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Instant Analysis: Charlotte

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Tom Jensen

   
 
Instant Analysis: Charlotte

Instant Analysis from Tom Jensen

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A lifelong gearhead, Tom Jensen reports on automobiles and auto racing for SPEEDTV.com. Jensen has been writing about both topics for more than 15 years and is the former managing editor of National Speed Sport News. He is the recipient of the 1997 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award and numerous other journalism awards. Jensen's latest book is "Cheating: An Inside Look At The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit Of Speed." Click here for Tom Jensen's columns.

  • Race Trax: Results plus caution, leader updates
  • FOX Trax: Chart lap-by-lap in-race results
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    Debbie from Little Rock, Ark.: So does Martin still have a chance to win this championship or did JJ screw it up for him once again?

    Tom Jensen: Debbie: Yes, Mark Martin is still in it. He's little more than 100 points back with five races to go. Kasey Kahne's made up 125 points in the last two weeks, so, yes, Martin is still very much in the hunt.


    The points:

    1. Burton
    2. Kenseth - 45
    3. Harvick - 89
    4. Martin -102
    5. Earnhardt -106
    6. Hamlin -137
    7. Johnson -146
    8. Kahne -160
    9. Busch -195
    10. Gordon -216


    Postrace notes

    Wow, it's deja vu all over again as Kasey Kahne beats Jimmie Johnson, the same order as the two finished here in the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

    Jeff Burton's third place means he's now 45 points ahead of Matt Kenseth and 89 up on Kevin Harvick. Kahne has gone from 285 points back two weeks ago to just 160 out of first and he has two tracks left where he's won earlier this year, Texas and Atlanta.

    Jeff Gordon, on the other hand, is all the way back in 10th, his drive for five ending with a rare Hendrick engine failure.


    Lap 334: Kahne wins and is back in the Chase. Johnson is second, Burton third, then Earnhardt, Labonte, Busch, Raines, Edwards, Nemechek and Vickers. This is Kasey's sixth win of the season.

    Lap 333: White flag.

    Lap 330: Kahne has stretched his lead out to 1.3 seconds as Johnson looks content to finish second and have a good points day.

    Lap 329: With five to go, Kahne has extended his lead to 1.079 seconds.

    Lap 327: Kahne is holding steady over Johnson, with Burton third, Earnhardt fourth and Labonte fifth.

    Lap 325: With 10 to go, the lead is 0.870 seconds.

    Lap 321: The lead is 0.826 seconds. Kahne is looking better as the laps wind down. Clearly, it's his race to lose. But the real winner might be Burton, who if hangs on will widen his points lead substantially.

    Lap 319: Kahne stretches lead to 0.748 seconds.

    Lap 318: Johnson has cut the gap to 0.666 seconds behind Kahne.

    Lap 317: Burton eases past Earnhardt for third place. This is going to be a huge points night for him. Lap 314: Kahne leads Johnson by nearly a full second with just 20 laps to go.

    Lap 313: Earnhardt said the car has lost the front end as Burton pressures him for third.

    Lap 310: Burton has a vibration possibly a loose wheel.

    Lap 309: Kahne goes around Johnson on the high side in Turn 1 to take the lead.

    Lap 307: The leaders are on old tires, third-place Earnhardt took two.

    Lap 307: Green flag.

    Lap 303: Leaders pit. Kahne takes fuel only, Junior and Edwards two tires. But Johnson takes gas only and leads off pit road.

    The order out of the pits is: Johnson, Kahne, Earnhardt, Burton, Nemechek, Labonte, Edwards, Vickers, Raines, Busch and Marlin, the only cars on the lead lap. Busch made a second stop for a flat tire.


    Caution 10

    Lap 302: Caution No. 10. Jeff Gordon blows his engine!!!! His Chase is over.

    Lap 300: Kahne leads Earnhardt by 2.351 seconds, then it's Edwards, Gordon, Johnson, Busch, Burton, Labonte, Vickers and Raines.

    Lap 297: Gordon has dropped back from Edwards.

    Lap 295: With 40 laps to go, Kahne'slead is 1.512 seconds over Earnhardt.

    Lap 293: Burton is sixth, in position for another solid points night, and with Martin, Kenseth, Harvick and Hamlin all having trouble, he can stretch his lead if he can hold on.

    Lap 290: Gordon is all over Edwards for third place.

    Lap 286: Earnhardt is 0.372 behind Kahne and slowly slipping back. Edwards is third, followed by Gordon and Johnson. Less than 50 laps to go now.

    Lap 285: Kahne almost certainly will pick up the 5 bonus points for leading the most laps.

    Lap 282: Gordon up to fourth past Nemechek.

    Lap 281: Green flag. Correction: Marlin is 12th, a lap down, as only 11 cars are on the lead lap.

    Lap 278: Lead-lap cars all pit. Kahne almost hits Raines exiting his pit. The order out is: Kahne, Earnhardt, Edwards, Nemechek, Gordon, Johnson, Labonte, Burton, Busch, Raines, Vickers and Marlin. These are the only lead-lap cars. Harvick is 15th, Kenseth is 18th, Martin 27th and Hamlin 30th.


    Caution 9

    Lap 276: Caution No. 9 for debris. Vickers gets the Lucky Dog. There will be 12 cars on the lead lap.


    Doug from New York: Enter pit road safely. Put a flashing light on the back of the car to signal your entering pit road. NY cabbies use a red flashing light to signal trouble in the cab. Let's avoid trouble and put a flashing light on the back of the car.

    Tom Jensen: Doug: Formula 1 cars use 'em when they race in the rain. It might not be a bad idea here, either. That was an ugly accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Lap 270: Top five unchanged.

    The guys in fourth through ninth place desperately need another caution so they can come around and close on the top three cars.

    If they don't get it, this will go down as yet another horrendous stroke of luck for Johnson, who was in great position to win.

