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Virtual Pit Reporter: News on 25 Cup teams

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1) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Gordon has opened a 231-point gap in the point standings with three wins in the last four races and nine top-fives in 11 races this season, ensuring the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion the points lead until June. No points will be awarded in Saturday's All-Star Challenge. "We're using a brand new chassis this weekend, and we're hoping to try some new things with it," said crew chief Steve Letarte. "Don't get me wrong, we're going to do everything we can do to win the Challenge, but we're also hoping to learn so that we can apply it to the 600 the following weekend. Our mile-and-half program is good, but I also think you constantly need to try new ideas to keep up with -- and hopefully move ahead of -- the competition." In a season in which Gordon has tied and surpassed Dale Earnhardt's career win total, he has an opportunity this weekend to break a record he holds with "The Intimidator" -- most wins in this prestigious event. Earnhardt won it in 1987, 1990 and 1993, and Gordon's victories came in 1995, 1997 and 2001 -- coincidentally, all championship seasons for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. "In 1995, we won every segment, but it still was crazy during the final one," Gordon said. "I remember Darrell Waltrip restarted on the outside of me and Dale was right behind me. Dale made a great move and took us three-wide down the back straightaway. I lifted heading into the corner because I didn't think there was any way all three of us were going to make it through the corner. "Sure enough, those two got together and crashed, and I was able to take the win. I'm sure it'll be crazy again this Saturday night during the last segment, but 20 laps is a lot of laps. And so much can happen in 20 laps at Lowe's Motor Speedway."
  • Last week: Gordon's hot streak continued as he won at Darlington in a race pushed back one day because of rain. It was Gordon's seventh career Cup victory there. "That's the way to win races," Gordon said. "This is an awesome race team, the guys in the DuPont Chevrolet Impala. The guys to thank (are in) the Hendrick engine shop."
  • Etc.: The 24 car will carry the familiar the "fire and flames" design Saturday but with the primary colors reversed. DuPont Performance Alliance will also be showcased on the Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS.

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    2) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson has been dominant at Lowe's Motor Speedway, owning All-Star Race victories in 2003 and 2006 plus five victories in points races, including eight consecutive finishes in the top three. He has led a quarter of the laps he has raced at LMS. Johnson has a simple answer when asked what's special about the All-Star Race. "I don't know, maybe the million bucks on the line," Johnson said. "We all enter it and say it's not a points race and I certainly think that makes everybody a little bit more aggressive, but when the purse is that large you also take on the mindset of a points race because you want to win. I think it gets really intense. It's a place where we can try new setups and I think sometimes cars aren't driving like they typically would, so guys more are on the ragged edge in some areas. It's just the combination of everything."
  • Last week: Johnson finished third at Darlington.
  • Etc.: Johnson's No. 48 Monte Carlo will carry a "Power of Pride" paint scheme both weekends. Johnson will have a special interest in Saturday night's pre-race show. His crew chief, Chad Knaus, will race a Lowe's-painted Thunder Roadster on the LMS quarter-mile track in the Kobalt Tools Crew Chief race.

