track and into the racing groove where he was then T-boned by the car of Jimmy Spencer. Stewart, who ended up with a trip to the hospital after that race, led a career track-high seven laps in that event before the impact. Stewart, who has a 12.4 average finish at Darlington, will make his 295th start in COT chassis No. 157. This is the same car that led a race-high 257 laps at Bristol. He comes into the Dodge Avenger 500 as the lap leader with the new Car of Tomorrow at 401.

8. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind: -488): In 10 Darlington starts, Harvick has four top-10 finishes, with his best finish of second on August 31, 2003 - the only race where he has led a lap at the track. Harvick will look to turn around his 27.7 average finish in the last three Darlington races by driving the same COT (chassis No. 190) that appeared to be on its way to a possible victory before a pit road mishap with David Ragan's Ford took him out of contention. Friday, Harvick will drive the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing in the Busch series.

9. Kurt Busch (Points Behind: -493): In 2003, Busch came .002-second away from winning his first race at Darlington, when Ricky Craven bested him for the closest margin of victory in the sport since the advent of electronic timing and scoring. The runner-up finish, Busch's best performance at the 1.366-mile speedway, was one of four finishes of seventh or better in 10 races. He won his first Cup pole at Darlington on August 31, 2001. Last year he started 10th and finished 19th in his first track start with Penske Racing.

10. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind: -532): In 2006, Bowyer started third in his NEXTEL Cup debut at Darlington Raceway. He performed well in the opening laps but fell out of contention after a right-rear tire got away from the team on a pit stop. This weekend he will race the same COT (chassis No. 192) that has a 13.7 average finish in its three starts in 2007.

11. Carl Edwards (Points Behind: -560): Edwards' finishing average at Darlington Raceway took a major hit last year after he finished 39th when the No. 99 suffered an engine problem. In his two starts prior, Edwards finished seventh and ninth, respectively. He led his first laps (4) at the track in this event in 2005. This weekend he will be piloting a brand new COT chassis (RK-474).

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind: -573): Earnhardt Jr. has competed in 12 races at Darlington Raceway scoring five top-10 finishes. His best Darlington finish, fourth, came in the 2002 spring race. Junior has led in four races at Darlington, for a total of 135 laps. In this event last year, Junior started 22nd and finished fifth. His average finish at the 1.366-mile speedway is 15.6. In four Car of Tomorrow races, Earnhardt Jr. has an 11.0 average finish and has led 137 laps.

13. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind: -592): McMurray's No. 26 Ford suffered engine problems in his Darlington debut with Roush Racing in 2006. He finished 42nd, which was his first finish outside the top 25 in six starts at the 1.366-mile speedway. McMurray's previous starts came with Chip Ganassi Racing where he captured three top-10 finishes. This weekend he will be behind the wheel of the same COT (chassis RK-462) that finished ninth at Martinsville.

14. Mark Martin (Points Behind: -653): Martin has finished in the top 10 in his last four starts at Darlington Raceway. He has made 40 starts at the track, winning once on September 5, 1993, in a 500-mile race. Overall, he has 16 top fives and 25 top 10s and has led 755 laps. This weekend will be Martin's first start both in a Chevrolet and with Ginn Racing at Darlington. In two Car of Tomorrow races, Martin has posted an average finish of 14.5.

15. Greg Biffle (Points Behind: -654): Biffle has dominated the last two races at Darlington Raceway leading a combined 346 laps en route to two victories. His only other top-10 finish came in the 2003 August race when he led 70 laps before finishing 10th. Biffle also has one win, one pole and five top-five finishes in the Busch Series at Darlington. Biffle, who took part in the tire test at Darlington, will be racing the same COT chassis (RK-452) that was tested at Bristol and Richmond.

16. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind: -669): Sadler has yet to post a DNF in his 14 starts at Darlington Raceway, which is the longest current streak by a driver. In these 14 races, he has four top-10 finishes, with his best finish of second on March 17, 2002. Sadler has also started in the top-10 eight times, capturing the pole once (spring 2003) in his track debut with Robert Yates Racing. Darlington is one of a few tracks left where he has yet to start a race with his current team Evernham Motorsports.

17. David Stremme (Points Behind: -682): Stremme started fourth and finished 25th in his first NEXTEL Cup Series start at Darlington Raceway in 2006. Prior to that, Stremme scored two top-10 finishes in three starts in the Busch Series at Darlington.

18. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind: -690): Labonte has one win (September, 2000) and 11 top 10s in 26 races at Darlington Raceway. He has finished in the top 10 in three of the last five races contested there, including a runner-up finish in 2004. Labonte has one pole (1997) and has led 127 laps at Darlington. Last year, Labonte finished 22nd in his first track start with Petty Enterprises.

19. Ryan Newman (Points Behind: -693): In eight starts at Darlington Raceway, Newman has five top-10 finishes, with his best finish of second coming in his second track start on September 1, 2002. In the 2003 fall race, where he sat on the pole for the only time at Darlington, he led 120 of a track total 208 laps before a mishap on pit road caused the team to lose several laps and finish 23rd. Darlington is Newman's second-best NEXTEL Cup track when it comes to qualifying. His 4.4 average start leads all drivers that have made five or more starts at the 1.366-mile speedway. This weekend Newman will be behind the wheel of the same COT (chassis PRS-513) that had a top-five run going before a miscommunication in the pits took him out of contention near the conclusion of the race.

20. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind: -704): Truex Jr. has a pretty solid career at Darlington Raceway in four career NASCAR starts. His first three starts came in the Busch Series where he captured three top fives from 2004-2005. Last season, he started 39th and finished 14th in his first Darlington race in the NEXTEL Cup Series. In 2004, Truex became the first-ever driver to clinch the Busch Series title at Darlington.

Notables Outside The Top 20

Reed Sorenson finished 11th in his first NEXTEL Cup start at Darlington in 2006.
Sterling Marlin has led 405 laps at Darlington.
Kasey Kahne has three poles and two top fives in four starts.
Ricky Rudd has 25 top 10s at Darlington.

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Resurfacing probably won't change Darlington much
Thu, May 10, 2007
By Associated Press

Saturday night's NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Darlington Raceway was to be the end of an era - sort of.

Within days, workers will begin to remove the top 3 inches of rough, graying asphalt on the unique 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval at the South Carolina track for Darlington's first repaving since 1994.

Chris Browning, the track president, said the surface has been ''patched and patched and patched until we really can't patch it any more.''

One of the reasons the nickname for the Darlington oval is ''the track too tough to tame'' is the abrasive racing surface that eats up tires and makes running on the narrow oval even more of an adventure than just having the walls so close.

Browning said the hope is that the resurfacing can be done without changing the characteristics of the track too much.

Bobby Labonte is looking forward to the change.

''The improvements and having the track repaved will help,'' the former Cup champion said. ''I remember the first time they did it and it improved the speeds a lot. It's hard to imagine that we'll pick up a ton more speed now, because we weren't going that fast back then.

''But I did talk to the staff at the track, and they are still going to use sand-based asphalt. That's going to keep the track abrasive and keep it a handling track.''

A lot of drivers have mixed emotions about NASCAR's first superspeedway.

Kyle Petty used to say he'd like to see the Darlington track flooded and turned into a fishing pond.

''Darlington is a tough old bird, man,'' Petty said. ''Not everyone likes this place, I can vouch for that, but everyone respects it.

''You know that if you can go down there and run well, then you have earned yourself respect among your peers. I've been racing there for a long time. I've left frustrated, but I've left there with some good runs too. That's just the way it is. It's a love-hate relationship that I don't think we see anywhere else.''

As for the repaving, Petty said, ''It won't make that much difference. It will still be Darlington and it will still be a very tough place to race.''

Two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart said he doesn't know how hard the resurfaced track is going to be on tires, but he certainly understands the current surface.

''Let me put it this way, if you're pitted in turn four, by the time you get to turn one your tires are about as good as they'd be with five laps on them at any other race track,'' Stewart said. ''Goodyear can bring any tire they want there, but the surface will still tear it up.

''It's not because of a lack of effort on Goodyear's part, it's just that Darlington has a very abrasive surface that's worn out. And, any time you have a track that's worn out like Darlington is, it's virtually impossible to bring a tire that's going to live.

''But it's the same for everybody, and that's what makes Darlington fun. You have to race the race track. It's very challenging.''

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Bud Pole No. 1 for Bowyer

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Clint Bowyer is not letting the Dale Earnhardt Jr./Richard Childress Racing rumors slow him down.

After answering numerous questions about Dale Jr’s situation, Bowyer went out and captured his first career Bud Pole in qualifying for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Dodge Avenger 500 at Darlington Raceway.

