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Virtual Pit Reporter: News on top 25 teams

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1) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by 48 points as the series heads to New Hampshire, where he has two wins among his four top-10 finishes in eight races. His 8.625 average finish at Loudon is second only to Ryan Newman among all drivers with more than one start. Johnson will drive chassis 48278 at the flat, one-mile oval. ... "We put a lot into the Loudon race coming up," Johnson said. "This race is really important because it gets you ready for the second one, which is the first race of the Chase. We've got our eyes on it. We didn't fare well there the last couple years, and we know that's a track where we need to pick up our performance. Hopefully we can do it this year." ... He finished 13th in this race one year ago and eighth at Loudon last September. Johnson has led in just three of his races there but has been running at the finish in all eight.
  • Last week: Johnson finished sixth at Chicagoland after starting fifth.
  • Etc.: After last week's race at Joliet, Ill., Johnson joined 51 other race drivers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a three-day test leading up to next month's AllState 400 at the Brickyard. "It's pretty unique," Johnson said of the test at the Speedway. "What you learn there doesn't really apply for any other tracks except maybe some stuff at Pocono. There's some things we've seen at Pocono that we can take to Indy and vice versa. Hopefully we're able to do that, but Indy is special in its own right. It's been a track that's been really tough on the No. 48 team. We're going to be there ready to go and eager and hopefully find what we need so we can be competitive when we go back to the race. The history speaks for itself. The track is kind of rectangular-shaped and much different than anything else we run on."

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    2) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Except for the final four laps of regulation last week in Chicagoland, Kenseth would be entering Sunday's race as the series points leader. Instead, he is 51 points behind. ... Kenseth has an average finish of 10.7 at New Hampshire, tops among active Cup drivers with 10 or more starts at the track, and the third-best track in Kenseth's career. Kenseth has completed 3,476 of 3,480 laps in 12 races at Loudon, the fourth-best mark of any driver that has competed in those same 12 events. His eight top-10 finishes at Loudon are best among all drivers since 2000 (tied with Dale Jarrett). ... Kenseth's average start this year is 14.6, nearly seven positions better than his career average of 21.3. ... "We've ran pretty good at Loudon lately," Kenseth said. "It's important for us to go there and run good this weekend because that momentum will carry over to when we return there for the Chase in September. It's important to have a good run for a number of reasons. We ran really good at Chicago last week but didn't get the finish we probably deserved. It's important for us to bounce back strong this weekend at Loudon to kind of put Chicago behind us. But the important thing to me now is that we're getting our cars to where they can run up front and compete for the win each week, and we're doing that right now."
  • Last week: In Kenseth's mind, Jeff Gordon's bump and run at Chicagoland was "no accident." Kenseth's Ford Fusion was the class of the field in the 400-mile race, but in the closing laps, Gordon's Chevrolet was closing in. As Kenseth approached Casey Mears' lapped car, he had to slow slightly. Before he realized it, Gordon put his bumper into the rear quarter-panel of Kenseth's Ford, sending the leader spinning out of control. It was the same move Kenseth used on Gordon at Bristol in March, which resulted in Gordon pushing Kenseth after climbing out of the car. "That wasn't an accident," Kenseth said. "He just ran over me. On the restart, he was hanging back and NASCAR has a rule you can't hang back two car lengths or one car length, but I've never seen it enforced." Kenseth claimed Gordon was intentionally laying back to get a better run on him when the green flag waved. It's an old racing tactic that is used on restarts. "Apparently he was mad because I blocked him on that restart when he got a run," Kenseth said. Kenseth had a right to be upset. For the second year in a row, he led the most laps at Chicagoland only to fall short at the end. Last year, he led 176 laps and finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. On Sunday, he led four times for 112 laps before he was punted out of the way by Gordon. "In Matt's mind, it was probably payback for Bristol, so if he came in and shoved me, it would have been a clean slate," Gordon said. "I was definitely going to move him out of the way, he just spun out. I'm not going to give an inch, and I don't expect him to give me an inch. I certainly didn't mean to wreck him, but I didn't mind moving him out of the way, either."
  • Etc.: To make matters worse for Kenseth, his rental car was rear-ended when the NASCAR star was driving from the Indianapolis airport to the Brickyard for Monday's first day of a three-day test for next month's race at the Speedway. "I was at a stoplight and (Roush Racing teammate Greg) Biffle was following me and he always runs into me, so I thought it was him joking. It wasn't. It was a student driver and instructor who just pile-drove into the back of me," Kenseth said. "They wanted to stop and fix it, but I didn't care if the bumper was laying on the ground. I would rather pay for it than mess with that. So, anyway, we got here and ran a couple laps and didn't run too good. Then we took the second car out and I wrecked that right away. So it's been an eventful 24 hours."