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    3) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has competed in every All-Star race, starting with his sophomore season in the Cup Series in 2001. He has scored four career victories at Lowe's Motor Speedway: 2000 Coca-Cola 600, 2004 All-Star Race and two Busch Series wins. Kenseth won $1,044,000 in prize money by winning the 2004 All-Star race, which remains the largest single-race purse Kenseth has won in his career. "I think it's like any other sport -- the All-Star race is cool if you get to be a part of it because not everybody gets to do it," Kenseth said. "To be a part of that group is always cool, and to do it at Charlotte is a lot of fun. It pays a lot of money and it's a short race with no points, so it's always fun. To me, the most fun thing is it involves the crew so much. They have the pit crew competition during the week and then they do a pit stop for qualifying, so they have a lot to do with the qualifying position, and they have some green-flag pit stops in the race. So it really focuses on the team a lot and I really like that. The year we won was pretty cool. It was a fun race. Ryan (Newman) stayed out on tires. We were running side by side and I had to pass him for the win right at the end, and that was a really exciting race for us."
  • Last week: Kenseth drove his Ford Fusion to a seventh-place finish at Darlington Raceway.
  • Etc.: Chassis number RK-323, which Kenseth will drive in Saturday night's event, was the workhorse for the No. 17 team in 2006, racing in 10 events and scoring two wins, five top-fives and seven top-10s. After finishing sixth at Homestead in November, it went in for a makeover and will make its 2007 debut Saturday night. "I think the All-Star event means a lot to everybody on the team because we're in it," said crew chief Robbie Reiser. "It separates the elite, and I think that makes everybody feel special, and it allows us a chance to go run against the best, and that's what everybody wants to do. With the way the All-Star Challenge is set up, it allows the guys that work on the car every week to get to step out on stage and see what the fans all think of them, and it gives them an opportunity to be a part of it in the qualifying event where you go three laps (and) we do a pit stop, which gives us an opportunity to shine. A couple of years ago we sat on the pole, and it was all off our pit stop, which made the guys all feel real great, and the same way with the race. The way the race is structured, I think two of the stops this year will be pitting on the fly. So it gives the guys on pit road a real opportunity to be a part of this race and make a difference."

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    4) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: This will be Hamlin's second appearance at NASCAR's All-Star Weekend. In the 2006 Nextel Open, Hamlin started second on the grid and led one lap before finishing fourth and missing a spot in the All-Star Challenge. Hamlin will be running in his first All-Star Challenge by way of his two 2006 Cup wins at Pocono Raceway. "This is going to be fun," he said. "It's my first time running in the All-Star Challenge, and I'm looking forward to racing the top drivers in the series in a shootout-style race where we race all-out for the $1 million prize. I watched this race and I know how gets out there under the lights with nothing to race for but the win, so it should be a good show for both the fans and the drivers. Our goal for the remainder of the season will be to make sure we are running the No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet in this race next year without having to qualify in the Open."
  • Last week: Hamlin led a race-high 179 laps at Darlington before a setback in the pits late in the race forced him to settle for second place behind Jeff Gordon. The team again had the car to beat and had another strong showing in the fifth COT race of the season. Hamlin has finished in the top five in four of the five COT races this season.
  • Etc.: Hamlin will continue FedEx's 2007 "Wear Your Heart on Your Helmet" campaign in Charlotte this weekend by wearing the second of 11 helmets designed by children's hospital patients and Make-A-Wish recipients. Hamlin will be wearing a special FedEx helmet designed by 10-year-old acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) patient Tristan K. from Havlock, N.C., who is having his wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation during the Nextel All-Star Challenge. In addition, several Make-A-Wish kids will have the opportunity to meet and have their picture taken with Hamlin before the race.

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    5) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton has competed in nine all-star events, but those were back in the day when it was called The Winston. This will be his first time in the Nextel All-Star Challenge. His best finish in The Winston was fourth in 1998. He also finished fifth in 2000 and sixth in 1994. He won The Winston Open in 2003. "I distinctly remember the first time I competed in it," Burton recalled. "I stood on the front straightaway (in 1994) during driver introductions. It was a dark night so you couldn't see the crowd, but you could hear them and feel them. I remember thinking, 'This is what excitement is all about and what a pre-race event ought to be.' I will never forget that feeling. It's a huge deal. One of the things that has bothered me the most with not having as much success in the past few years is knowing that you are not in that race. The All-Star race is a big deal because it's where the best of the best compete against each other and the winner comes out a million dollars richer. When there is an All-Star event and you're not in it, it's not a good feeling. When I ran late models, we used to have 75-lap races and I did not perform at my best. I was at my best when we ran 150- or 200-lap races. (But) my pace at 39 years old is a lot faster than what it was when I was at 29 years old. I can qualify a lot better and take off running faster now. I don't know why that is. I would prefer it to be a 50-lap run instead of a 20-lap run because that would benefit me. It's an All-Star race; it ought to be a shootout, and I have to find a way to make that work." Burton became eligible to compete in this year's NASCAR All-Star Challenge when he won the Dover race last fall.
  • Last week: Burton finished 10th at Darlington.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Scott Miller will join fellow NASCAR crew chiefs when they trade in their wrenches for driving suits during the inaugural KOBALT Tools crew chief race on Saturday. Utilizing Thunder Roadsters manufactured by 600 Racing and decaled to replicate the paint scheme of the Cup Series cars they oversee, the crew chiefs will compete in a 30-minute racing program that will include two qualifying heats and a feature race. All the action will take place on Lowe's Motor Speedway's quarter-mile oval, located on the frontstretch of the 1.5-mile track. The event will be the featured pre-race entertainment for the NASCAR All-Star Challenge.