The driver of the No. 07 Jack Daniels RCR Chevrolet secured a birth in the 2008 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona with a fast lap of 164.987 mph.

"I got in the Bud Shootout now I got to get into the All-Star race, maybe this will be the weekend that gets me in both of them," Bowyer said in hopes of winning Saturday night.

With the exception of the 2004 fall race when qualifying was rained out, Bowyer's pole put an end to Kasey Kahne’s Darlington pole streak at three.

Bowyer finally was forced to address the possibility of having Earnhardt Jr. as a teammate.

"I'd say anybody would be lucky to have (Earnhardt) as a teammate," Bowyer said. "He brings so much to the table sponsor wise, fan wise and everything else, so I am sure where ever he lands it will be good for them and him both."

Two-time defending Darlington winner Greg Biffle qualified second with a lap of 164.876 mph.

"I tell you what, our Ford Fusion Ameriquest car is really, really solid," said Biffle. "We felt like we had the fastest car in race trim practice. We have another practice this evening, but I feel like we have one of the fastest cars here for tomorrow night’s race."

Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing teammates Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards make up the second row with Kahne rounding out the top five.

Kenny Wallace turned in an impressive run for the Furniture Row Racing Team taking the sixth spot. Denny Hamlin, Ken Schrader, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon completed the first ten qualifiers.

Michael Waltrip led the list of drivers missing Sunday's show, marking the tenth straight race he's failed to qualify. His teammate Dale Jarrett also was not fast enough along with Jeremy Mayfield, Ward Burton, Mike Bliss and Scott Riggs.

Saturday night's Dodge Avenger 500 will take the green flag at 7 p.m. (ET).

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Greatest COT fears realized at Darlington
Jeff Hammond / FOX Sports

At Darlington Raceway, the drivers and teams will experience everything that they experienced in the first four Car of Tomorrow races multiplied by 10.

On a slick race track, the tires go away faster, and Darlington is basically one groove. It will be a long, challenging and frustrating weekend. If we thought we heard drivers complain after Richmond, just wait until they get done at the Track Too Tough to Tame.

Who to Watch
#
Jeff Gordon: Until somebody dethrones the Hendrick armada, the Car of Tomorrow races will sound like a broken record. Gordon has a win and a 2.5-place average finish in the first four COT events, and he leads all active drivers with six Darlington wins.
# Jimmie Johnson: With two wins and a 5.5-place average finish in COT races, Johnson will be a contender to win two in a row and his fifth race of the season at a track where he's won two races.
# Kyle Busch: With a win and a 3.5-place average Car of Tomorrow finish, Busch rounds out my top three. The Hendrick cars are beginning to remind me of Patton's Third Army on its way to Bastogne in World War II. There's no obstacle that they can't overcome, run over or run through to get to their destination.
# Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin: Following the Hendrick Motorsports trio would be a tossup between Stewart and Hamlin, who has three third-place finishes in the last three COT races.
# Finesse in the field: The rest of the drivers will just do the best they can. You've got to believe there's a chance that Greg Biffle can win three in a row. Guys like Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth stand out because you've got to know how to save tires, float through the corner, not push too hard and let the car have an opportunity to work.

What to Watch

# Race the track: While the Car of Tomorrow is making its Darlington debut, some things never change. You'd better race the racetrack first and not worry about your competitors.
# Brakes are key: Teams must make sure they've got good brakes this week. The driver must slow down the car to make it turn. You're just going to have to float it off in the corner and slow it down as much as possible to get it to turn. You hope you've got a lot of bottom-end torque and forward bite to make it off the corner and pass people.
# Paving the way for three-wide racing: If repaving this track — which is scheduled to happen between mid-June and November — gets the cars to cut through the middle of the corner, it would create some really fantastic and exciting racing. If they do a job like they did at Talladega, I can't imagine it, but I could see somebody trying to go three-wide at Darlington.

COT difference is night and day
Sherry from Kansas City, Kansas: Dale Earnhardt Jr. really sounds frustrated with the Car of Tomorrow. Why do you think Martin Truex Jr. and Bono are doing better with figuring out the COT then Tony Jr. and Dale Jr.? I thought Jr. liked the old type of racing.

