Cross’ Words: Ante up
So you want to own a stock car team, eh? And, you say, compete for the Nextel Cup. Well, can you go Benjamin-for-Benjamin with the deep pockets of Roger Penske or Chip Genesis? This isn’t some penny-ante boys club, you understand. Or — and here’s where it really pays off — do you have a driver on par with anyone employed by Hendricks or Roush?
No? Welcome to the sport, buddy. The line forms at the rear — of the pack. Clearly, the cream of the Cup crop is the stables of Rick Hendricks and two-time defending Cup owner Jack Roush. In the past 10 races, their drivers have combined for nine wins, 31 top-five finishes, and 43 top-10s. The only other driver with a win since Charlotte in October 2004 is Dale Earnhardt Jr. (at Phoenix), who wheels for the equally well-funded DEI.
Considering the rules-induced parity that NASCAR lusts after, the Hendricks-Roush dominance is truly a spectacle to behold. Points leader Jimmie Johnson’s average finish of 2.2 leads all drivers during the past 10 races, but it’s the Roush drivers’ consistency that has allowed the Cat in the Hat to continue his assault on the point standings.
In 2003, when Matt Kenneth won the Cup championship, he led the series with an average finish of 10.250. Last year, Kurt Busch took advantage of the Chase for the Cup points shuffle to post an 8.9 average finish in the 10-race playoffs to claim Roush’s second consecutive title.
As the Cup series prepares for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol, four of the top five drivers are Roush employees: Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, and Mark Martin. This also goes to prove that if you are serious about joining the ranks of Cup team owners, you’d better have a multi-car team.
In the PMS period — post-modern system — were making the Chase is paramount, the multi-car teams will continue to dominate. The chances of another Alan Kulwicki making a stand against the big boys are somewhere between slim and none (with none making a hard charge in the outside groove).
Hmmm, multi-car teams, a playoff system … sounds a lot like the ill-fated Team Racing Auto Circuit. Remember TRAC? It was a proposed racing series that originally had hoped to run 16 to 24 races with playoffs and a championship race — and was eyed as a potential breeding ground for minority and women drivers.
Alas, TRAC went the way of the Kaiser, but it’s a concept that NASCAR and its team owners have openly embraced. However, Hendrick and Roush obviously have taken it to a new level and are clearly the benchmark for modern-day contenders.
• Green — As if Jimmie Johnson needed the good karma, Chevrolet has won 37 races at Bristol. Five other manufacturers — Ford (17), Pontiac (5), Buick (4), Dodge (2) and Oldsmobile (1) — have combined for 29 victories …
• Yellow — … But things have a way of evening out. Ford has won seven of 10 Bristol races since 2000, while Chevy has two and Pontiac one. However, the last Dodge victory was by Richard Petty in the 1975 Volunteer 500.
• Red — Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon is 12th in the point standings. The last time he was ranked outside the top 10 was after race No. 6 at Bristol in 2004 — when he was 12th.
Carl Edwards nips Jimmie Johnson Carl Edwards beat Jimmie Johnson by .028 seconds at Atlanta. Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
CUP’S CLOSEST FINISHES
• .002 — Ricky Craven beats Kurt Busch, Darlington on March 16, 2003.
• .005 — Dale Earnhardt beats Ernie Irvan, Talladega on July 25, 1993.
• .006 — Kevin Harvick beats Jeff Gordon, Atlanta on March 11, 2001.
• .010 — Dale Earnhardt beats Bobby Labonte, Atlanta on March 12, 2000.
• .025 — Jimmy Spencer beats Bill Elliott, Talladega on July 24, 1994.
Pearson-Petty at Daytona? Craven-Busch at Darlington? Surely, Carl Edwards’ bump-and-run front stretch tango with Jimmie Johnson belongs in that hallowed class of photo-finishes.
— NASCAR press release after the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta on March 20. Just my opinion, but someone needs to slap a restrictor plate on the hyperbole.
Around the Track
• Beginning with the Spring 2002 race, NASCAR instituted a change in the yellow-flag pit road procedures at Bristol. The pace car will pick up the field in Turn 3 (as opposed to Turn 1). All lead car laps will enter pit road at the Turn 2 entrance (regardless of front or backstretch pits). Cars pitting on the front will drive the backstretch pit road than on the apron to the front stretch pit entrance in Turn 4. Cars pitting on the back will follow the same path and all cars will exit pit road using the exit in Turn 1.
• Four of the six Cup races at Bristol between 1991-93 were won from the Bud Pole. In the 22 races since, Rusty Wallace (Spring 1999 and Fall 2000) and Jeff Gordon (Fall 2002) are the only drivers to win at Bristol from the Bud Pole.
• Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin lead all active drivers, each with seven Bud Poles at Bristol. Tony Stewart won the Bud Pole for the Fall 1999 event, breaking a streak of five consecutive Bud Poles by the Wallace family. Kenny won the Bud Pole for the Fall 1997 race and Rusty won the other four.
• Rusty Wallace won his first Cup race at Bristol, winning there in the spring of 1986, in his fifth race at the track. In 37 races at Bristol since, he has posted eight more victories, including three of the last 12 races. Wallace has also led at least one lap in 27 of his 42 races at Bristol.
• Only seven times in 88 races at Bristol has a race winner started outside the top 15 (8 percent). All seven have occurred since 1990, with five of the seven occurring in just the last six years, including the Fall 2004 race when Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 30th and won.
Robby Gordo Up Next Bristol Motor Speedway
• Eleven Cup regulars will attempt to qualify for the Busch race. Seven of those already have a BGN win at Bristol: Kevin Harvick (3), Matt Kenseth (2), Michael Waltrip (2), Jeff Burton, Jeff Green, Dale Jarrett and Sterling Marlin. The other Buschwhackers are Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jeremy Mayfield and Joe Nemechek.
• Cup cars will practice 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Friday. Then, qualifying will start at 5:40 p.m. … After that, the cars are impounded until Sunday. The race is scheduled to start at 1:15 p.m. — shortly after we find out who’s been voted out of FOX’s “Sexiest Driver” bracket.
• Busch cars will practice 1:40-3 p.m. and 4-5 p.m. Friday. The series’ qualifying will be at 11:35 a.m. Saturday, with the race to follow at 2:05 p.m.
• Junior Johnson-owned cars scored 20 victories at Bristol, more than double of any other car owner. Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske each have seven Bristol victories, the most of any active owner.
• Rusty Wallace has led 3,577 laps in 42 races at Bristol, the most among active drivers. Cale Yarborough leads all drivers having led 4,306 laps in 29 races at Bristol.
• Rusty Wallace has scored nine victories and 21 top-five finishes at Bristol, the most among active drivers.
• Jeff Gordon has a 4.875 starting average at Bristol, the best among active drivers with more than five starts.
• Kevin Harvick has a 9.5 average finish in eight races at Bristol, the best of all active drivers.
• Jeff Gordon has posted six consecutive front-row starts at Bristol and has led in seven of the last eight races there.
• Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch both have scored six consecutive top-10 finishes at Bristol, the longest current streak.
Cross’ Words: Ante up