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    6) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: For Stewart, the All-Star Challenge represents the perfect test session. But unlike most test sessions, which are lonely and monotonous, there's actual competition in the All-Star Challenge. And the incentive of a nice trophy augmented by an equally nice paycheck is not overlooked. "It sounds great," Stewart said of the $1 million payout to the winner. "There are a lot of things I can do with a million dollars, and the fact that I own a race track (Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio), a lot of bills I could pay off, too." Stewart's best finish in this race was second in 1999 after he won the preliminary race that year. He finished third in both 2001 and 2004.
  • Last week: Stewart is coming off a sixth-place finish at Darlington.
  • Etc.: This year's All-Star Challenge format has been broken up into four 20-lap segments, with no inversions following any of the segments. Last year, there were three segments at 40, 30 and 20 laps, respectively, with the field being inverted after the first two segments. "You still go out and try to win each segment," Stewart said. "Obviously, the last one is the one that pays the big money. But if you can win any of those segments, it pays a little bit. If you can get up front in the first one, you've got a better shot at staying up front for the last three."

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    7) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Busch is racing a special gold color scheme car in the All-Star Challenge. "We're bringing back the gold color scheme that we did so well with at Daytona in February, and we're in a position where we can lay it all on the line for the All-Star race on Saturday night," Busch said. "It's a great game plan and we're super excited. A month or so ago, we were planning for the upcoming races and we originally looked at attempting to race the same car at Charlotte (Lowe's Motor Speedway) for both races. That plan changed when we got over there testing last week (May 7-8), and we decided to race two different cars. All the fans, the sponsors and even the media were so impressed with the gold color scheme we used during the 'Shootout' at Daytona back in February that we couldn't resist bringing it back out for the All-Star race this weekend."
  • Last week: Busch climbed to seventh in the point standings by finishing 12th at Darlington.
  • Etc.: Interim crew chief Troy Raker labeled his team's car for the All-Star race as "expendable." "We tested there (LMS) for the two days last week and determined that we'll use our (PSC-0) 73 car this weekend and save the (PSC-0) 78 car for the (Coca-Cola) 600," Raker said. "We sorted it all out and will save our fastest car for the 600. Since the All-Star race is always an anything-goes, take-no-prisoners shootout, our strategy this time around is to have an expendable car for that race. It's hard these days to try to rely on using the same car for both weekends. It's a secure feeling knowing that you're saving your best stuff for the big points-paying race."

