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Virtual Pit Reporter: News on top 25 Cup teams

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1) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: All that stands between Johnson and his first Cup title is a 12th-place finish if he leads no laps, a 13th-place finish if he leads at least one lap and a 15th-place finish if he leads the most laps in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson takes a 63-point lead into the 400-miler. Johnson, who became the second driver ever to win the Daytona 500 and the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in the same season, started off poorly in the Chase and even though he was close to being out of it after the second race in the 10-race home stretch. "I never felt we were out of it," Johnson said. "I never conceded. I just said, 'Let's go all out, we have nothing to lose, let's just try to finish up winning races, just like Tony Stewart has been doing.' That's been our philosophy the last couple of months." He might actually get it right this season by adding a title to a year that has included victories in the biggest races on the schedule and more weeks on top of the standings than any other driver. "Those are individual victories throughout the season, and if we can be lucky enough to be a champion, we did it the best this year," Johnson said. He has three top-10 finishes in five races at Homestead. His other two finishes were 25th or worse. His best Homestead finish, second, came in 2004. Johnson finished 40th in this race one year ago, posting his only DNF at Homestead and dropped from second to fifth in the final championship standings. Johnson's 15.6 average finish at Homestead ranks fifth among the top 10 drivers. He has led in two Homestead races.
  • Last week: Johnson's second-place finish at Phoenix allowed him to extend his points lead over Matt Kenseth to 63. Johnson led three times for 28 laps. "We did what we needed to do," Johnson said. "If we can just go to Homestead and do it one more time, we'll be very happy."
  • Etc.: If Matt Kenseth wins the Ford 400 and Johnson and Kenseth tie in the point standings, they also would tie in the first tiebreaker with five wins each. The next tiebreaker is second-place finishes. The advantage would go to Johnson, who has six runner-up finishes to Kenseth's three.

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  • This week: On the surface, history will not be on Kenseth's side as he tries to overcome Jimmie Johnson's 63-point lead -- Kenseth's average finish of 25.5 at Homestead ranks last among the 23 tracks that he has raced in Nextel Cup competition (including Rockingham, which is no longer on the schedule). But the reason his statistics are so bad is simple: two consecutive mechanical failures in 2002-03. He finished third in this race last year, his only top-five in six Homestead races. "Homestead hasn't been a very good track for us, that's for sure," Kenseth said. "But our finishes are kind of deceiving of how we've run there. Two engine failures have been a big cause for the average finish being so low, but I feel like we were competitive there last year and we had one of our better test sessions there earlier this year. As far as our championship chances ... well, they definitely aren't good. But anything can happen. Really, all we can do is the best with what we have and see where we stand at the end of the day. We haven't run nearly as well as we did earlier in the year, and it's definitely a bad time to be struggling the way we have recently. It's going to take the No. 48 having some big problems for us to have a chance, but we have to make sure that we do our part to be there if something does happen so that we can capitalize. It's a long shot at this point, but it's definitely possible."
  • Last week: Kenseth's 13th-place finish at Phoenix increased his degree of difficulty as he attempts to regain the top spot in his last opportunity of the season. "I don't know what we're doing wrong, but we're doing something wrong so I'm not optimistic about it," Kenseth said. "Anything can happen. We're still within striking distance if they have a mechanical problem or some type of problem like that, but I don't think we can beat them on performance."
  • Etc.: Kenseth will use his RK-323 chassis, which won at Fontana and Michigan this year and was second at Texas in April.

