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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: Johnson, who leads Tony Stewart by 55 points in the point race, has two victories (both in 2004) and six top-10 finishes in seven races at Darlington. His only Darlington finish outside the top 10 was a 27th in March 2003. Johnson has scored top-10 finishes in his last four races at Darlington, the longest current streak. His 7.714 average finish there is second only to Kasey Kahne (7.0 in three starts). Johnson and Tony Stewart are the only drivers to score seven top-10 finishes in 10 races this season. Johnson's three victories (Daytona, Las Vegas and Talladega) remain the most by a driver this season. ... Saturday's race at Darlington, followed by the 600-mile race on May 28 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, both begin in daylight and end in darkness. That poses a challenge to the race teams working on chassis setups. "I love racing at night," Johnson said. "The racing that I grew up doing, we didn't have a lot of night races. I think it's great for the fans and the drivers, and it typically means we have Sunday off. I'm usually very happy about that. Darlington is a very fun track to drive at night. The track has a little more grip and is a little more forgiving than what you have during a day race. That takes away a little bit of the challenge at Darlington, but I love going to that track, regardless. It's one of my favorite tracks on the circuit." ... In his last race at Darlington, Johnson's bid to join Cale Yarborough as the only driver to post three consecutive wins at Darlington came up a little bit short. He led several laps and good pit work kept him in the top three most of the race. With 109 of the race's 370 laps remaining, Johnson moved to second and appeared ready to make his late race charge, but he unexpectedly had to dart to pit road to cure a wheel vibration. Johnson returned to the race in 23rd, a lap down to the leaders. He climbed all the way up to fourth and it appeared that's where he would finish with just four laps remaining. But Johnson pitted for a green-white-checkered shootout and eventually finished seventh.
  • Last week: Johnson finished 12th at Richmond but still increased his lead in the standings from 21 points to 55.
  • Etc.: In 157 Nextel Cup starts, Johnson has 58 top-five finishes and 93 top-10 finishes. He has a top-10 finish at every track on the series circuit. Indianapolis and Kansas are the only two tracks where he has not posted a top-five finish. Johnson has led 3,564 laps and driven 45,244 laps in his Nextel Cup career, covering 60,104.2 miles. He has a career average starting spot of 12.3 and an average finishing position of 12.4. He has finished on the lead lap 119 times.

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    2) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Despite only moderate success at Darlington -- seven top-10s in 13 career starts with a best finish of fourth, twice (spring 2000 and fall 2001) -- Stewart likes Darlington. Its history, its roster of champions and its difficult nature makes a Darlington victory a cherished victory. With 25 wins, including one already this season at Martinsville, Stewart is primed to log that long-desired Darlington win. "A lot of it has to do with the history of the track," Stewart said. "If you can say you won a race at Darlington, that's a feather in your cap. That's something to be proud of, knowing that you're in a group of drivers with names like Pearson and Petty -- the pioneers of our sport who you hear stories about, the races they ran there and the races they won there. ... When I'm watching TV and I see an old race from Darlington, I'm able to see the history of Darlington and the Southern 500, along with all of the greats who have run there and won there and crashed out of the joint."
  • Last week: Stewart finished sixth at Richmond and climbed from third to second in the standings, his best points ranking of 2006. It was his eighth top-15 finish in the first 10 races of the season. Stewart has led at least one lap in nine of the 10 races this season, the only driver to do so.
  • Etc: Stewart has led 801 laps and earned 60 lap-leader bonus points, the most among all drivers in both categories. He has led 801 laps, the most of all drivers. Stewart has finished sixth or better in the last five races. Six of his seven top-10 finishes in 2006 are top-fives.

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    3) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has competed in 12 races at Darlington, scoring just three top-10 finishes, and has not scored a top-10 finish in his last four races at Darlington. He finished 26th there one year ago. His best Darlington finish, sixth, was in March 2000, he has a 21.833 average finish and he has led in four of the 12 races. ... Kenseth has an average starting position of 13.4 this season. That's by far the best of his Cup career since he began racing full-time in the series in 2000, beating his next best 17.02 in 2005. "Darlington is kind of like our Lambeau Field," Kenseth said, referring to the Green Bay Packers' stadium. "There's a lot of history there and it's one of the places everyone wants to win at before they retire. Personally, I think the track is pretty cool. It's definitely unique. The track is so abrasive that your tires give up really fast. Darlington definitely rewards those drivers who can take care of their equipment. Fresh tires make a huge difference there. You saw that at the end of the Cup race last year when (Ryan) Newman was out front with worn tires on a green-white-checkered finish and the guys with fresh tires just blew right past him."
  • Last week: Kenseth finished 38th at Richmond, his worst finish of 2006.
  • Etc.: Kenseth's Busch Series record at Darlington is brilliant. In 11 starts he has two victories, seven top-fives, 10 top-10s, has never finished worse than 12th, and has completed every lap (1,617 of 1,617).