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    8) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: In six All-Star Challenge races, Harvick has earned one top-five and three top-10 finishes. He has earned a seventh-place starting average and a 13th-place finishing average. "I think these races are very important," said Harvick, this year's Daytona 500 winner. "It's our All-Star event. You have to win a race throughout the year to get in, and it's the best of the best competing against each other. That makes it a lot of fun for us and the fans. We tested there a couple weeks ago, and I really feel we're ready to finally win one of these. If we win the race, we'll take all the money and split it up between the guys because they are really part of the reason why you win. They've worked just as hard for this race, if not harder, than they have at any other race. It means a lot to them, too."
  • Last week: Harvick is coming off a 17th-place finish at Darlington.
  • Etc.: Harvick will drive Chassis No. 179 from the Richard Childress Racing (RCR) fleet. Built new for the 2006 season, this is the same car Harvick drove to a third-place finish last November at Texas. He also drove it to a fifth-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 2007 Daytona 500 winner will transform his bright yellow-and-red Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet into a shining platinum colored paint scheme in recognition of his sponsorship from Pennzoil Platinum Full motor oil.

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    9) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer will compete in his second Nextel Open this weekend. He started 19th and finished 13th in his first appearance in the preliminary race last year. "It's no different than running a consolation race at a dirt track," Bowyer said. "It just gives you that much more time on the race track. You might be able to make that one little extra adjustment that can either make or break you in the feature. Basically, it amounts to extra seat time and extra practice as long as you can keep the fenders on it. A million bucks to win -- that's a lot of money! There are no friends in that race. Hopefully I can win the Nextel Open or finish second at the very least so I can transfer into the big race. That's a little more money than you can make on an average Friday or Saturday night. I think the most I ever raced for on dirt was $10,000. I can buy some cool toys and have a lot of fun with a million bucks."
  • Last week: Bowyer drove to a ninth-place finish at Darlington.
  • Etc.: RCR boasts three wins in the All-Star Challenge, all of them by Dale Earnhardt (1987, '90, '93).

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    10) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: This is the first year Edwards has not qualified for the All-Star race. In his two previous starts, he finished 15th in 2005 and fourth last year. "The All-Star race is such an awesome experience and I'm really going to do everything in my power to have this chance again," Edwards said. "One of our goals this year was to win a race in the Office Depot Fusion, but unfortunately we haven't done that just yet. Now my goal is to either race my way in or be voted in by the fans."
  • Last week: Edwards finished fifth at Darlington.
  • Etc.: Edwards team will bring chassis RK-270 for the Nextel Open, a car he previously drove at Atlanta and California this year. "We thought that we would have won a race and earned our way into the All-Star event," said crew chief Bob Osborne, "but, unfortunately, that is not the case. So we are going to do our best to get the Office Depot Ford in the race by winning the Nextel Open. I know this race is very important to Carl."

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    11) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch, who has only one top-10 and an average finish of 29.0 in five races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, calls the Nextel All-Star Challenge "a free-for-all. Everyone goes out there and drives like there's no tomorrow. There's no points and we usually don't take our '600' car, so if we wreck going for broke, then we wreck. When there's a million dollars on the line, no one really wants to finish second."
  • Last week: With less than 60 laps remaining at Darlington, Busch seemed headed for a top-10 finish. But on lap 304, rookie A.J. Allmendinger cut a tire and bounced hard off the backstretch wall. Busch was unable to slow in time to keep from running into the back of Allmendinger. The damage to Busch's car was severe enough that Busch limped home in 37th place to drop from sixth to 11th in the standings.
  • Etc.: Busch, who will be seeking his third straight win in the Craftsman Truck Series race Friday night, is scheduled to appear on "Live with Regis and Kelly" when the popular morning talk show is broadcast from the French Quarter in New Orleans on Tuesday.

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    12) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: McMurray has been in two of the All-Star races, but this year he will need to finish first or second in the Nextel Open if he wants another shot at the million dollars that goes to the winner of the All-Star Challenge. "We are taking the same car that we ran at Fontana, which was a really good car until we wrecked only seven laps into the race," said McMurray. "We should be able to race our way into the All-Star race."
  • Last week: It was an up-and-down day for McMurray as he finished 16th at Darlington. "I thought we were like an eighth to a 10th-place car, and we just kind of ran there for like 100-150 laps," said McMurray. "I pitted and then went back out and it was just unbelievable -- tight. I hit the wall a couple of times. I might have knocked something out of whack."
  • Etc.: McMurray's left arm, right leg and bottom went numb during the Darlington race. "To have your right leg and your left arm fall asleep, that's a job at Darlington," said McMurray. "I don't know if I've got a nerve pinched or what. I'm gonna get it looked at."