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    3) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick is 90 points out of the lead and admits that unless Jimmie Johnson has problems at Homestead, it's unlikely Harvick can win the title. If Harvick pulls it off, he would be the first driver in history to win both the Busch and Nextel Cup titles in the same season. "We're excited just to be a part of it, to tell you the truth," said Harvick, who has won five Nextel Cup races this season. "We've had a great year. We have had our ups and downs, but for the most part, it's been really good. So we're just having fun and racing as hard as we can and doing the things that we've done week in and week out all year. There's really not a lot of pressure, to tell you the truth. It's just go out and go as fast as you can and everybody knows that everybody's going to do everything they can do. It falls how it falls, and that's just kind of how we've looked at it since the season started. I know we have lost a hundred and some (points) in one race before. It can happen, and if it were to happen, we'd have to be on top of our game to make sure we capitalize on it." He has one top-five (second in 2003) and four top-10s in five races at Homestead. "Miami is one of those places where you don't ever know when it is going to stop aging," Harvick said. "Every time we go there, it seems like it loses a little more grip, which is a good thing. It has become one of my favorite racetracks since they have redone it just for the fact that you can move around, and it is kind of hard to get ahold of. There are a lot of different places to make your car work, and for me, it has been a lot of fun to race on. It is a unique racetrack and I'm looking forward to going down there."
  • Last week: Harvick won Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 to complete a series sweep at Phoenix. He also came within one position of completing a season sweep in the Busch Series at Phoenix but finished second behind Matt Kenseth in Saturday's Travel Arizona 200. Harvick led Sunday's race four times for 252 of the 312 laps.
  • Etc.: Harvick will be behind the wheel of chassis No. 179 this weekend at Homestead. This chassis made its debut at the NASCAR-mandated Homestead-Miami Speedway test. It most recently ran at Texas, where Harvick finished third.

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    4) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: With one race to go, Hamlin still has a shot at the championship but will need a lot of help to leave Homestead in first place. He trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 90 points and second-place driver Matt Kenseth by 27. The Ford 400 will mark Hamlin's second start at Homestead in a Cup car. Hamlin made his debut there last November in only his seventh Nextel Cup race, and a qualifying wreck that forced him to the back of the field for the start. He finished 33rd. "This is track where I haven't found that comfort yet," he said. "I had a rough go of it here last fall, but I feel like I have learned a lot as a driver, both about the cars and about the track, so I fully expect to be better this time around." Hamlin's consistency has been a key to his success during his rookie season, and that consistency is supported by his average starting and finishing positions. Through 35 races, both are 12.8. "We've definitely exceeded our initial expectations, but at the same time what we have achieved has given us the confidence to keep pushing and become a championship-caliber team now," Hamlin said. "It seemed like everyone was just waiting for us to fall back, whether before the Chase or during it, and show our rookie stripes, but we've kept plugging away and have a lot to show for our efforts."
  • Last week: Hamlin's third-place finish at Phoenix was another impressive top-five for the rookie.
  • Etc.: With one race to remaining, Hamlin holds a 51-point lead (284-233) over Clint Bowyer in the rookie of the year standings. Hamlin has been the rookie of the race award winner 17 times this season.

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    5) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Inc.
  • This week: Earnhardt is the last driver mathematically eligible to win the Chase, but he is 115 points behind the leader. His best finish at Homestead is 13th (November 2000), but his best performance was in 2002, when he started second and led 46 laps before a broken valve spring dropped the No. 8 Chevy to seven cylinders. He finished that race 21st. He has an average finish of 19.2 at Homestead. "It's been our worst track over the years, but that'll change this weekend," Earnhardt said. "We've made really big gains on our mile-and-a-half, two-mile program in the last year, so we know we can run in the top 10 at Homestead. We had a pretty good test there a few weeks ago. (Teammate) Martin (Truex Jr.) was really fast at the test, so I think we can get the two DEI teams together and come up with a good idea on how to set up for this track."
  • Last week: Earnhardt's ninth-place finish at Phoenix was too little, too late in his quest to win his first Nextel Cup championship. "Jimmie Johnson's car was awesome, and they did what they had to do to go into the last race with a big advantage," Earnhardt said. "Even if we would've led the most laps and won the race (Sunday at Phoenix), it would've only put a small dent into (Jimmie's) lead. I still can't complain. In the big picture, we've improved so much in one year that I'm optimistic for what we've got coming. Our cars are consistently in the top 10 each week. Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief) builds great race cars, and we've got the components to make it all happen. We'll do what we can this weekend, get as many points as we can, and see how it all turns out. We'll never quit trying."
  • Etc.: On Saturday night, Earnhardt will make his first start with Budweiser colors in the Busch Series. A two-time champion with 22 career victories in only 90 Busch Series starts, Earnhardt will race the familiar red No. 8 Budweiser paint scheme for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the Ford 300. He has two victories this season in four Busch Series starts for DEI.