    Lap 265: Kahne leads Edwards by 0.869 seconds. Then it's Earnhardrt, Nemechek, Gordon, Johnson, Labonte, Busch, Raines and Burton.

    Lap 260: Burton goes a lap down to Kahne.

    Lap 257: Kahne passes Edwards for lead as Kenseth gets loose and nearly wrecks.

    Lap 255: Edwards leads Earnhardt, Kahne, Nemechek, Gordon, Labonte, Johnson, Busch, Raines and mears.

    Lap 252: Green flag. Gordon leads the pack, but is actually in fifth place.

    Lap 250: Edwards leads Earnhardt and Kahne. The drivers in positions 4 through 11 will start in front of the three leaders and will be at the tail end of the lead lap, once all this mess was cleaned up. This is a bad break for Johnson and Gordon, who went from being 1-2 to being nearly an entire lap behind.

    Lap 245: Kahne pits from lead because he fears he may have run off debris. Martin "championship isn't something that was ever meant to be for me."

    Edwards leads, followed by Earnhardt, Kahne, Joe Nemechek, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Raines. Burton is 12th, one lap down; Kenseth 17th, two laps down; Harvick 19th, three laps down.

    Lap 244: Yeley said he waived off twice before he and Martin wrecked.

    Because the leaders had just pitted before the caution, just 11 cars are on the lead lap.

    Lap 242: The wreck was caused when Yeley tried to pit and turned left into Martin, who spun and went hard into the frontstretch wall, getting airborne in the process. His car his done. Robby Gordon's good run ended in the wreck, too. This will be a devastating blow to Martin.


    Caution 8

    Lap 242: Caution No. 8 as Martin wrecks hard.

    Lap 241: Gordon and Burton in pits. Burton stalls in pits!!!!

    Lap 240: Johnson pits from lead. Takes four tires. Martin's crew drops a lugnut and he lost a lot of time.

    Lap 238: Robby Gordon in for gas and tires. Harvick gets pass-through penalty.

    Lap 237: Kenseth, Harvick hit the pits.

    Lap 236: Riggs pits for four tires and gas.

    Lap 235: Kahne pits from second place, handing the runner-up spot to Gordon. Kahne takes right-side tires.

    Lap 232: The only Chasers not in the top 10 are Harvick in 12th, Kenseth, 21st and Hamlin, 30th.

    Lap 229: The lead is 2.402 seconds as Gordon is starting to push Kahne for second.

    Lap 225: Just 16 cars remain on the lead lap as Johnson has stretched his lead to more than 1.5 seconds and is hooked up like the Jimmie Johnson of old. Is this the week he finally breaks his streak of wretched luck and begins a championship run?

    Lap 220: Johnson leads Kahne by 0.969 seconds. Then it's Gordon, Edwards, Earnhardt, Busch, Martin, Burton, Marlin and Raines.

    Lap 216: Harvick is reporting serious transmission problems, as is his teammate Bowyer, who is now in the garage.

    Lap 211: Johnson goes low into Turn 3 to take lead from Kahne.

    Lap 207: Bowyer gets pit road speeding penalty.

    Lap 207: With pit stops cycled through, Kahne leads Johnson, Gordon, Martin, Edwards, Marlin, Earnhardt, Kyle Busch and Burton.

    Lap 206: Now Bowyer is in, out of fuel.

    Lap 205: Earnhardt takes four, as does Burton.

    Lap 204: Gordon and Johnson take four tires.

    Lap 203: Martin is in the pits for four tires.

    Lap 202: Harvick pits.

    Lap 201: Riggs and Kenseth pit.

    Lap 200: Kahne pits from second place. Top five: Johnson, Gordon, Martin, Earnhardt and Edwards.

    Lap 199: Green flag pit stops start. First in are Stewart and Marlin.

    Lap 194: Martin up to fourth, behind Johnson, Kahne and Gordon.

    Lap 193: Kurt Busch is now back on the track after lengthy repairs.

    Lap 190: Johnson leads Kahne, Gordom Marlin, Martin, Earnhardt, Edwards, Busch, Burton and Robby Gordon.

    Lap 189: Edwards is reporting a bad vibration. Could this be a third Roush engine failure?

    Lap 188: Kahne is whttling away the lead by about a tenth of a second a lap, It's now 0.685 seconds.

    Lap 184: Edwards passes Kyle Busch is seventh.

    Lap 182: Gordon moves to third past a surprising Marlin. If the race ended right now, the guy leading the points would be Mark Martin.

    Lap 180: Johnson's lead over Kahne is now 1.415 seconds.

    Lap 179: Martin passes Earnhardt for fifth.

    Lap 175: Johnson leads Kahne, Marlin, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt and Martin.

    Lap 172: Raines, Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt wage great fight for fourth.

    Lap 170: Johnson leads Kahne, Marlin, Raines, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt, Martin, Kyle Busch, Edwards and R. Gordon.

    Lap 169: Kahne is into second place.

    Lap 168: Johnson takes the lead on the restart.

    Lap 168: Green flag. The race is now official, as more than half the 334 laps have been completed.

    Lap 164: Leaders all pit, most for fuel only. Order out is Marlin (no pit), Johnson, Kahne, Raines, Jeff Gordon, Martin, Earnhardt, Bowyer, Riggs and Burton. Kyle Busch is 14th, Harvick 18th and Kenseth 23rd, now just one lap down.


    Caution 7

    Lap 163: Caution No. 7. David Gilliland spins by himself coming out of Turn 2. Jeff Green gets Lucky Dog. McMurray to garage with apparent engine failure.

    Lap 162: The leaders are Kahne, Johnson, Raines, R. Gordon, Earnhardt, Riggs, Jeff Gordon, Martin, Burton and Bowyer.

    Lap 161: Johnson passes Raines for second.

    Lap 160: Kahne passes Raines for lead.

    Lap 159: Newman nearly wrecks on pit road, has long stop for rear-end problems.

    Lap 157: Vickers sets speeding penalty.