Jeff Hammond: He does like old-school racing, but we're taking one race and trying to make a lot out of it. Like this week's Darlington race, last week's Richmond race was supposed to be run on Saturday night. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. had their car set up to race on Saturday night. Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion may not have had a good Saturday night setup, but when it turned into daytime, their setup worked pretty well.

Take a look back at the early part of the race. How far did Dale Jr. drive through the field before a pit-road problem and the longest green-flag run of the year forced him to fall back in traffic and get more frustrated? Even though he didn't like the Car of Tomorrow, he had a pretty competitive race car. The racetrack was green after rain washed off all of the rubber. Track temperatures were probably 40 or 50 degrees hotter than they anticipating running at night. And it was an impound race. Even if you had a good plan to make your car better, you couldn't work on the car.
   
Oh by the way, this race car is still not making anybody really happy. In the beginning, it was just an OK car, and it's still just an OK car. A lot of work still needs to be done to make these drivers happy and have fun driving. Therein lies the challenge, not only for the competitors, but for NASCAR because this car is in its infancy.

The COT continues to challenge and frustrate drivers like nothing ever has before. We'll have to bear with hearing the frustration of Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, who said in victory lane at Bristol that he hated the car. Don't lose sight of the fact that after the first COT race, the first winner said he hated it. Just imagine how the guy running in the back of the pack feels after struggling all day.

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Dodge Avenger 500: Dale Jr. Flies The Coop
by Brian Gabrielle

In an age of over-hyped stories, too many media outlets fighting for shock value, and celebrity athletes who think their every bowel movement is worthy of national coverage, it's easy to lose sight of how big Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s announcement this week actually is.

I mean, Dale Jr. is LeBron James. He might not be the absolute best player in his sport, but he's without question its most popular. In a sport where money equals success, the fact that Junior has put himself up for auction after the 2007 season could, in one fell swoop, absolutely topple the balance of power in Nextel Cup racing. Wherever Earnhardt Jr. goes after leaving DEI when this year is over, that team instantly takes on the biggest cash cow in the history of the sport. Check out a race some time; see all those red-clad fans? They are not all enthusiasts of the Boston Red Sox.

I expect that Junior will land either with Joe Gibbs Racing or Richard Childress Racing, and I give a slight nod to Gibbs. There Little-E would be teamed with Tony Stewart to create a one-two punch that could match the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for star power and talent, and plus would officially cement the best restrictor-plate drafting partnership the sport has ever known. In the meantime, it's officially time to call a spade a spade and see Junior '07 for what he is: a lame duck.

Last Week: My picks finished second (Kyle Busch), third (Denny Hamlin) and fourth (Jeff Gordon), but like the man said, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Jimmie Johnson was the outright winner (which surprised me, considering his Richmond history), but we did easily hit on our head-to-head wager of the week, as Busch the Younger easily topped Jeff Burton. For the week, then, we finished up .37 units on 1.5 units wagered, for a return of 24.7%. For the season, we're up 2.31 units on 15 units wagered, a return of 15.4%. (As always, note that if you eschew the betting strategy I outline below, and simply put one unit per recommended wager, you'd be up 13.34 units on 40 units wagered so far this year, a return of 33.4%. But it's a riskier strategy; you would've lost money in each of the past two weeks.)

Take Jimmie Johnson (+400), 1/6th unit. I've learned my lesson. History doesn't mean as much, yet, as the Car of Tomorrow does, and it seems that Hendrick Motorsports has lapped the field in terms of its CoT development. J.J. had posted one top-20 finish at Richmond over the last four years before last Sunday's race, but he ran at or near the front for the entire event, and easily pulled away late in the proceedings for his fourth victory of the season, his second in the CoT. The odds aren't very friendly here, but considering Johnson swept Darlington (the site of Saturday night's race) in 2004 and has the best finishing average in Nextel Cup racing here since 2002 (7.25), the Lady in Black will once again be kind to the #48, rear wing or not.

Take Jeff Gordon (+500), 1/6th unit. And if it's not Johnson, it's foolish not to think it'll be his teammate Gordon instead. Gordon has won Darlington on six occasions, and he won the CoT event in Phoenix just a few weeks ago. Check out his finishes at the four CoT events we've seen so far in '07: third, second, first and fourth. Yeesh, I'd say Gordo has something figured out with this car, huh? It's not that Hendrick's cars have all been better than their competitors right out of the gate in every CoT event; rather, it's that Gordon, Johnson and Kyle Busch (+900) all seem to have more "adjustability" built into their cars, so they can make more drastic and more productive changes as races proceed. Expect that to happen again at the Track Too Tough to Tame on Saturday.