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    3) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Inc.
  • This week: With only eight races to go before the Chase for the Championship field is set, Earnhardt has eight top-15 finishes in the last nine races. He has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three races at New Hampshire and in five of the last six. In 13 career starts at Loudon, Earnhardt has three top-five finishes among his six top-10s. He has led five races there for 175 laps, the most coming in 2003 when he led 120 laps en route to a fifth-place finish in the Sylvania 300. ... "New Hampshire is a cool little ol' track," Earnhardt said. "I feel like we should probably already have a win there, because we've been all around it quite a few times. We've had good finishes. Last year, we got us a top-five with (crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. back on the pit box, and that was really cool. We seem to do OK on the one-milers, and we're really excited because we're bringing the car we won Richmond with." ... Earnhardt is third in points for the second week in a row, the highest he's been in the Nextel Cup point standings in 2006. ... "Jimmie (Johnson) and Matt (Kenseth) have pretty much run away from the rest of us, but I don't concern myself too much with what's going on in front of me as I do with what's behind me," he said. "I want to continue to widen the gap between me and the 11th-place driver. We've been bringing some good cars to the track. We need to continue doing that. We need to work on our pit stops, and we know that. I've got a great pit crew, and when they're on, nobody can touch us. It's good to get these things worked out now rather than later."
  • Last week: Earnhardt led 27 laps and finished fifth at Chicagoland. It was the 65th top-five finish for Earnhardt in 237 starts. ... "We're pretty darn happy with that. A top-five finish is what we need to do every week," Earnhardt said. "We had a very, very fast car (Sunday), but we needed long green-flag runs to really take advantage of it. That made all of those late cautions so frustrating. We needed 20 laps or so, and then our car would get after it. We were kickin' everyone's butt, but in the middle of the race we didn't adjust the car enough for the track, and we dropped back a bit. But, Tony Jr. made some great changes near the end, and we were able to gain back a lot of spots."
  • Etc.: Seven of Earnhardt's 17 career victories have come on tracks one mile in length or shorter.

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    4) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton boasts a track-record four wins among his seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 22 Cup starts at Loudon. He also owns track records for most laps led by a race winner (300 -- September 2000), least laps led by a race winner (two -- July 1999) and fastest race time and speed (2:42:35, 117.134 mph -- July 1999). ... Loudon was the site of Burton's first Cup start on July 11, 1993. Burton will pilot chassis No. 175, a new car from the Richard Childress Racing stable. ... "I certainly have high hopes going there," Burton said. "I'm real comfortable with the race track. We worked pretty hard at a Richmond test and did not run well at Phoenix. We ran very well at Richmond. We've tried to step up our program and build even better cars for that kind of race track, so I go into it optimistic. Obviously as the races get closer to two or three to go before the last 10, we've got a tremendous amount of emphasis put on it. However, we can't forget that they pay the same amount of points for the third race of the year as they do for the 25th race of the year. So all the work that we've done up to this point is what matters, and every race by itself matters a great deal."
  • Last week: Burton's runner-up finish last week at Chicagoland vaulted the 39-year-old driver to fourth in the point standings, the highest he has been since March 2, 2003, when he was fourth following the race in Las Vegas.
  • Etc.: Prior to his arrival at Loudon for the Lenox Industrial Tools 300 race weekend, Burton was scheduled to spend Thursday in Bristol, Conn., at the ESPN campus, appearing on numerous TV and radio shows. ... Burton and Team Cingular tested at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday in preparation for next month's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard.

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    5) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne posted top-10 finishes in his first three races at Loudon before being hit from behind and wrecked just past the halfway mark of last year's second event. In his first three outings at New Hampshire, he finished eighth, fourth and sixth. He has an average start of 10.2 and average finish of 14.0 at Loudon. ... "Making the Chase for the Championship is our goal, but it's very important that the group peaks as a team for those final 10 races," Kahne said. "Our performance in the last three races hasn't been up to the level we need or expect. We want to change that at New Hampshire, where we've had reasonable success in the past. ... There are eight races remaining before the field for the Chase is decided. Nothing is set. We have to race hard but smart. Kenny (Francis, team director) and the No. 9 team have been in this position before, getting Jeremy (Mayfield) in the Chase two years in a row. That experience is certainly a plus."
  • Last week: Kahne finished 23rd at Chicagoland and dropped from fourth to fifth in the point standings. Kahne has scored four victories (Atlanta, Texas, Lowe's and Michigan) in 2006, more than any other driver.
  • Etc.: The race winner at Loudon has started in the top 10 in 11 of the 22 races, including four of the last seven. Kahne has started in the top 10 twice, including the outside pole in this event last year.