    Lap 157: Gordon and Earnhardt pit for four, as does Burton. Kenseth is out of gas on pit road.

    Lap 156: Johnson pits for four, as does Martin.

    Lap 155: Riggs takes two, Harvick pits, too.

    Lap 154: Kahne pits for four tires.

    Lap 151: Leaders should start pitting any time now.

    Lap 150: The order is: Kahne, Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt, Burton, Martin, Riggs, Bowyer, Stremme and Mears.

    Lap 148: Raines hits the pits for right-side tires.

    Lap 145: Six of the top seven cars are Chasers.

    Lap 143: R. Gordon pits for right-side tires and gas.

    Lap 140: Kahne leads Johnson, Raines, R. Gordon, J. Gordon, Earnhardt, Burton, Martin, Riggs and Bowyer.

    Lap 139: Johnson into second place behind Kahne.

    Lap 138: Kahne takes the lead from Raines on the backstretch and takes off like he's in a gear of his own.

    Lap 134: Jeff Gordon takes third place from Earnhardt.

    Lap 133: Johnson passes R. Gordon for third place.

    Lap 132: Kahne passes R. Gordon for second. Order: Raines, Kahne, R. Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon.

    Lap 128: Kahne passes Earnhardt for third.

    Lap 127: Kahne passes Jeff Gordon for fourth.

    Lap 125: Second-place Sadler has his engine blow up. That's one each for Roush and Evernham.

    Lap 123: Raines passes Sadler for the lead.

    Lap 121: Kenseth gets one of his two laps back and Kyle Busch is back on the tail end of the lead lap as they pass Sadler on the restart.

    Lap 121: Green flag.

    Lap 118: Sadler, Raines and R. Gordon, who didn't pit, lead Earnhardt, J. Gordon, Johnson, Burton, Kahne, Martin and Marlin. Harvick is 15th, Kyle Busch 23rd and Kenseth 31st. Biffle blew a motor.

    Lap 117: Leaders all pit, most for gas only. Harvick and Kahne nearly collide.


    Caution 6

    Lap 116: Caution No. 6. Sorenson and Kurt Busch crash hard on the backstretch. Busch spun out by himself and Sorenson wrecked trying to avoid him.

    Lap 115: Burton and Johnson pass Bowyer for fourth and fifth, respectively.

    Lap 111: Jeff Gordon moves to third place, passing Bowyer.

    Lap 110: Kenseth tried to get one of his laps back, but nearly wrecked.

    Lap 110: Green flag.

    The order out of the pits is: Kahne, Earnhardt, Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Sterling Marlin, Johnson, Burton, Martin, David Stremme and Sadler. Harvick is 13th; Kyle Busch is 26th, a lap down; Kenseth is 33rd, two laps down; and Hamlin is 37th, 61 lap down. Kurt Busch gets pit road exit penalty.

    Lap 107: Lead-lap cars all pit. Kahne takes gas only, Earnhardt and Burton take right-side tires.


    Caution 5

    Lap 105: Caution No. 5 as Waltrip wrecks on exit to Turn 4 as he tries to pit. He goes to the garage. Last week's winner, Brian Vickers, gets the Lucky Dog.

    Lap 101: Riggs has loose lug nuts and will have to pit.

    Lap 100: Earnhardt passes Riggs for second.

    Lap 98: Kahne passes Riggs to retake lead, as Riggs complaining is car is tight.

    Lap 96: Kenseth makes an unscheduled pit stop for a vibration and goes two laps down in 35th place.

    Lap 95: Riggs, who has led the most laps so far, is ahead of teammate Kahne by 0.444 seconds.

    Lap 91: Pit stops have cycled through: Riggs leads Kahne, Earnhardt, Biffle, Edwards, Harvick, Bowyer, Johnson, Burton and Robby Gordon. 25 cars are on lead lap, Kyle Busch is 31st, a lap down.

    Lap 90: Kenseth pits after leading a single lap.

    Lap 89: Busch gets speeding penalty for too fast entering pits. Remember what I said about no mistakes?

    Lap 88: Burton, Johnson and Mears, among others pit. Kyle Busch and Johnson each led a lap.

    Lap 87: Harvick pits for four.

    Lap 86: Bowyer pits and so does Gordon. Both take four tires.

    Lap 85: Leaders Riggs and Kahne pit for scuffed right-side tires only.

    Lap 83: Sadler pits. All the cars that have pitted.


    Eric from Baxter Springs, Kan.: When did NASCAR races start becoming three ringed circuses? After the bizarre finishes of the last two Cup races and last night's Busch race, is it too much to ask that we get the rescue vehicles off the track before the green flag drops? Bill Elliott is really dead on with his view of the series' refusal to upgrade it's safety procedures. Any chance we see NASCAR actually do the right thing in the name of safety here?

    Tom Jensen: Eric: I agree 100 percent, buddy. What happened tonight was inexcusable.


    Lap 81: Sorenson pits.

    Lap 80: Newman pits.

    Lap 80: Riggs and Kahne now lead Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Burton, Gordon, Martin and Sadler.

    Lap 79: Earnhardt pits.

    Lap 78: Edwards and Biffle pit.

    Lap 75: Riggs charrgin hard, now 1.537 seconds back of Earnhardt.

    Lap 71: Earnhardt and Edwards will need to pit by Lap 80 to get fuel. Hamlin is back out on the track, 59 laps down from the leaders.

    Lap 70: Earnhardt leads Riggs, Edwards, Biffle, Kahne, Kyle Busch, Bowyer, Harvick, Johnson, Burton and Jeff Gordon.

    Lap 69: Earnhardt leads by 2.586 seconds.

    Lap 68: Riggs into second place past Edwards.

    Lap 67: Kenseth has moved from 34th on the last pit stop to 26th, as the four tires seem to be working for him.

    Lap 66: Waltrip pits. Earnhardt's lead is 1.78 seconds over Edwards.