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    6) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Gordon has scored four top-five finishes in the nine races in the Chase but is too far back to win the title because he joins Kasey Kahne as the only drivers with three DNFs in the nine races so far. This is Gordon's second year in the Chase. One year ago he ranked 11th in the standings. He finished third in 2004, the inaugural year of the Chase. Gordon has two victories in 2006, at Infineon and Chicago, and has 23 top-15 finishes in 35 races. He has six top-10 finishes in seven races at Homestead, including the last four. He was ninth in this race last year. His 9.571 finishing average at Homestead ranks second among all Chase drivers.
  • Last week: Despite a fourth-place finish at Phoenix, Gordon was mathematically eliminated from championship contention. "We're in great position; we're just not in position to win the championship," Gordon said. "We've been fighting hard and doing great, but not good enough. If we hadn't had those three bad finishes, who knows where we'd be right now. But I'm just excited we're just improving, it seems, like everywhere we go. It's got me excited that we're heading in the right direction for next year."
  • Etc.: Gordon's Driver Rating of 116.0 at Homestead is fourth overall and the best among all Chase drivers.

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    7) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton will drive chassis No. 173, a new car that he drove to a sixth-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, ninth place at both Pocono races and second place at Chicagoland. Burton, who tested at Homestead in mid-October, has three top-five finishes in seven Homestead races. His bests: third place in both 1999 and 2002. "It's now a very oddly built race track," Burton said. "It has a really fast exit to the corners but one of the slowest entries to the corners on the circuit. You have to drive Homestead differently than any other track we go to. You have to go in there and be careful to not have too tight of a box with your setup. The mindset of a driver has to be open to try things."
  • Last week: Burton finished 10th at Phoenix but was also eliminated from the Chase after leading the points through the first five races of the 10-race format to determine the season champion. Burton has 20 top-10s this season, second only to current points leader Jimmie Johnson. The last time Burton topped the 20 mark for top-10 finishes was 2000, when he finished third in points.
  • Etc.: Burton will join fellow competitors Mark Martin and Greg Biffle on "The State of NASCAR," a special edition of Wind Tunnel from Homestead-Miami Speedway. The one-hour show will feature roundtable discussions on NASCAR with journalists, drivers and owners and will air before the season-ending Ford 400 from 10-11 a.m. EST Sunday on the SPEED.

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    8) Mark Martin, No. 6 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Martin will take the steering wheel of the No. 6 Ford for the final time when the green flag drops Sunday. After 19 years behind the wheel of the Roush Ford, Martin will look for his 36th and final victory. Martin's tenure in the No. 6 Ford dates to Feb. 14, 1988, when he made his first Cup start with Jack Roush at Daytona. Since then, the two have built one of the most long-running and successful relationships in sports history, accumulating 35 wins, 230 top-five finishes, 361 top-10 finishes, 39 poles and 16 top-10 Cup point finishes. "It's kind of hard to believe that this is the last weekend in the No. 6 car," Martin said. "We've fought hard in this thing for 19 years now, and we aren't going to change anything for this last race. We'll go out fighting just as hard for the win as we did in 1988 when we started this thing. I just want to make sure that I thank all of the guys that gave so much to the No. 6 car during that time. We had a great run, and I'll always be thankful for the opportunity." He will drive chassis RK-315, which finished 22nd at Texas two weeks ago. The car has posted top-10 runs at Darlington, Fontana, Dover and Las Vegas this season, and it won last season at Kansas. It finished second at Homestead last season. Martin has four top-fives in seven races. He finished second here last year. "Homestead has been a pretty good track for us over the years," Martin said. "They have changed the track a lot in the last couple of years, but it's still a fun place to race. We had a great race there a year ago when we came up just short of the win in a great duel with (Greg) Biffle at the finish line. Hopefully we can go there and give them another run for their money and close this thing out strong."
  • Last week: Martin finished sixth at Phoenix but will conclude his full-time Cup career without a season championship. Martin will run a limited schedule for MB2 Motorsports next season.
  • Etc.: Martin's car will sport a special paint scheme this weekend to commemorate his last ride for the team.