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    4) Mark Martin, No. 6 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: In 39 races at Darlington, Martin has won just once, in September 1993. But he has 24 top-10 finishes there, the most of all full-time drivers. He finished fourth in this race one year ago, his third straight top-10 finish at Darlington. He has had only one finish outside the top-15 at Darlington in his last six races there and has a 12.23 average finish at the track. "Darlington is a cool track that I've always liked," Martin said. "I ran second there to Dale Earnhardt twice in '89 and '90 and finally won in '93. Sometimes I think that people seem to forget that I won a Southern 500. I've had a lot of success at Darlington and an enormous amount of Busch wins. The place brings back some great memories of some great battles. Actually, the win in '93 was four in a row, and that was a big deal. It's a jagged oval. It's not a smooth radius turn. The wall goes in and out and in and out. Your line is as smooth as anywhere else, but the track's all over the place. You go from touching the apron to touching the wall and you've never even changed directions. It's really narrow and banked a lot. The cars go really fast and the track goes everywhere, so it's always a challenge." Martin has scored 13 top-15 finishes in the 14 races since Atlanta last October. He has had only one DNF (Talladega in October 2005 -- accident) in the 34 races since Dover in June 2005.
  • Last week: Martin finished 11th at Richmond and climbed from fifth to fourth in the standings. At this point one year ago he ranked sixth.
  • Etc.: Martin will drive chassis RK-315, in which he finished ninth this year at California and sixth at Las Vegas. Martin used the car last season in a victory at Kansas and a second-place run at the season finale at Homestead. "We really like the car that we are taking to Darlington this weekend and we know it's the type of track where Mark's talents can really stand out," said crew chief Pat Tryson. "We had a really good run there a year ago and we were really good there two years ago as well, so it's been a place where we've had success lately and it will just be up to us to put all the pieces in place and go out there and hopefully compete for the win."

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    5) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick has scored five top-10 finishes in 2006, all in the last six races. He has four top-10 finishes in nine races at Darlington. His best Darlington finish, second, came there in August 2003. He finished 14th in this race one year ago and has been running at the finish in all but one of his races there. He has a 17.44 average finish at Darlington and has led in just one of his nine races there. "When we avoid trouble at Darlington, we always run in the top 10," said Harvick. "But if we get into the wall or struggle mechanically, then we never seem to be able to fight our way back. But the one thing I know is that this year our team is willing to fight back and get the best finish we can. Hopefully we can stay out of trouble and run up front all night long. That's what championship teams do week in and week out."
  • Last week: Harvick finished third at Richmond and climbed from seventh to fifth in the standings. He has moved from 23rd to fifth in the last six races. One year ago he ranked 11th.
  • Etc.: Harvick still maintains his status as one of NASCAR's hottest drivers. Following Harvick's third Busch Series victory out of the last four races Friday night at Richmond, he went on to dominate the Cup event Saturday night, leading a race-high 272 laps before finishing third. Harvick has kept his car at the front of the pack this season for 222.6 miles, which ranks sixth on the mile-leaders chart.