    Lap 60: Earnhardt, leads Edwards, Riggs, Newman, Biffle, Kyle Busch, Kahne, Bowyer, Sorenson, Harvick, Johnson, Burton and Jeff Gordon.

    Lap 59: Riggs passes Newman for third.

    Lap 58: Riggs passes Biffle for fourth.

    Lap 55: Kyle Busch passes Sorenson for sixth place.

    Lap 53: Green flag. The top five cars didn't pit.

    Lap 50: So far, hard tires and cold weather are a recipe for an ugly mess of a race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

    Kluever says he just lost control of his car.

    Kenseth on lead lap, but is back in 34th.

    Lap 49: Order out of the pits: Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Newman, Biffle, Soresnon, Riggs, Kahne, Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Johnson, Burton, Jeff Gordon, Raines and Mears.

    Lap 48: Leaders all pit. Kenseth has long stop to adjust front valence.


    Caution 4

    Lap 47: Caution No. 4: Todd Kluever gets spun out of Turn 2 by Greg Biffle. Ken Schrader makes huge impact, Michael Waltrip and Kyle Petty also caught up in mess.

    Lap 44: Johnson passes Sadler for eighth. Earnhardt, who took two tires on the last stop, is up to 12th.

    Lap 41: Jarrett is furious at getting wrecked by Sorenson. "He and I will have a little talk one day."

    Lap 39: Kenseth is 26th because he took four tires, while most of the leaders took gas only.


    Lap 39: Green flag.

    Lap 37: The leaders are Riggs, Kahne, Bowyer, Harvick, Mears, Burton, Kyle Busch, Sadler, Johnson and Martin. Earnhardt is 15th, Gordon 16th and Kenseth 26th. Still in the garage in 41st place is Denny Hamlin.

    Lap 36: Field all pits. Again, most cars take fuel only.

    Lap 34: Jarrett heads to garage.


    Caution 3

    Lap 33: Caution No. 3 after Dale Jarrett wrecks in Turn 4, possibly with an assist from Sorenson. Jarrett heads to pits, where he stops in Sorenson's stall and parks his car. Dang, it's a strange night already.

    Lap 32: Hamlin still in garage after completing only 1 lap. Jeff Gordon up to to 21st.

    Lap 30: Riggs passes Raines for lead, Kahne into second. Kahne is reporting water temps of 240 degrees. Bowyer is fouth, Kyle Busch is fifth.

    Lap 27: Riggs and Kahne pass second-place Newman. The Evernham teammates look stout.

    Lap 25: Kahne passes McMurray for fourth.

    Lap 24: Riggs passes McMurray for third.

    Lap 23: Riggs and Kahne pass Labonte for fourth and fifth places.

    Lap 22: Green flag. Raines leads. Most cars took fuel only; Earnhardt took two tires.


    Lap 18: Lead-lap cars out, many including Riggs and Kahne, take fuel only. Sadler hit Dale Jarrett trying to pit and Reed Sorenson damaged his car, too.

    The top 10: Tony Raines, Ryan Newman, McMurray, Terry Labonte (no pit stops), Riggs, Kahne, Bowyer, Harvick, Sadler and Mears.


    Caution 2

    Lap 17: Caution No. 2: Last night's Busch winner, Dave Blaney spins and hits the wall coming out of Turn 4. With the smaller fuel cells being used, expect the leaders to pit next time around. Truex gets Lucky Dog.

    Lap 15: Jeff Gordon, who started 41st, is up to 22nd already.

    Lap 13: Riggs passes teammate Kahne for the lead.

    The teams have had no nighttime practice this weekend, so setups are a bit of a guess.


    Lap 12: Green flag. Kahne leads as the cars spread out single file.

    Lap 11: Green next time by. Hopefully. Several cars pitted during the caution, including Tony Stewart, who had slight body damage from the crash.

    Lap 10: That was unbelievable! The green flag was thrown with jet dryers on the track. Last night's Busch race was horribly officiated and this race is off to an awful start.

    Lap 9: Green flag. Caution flag back out immediately becasue three safety vehicles still on the track, including the jet dryers.

    Lap 8: One lap to go until green. Two teams, Evernham Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, hold six of the top seven spots.

    Lap 6: The chain reaction began when Robby Gordon spun. Denny Hamlin says his car is repairable. "We'll take our lumps and go on," Hamlin says.

    Lap 4: The top five: Kahne, Riggs, Casey Mears, Elliott Sadler and Kevin Harvick. Then it's Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Reed Sorenson and Jimmie Johnson.

    Matt Kenseth is 12th, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 18th and Jeff Gordon 29th.

    Lap 2: Hamlin is in the garage. Also in the crash: Mike Skinner, Jamie McMurray, Mike Bliss and Martin Truex, Jr.


    Caution 1

    Lap 1: BIG CRASH AT THE TRI-OVAL. Denny Hamlin's car heavily damaged. Todd Bodine got loose, Robby Gordon checked up and Hamlin got nailed hard from behind by Mike Bliss. Jeff Gordon got through it, apparently. Holy cow, this is going to be a long night if this keeps up!


    Scott Riggs leads from the pole, but his passed by his teammate, Kasey Kahne.

    Lap 1: Green flag.

    Jeff Gordon hasn't finished better than 30th in his last three LMS races and tonight he starts 41st, the worst of his Cup career.


    Pace laps

    Three of the top four qualifiers are Evernham Motorsports Dodge Chargers.

    Tonight's Bank of America 500 marks the mid-point of the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup. With the top five in points only separated by 51 points, the leaders still can recover if they make a mistake tonight.

    But for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch, tonight has to be perfect. All five are more than 100 points out of the lead and will have their title hopes dashed if they have a bad night here.


    7:12 p.m.: Engines fired.


    Final pre-race thoughts

    With the top 10 in points separated by just 185 points and with tonight's race being the fifth of 10 races in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, every position is important.