Take Greg Biffle (+1300), 1/6th unit. Here's a curveball. Biffle hasn't done much so far in '07; he sits 15th in points, having logged just one top-five and two top-10s in the season's first 10 events. Generally speaking, Roush Racing hasn't been competitive in the CoT (they've got four finishes better than 10th in 20 CoT starts so far in '07), and Biffle's lackluster 2006 season seems to have carried over into this year. But Biffle is the two-time defending champion at Darlington, and while I know I just said that history doesn't seem to be affecting the CoT races as much as we'd all like, no matter what the car, Darlington still suits Biffle's racing style to a tee. He likes high-banked, high-risk tracks where tires go away, and he has to slide his car coming out of the turns to keep it off the wall. That harkens back to the Biff's younger days, and it's why he won here both in '05 and '06. It would be a pretty big surprise, but I still do think there's a chance he could win Saturday night.

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Driver Updates - Darlington
May 11, 2007
By Micah Roberts
VegasInsider.com 

Ford's best chance to win thus far in the COT. All four Roush cars are looking very racey. miht be a good chance to hit a nice payout of 15 to 1 or more with any of the Roush Ford's this week along with a straight up matchup to beat Chevy.

Top 5 rated cars after all practice and qualifying sessions:

1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Greg Biffle
3) Carl Edwards
4) Jeff Gordon
5) Kurt Busch


Best chance to score with plus money in matchups:

1) Matt Kenseth
2) Casey Mears
3) Kasey Kahne
4) Kyle Busch
5) Ryan Newman
6) Jamie McMurray


Best drivers to take a shot at wagering AGAINST at plus money:

1) Jeff Burton
2) Clint Bowyer
3) Tony Stewart
4) Mark Martin


Steady drivers in lower tiered matchups that should run well:

1) Bobby Labonte
2) Johnny Sauter
3) Reed Sorenson

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Darlington Viewer's Guide
Steve Byrnes


When Darlington Raceway opened in 1950, Curtis Turner won the pole with a lap of 82.034 mph. On Friday, Clint Bowyer won the Dodge Avenger 500 pole with driving over twice as fast at 164.987 mph.
 
It's 57 years old, and they're getting around here in a little over 30 seconds on this egg-shaped track. Drivers must run near the top of the track, and they're walking a fine line between getting the car turned and getting into the wall. We're going to see a lot of cars in the wall, some harder than others, but the 25-degree banking won't help much here.

Who to Watch

Jeff Gordon: The six-time Darlington winner tire-tested at the Lady in Black, and that should be a huge advantage. He may not think so, but he's one of the few — Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, Juan Pablo Montoya and Reed Sorenson 3 that had some laps on the track with this car before Friday. Not to mention how well that team is performing right now. Gordon's worst Car of Tomorrow finish is fourth last week at Richmond, and he's only had one finish outside the top 10 this season. Plus, Gordon has led over 1500 laps at the Track Too Tough to Tame.

Jeff Burton: The track really suits him. He's run a lot of laps at the facility, and he's led 786 of them.

Greg Biffle: With two consecutive wins at Darlington, Biffle should be very good. They haven't had a great year, but he seems to like to be able to drive a car that's on the verge of being out of control. That's what happens at Darlington.
Jimmie Johnson: Hendrick Motorsports really has the Car of Tomorrow sorted out so I like this two-time Darlington winner.

What to Watch

Burning up brakes: When you take your foot off of the gas at Martinsville, you'll see the front end of the car sit down on the track because the low gear is already slowing it down before they even hit the brakes. It would be like putting your street car in low drive. You feel it suck and slow down the car. At Darlington, they don't have the same low gear when they let off the gas pedal. They need to use their brake because it's still rolling freely.

Worn-out track: There are several complicating factors at this track. In addition to the track's egg shape of the track and the fact that it's so old, they're racing on a worn-out surface. Kurt Busch said he tested for this race at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., which is an hour to an hour and a half away from Darlington. It has very similar track conditions, and he said he was racing on top of polished rocks.

Four tires for sure: If you're one of the last cars on the lead lap, you might gamble on two tires early or late in the race, but that's not a race-winning strategy at Darlington. Pole-sitter Bowyer said, "grip wise we have about have as much grip than we had in the old car. Everyone will have a Darlington stripe when this race is over."