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    13) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Newman is the only driver to win the qualifying race and then go on to capture the All-Star event. He accomplished this feat in 2002, his rookie season. Newman has three top-five finishes in his five starts in the special event. He will be driving a car that has never been raced, but he did test it last week at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
  • Last week: Newman finished fourth at Darlington for his third straight top-10 finish, a run of success that has vaulted him from 26th to 14th in the standings. "The Alltel Dodge was really good today," said Newman. "This gives us something to build on. It's just a matter of time (before he wins a race), in my opinion."
  • Etc.: Newman said the All-Star week "is fun for all the teams involved." He said he especially likes the fact "you don't have to worry about points and you can just go out and have fun."

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    14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Earnhardt won the All-Star race in his rookie (2000) season. He has finished in the top 10 in six of his seven all-star events. "It's something I look forward to every year," said Earnhardt. "It's old school. A short, frantic race where nobody is holding back, nobody is just out there riding around. You need to haul butt and do it for the full race. Our test at Charlotte (last week) was really a good one, very productive."
  • Last week: In his first race since announcing his decision to leave DEI at the end of the year, Earnhardt was pleased with his eighth-place finish at Darlington. "I had fun and I want to really thank my guys," said Earnhardt. "They gave me a great car today -- especially early on. I want to drive as hard as I can to repay them for their support and loyalty."
  • Etc.: NASCAR suspended Earnhardt's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., for six races, fined the team $100,000 and took 100 driver and car owner points away from the team and Earnhardt for improperly mounting the rear wing. The infraction was discovered Saturday at Darlington. DEI said it will appeal.

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    15) Mark Martin, No. 01 Chevrolet, Ginn Racing
  • This week: Martin has won two of the All-Star races. "The Nextel All-Star is one of the coolest races of the year," said Martin. "The win in '98 was a huge surprise because we were running in second and Jeff (Gordon) ran out of gas. The win a couple of years ago (2005) was really awesome and one of the highlights of my career. We didn't have the best car that night but just really let it all hang out and went for it."
  • Last week: Martin finished 14th at Darlington. "This was a really tough race," said Martin. "We fought the COT all weekend. We kept working on the car and the over-the-wall guys had some great pit stops under pressure." Despite missing three races, Martin stands 15th in the standings, only 101 points out of the top 12.
  • Etc.: Martin, who will drive for the Wood Brothers in the Craftsman Truck Series race this weekend, has decided to add three races to his 2007 schedule. He will now run the second Pocono race in August as well the second Richmond and Dover races in September. This will bring the total number of races for Martin to 26, including the two non-points races.

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    16) Greg Biffle, No. 21 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: In his three appearances in the All-Star race, Biffle's best finish is 13th. He hopes the change in format this year will mean a change in his luck in the event. This year the race will be divided into four 20-lap segments. "I think it is kind of fun doing something different," said Biffle. "I like doing something different. It's challenging for us."
  • Last week: Biffle was seeking his third straight win at Darlington. But he battled an ill-handling race car all afternoon as he finished 15th. "The car just didn't drive like I anticipated it to drive," said Biffle. "It was just on top of the track and never really got any grip. I just kind of held on all day."
  • Etc.: Even though Biffle is signed through 2008, he and car owner Jack Roush are already talking about extending Biffle's contract. "We've got a couple of sponsors on the table that want to come over and be on our race car, and there are other teams that have shown interest in me coming and driving their car," said Biffle. "But I'm pretty sure I'm staying at Roush. The negotiations are going well."