    Last week, a whole host of teams fell victim to mistakes and misfortune. If you're a Chase contender, the key tonight is simple: Don't make mistakes. No bad pit stops, no mechanical problems, no brain fade. Race hard, but race clean.

    Have a great night, everyone!

    Sit back and enjoy the race and we'll see where we are after 500 hard miles.


    Another prerace note

    Goodyear brought softer left-side tires for this race, which will give more grip and speed than we had in May at the Coca-Cola 600. The overnight low temperature here is supposed to be 34 degrees and lower temperatures mean the engines will make a few more horsepower and the tires will grip better. All those factors will make the cars faster, which raises the possibility of more wrecks than normal tonight. We'll see.


    Ana from Charlotte, N.C.: Do you think Kasey Kahne will win Bank of America 500? Or will Jimmie Johnson?

    Tom Jensen: Hi, Ana. There's no question that Kasey Kahne has had the faster car of the two this weekend and he broke Johnson's winning streak here in May. I would give the edge to Kahne, but the way the Chase has been going so far and as crazy as last night's Busch race was, nothing would surprise me tonight.


    Gordy from East Point, Ky.: Hello, Tom. Do you hear any rumbles yet from Honda? Given their competitive nature, and their rivalry with Toyota, do you think it's just a matter of time? And won't this really put Ford and/or Dodge in a big bind? Ford & Dodge are already suffering from great corporate miscues, which can only further weaken their already precarious position at the race track. Somewhere along the line, decisions will have to be made about racing commitments, and what are the real benefits of racing to the average consumer? It's my personal opinion that Toyota is where it is (atop the sales and reliability mountains) because of factors other than racing. Quality and attention to detail and bringing out cars that are NEEDED; none of these are race-influenced. Toyota and Honda were making quality vehicles a long time before they came to America. Harley-Davidson found that they couldn't palm off their clunkers after Americans discovered the better Japanese alternatives. If Detroit doesn't wake up, they will find themselves in the same unenviable position. It's inevitable. The fans? Many will curse the Japanese, but it will be Detroit's own fault.

    Tom Jensen: Gordy: That's a great question. Up until very recently, Honda has maintained that it had no interest whatsoever in NASCAR and would never consider it. In March, Honda's U.S. racing boss, Robert Clarke, said to the Dallas Morning News, "I never say never. I've learned that in this business. But we have no immediate or near-term plans to get into NASCAR. We are quite occupied with our activity in the IRL." In addition the IRL, Honda has recently ramped up its road racing and sports car efforts in the U.S., which makes it that much more unlikely that they'll go NASCAR racing soon.That said, within the next 5-10 years, if Toyota's foray into Nextel Cup proves successful, some other foreign-based automaker undoubtedly will go NASCAR racing. You can bet boards of directors from Bavaria to South Korea and Tokyo will be keeping a close eye on what happens with Toyota next year.


    Paul from Fort Worth, Texas: Tom, Kudos for your recent article on Mark Martins move to MB2. While there were multiple reports, your factual, thoughtful and revealing insight was important to us Martin fans. I've been a supporter since 1988 and it is still hard to accept that he not only will not be associated with the 6 car, yet also won't be associated with Roush Racing - and, just as important - Ford. Roush and Ford have lost one of the premier ambassadors in the sport. Two questions. First, do recent reports implying that Roush just didn't realize the magnitude of Marks interest in a more limited schedule mean he now regrets not doing something - possibly with Robert Yates? And, how does the move affect Martins ownership in the 17 car of Matt Kenseth? Keep up the solid work both in race and out.

    Tom Jensen: Paul: Thanks for the question and the comments. I don't want to try and put words in Jack Roush's mouth, so let me explain it this way: Starting several years ago, he knew that Martin was going to step away from being the driver of the No. 6 Cup car at some point and began preparing for that. Martin was going to step away from Cup racing because he thought he wouldn't be competitive anymore. What's changed over the past two seasons is that it's clear Martin has lost none of his talent and ability. He just doesn't want to race 38 weekends a year. He's promised his family he would make time for them and, frankly, the grind of the schedule is immense. I really don't think someone at Roush, either Jack or team President Geoff Smith, really, truly believed that Martin would find another deal with another team that was exactly what he was looking for. Maybe, if they believed Martin would leave, they would have figured out a way to accommodate his wishes. As far as Mark's ownership in the No. 17, I would imagine he'll transfer it back to Roush.


    Karin from Sidney, Ohio: Dan Davis said there was nothing Ford could do about some defections, such as Mark Martin, when owners such as Bobby Ginn are willing to pay an enormous salary for a part-time driver. Martin will contest 20 points races for MB2 Motorsports next year. "It's all about compensation," Davis said. "I'm saying maybe that's happened to one of my friends. Eventually everyone looks at this and says, 'Damn, this is really quite an offer. And you know what? I really have a lot of loyalty and I have a lot of this and I have a lot of friends and I owe my career to somebody and I'm torn on this because of that, but damn. Damn.' And I think we get to that point when you have new manufacturers in the mix. You have new owners in the mix, you have new sponsors in the mix that are willing to upset the norm in terms of compensation." I say good riddance to Jarrett and Martin and their demands, at least Roush and Yates don't get stuck with their "legacy costs".

    Tom Jensen: Karin: I was in the Ford motorcoach at the track yesterday, sitting right across from Dan Davis when he made those comments. And I was in the room at Talladega when Martin made his announcement. This isn't a money thing, despite what Davis said yesterday or how it was interpreted. Do you really think for one minute that Roush Racing, the team with more full-time Cup cars and sponsors than anyone else, couldn't find the money to match the deal? As I said earlier, Martin turned down a lot more money from at least half a dozen other teams that wanted him to drive full-time in '07. This is about flexibility. Besides, Martin gave Jack Roush 19 years of unswerving loyalty and dedication and has been a role model for how to race, how to work with a team and sponsors and how to be a class act. He has been a wonderful ambassador for the sport and owes Roush nothing.