Adjustments on the fly: The Car of Tomorrow is such an unknown that the teams will have to figure out their strategy as they go along. At Richmond, it seemed like no matter adjustments they made, they couldn't fix their problems of being loose into and out of the turn and tight in the center.

Pit Perspectives

In nearly 25 years of covering NASCAR, I've never heard all drivers say the same exact thing about how a car was handling like they did last week at Richmond — loose in, tight in the center, loose off. The Car of Tomorrow is a work in progress, and the teams are having a hard time getting the car to turn. They have to slow down the car so much to get it turned that it's extremely different than they're usual setup. Will they get it to turn better? Certainly, some teams have figured it out better than others. Darlington will be the fastest track where these teams have run the Car of Tomorrow. Higher speeds should exascerbate handling problems — the faster they go, the harder they are to drive. There's a lot of trepidation heading into this race. To begin with, it's a difficult track. Add in the Car of Tomorrow, and it's got everybody on their toes.

Finish Line

Darlington has always been a place where you've got to keep up with the racetrack as opposed to the competition so drivers must race the track and not their competitors. The winner will do the best job of keeping up with this track. You're never going to conquer the racetrack, but the team that's closest is the one that's going to win. It's such a challenging racetrack at the best of times with the best of cars. It's going to be a huge test for these teams and drivers.

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Re: Dodge Avenger 500 News and Notes

Rain forces postponement of Nextel Cup race
May 12th, 2007

Darlington, SC (Sports Network) - The NASCAR Nextel Cup race scheduled to be run on Saturday night at the Darlington Raceway was postponed due to a heavy rainstorm which started early in the day. The rain continued throughout the evening and the jet dryers never got on the track. NASCAR officials called an end to the evening at around 9 p.m. (et).

The Dodge Avenger 500 has been rescheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.

Clint Bowyer will be on the pole when the green flag finally drops to start the 367-lap race.

Through 10 races and the season belongs to one team and in particular two of it's drivers - Nextel Cup Series points leader Jeff Gordon and 2006 Nextel Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson.

Gordon has put together a spectacular first 10 races and owns a 211-point lead over Johnson. Gordon's start, two wins and nine top-10s is one of the best starts since NASCAR went to the current points system in 1975. His 1691 points would put him just behind Cale Yarborough's 1977 season when the Hall-of-Fame driver posted five wins and nine top-10s. Yarborough's season would equate to 1775 points by today's scoring standards (he earned 1725 points in 1977).

All that being said, if the "Chase for the Nextel Cup" were to begin today, Gordon would not be the series leader. Johnson's four wins would move the No.48 Lowe's Chevrolet driver to the head of the class. He would begin the "Chase" with 20 more points than Gordon. His four wins and seven top-10s puts him in second place at the moment.

Together Gordon and Johnson have six wins and 16 top-10s for owner Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports.

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Gordon wins at Darlington to expand lead
May 13th, 2007

Darlington, SC (Sports Network) - Jeff Gordon made it three of the last four capturing the rain-delayed Dodge Avenger 500 from the Darlington Raceway. The No.24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet crossed the finish line 0.978 seconds ahead of Denny Hamlin.

The victory was Gordon's third of the season and 78th of his Nextel Cup career. It was his seventh career win at the "Track Too Tough To Tame."

Pole winner Clint Bowyer led a clean start to the 367-lap race. But the winner of the last two races at Darlington, Greg Biffle, seemed stronger than Bowyer and put himself right on the No.07 Chevrolet's rear bumper.

Bowyer fought off the No.16 Ford who began to backslide after nearly earning his "stripe" in turn two. Carl Edwards got around Biffle and challenged Bowyer, finally passing him for the lead on lap 17.

Off went Edwards building the lead to 1.416 seconds at the 30-lap mark. But this is Darlington and your performance can fall as quickly as it rises. By lap 35 Hamlin flew around Edwards for the lead.

A "competition caution" on lap 40 sent everyone to pit lane as NASCAR wanted all teams to inspect their tires because last night's rain storm left the track "green." (A green track is when there is no rubber built up on the track and teams don't know how their tires will react under the new conditions.)

Hamlin controlled the next segment, building a lead of more than two seconds on Jimmie Johnson and four seconds on Edwards after 60 laps. The trio stayed just that way until the next round of green-flag pit stops.