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    6) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Inc.
  • This week: Earnhardt has seven top-15 finishes in the 10 races in 2006. In 11 races at Darlington, he has just four top-10 finishes, but he has been in the top 15 in his last three races there. His best Darlington finish, fourth, was in March 2002. He finished eighth in this race one year ago. Earnhardt has a 16.55 average finish at Darlington. His only Darlington DNF came in his first race there in March 2000, when he finished 40th. "It's difficult to look forward to it," Earnhardt said. "It's been a tough track for me, and it's really hard to race on due to the way it wears the tires out. It's a good thing they started running it at night. That's a little bit easier on the tires, and it does add a little more grip to the surface, because that's what everybody is always looking for. But I haven't had a lot of success there. It'd be great to get us a win there because anytime you win at Darlington, you've really put in a good hard day's work. We've had some pretty good cars there, not really any great, great finishes, but we've had some pretty decent runs there. Every time I go back, I feel like I'm a little bit closer to that opportunity to win there."
  • Last week: Earnhardt won at Richmond and climbed from eighth to sixth in the point standings. One year ago he ranked ninth. "Anytime you win it's special, and each win has its own special significance. At least it does to me," Earnhardt said. "Like, last year the Chicago win was more of a statement that even in bad times we could be competitive and win a race. But Saturday night kind of proved we're regaining our old form. This was my first win since having (crew chief and cousin) Tony Eury Jr. back, so that was pretty cool. It was a lot of fun celebrating in Victory Lane with the team. Tony Jr. has done a great job putting together a team that will get us back in the Chase. I've felt all along that we're heading in the right direction, and I've been saying it all year. But to be taken seriously, we needed to win, and we did that Saturday night."
  • Etc.: Even though it's still early in the season, Earnhardt admits he's concerned about the point race each week. "I look at it every week," he said. "We're right in the middle of the pack in terms of teams eligible for the Chase right now (12 drivers are within the 400-point eligibility window). It's still way too early to get comfortable. You have to keep your eye on some of these guys behind you, because they are very capable of being in the top 10 and in fact probably should be in the top 10. You know guys like Greg Biffle and Elliott Sadler are going to make serious runs before this thing winds down. But I'm confident we'll keep up what we've been doing. If we start to slip through the standings, I got confidence in Tony Jr. to make the right decisions within the walls of the shop, within the components of that race car, to do what it takes to put us in position to win to get to where we need to be."

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    7) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne has had top-15 finishes in all three of his races at Darlington. After finishing 13th in his first trip in the spring of 2004, he finished fifth in the fall race that year and was third last May. "Darlington is a tough track," Kahne said. "The key is getting the car to handle. Our crew has been great on pit stops all season. The cars have been good, the engines strong. The communication with Kenny (Francis, team director), Mike (Shiplett, car director) and everyone has been good. We're anxious to get to Darlington and get back on track with quality finishes." He has scored six top-10 finishes in 2006.
  • Last week: Kahne finished 34th at Richmond, his third finish of 34th or worse in 2006, all in the last five races. "We had a top-five car at Richmond, but didn't get a top-five finish," Kahne said. "We've had two tough finishes in a row with the accident at Talladega and the ignition problem at Richmond. There is some consolation in the fact we had a very good car at both events. We just need to turn opportunity into results."
  • Etc.: Only 13 of the 102 Cup races at Darlington have been won from a starting position outside the top 10.

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    8) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch, who has six top-15 finishes in the 10 races in 2006, has competed in just one race at Darlington, finishing 23rd there last year. He ranked 27th in the point standings one year ago heading into Darlington. "I'm looking forward to racing at Darlington," Busch said. "I know it's not going to be a walk in the park, but it's a challenging track and as a driver you either love it or dread it. I'm up for the challenge. You have to have a good handling race car there because the track itself is so narrow. You can almost reach out and grab the wall because it's such a narrow track. Darlington is a place where you have to race the race track for 450 miles and then go for it at the end. Last year we were running awesome and made our way up to third when I blew a tire, and it took us out of contention. At Darlington, if you have a car that's hooked up, you can pretty much ride the track like you were on rails. If you miss the setup, you are just going to have the longest night of your life."
  • Last week: Busch finished fifth at Richmond and climbed from ninth to eighth in the standings. It marked his fifth top-10 finish in 10 races this season. One year ago he ranked 27th in the point standings. "So far so good," Busch said. "This season has been going pretty smooth. With the exception of freak accidents happening like Phoenix we have been pretty competitive week in and week out. Our pit crew has been unbelievable this year, and they haven't gotten the respect they really deserve. These guys, I believe, are the best on pit road -- and that is even with two of our guys having surgery this season. It's just a testament to all the hard work and dedication that the pit crew training department at Hendrick Motorsports represents. It's cool to watch those guys bust out a 12.40-second stop sending that Kellogg's Chevy off of pit road with the lead."
  • Etc.: Busch's mother, Gaye, will be one of the moms honored by Darlington before the Dodge Charger 500 on Saturday night. "I'm glad my mom is going to be at Darlington this weekend," Busch said. "She scores for another car, so really she is there every weekend anyway, but it's cool the track takes the time to honor our mothers. If it wasn't for my mom, I wouldn't be where I am today. She gave up a lot so my dad, Kurt and I could race, and between she and my grandma, they dedicated their lives to helping us achieve our goals and dreams."