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    17) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler, who finished second in the 2005 All-Star race, hopes to have another shot at winning the prestigious event this weekend. But to do that, he will need to finish in the top two spots in the Nextel Open. "We haven't run as well on the mile-and-a-half tracks this year as we expected, so this will be a key weekend for us to see how much we have improved in that area," said Sadler. "A win in the Open would be good for everyone at Evernham."
  • Last week: Sadler finished 21st Darlington. "We all really worked hard today to try to figure out how to improve this Dodge Avenger during the race," said Sadler, who has struggled in the COT races. "We made some changes and got better and finally got close to the top 20. That's not what we wanted here today, but we're going to keep working (on the COT) and trying to work our way into the Chase for the Championship."
  • Etc.: Evernham Motorsports will hold its sixth annual Fan Appreciation Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at its headquarters in Statesville, N.C. Sadler, Kasey Kahne and Boris Said will sign autographs at 9 a.m. Car owner Ray Evernham and Scott Riggs will follow in the next autograph session at 11 a.m.

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    18) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex will need to finish first or second in the Nextel Open or win the fans' vote and earn a spot in the All-Star Challenge on Saturday night. Truex said he probably will be doing some campaigning this week just in case he doesn't finish in the top two in the Open. "I'm gonna have to do like Kenny Wallace and start really campaigning hard," Truex said, smiling.
  • Last week: Truex rallied from falling a lap down because of an ill-timed caution flag to finish 11th at Darlington. The top-15 finish enabled Truex to climb two spots in the standings to 18th. "That was a long day," said Truex. "It is so hard to pass around this place, especially with the COT. We actually got stronger on the long runs."
  • Etc.: Truex said even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leaving the organization at the end of the season, "we're still going to be friends, we'll still hang out." Truex said the "hardest part" of Earnhardt leaving the company is "I will miss his experience, being able to go to him anytime I want and get true information from him (as his teammate)."

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    19) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte has seven top-10 finishes in 12 starts in the All-Star race, including runner-up finishes in 1997 and 1998. Labonte has won the pole twice for the event. Labonte said the race is one "you just have fun with. ... You can learn some things for the next week (the Coca-Cola 600)."
  • Last week: Labonte overcame a problem on pit road to finish 19th at Darlington. During a routine pit stop early in the race, the car stalled on pit road to drop Labonte a lap down. But he was able to recover, get back on the lead lap and challenge for a spot in the top 10 until getting squeezed into the wall late in the race. "After that, I was just trying to nurse it home because the car was a handful," he said. "I believe we could have finished in the top 10."
  • Etc.: Car owner Richard Petty spent Wednesday at Walt Disney World signing autographs and throwing out the first pitch before the Texas-Tampa Bay baseball game.

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    20) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Yeley knows he needs to finish in the first two spots in the Nextel Open if he is to make his first start in the All-Star Challenge. He believes qualifying up front will be a must if he wants to boost his chances of earning a spot in the main event. "You better qualify good because generally there's not a lot of passing (in the Open)," said Yeley.
  • Last week: Yeley battled a "tight" race car all afternoon as he finished 18th at Darlington for his second consecutive top-20 finish. "It's just a tough race track," said Yeley. "If you miss your marks by just a little bit, you are into the fence. I was complaining of being too tight most of the race. An 18th-place finish is fair."
  • Etc.: If Yeley fails to qualify for the All-Star race, he will work at a pit reporter for the SPEED's live broadcast of the event. "If it happens, it's going to be something different for me to do," said Yeley. "I'm sure I'll be more nervous than I am in a race car, especially at the beginning."

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    21) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Everything will be new to Montoya this weekend. This will be the first All-Star week for the former Formula One star. And before he can appear in his initial Nextel All-Star Challenge, he will have to run the preliminary event -- the Nextel Open. And he will need to score his first Cup win in that race or finish no worse than second to qualify for the main event.
  • Last week: In his first start at Darlington, Montoya finished 23rd to win the rookie-of-the-race honors for the fourth time this season. He leads David Ragan by four points (120-116) in the rookie standings.
  • Etc.: As the season approaches the one-third mark, Montoya occupies the 21st spot in the standings. But he is only six points out of the top 20 and 79 points out of the top 15.