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    9) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne has yet to crack the top 10 at Homestead. He finished 38th as a rookie in 2004 and was 16th after starting third last year. But Kahne can go into the offseason with no worse than a tie for most wins (six) in 2006. "It's been a great year for the team," Kahne said. "It has been a lot of fun. We've had a lot of ups and downs, but I'm excited to finish the year on a good note. We achieved our goal this year of winning races and making the Chase. Evernham Motorsports has had a team in the Chase all three years. I think until a couple of weeks ago, we had a shot at winning the Nextel Cup. That's what every team our here wants -- the Nextel Cup. I'm looking forward to finishing off the year strong and getting ready for next year. Next year is going to be exciting. We're going to have the same team back. Kenny Francis (team director) has done an awtsome job all season long on my race cars. I feel like we'll be right back in The Chase again next year and be as strong or stronger throughout the season."
  • Last week: Kahne was seventh at Phoenix.
  • Etc.: Kahne will get his first spin in NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" on Tuesday at Homestead. "That will be my first time in it, so I'll see what it's like," he said. "I've heard all the stories from the other drivers, so I'll find out for myself."

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    10) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: In his only race at Homestead, Busch scored a DNF and was 41st last year. He will drive chassis No. 394, which led 64 laps at Kansas in October en route to a seventh-place finish. "We tested there and our car was good out of the box," Busch said. "It's going to be interesting because when we tested the longer runs, I went from running the bottom of the bottom to running the top of the top (of the track) and my car was awesome. You're going to see guys searching all over the place to find what they like, but I liked where I ran so I'm ready. I gained a lot of experience at the test and last year we ran well at Homestead. We were running third until I got loose and spun myself out. I've gained a lot of patience since then, so it should be a great race." Homestead is the only race track on the Cup circuit where car owner Rick Hendrick has yet to win. It is also one of just two tracks where Hendrick Motorsports has not earned a pole position. The series began competing there once annually in 1999. Hendrick Motorsports' next Cup Series victory will be the organization's 150th at NASCAR's highest level.
  • Last week: Busch entered the weekend as the defending Cup winner at Phoenix but finished 38th after he was involved in a crash. "We were just back there minding our own business; we weren't really very good today on the beginning of a run, for some reason," Busch said. "That is kind of our own making there. What wasn't of our own making was Tony Stewart running into the back of the No. 26 for no reason whatsoever. ... Jamie McMurray looked like he was going to change lanes and get on the outside of a lapped car, and Stewart kept his nose in there instead being his normal give-and-take self. Didn't give him any room there, (and) McMurray bounced off the outside wall back across the race track. You can't see much down the front straightaway because of the sun anyway, but (there's) not much room to get through there." Stewart later said he was blinded by the sun.
  • Etc.: Busch will participate in the fifth annual Hot Rods & Reels fishing tournament at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway infield lake. The event benefits the Darrell Gwynn Foundation to Cure Paralysis and the Betty Jane France Pediatric Center at Homestead Hospital. Busch will spend his first offseason weekend running a Super Late Model in the Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston (Va.) Speedway on Nov. 25.

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    11) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart won the first two Cup races run at Homestead in 1999 and 2000 and believes he can win again since he will be running what he calls "my new favorite car" in the Ford 400. "We've got three wins in a row with the car we're taking over there and (are) looking forward to bringing it home with a fourth one," said Stewart.
  • Last week: Stewart battled an "evil-handling" race car all weekend as he finished 14th at Phoenix. "We just weren't able to get our car to cut (in the corner) the whole weekend," said Stewart. "No matter what we did, all we could do was just free the entry up too much and free the exit up." Stewart did clinch 11th place and the million-dollar bonus that goes with the position.
  • Etc.: Stewart called his run-in with Jamie McMurray at Phoenix "a weird situation. The sun was down, and it kind of caught me off guard. I didn't even realize I had him picked up until he got sideways. It stinks because Jamie was having a good run. I'll call him and talk to him about it."