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    9) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: What is the key to running well at the tight, egg-shaped track. Gordon, who has won six times there, said it's to "run close to -- but not into -- the wall." Along with those six wins in 25 starts, Gordon has three poles, 13 top-fives and 16 top-10s and has led 1,553 laps. He is the active leader in Darlington victories -- twice as many as his nearest competitor -- and laps led, but the four-time NASCAR Cup champion knows past success does not guarantee the track will go easy on him Saturday night. "The second you let your guard down here, this place will bite you," said Gordon. "I always look forward to Darlington races. It's one of my favorite tracks, and probably always will be. Racing here is very mentally draining. Unless it's hot, it's not a real physical race track. You can't run fast enough and hard enough to really push yourself and your body. The tires wear out quick, so it requires a lot more finesse and patience than we use at most tracks we go to. You just have to be careful not to push too hard because the car is slipping and sliding at all times. We run so close to the wall every single lap that one slip could ruin your night. It's all about staying out of the wall. The addition of lights in 2004 at Darlington might have changed the track conditions and the chassis setups, but the layout remains treacherous. Racing at night has changed it some."
  • Last week: Gordon finished 40th at Richmond and dropped to ninth in the standings. Gordon ranked second in the point standings at this point one year ago, 127 points behind the point leader then, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is leading again this year, but Gordon is 305 points behind.
  • Etc.: Since his last Darlington victory in September 2002, Gordon finished 33rd, 32nd and 41st before scoring top-five finishes in his last two races there.

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    10) Casey Mears, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Mears has competed in five Cup events at Darlington and is looking for his first top-10 finish at the South Carolina track. His best finish is 15th, which he earned in March 2004. In the inaugural night race last year, Mears finished 39th. "Darlington is an awesome racetrack," Mears said. "Outside of Charlotte, Texas and the tracks like them, it's one of the most fun places we go to just because it's so different. The way you drive that place is so much fun, right up against the wall. It's definitely tough. I haven't survived it yet without hitting the fence a little bit too hard and not finishing as well as I should. Even though it's aggravating from that aspect, I'm really looking forward to going there just because it's so unique. The tires wear out so fast and you run so close to the wall there's a real small margin for error. It's so easy to make a small mistake and end your day."
  • Last week: Mears moved back into the top 10 with a 17th-place finish at Richmond, his career best there. After the first 10 races of 2005, Mears was 25th in the standings. "The last few weeks have been aggravating, but we are back in the top 10 in points," he said. "I can't stress enough how important it is for us to start finishing in the top 10. I don't have great finishes at Darlington, but I know this team can run well there. We tested at Charlotte and were really fast at times, so the next few weeks should be good for us."
  • Etc.: Casey and his mother, Carol, are more than just mother and son. The dynamic pair has worked together since Casey was just a kid. Casey was raised in the family business, which his mother and father, Roger, ran. Carol has been managing much of her son's business since he started racing, and when they sold the family business in 2000 she began Casey Mears, Inc. She still runs it for him today. Carol will take part in driver introductions at Darlington this weekend in honor of Mother's Day.

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    11) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton has eight top-five finishes, including two victories, in the last 17 races at Darlington. However, he has had a top-10 finish there in the last five races. He believes that will change this weekend. "To me, Darlington is a track where both the driver and the team have to be on their game and everything going well," said Burton. "There aren't any fluke winners at Darlington."
  • Last week: A critical mistake late in the race at Richmond ended any chance Burton had of scoring his first win of the season. And to compound matters, a late race spin forced him to settle for a 15th-place finish on a night where he had a legitimate chance to win the race. "We did a nice job with the car tonight," said Burton. "We did a terrible job with everything else. We pitted. The pits weren't open (with 53 laps to go while running third). Everything that we did -- short of getting the car to work good -- was wrong."
  • Etc.: Burton said the reason why RCR is running so much better this season is "everybody (at the shop) has raised his hand and asked what I can do to help and to make the company better, and I think we're making major strides. We've done a nice job of getting better in many areas."