    More track news

    Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage, on hand Saturday at Lowes Motor Speedway, promised a Texas-sized going away party for Terry Labonte next month. Labonte, a two-time Cup champion, will run the last Cup race of his illustrious career next month at TMS. Gossage said the track will host a charity dinner for Labonte Nov. 2, with proceeds benefiting Speedway Childrens Charities. The track also has planned an elaborate and still-secret pre-race tribute to Labonte prior to the running of the Nov. 5 Dickies 500.


    Karin from Sidney, Ohio: Hi Tom, I read Mark Martin still wants to drive Roush's Truck next year. I hope Ford tells him to take a hike. Jarrett and Martin bailing for "opportunities" -- otherwise known as the fat payday -- doesn't sit well with a lot of fans. The TV ratings and attendance will continue to fall as fans are turned off by GREED. BTW, NASCAR needs to spend some of its moldy millions on a new scoring system. The last two races (Dega and Busch at Charlotte) were a joke.

    Tom Jensen: Karin: Thanks for the question. I can tell you categorically after personally talking with many of the parties involved in the Martin situation Martin himself, Roush President Geoff Smith and Ford Racing head Dan Davis that money had absolutely minimal impact, if any, in Martin's decision to move to MB2 Motorsports. If money was the main motivator, Martin could have accepted half a dozen other and more lucrative offers he had from other teams who wanted him to race full-time in Cup in '07. Instead, Martin wanted two things: The opportunity to keeping racing in Cup, and the latitude to set his own schedule. MB2 offered him those things, Roush did not. Period. Now you can argue about whether the reason Roush didn't make the same offer was NASCAR's cap on team size or Roush's inflexibility, but the bottom line is still the bottom line: MB2 gave Martin what Roush wouldn't or couldn't.


    Gary from Afton, Va.: I unfortunately could not see the whole race at 'Dega. Instead, I watched some of the highlights of racing programs. I have to wonder about the reaction of some the fans. Is it possible that freezing the field and not allowing a possible Kahne-Vickers race back to the checker was more of a disappointment than the Jr. and Johnson crash? I know NASCAR's finish rule, but you have to wonder.

    Tom Jensen: Gary: Welcome. My guess is that the vast majority of the fans were angry that Junior got wrecked, not that they were deprived of the last half a lap of racing.


    More prerace notes

    Lots of news this weekend, as there always is when the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series heads to Lowes Motor Speedway.

    Robby Gordon made it official on Saturday at Lowe's Motor Speedway, when he formally announced his intention to switch from Chevrolet to Ford for 2007. Robby Gordon Motorsports will continue to be a single-car team at the start of next year, but hopes to add a second Nextel Cup car no later than the start of the 2008 season. Gordons team began work Monday on a new 125,000-square-foot shop in Charlotte. That facility should be ready by next spring, Gordon said, adding that along with his Cup program he will do some NASCAR Busch Series racing next year.

    Look for another all-new Ford team next year, possibly a joint effort between Roush and Yates. Although rumored to be on the move, I've been told that Roush will continue to campaign five Cup cars through 2010 and Greg Biffle will be back in the No. 16 Roush Racing Ford next year. Robert Yates Racing is still trying to firm up a deal for the No. 88 next season.

    Dan Davis, head of Ford Racing in North America, said a decision has not yet been made about whether Ford will let Mark Martin compete in a Roush Ford F-150 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Martin, of course, last week signed a deal to drive an MB2 Motorsports Chevrolet in 22 Nextel Cup races next season.

    MB2 Motorsports also signed motocross star Ricky Carmichael, who next year will run a mix of Late Model, ARCA and NCTS races as hes groomed slowly for the Nextel Cup Series in 2008 or 09.

    Other driver news: David Reutimann will be the third and final Cup driver for Michael Waltrip Racing next season and David Ragan will replace Mark Martin in the No. 6 Roush Cup car next year.

    Toyota racing boss Lee White is here this weekend. In a wide-ranging press interview yesterday, he said Toyota isn't spending more money than Chevrolet, Dodge or Ford.

    It looks like theres a good chance Jacques Villeneuve will do a handful of NASCAR Busch Series races presumably including road races in Montreal, Mexico and Watkins Glen in a Roush Ford.

    The best news of the weekend: Benny Parsons has gotten a clean bill of health as a mix of radiation and chemotherapy has destroyed the cancerous tumor in his lung.

    Ryan Newman will go to the back of the field at the start of todays Bank of America 500, after he crashed his primary Penske Racing South Dodge in practice.

    Kevin Harvick clinched the NASCAR Busch Series title last night, a truly impressive feat, given that its only mid-October. He will try to become the first driver ever to win the Busch and Cup titles in the same season.

    The weather right now is clear and cool, with a temperature of 64 degrees. It's supposed to get down in the mid-30's tonight. Brrr .

    When Kasey Kahne came into the Lowe's Motor Speedway Infield Media Center for a pre-practice interview session Thursday, he brought a friend with him, 6-year-old Madison Odell of Hudson Valley, N.Y., a guest of the Make a Wish Foundation and a cystic fibrosis patient. It was a class act by one of NASCAR's rising stars.

    This week marks the 100th birthday of Katherine Kitty Allison, matriarch of the NASCAR Allison family. Katherine met her late husband Edmond Pop Allison at a dance. They were married in Miami in 1927 and went on to have 13 children. Among the children were Bobby Allison, the fifth in line, and Donnie Allison, the sixth in line. Older brother Eddie served as Bobbys mechanic throughout much of his career.

    Juan-Pablo Montoya will take part in next week's final NASCAR Nextel Cup Series test of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.


    Michael from Lewisburg, W.V.: Hi Tom, Was there a full moon this week over the fruit plants? First, we have California "Whining" from Jeff Gordon (again) about Jr. (again) bumping too hard. Then what sounds like sour grapes from the Peach State. Reading the excerpt from Bill Elliott's book, it seems like he never got over Earnhardt Sr.'s slick as glass on the grass pass and seven championships. I don't believe NASCAR took Adam's, Tony's or Kenny's death less seriously than Earnhardt's. They have always appeared slow in decision making. Earnhardt's death just made them realize they couldn't always be so methodical anymore. Not after losing four of own in such a short time. Maybe Bill can get to seven something with his book sales.