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    12) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: A year ago, Edwards won the pole and led 94 laps before finishing fourth. He is still looking for his first pole and first victory of 2006. "We've got one last chance to win a race, and we are confident we can do it," said Edwards, who has scored eight straight top-15 finishes.
  • Last week: Edwards finished fifth at Phoenix, his fourth top-10 finish in five starts there. "That was a fun day," said Edwards. "That Fusion ran real well. Four out of our five pit stops were spectacular and I just had fun." Edwards and Jeff Gordon had several run-ins during the day, and the two chatted after the race -- neither was pleased with what transpired on the track.
  • Etc.: Bob Osborne was reunited with Edwards at Phoenix as car owner Jack Roush announced a number of crew chief changes during the weekend. "It's cool to have Bob Osborne back," said Edwards. "Bob did a great job calling the race."

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    13) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Biffle will be seeking his third straight win in the Ford 400. "This year certainly hasn't gone as we thought it would, but we can end the season on a high note with another win at Homestead," said Biffle, who finished second in last year's Chase. He will be looking for his second win of 2006. Biffle won six races in 2005.
  • Last week: It was a long afternoon for Biffle as he finished 34th at Phoenix. "We just missed the setup," said Biffle. "I think we had too much camber there at the start, and it was wearing the tires down. We had to pit under the green (on lap 64) and went two laps down and just couldn't recover from that point."
  • Etc.: During the Phoenix weekend, car owner Jack Roush made two big announcements concerning Biffle's team. First, Roush said Pat Tryson, who is now Mark Martin's crew chief, would be moving to the 16 team after Homestead. Second, Roush announced that Ameriquest would be the team's primary sponsor in 2007. "Obviously our top priority for next season is getting Greg back in the Chase," said Tryson.

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    14) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Busch won the 2002 event at Homestead and finished fifth a year ago after claiming his second pole position at the track. If Busch can win the pole this weekend, he will earn $100,000 as the winner of the most poles in 2006. He has won six so far this year; runner-up Kasey Kahne has five.
  • Last week: After finishing eighth at Phoenix, Busch said, "We ran really good early on and seemed to fade in the end. That's kind of our M.O. (this season). We're working on it. We capitalized on other people's mistakes." Busch said he felt like "I made a mistake by not taking two tires like Mark Martin did at the end." Martin ended up sixth.
  • Etc.: Busch said he is "very proud of what we were able to accomplish overall this season (one win, six poles, seven top-fives and 12 top-10s coming into Homestead). The team wasn't even put together until late December, and it's truly a first-year team. Derike (Stamets), our team engineer, is the only carryover guy from Rusty's (Wallace) team one year ago."

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    15) Casey Mears, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Mears finished fifth in the 2005 season finale after leading for 75 laps. He would be delighted with another top-five finish in his final race for Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates. "We had a real good test at Homestead, so we have high hopes for this weekend," said Mears.
  • Last week: A late-race spin ended any chance Mears had of finishing in the top 10. Instead, he was forced to settle for a 26th-place finish. "They were black-flagging the 07 (Clint Bowyer)," said Mears. "He laid some water or oil down or something and we hit it and spun. It was another one of those days when we were just hanging in there. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
  • Etc.: Juan Pablo Montoya might make his Nextel Cup debut this weekend at Homestead. He is entered in the race, but Ganassi said "we've got to get the rest of the team organized around him. We just don't want to embarrass him or ourselves out there. The issue is getting him out of the pits in a competitive manner. We feel very strong about getting him in the Cup race."