Hamlin's pit crew had a problem with a lug nut and the more than 16-second stop left him in second place, five seconds behind Edwards. In third place was Tony Stewart. who started 27th but had been charging from the initial green flag and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fourth.

Reed Sorenson, wasn't the first driver to get his Darlington stripe, but he was the first one to hit it hard enough to bring out a caution flag on lap 117.

Following the caution flag Hamlin went around Edwards again for the lead. He and Edwards maintain the top spots with Hamlin leading his 100th lap on lap 150.

As the field reached the 200-lap mark, Hamlin had almost clinched the bonus for "most laps led." Behind him was Ryan Newman, Kenseth and Gordon. However, Hamlin scraped the wall just past that point and slowly Newman began to reel the No.11 Chevrolet in.

Stewart was running in the top-10 when he suffered a cut tire on lap 214 and fell to 31st ending any realistic chance of winning the race.

Meanwhile, Newman caught Hamlin on lap 220 and two laps later he slid around the outside for the lead.

Another round of pit stops and Kenseth led Newman off pit road. Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing crew had a problem and he came out fifth. Also in a little trouble was Gordon, who had an engine temperature that was rising to dangerous levels.

Ken Schrader slammed the wall to bring out a caution flag with just over 110 laps to go. It gave Gordon's crew a chance to work on his water temperature problem. The team ripped off tape from the front grill in hopes of cooling the engine down.

Kenseth came off pit road with the lead in hand. Newman came out second and right after the green flag he pressured the No.17 Ford. Behind the Ford and Dodge were three Chevrolets - Hamlin, Johnson and Gordon.

One hundred laps to go and it was still anybody's race. Even Stewart was back on the lead lap, though he was down 30 seconds and in desperate need of a caution flag.

Kenseth seemed to be struggling with a brake problem and faded to fifth as Newman and Hamlin took over the top two positions. On lap 290 Hamlin beat Newman into turn three and Newman wisely backed off before they collided. Then Johnson caught and passed Newman. Johnson caught Hamlin as they were coming up onto lapped traffic, but who would find the quickest way through the traffic?

It was Johnson who grabbed the lead as Hamlin went low and the No.48 went high. Newman was just behind and he followed Johnson through at the top of the track for the second place as they clicked off lap No.300.

Then a crash involving Kyle Busch brought out the caution flag and set up a final run to the checkered flag. At the front with 50 laps to go were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson and Gordon.

Johnson quickly jumped out to a one-second lead on Gordon who had another one second on third-place Kurt Busch. The two settled into a rhythm and slowly began to expand the margin. With 35 laps to go the pair held two and-a-half seconds on Busch.

Then a debris caution flag and their lead was erased as quickly as that.

Johnson was first off pit road, Gordon was next out, but the No.24 Chevy was blowing a lot of steam and didn't look like it could finish the race.

Johnson and Gordon jumped out from the drop of the green flag and again built a two-second lead, but another flag brought them back to the crowd.

With 22 laps to go, Johnson used the opportunity to get new rubber, but Gordon stayed out to inherit the race lead and maybe the clean air that would help him finish the race. Kurt Busch and Kenseth followed Johnson, but most of the field stayed on the track with Gordon.

Another caution flag when David Stremme's engine blew up left just 15 laps to go, but the bad news for Gordon was Johnson was now up to fourth place and his tires were newer than all three leaders (Gordon, Newman, Earnhardt Jr.).

The race restarted with 13 laps to go. Gordon cleared the lapped cars easily as did Newman. Johnson flew underneath Earnhardt Jr with 12 laps remaining. However it was Hamlin that made the big move, passing both Newman and Johnson with seven laps remaining, However, he was 2.835 seconds behind the No.24 Chevrolet.

He probably wouldn't be able to catch Gordon, but would Gordon's car hold up to the finish?

Gordon nursed his Chevrolet to the finish line with just under one second to spare for his third victory in the last four outings.

"I felt like we had the dominant car all day," said Hamlin, who led a race- high 178 laps. "We gave another one to Hendrick Motorsports."

"I thought there is no way we're going to make it," said Gordon. "I've never seen gauges look like that and the engine make it to the end, that's a testament to Hendrick Motorsports and their engine department."

Johnson, Newman and Edwards completed the top-five.

The win gives Gordon a 231-point edge over Johnson as the series takes a break for the NASCAR All-Star Challenge next week at the Lowe's Motor Speedway.

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