    Tom Jensen: Michael: Welcome to Instant Analysis on FOX. The subject of safety and NASCAR is an emotional and complicated one. Having said that, I would respectfully disagree with your take here. It wasn't until after Earnhardt died that NASCAR mandated the HANS device, SAFER barriers and other important safety measures, culminating with the Car of Tomorrow. In 2000, the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper were all viewed as freak accidents and isolated incidents. But Earnhardt was widely perceived as invincible, and when he was killed, suddenly safety became an absolute top priority.


    Jan from Antwerp, Ohio: Tom, It has become increasingly clear that there are quite a few tracks in this country -- as well as in Mexico and Canada -- that would love to host a Nascar race (or an additional one) but cannot due to number constraints of the series. With this in mind, would it make sense to split the cup series into a East vs. West series with a few races slated for both series to compete (Daytona, Indy, Charlotte, Talladega, Texas, Michigan, California, Pocono and Bristol each having one race)? By doing this, NASCAR could add quite a few additional races to their schedule and "grow" their fan base even more. And this would rival some of the other major league sports in additional exposure and participants.

    Tom Jensen: Jan: Thanks for joining us. There's some merit to your idea, but it isn't going to happen. NASCAR believes that putting half its drivers in one series and half in the other would dilute the value for the fans. For example, do you think Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans would support races where he wasn't entered in the field? Do you think NASCAR could get billions in TV rights without Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne in half the race? Your idea has been floated many times, and that's always the answer.


    Don from Columbus, Ind.: What do you think are the most important factors in winning, not only a race, but a Cup championship? Is it driver, car, race team, setups, adaptability, etc.? I realize they are all important, but what are the most important things a winning team can do?

    Tom Jensen: Don: That's a great question. Competition is insanely close these days. During qualifying for tonight's race, the gap between the pole-winner, Scott Riggs and the 39th-fastest qualifiier was less than one second over a 1 1/2-mile lap. Everyone is really close. Obviously, you have to have a big, well-funded team. Ten of the last 11 Cup titles have been won by Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs, teams deep in talent and resources. Communication among the driver, crew chief and team is vitally important. But also, in the Chase format, luck plays a much bigger role than it did in the old format. Just look at all the freak things that happened at Talladega last week.


    PRERACE NOTES

    Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway is race No. 31 on the NASCAR Nextel Cup 2006 schedule and race No. 5 of 10 in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

    Heading into the race, heres how the points stand:

    1. Jeff Burton
    2. Matt Kenseth (-6)
    3. Mark Martin (-10)
    4. Kevin Harvick (-33)
    5. Denny Hamlin (-51)
    6. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-106)
    7. Jeff Gordon (-147)
    8. Jimmie Johnson (-156)
    9. Kasey Kahne (-185)
    10. Kyle Busch (-185)

    Scott Riggs starts on the pole Saturday night, with Evernham Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne (2nd) and Elliott Sadler (4th) flanking Casey Mears (3rd). The top four qualifiers all drive Dodge Chargers. Kurt Busch qualified 3rd, but his time was disallowed due to a rear shock absorber that failed inspection. He'll start the race 42nd.

    Team Red Bull attempted to make its first Cup start with Bill Elliott behind the wheel, but Elliott missed the show by .009 seconds.

    Here's where the Chasers qualified: Burton (6th), Kenseth (11th), Martin (7th), Harvick (5th), Hamlin (22nd), Earnhardt (16th), Gordon (41st), Johnson (10th), Kahne (2nd), Busch (18th).

    Chase Drivers at Lowe's Motor Speedway (Ranked by Average Finish)
    Rank Driver Start Avg. finish Laps led
    1. Jimmie Johnson 10 6.200 884
    2. Denny Hamlin 2 8.500 26
    3. Matt Kenseth 14 14.857 168
    4. Jeff Burton 25 15.800 369
    5. Mark Martin 43 15.883 1,168
    6. Jeff Gordon 27 16.222 458
    7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 14 18.357 98
    8. Kasey Kahne 5 18.800 416
    9. Kevin Harvick 11 20.363 2
    10. Kyle Busch 5 33.600 62

    Fireball Roberts won the pole for the first Cup race at Charlotte, the World 600 in 1960.

    Joe Lee Johnson won the first Cup race at Charlotte, the World 600 in 1960.

    The 1961 World 600 had two 100-mile qualifying races that were points races.

    The first six fall races at Charlotte were 400-mile events (1960-65).

    The first night race was the 1992 The Winston. The first night (twilight) points race was the 1993 Coca-Cola 600.

    Charlotte Motor Speedway was renamed Lowe's Motor Speedway in 1999.

    The 2003 UAW-GM Quality was the first race at LMS run completely at night.

    There have been 10 different race winners in the last 14 Cup races at LMS. Jimmie Johnson (five - May 2003, both races 2004 and 2005) is the only repeat race winner since the fall of 1999.

    A Chevrolet has won six of the last seven races here. Kasey Kahne ended a six-race winning streak by Chevrolet when he won the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

    Jeff Gordon has won seven Bud Poles in his 27 Cup races at Charlotte, second only to David Pearson, who had 14 poles in 46 Charlotte races. Ryan Newman (third) has won five Bud Poles in 12 attempts here.

    Jimmie Johnson (884) has led more than twice as many laps as Tony Stewart (430), who is second in laps led there in the past 10 races at LMS.

    Dale Earnhardt (1986) was the most recent driver to win both Charlotte races in the same year prior to Johnson. Richard Petty (1975), David Pearson (1974), Bobby Allison (1971) and Fred Lorenzen (1965) are the others to win both Charlotte races in the same year.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr., is expected to make his 250th Cup start Saturday.