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    12) Dale Jarrett, No. 88 Ford, Robert Yates Racing
  • This week: Jarrett has won three races at Darlington as well as three pole positions. His career statistics include 11 top-fives and 13 top-10s. All three of his victories came in the spring. "It's been a very good track, not just for me but for my dad (Ned), too," said Jarrett. "It is such a unique track and a lot of fun. There's just nowhere else on the schedule that compares to that track."
  • Last week: After finishing 21st at Richmond to fall out of the top 10 in the point standings, Jarrett said "it's the same problem every week. I think we were pretty fortunate to finish where we did, but that's the way it's been all season. We're really behind the ball right now and need to hit on whatever it is we're missing or it is going to make for a long season."
  • Etc.: On Tuesday, crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe was fined $25,000 and suspended from NASCAR until June 7 -- three races plus the all-star event -- for an unapproved rear sway bar. The violation was discovered during prerace inspection at Richmond. Jarrett and car owner Robert Yates were also penalized 25 driver and owner points, respectively. This penalty dropped Jarrett from 11th to 12th in the standings.

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    13) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Edwards has finished in the top 10 in both of his starts at Darlington. "I can't wait to run Darlington this weekend," he said. "It is hands down my favorite track on the circuit. The track has a million different characteristics that make it a very cool track to run. The shape of the track is unique -- one end is different than the other, so you have to set the car up for almost two different types of corners."
  • Last week: Edwards finished seventh at Richmond, his third straight top-10 finish, as he moved up two more spots in the standings to 13th. "If we can just keep knocking down top-10s the next eight or ten weeks, we'll be (in) great shape," said Edwards. "But we have to run like this. This is the best we've run at Richmond, so my hat's off to my guys. They did a great job tonight."
  • Etc.: Edwards has jumped from 22nd to 13th over the last three weeks. He is 53 points out of the top 10. "We are so close to cracking the top 10, and hopefully with a good finish this weekend we will move up a few more spots," he said.

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    14) Elliott Sadler, No. 38 Ford, Robert Yates Racing
  • This week: In 13 starts at Darlington, Sadler has been running at the finish all 13 times. As a result, Sadler he ranks first in fewest DNF's in the long history of the track. He has four top-10 finishes in those 13 races, including a second in the 2002 spring race. In March 2003 Sadler won the first pole position of his Cup career at the famed facility.
  • Last week: Sadler was all smiles at Richmond after starting 37th and finishing 13th for his fifth top-15 finish of the season. "I am really proud of this team," said Sadler. "For some reason, it took us awhile to get going on new tires, but this car was a lot better than it was yesterday in practice. Tommy (Baldwin, crew chief) made some great changes, and I think we had a top-10 car but just couldn't get going until the middle of a green flag run."
  • Etc.: Sadler sees "brighter days ahead for Robert Yates Racing, I really do. By the time Charlotte comes around (next week) and by the time June comes around when we start getting all this new technology stuff that we need to have, we should be a lot better race team than we are now."

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    15) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer will be making his Nextel Cup debut at Darlington. He has raced twice at the 1.366-mile oval, both times in the Busch Series, and his best finish was a 10th. "I went there for the first time in 2004 and, to be honest, it was a little intimidating," said Bowyer. "I think it is one of the hardest and more unique race tracks on the circuit. You just have to be on the top of your game every lap."
  • Last week: Bowyer finished 10th at Richmond to move up three spots in the standings to 15th. "After Talladega, we needed a good, solid finish, and that's what we were able to do," said Bowyer. "That's a good way to get things turned around. We got a little tight at the end, but it was important to hang on for a top-10."
  • Etc.: Bowyer said Darlington reminds him of "my days on the dirt tracks, where you're sliding up toward the wall and the car finally catches right before you hit the wall and off you go. For a split second, you slide in and then you have to use a lot of throttle control off the corner. It's real fun, and I am really looking forward to going back."

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    16) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Hamlin will make his first Nextel Cup start at Darlington this weekend. He finished seventh in the Busch Series race at the track in 2005. Hamlin, who has two top-five finishes so far in 2006, will be attempting to become the first rookie to ever win a race at Darlington. The best finish by a first-year driver at the 1.366-mile oval in the last 30 years has been second by Ryan Newman in 2002.
  • Last week: Hamlin scored his career-best finish of second before the hometown fans as he battled crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win at Richmond. "It was a great run for us," said Hamlin. "I definitely would rather run second here than I would the Daytona 500 regardless of money or anything. This race is that special to me, both Richmond races are. Had we come out leading (after the final pit stop) I probably could have fended off those guys and won the race."
  • Etc.: Three days before the Richmond race, Hamlin injured his left hand following testing at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He cut his hand between his pinkie and his wrist and needed 19 stitches to sew up the wound. "The guys were having races around the hauler after the test," said Hamlin. "I thought I'd try for the best lap of the night and as I was running around the front of the truck, I caught my hand on a sharp piece of chrome."