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    16) Brian Vickers, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Homestead has not been a good track for Vickers. In three starts there, his best finish is 18th. But he hopes for a much better performance this weekend in his last race for Hendrick Motorsports. "It's going to be bittersweet," said Vickers. "I'm still very close to Rick (Hendrick), his family and a lot of people at Hendrick Motorsports. It will definitely be an emotional race for me, and I hope we can run well and go out on a high note."
  • Last week: Vickers rallied in the final 31 laps to finish 11th at Phoenix. He was forced to pit for four new tires after flat-spotting his tires while avoiding a five-car accident on lap 272. He returned to the race in 21st spot. "We had a great car, probably a top-five car," said Vickers. "We just ran out of laps."
  • Etc.: Vickers calls himself a "decent golfer. I've played since I was a kid. I can hit good shots most of the time, know the fundamentals and know how to correct my shot if I hit a slice. I don't play enough now to be consistent -- that's my biggest flaw."

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    17) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer will be making his Nextel Cup debut at Homestead this weekend. He'll be driving the same car he used at Texas, where he finished fifth.
  • Last week: Bowyer ran in the top 10 all day at Phoenix until he was caught up in an accident with less than 10 laps to go. "It's really, really frustrating," said Bowyer, who ended up 33rd. "I couldn't see nothing and the next thing I know everybody stopped in front of me. With the sun the way it is down there in turns one and two you can't see anything, then they all checked up."
  • Etc.: Both Bowyer and Martin can't believe the team's run of bad luck late in races. "This 10-laps-to-go thing and something happening to us, I don't even know how to describe it anymore," said Martin. "It's almost to the point where we just pull over with 10 to go and put it on jack stands."

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    18) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Newman has two top-10 finishes in four Homestead starts and has led in three of the four events for a total of 133 laps. "It's been a tough year for this team, and I think we're all ready to see it come to an end and start working on 2007," said Newman.
  • Last week: Newman overcame a late race spin to finish 15th at Phoenix. "That was a decent finish," said Newman. "I wish we could have done better, but getting spun out in that accident hurt us a little bit, track position-wise."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Matt Borland did not travel to Phoenix with the team and is expected to leave the operation at the end of the season. Michael Nelson was the acting crew chief and will be one of the candidates to succeed Borland in 2007. "Even when we didn't run well this year, it wasn't all Matt Borland's fault," said Newman. "I don't want anybody to think that."

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    19) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte is a former winner at Homestead, his victory coming in 2003. He plans to go to "Miami with all our guns blazing. It's always pretty big if you can win the last race of the season. I've done that before, and it helps you get ready for 2007. It's just a pretty big deal for the team that can win the race."
  • Last week: Labonte struggled all afternoon as he finished 27th at Phoenix. "Unfortunately, we were a little off today," said Labonte. "We missed the setup in the front end. We threw every adjustment we could think of at it, but nothing would make the tightness go away."
  • Etc.: Labonte points out that Homestead is a "different track when they did the renovations (in 2003). They totally changed the track. It used to be a flat track with a lot of speed. It's still lightning fast, but it has all the banking, too. It's a good track for us. It's as good as any to decide the championship."

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    20) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex's first Nextel Cup start at Homestead didn't go the way he wanted, and he finished 32nd. But he expects things to go a lot better this weekend. "We had a real good test (last month)," said Truex. "If we can avoid all the bad luck that has followed us all season, we can have a real good weekend. This team deserves one as we've run a lot better the second half than our results show."
  • Last week: Truex rallied from early handling problems to finish 12th at Phoenix. "I'm so proud of Bono (crew chief Kevin Manion) and the guys," said Truex. "The car wouldn't turn at all the first part of the race. I was really worried when we went a lap down, but we hung in there. We kept making adjustments until we got it right. To finish 12th after the day we had says a lot about this Bass Pro Shops team."
  • Etc.: Truex has only four top-10 finishes and one top-five in his rookie season. "It certainly has not been the kind of year we expected," said Truex. "It is hard to believe all of the things that have happened to us. Hopefully we can end the season on a high note."