    Joe Nemechek is expected to make his 425th Cup start Saturday.

    Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman are each expected to make their 175th consecutive Cup start Saturday.

    The last six races at LMS have been won from a top-10 starting position. Eighty percent of the races here have been won from a top-10 starting position.

    Rick Hendrick leads all car owners scoring 13 victories at LMS. Those have come from five different drivers: Jimmie Johnson (five), Jeff Gordon (four), Darrell Waltrip (two), Ken Schrader (one) and Terry Labonte (one).

    Mark Martin has led 1,168 laps at LMS, the most by any active driver, and ranks eighth all-time in laps led there. Bobby Allison led 2,249 laps in 44 races at Lowe's, the most of all drivers. Richard Petty ranks second in laps led at Lowe's with 1,703.


    Judy from Logansport, Ind.: I have been wondering why they call Lowe's Motor Speedway the house that Jimmie Johnson built? I know he has won several races there, but that track has been there since before he was born. If they insist on calling LMS the house that Jimmie built, then they should call Daytona and Talladega the houses that Dale Earnhardt built.

    Tom Jensen: Judy: Hey, there! Why is LMS the house that Jimmie Johnson built? In his last nine points races here, he has five victories, and finishes of second, third, sixth and seventh. He also has won the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge twice. There's also the fact that the track and his car have the same sponsor and that his team is based a couple of miles from the track. His accomplishments here, which are spectacular, don't in any way detract from what Earnhardt did at Talladega or Daytona.


    Chris from Latham, N.Y: With Terry Labonte retiring after the Dickies 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway, do you think that Rick Hendrick will field another race car -- probably on a limited schedule in 2007 -- besides No. 48 Jimmie Johnson, No. 24 Jeff Gordon, No. 5 Kyle Busch and No. 25 Casey Mears? If so, who do you think will drive the extra Hendrick Motorsports race car since Terry Labonte is retired?

    Tom Jensen: Chris: Thanks for the question. I think NASCAR's team cap of four Cup cars per team pretty well precludes Hendrick from running a fifth car in the future, even on a limited basis. The only reason Roush has five is that his are grandfathered in. As soon as he loses a sponsor and a driver, he'll have to cut down to four cars.


    Gary from Simi Valley, Calif.: Whatever happened to the escape hatch? I thought NASCAR was going to mandate that all teams install one in their cars. I don't think I've seen one since Michael stuck his head out of one a couple of years ago.

    Tom Jensen: Gary: Great question. According to NASCAR, the roof escape hatch is "recommended," but not required by the rules. I guarantee you, if teams thought it would enhance performance, it would be on every car.


    Jenny from Kansas City, Kan.: How does NASCAR determine the actual time that the caution comes out? The Talladega finish order for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson last week just didn't seem accurate.

    Tom Jensen: Jenny: Welcome to FOX. NASCAR uses a sophisticated system of data sensors placed around the track, as well as videotape to double-check when a caution comes out. At the split-second the caution comes out, the field is frozen.


    Frank from Vail, Ariz.: After last Sunday's race, what about this scenario? Hendrick Motorsports relieves Brian Vickers of his driving duties in the No. 25 and moves Casey Mears in that seat for the rest of the season which frees up the No. 42 for Juan. What a perfect solution for the whole situation!

    Tom Jensen: Frank: Welcome to FOX. You pose an interesting scenario, but frankly, I'd be surprised if it happens. First off, it would be a public-relations disaster and a distraction for Hendrick Motorsports, which is the last thing they need when running for a championship. Also, Chip Ganassi wants to get some seat team for Juan-Pablo Montoya in Busch and ARCA before he tackles the Nextel Cup Series, which is a wise move.


    Brian from Greenville, N.C.: Brian Vickers should be applauded for having the guts to make a move to win the race. Whether this is his first or his 107th event, racing is about winning and not being one of 42 losers. Jeff Gordon "spun" Kenseth in Chicago, but in his eyes he did the right thing, or at least "all he could". All I hear coming from Hendrick is whining and complaining because "he is racing too hard". Well the last time I checked, Tony Stewart won a championship racing hard and Dale Sr. never asked a competitor to back off so he could win the Cup.

    Tom Jensen: Brian: Thanks for checking in. I don't think anyone at Hendrick has a problem with Brian Vickers winning a race; what they have a problem with is that he wrecked his teammate doing it and his teammate was racing for a championship, while Vickers isn't. Johnson lost 79 points on the last lap because Vickers wrecked him. While I don't blame Vickers for driving hard, I can't fault Johnson for being mad at him, either. Those 79 points could end up being the difference in who wins the championship this season. Vickers' move literally could cause Johnson to lose the championship and all the money and accolades that go with it. Do you honestly think he wouldn't or shouldn't be mad about that? And what about Rick Hendrick? If Johnson finished second to say, Mark Martin or Matt Kenseth, Hendrick will have a right to be upset.


    M.C. from Raleigh, N.C.: Tom, certainly you'll have something to say about Brian Vickers' driving after all you had to say about Jr.'s driving in the incident that took Carl Edwards out! On another note, would it have killed Vickers to have acknowledged that he took Jr. out of the race Sunday? Instead he made it sound like it was partially Jr's fault and never apologized. I think the incident was a racing incident, and I don't think Vickers wrecked anyone intentionally. But both he and Johnson seem to overlook the fact that Jr. was a victim too. You have to give Jr. credit for the way he handled the situation.

    Tom Jensen: M.C.: Hello and thanks for the question. There's no question that Vickers initiated the contact that crashed out both Earnhardt and Johnson. But by letting Earnhardt's Busch win stand when he wrecked Edwards on the last lap earlier this year, NASCAR certainly had to let this one stand. I do not think the contact here was intentional because the odds of Vickers doing what he did — taking out both cars in front of him with a single shot — are pretty slim. It was a freak racing deal, period. To your other point, Junior was incredibly classy about what happened.

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