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    17) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: In five starts at Darlington, McMurray has two top-fives and three top-10s. He had led in three of the five races. "Racing at Darlington is always fun and intense," said McMurray. "You always run close to the wall and hope you don't take that extra inch and run too close to it. The track is abrasive and fast -- you'll need good pit stops, speed and a good-handling race car to prevail at Darlington."
  • Last week: After finishing 19th at Richmond, McMurray said, "It wasn't a good day for us. The car was really tight all night, and it just wouldn't turn like I needed it to. It was just starting to get better when we got caught on pit road and put a lap down, and after that I just couldn't stay up front to get that lap back."
  • Etc.: McMurray will be driving a car that was tested in Las Vegas but hasn't been run in a race yet this year. Crew chief Bob Osborne believes the car "will be a good one for us. ... Jamie has a pretty good record at Darlington, so hopefully we can leave with a top-10 finish."

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    18) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Busch has four top-10 finishes in the last six races at Darlington, including a second in the closest finish in track history when Ricky Craven beat him by inches on March 16, 2003. Busch also has won two pole positions there. "We've actually been a little stronger than our statistics show," said Busch. "We've gotten innocently involved in a few crashes that cost us some more good finishes."
  • Last week: For the first 248 laps, things couldn't have been going much better for Busch at Richmond as he ran in the top five throughout that period. But then things started going wrong, and by the time the race ended, Busch was three laps down and in 29th place. First, the right front tire went flat, forcing an unscheduled pit stop. Then Busch was given a pass-through penalty for pitting outside the pit box. Then he was given a second pass-through penalty for speeding as he exited his pit stop.
  • Etc.: Busch, the 2004 Nextel Cup champion, occupies the 18th spot in the standings after the first 10 races of the season. But he said "it is way too early to be overly concerned" about his position in the point race. "If we have a couple of good races in a row, that will put us right back in position (to move into the top 10)." Busch is 128 points back of 10th-place Casey Mears.

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    19) Brian Vickers, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Vickers' best career-finish at Darlington in three starts is 16th. But he is the youngest-ever winner at the oldest superspeedway in the sport's history by virtue of his August 2003 win in the Busch Series event. Vickers was 19. "It's old," said Vickers of the track, which opened in 1950. "The pavement is worn out and the track has character -- lots of it. I'm glad the Nextel Cup Series continues to race at Darlington."
  • Last week: Vickers' hopes of a second consecutive top-10 finish came to a crunching halt with only 13 laps to go at Richmond when he and Scott Riggs tangled while battling for 10th place. Vickers bounced off the outside wall and then slammed into the inner barrier as well. The damage was too severe for Vickers to continue, and he ended up 37th to drop five places in the standings, to 19th.
  • Etc.: Ramona Vickers, Brian's mother, will be one of the participating moms who will get the race started Saturday night by giving the command, "Sons and gentlemen, start your engines." Vickers said, "She's always been there for me. Growing up, when my mom realized the passion I had for racing, she was behind me 100 percent, and that's a lot to ask of a mom, especially because of the danger associated with our sport."

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    20) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Biffle is the defending champion of the Dodge Charger 500. He also has one win and four top-five finishes in eight Busch Series starts at Darlington. "Darlington is one of the toughest tracks on the circuit," said Biffle. "Winning this race there last year was one of the highlights of my career. There's so much history at Darlington that winning there puts you on a list with the legends of the sport."
  • Last week: After his first top-five finish of the season, a fourth, Biffle was beaming as if he had won the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond. "It feels like a win," said Biffle, who also was the pole-sitter. "We had a great race car and just, unfortunately, stopped when we felt like it was safe and a lot of guys stayed out a lot longer than we thought and caught us a lap down. We just fought and fought to get back (on the lead lap). We certainly needed this. We've been running like this all season, but we finally made it to the checkered flag." Biffle has three DNF's in 2006.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Doug Richert said "Darlington is one of the harder places to set a car up for because the tires wear out so fast. We'll start with last year's notes and see how the car feels with new tires. We're taking the car that we won with there last year, so we feel pretty confident with that choice."