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    22) David Stremme, No. 40 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Stremme posted the fastest time during the two-day test at Lowe's Motor Speedway last week. For that reason, many people regard him as the early favorite to win the Nextel Open and qualify for the All-Star race. "We had a real good test so we feel very good about the next two weeks," said Stremme.
  • Last week: Stremme was forced to go behind the wall with only 16 laps at Darlington remaining because of an overheating engine. The result was a 34th-place finish that dropped him from 17th to 22nd in the standings. "We were looking for a top-20 finish to keep the points damage to a minimum, but it wasn't meant to be," said Stremme, who battled an ill-handling race car before encountering the engine problems.
  • Etc.: Felix Sabates, part owner of the team, was presented an honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) during the school's commencement ceremonies Saturday.

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    23) Jeff Green, No. 66 Chevrolet, Haas Automation Racing
  • This week: Green finished second in the 2006 Nextel Open. If he can duplicate that finish on Saturday night, he will earn a spot in the All-Star Challenge. "I feel really good about our chances," said Green. "We were really fast on the first day of testing (at Lowe's Motor Speedway last week). We did really well here last year, led some laps and finished well in both races, and I think we can back up that up this time around."
  • Last week: Green overcame an overheating engine and a miscue in the pits to finish 22nd. It was his sixth top-25 finish of the 2007 season. During a routine pit stop with a little more than 100 laps to go, the crew made the mistake of putting the left rear tire on the right side and vice versa. Luckily, a caution flag 20 laps later allowed the team to correct the problem.
  • Etc.: On Friday, Green will be one of the drivers answering phones to help raise funds for NASCAR Day and the Green Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Green and his older brother, Mark. Fans can call 1-888-629-1884 and make a donation to the NASCAR Day Telethon. Green will be answering the phone from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

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    24) Tony Raines, No. 96 Chevrolet, Hall of Fame Racing
  • This week: Raines finished seventh last fall at Lowe's Motor Speedway in the car he will drive this weekend in the Nextel Open. "It's a non-points race, so it's pretty much checkers or wreckers," said Raines. "It's not like third place is going to get you much. You want to be in the top two spots to advance, otherwise you are going home."
  • Last week: Raines suffered engine failure late in the Darlington race as he finished 39th. "We got the motor too hot and tried to make it to the end," said Raines. "We couldn't get water in it; it was plugged up with something. We just burned it up."
  • Etc.: Because the Open is a short race (two 20-lap segments), Raines said, "You'll know pretty early if you've got a shot (at finishing in the top two places to qualify for the All-Star Challenge). Pretty much what you have is what you have."

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    25) Sterling Marlin, No. 14 Chevrolet, Ginn Racing
  • This week: Marlin won the 2004 Open and will need to do it again this year if he wants to qualify for the Nextel All-Star Challenge. "Everyone wants the final spot in the big show," said Marlin. "We had a good run at Charlotte last year, so I don't see any reason it couldn't be us. It should be a good weekend."
  • Last week: Marlin finished a season-best 13th at Darlington to move into 25th place in the standings. "The Ginn Racing Chevy was good all day," said Marlin. "We never had to make any major changes. It was a little snug or a little free here and there, but for the most part it was great. I could turn when I wanted to -- I had a blast out there."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Slugger Labbe noted that the team is "getting better and better at the setups on these Car of Tomorrows, and that's important." Added Marlin, "We picked up a couple of spots in points and can breathe a little easier now. All in all, it was a good weekend for us."

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    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Scott Riggs, Sterling Marlin, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, David Stremme, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Kenny Wallace, Jeff Green, Boris Said, Jamie McMurray

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