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    21) Scott Riggs, No. 10 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Riggs has competed in only two races at Homestead, finishing 15th in 2004 and 38th a year ago. Riggs still has a shot at finishing in the top 20 in the standings -- he trails Martin Truex Jr. by only 30 points. "We need a top-10 run this weekend," said Riggs.
  • Last week: After starting 42nd, Riggs was pleased with his 22nd-place finish. "That was a good day for us," said Riggs. "The car wasn't handling well early in the race, and we went a lap down, which is easy to do when you start in the rear. But Rodney (Childers, team director) made the right adjustments."
  • Etc.: Riggs admitted that he was "pretty sick" before the Phoenix event. "But after a visit to the care center, the NASCAR medical staff got me hydrated and I was good to go for the race," he said.

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    22) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler has one top-10 finish in seven starts at Homestead and knows his mission this week will be the same as last weekend -- protect the team's position in the top 35. "It's going to be another pressure-filled weekend," said Sadler. The team occupies the 34th spot in the car owner points.
  • Last week: Sadler's main objective at Phoenix was to make sure he boosted the team's chances of finishing in the top 35 in the car owner point standings, and he accomplished that by finishing 17th. "I had to be so careful and not really be aggressive on the track. It's hard racing that way." he said.
  • Etc.: Sadler is glad it is hunting season. But he knows that "I'm going to miss a little more hunting this year than I have in a long time (because of all the testing the team plans this winter). That's why I'm cherishing the moment every time I get to go (hunting)."

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    23) Dale Jarrett, No. 88 Ford, Robert Yates Racing
  • This week: Jarrett finished fifth in his first start at Homestead, but since then his best finish has been 15th. He certainly hopes for a much better finish this weekend in his last start for Robert Yates Racing. Jarrett joined the team in 1995. He has scored 29 of his 32 career wins at RYR.
  • Last week: Jarrett was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Sterling Marlin was hit from behind and spun, pinning Jarrett about the outside wall. As a result, Jarrett finished 39th. "The car was actually better (at the time of the accident) than it had been all weekend," said Jarrett. "We were in position to make up some ground, but I got hit by the 14 car."
  • Etc.: After joining Robert Yates Racing in 1995, Jarrett became a serious contender for the championship on a regular basis. Between 1996 and 2002, Jarrett finished third, second, third, first, fourth, fifth and ninth in the Cup point standings. But this year, he occupies the 23rd spot with a race to go.

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    24) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: McMurray has two top-10 finishes in four starts at Homestead. This weekend McMurray will be showcasing the new 2007 Crown Royal paint scheme. The car will have a completely different look thanks to renowned NASCAR illustrator Sam Bass. "Sam has really done a terrific job with the new look," said McMurray.
  • Last week: McMurray seemed headed for his first top-10 finish in weeks when he was hit from behind by Tony Stewart with only 39 laps remaining. McMurray suffered heavy damage in the wreck and finished 40th. "I'm a little bit frustrated and upset right now," said McMurray in the garage area. "It's very tight off turn four, and Tony could have let me go. Let's just say I will be buying my stuff from Lowe's from now on."
  • Etc.: McMurray was pleased with the performance of his acting crew chief, Chad Norris, at Phoenix. "We had a really good car," said McMurray. "Chad did a great job." McMurray said Norris will be one of the candidates as the team goes about finding a new crew chief for 2007.

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    25) Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Sorenson finished 28th in his only Nextel Cup start at Homestead. Sorenson said "part of me is ready to get the season over with and get a fresh start, and the other part wants to keep on going. The Target team has come a long way this season. And I don't want to stop that momentum."
  • Last week: Sorenson battled major handling problems throughout the race as he finished 29th at Phoenix. "Going into the race I thought we were going to be pretty good," said Sorenson. "We battled a lack of forward bite during the first run, then the car got real wicked to drive. We got it going pretty good in the end, but it was a little too late to make a big difference."
  • Etc.: Sorenson said he had a good test at Homestead last month. "Hopefully the car will unload as fast as it was at the test," said Sorenson, "and we'll just have to make some minor adjustments to get it ready for Sunday."

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    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Scott Riggs, Dale Jarrett, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart

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