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    21) Jeff Green, No. 66 Chevrolet, Haas CNC Racing
  • This week: In 10 Cup starts at Darlington, Green has yet to finish in the top 10. His best was a 12th in 2002. Yet Green said, "I look forward to Darlington. I can't wait to get back there."
  • Last week: Green finished 18th at Richmond despite a badly damaged front valance. "We had a great car before the spin (on lap 79)," said Green. "I had no idea until I climbed out after the race exactly how bad the valance had been damaged. I'm disappointed, because we had a top-10 car tonight, no question. We managed to salvage a top-20 finish, and this team really kept their heads up and keep fighting tonight, so that makes me feel good."
  • Etc.: After the first 10 races of the season, Green stands 21st in the point standings, 101 points out of the top 15. Green believes "if we can just get a little good luck on our side a couple of weeks in a row, I think we can be in the top-15 in points before too much longer."

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    22) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Yeley has never raced a Cup car at Darlington but hopes to become the seventh rookie to earn a top-10 finish at the track in the last eight years. Teammate Tony Stewart finished sixth in his first Cup start at Darlington, and Yeley would be delighted to match that this weekend.
  • Last week: Yeley battled an ill-handling race car all evening at Richmond as he finished 22nd, a lap down. Yeley's streak of leading at least one lap in four straight races was snapped on a night when the crew made numerous chassis adjustments but never could get the balance right.
  • Etc.: A unique paint scheme will be displayed on Yeley's Chevrolet this weekend as sponsors GlaxoSmithKline and Roche try to increase awareness about postmenopausal osteoporosis. "A good percentage of race fans are women, and I want to communicate to them how important it is to take the steps necessary to strength their bones," said Yeley.

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    23) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Newman said he is "really looking forward to going to Darlington," and it is easy to see why. He has four top-five finishes in seven starts at the demanding, tricky 1.366-mile oval, including a second in his second start at the track. Newman has only one top-five finish this season but believes a return to his favorite track means a second one is a definite possibility this weekend.
  • Last week: Newman finished eighth at Richmond to move back into the top 25 in the point standings. He jumped three spots to 23rd. "That's our first top 10 since Daytona (actually second), and that says a lot," said Newman. "It's good to get the points going back in the right direction for this Alltel My Circle Dodge. We were just a little off on balance tonight and we needed track position. I think track position could have won us the race or at least got a top-three."
  • Etc.: Newman was expected to contend for the 2006 Nextel Cup championship, but the team has struggled so far this season. "I think we're playing catch-up with a few things technology-wise, but I see that getting better over time," said Newman. "It's not that we're running fifth to seventh and not winning races. We're struggling to get to seventh on any point in the race."

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    24) Scott Riggs, No. 10 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Darlington has not been a good track for Riggs. In three starts there, he has yet to finish in the top 20, and his best finish was 25th. But he thinks things will be a lot different this year because of the success that teammate Kasey Kahne has had at the track. Kahne has finished in the top five the last two times the Nextel Cup cars have raced at Darlington.
  • Last week: With 14 laps to go at Richmond, Riggs and Brian Vickers tangled while battling for 10th place. Riggs recovered to finish 14th, while Vickers' evening was over. "If I got into him, it's my fault," said Riggs. "If he came down on me, it's his fault. I don't know if he's mad or said it was my fault or what. I'm glad we were able to bring it home where we did considering we spun and hit the wall and all that. We were going for another top 10. We just didn't get it."
  • Etc.: Evernham Motorsports will hold its fifth annual Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday, May 27 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the race shop in Statesville, N.C. Autograph sessions with car owner Ray Evernham, Kasey Kahne and A.J. Foyt IV will be at 9:30 a.m. and Riggs, Jeremy Mayfield and Boris Said will sign autographs beginning at 11:30 a.m.

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    25) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Like the rest of the standout rookie class, Truex will be making his first Cup start at Darlington on Saturday night. He finished third in the Busch Series race a year ago and would be delighted to match that finish this weekend. Truex has only one top-10 finish in the first 10 races this year.
  • Last week: Engine failure on lap 285 of the 400-lap event at Richmond left Truex with a 41st-place finish. As a result, he dropped five places in the point standings, to 25th, after the first 10 races of the season. He had gotten as high as 13th early in the year.
  • Etc.: Many people predicted that Truex would win the rookie title in 2006. But after the first 10 races, he stands fourth in the rookie standings with 87 points. Denny Hamlin leads the way with 107 points. Hamlin has been the top-finishing rookie four times this year. Truex has yet to earn that honor.

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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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