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    6) Mark Martin, No. 6 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Martin will make his 600th consecutive Nextel Cup start Sunday. It's the longest active streak in NASCAR and the fifth-longest of all-time. Coincidentally, Martin made his 500th consecutive start in September 2003 at New Hampshire. Martin's streak dates back to Feb. 14, 1988, when he first teamed with Jack Roush in the Daytona 500. Martin finished 41st that day; humble beginnings for what would become one of the most successful partnerships in NASCAR history: 19 years, 35 wins, 41 poles and 366 top-10 finishes. Martin first competed in the Cup series in 1981, running five races, winning two poles and posting two top-10 finishes. The following year he ran a full season. Martin was unable to find adequate sponsorship and ran only a handful of Cup races from 1983-87 before hooking up with Roush. "The first thing that comes to mind is that I've been around for a long time," Martin said with a laugh regarding his streak. "But really, I've been fortunate in a lot of ways. I've never had a sick day. I've never had big enough tragedy to keep me out of the seat, and I've been able to go to work and do my job for a long time. It says a lot for those around me over the years that have also worked really hard to make that be able to happen. It says a great deal about Jack Roush, who basically gave me a second chance and a great opportunity to pursue my dreams, and fortunately for us, we've been doing that ever since." ... Martin won his first Cup pole at New Hampshire in July 1993 but has never won at Loudon, despite three second-place finishes there.
  • Last week: Martin finished 18th at Joliet.
  • Etc.: Martin finished in the top 10 in 11 of his first 13 races at Loudon, but he has only one top 10 there since November 2001.

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    7) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart, the defending champion of this race, is searching for his third career victory at New Hampshire. He has eight top-five finishes at Loudon. Stewart has led a total of 736 laps at New Hampshire, second only to Jeff Gordon's 1,069. Stewart has only two DNFs (did not finish) at New Hampshire (spring 2002 and fall 2004). ... In the two Cup races last year at New Hampshire, Stewart finished first in July and second in September, leading 405 of the 600 laps. ... Stewart is second in miles led this season, pacing the field for 963.32 miles. Greg Biffle is first with 1,211.06. Matt Kenseth is third with 868.20, followed by Jeff Gordon (576.45) and Kasey Kahne (560.91). No other driver has led more than 349 miles this season.
  • Last week: Stewart joined the list of Americans feeling pain at the pump when a probable third-place finish in Sunday's race at Chicagoland turned into a 32nd-place result after he ran out of fuel four laps short of the race's 270-lap distance. Originally scheduled for 267 laps, the race went into overtime when contact between the cars of Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon -- who were running 1-2 -- sent Kenseth spinning off Turn 2 on lap 264 to bring out the caution. A green-white-checkered finish was the result, extending the race by three laps. ... After coming off Turn 2 on the final caution lap before the race was to resume, Stewart radioed that he was running out of gas. The crew was stunned. As Stewart coasted down pit lane, the rest of his competitors took off from the start/finish line. After topping off with enough fuel to make it to the finish, Stewart re-fired the engine and left his pit stall, mindful of the 45 mph pit road speed limit. He rejoined the race, but with the rest of the field at full steam, Stewart lost a lap as he brought his Home Depot machine up to speed. "A tough way to end a race," Stewart said. "We worked all the way from 34th, and then to have it end like that ... it's pretty hard to take."
  • Etc.: Six members of The Home Depot Racing Team are from New England: crew chief Greg Zipadelli from Berlin, Conn.; front tire changer and mechanic Ira-Jo Hussey from Manchester, N.H.; car chief and brake specialist Jason Shapiro from Essex, Conn.; jack man and mechanic Jason Lee from Willimantic, Conn.; shock specialist Dave Hansen from York, Maine; and PR director Mike Arning from Lunenburg, Mass.

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    8) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch has competed in just two races at New Hampshire, finishing fourth in this race one year ago and 27th at Loudon in September, running at the finish of both. ... Crew chief Alan Gustafson selected chassis No. 323 for New Hampshire. The car had a strong record in 2005, winning at Phoenix and finishing in fourth place twice at Richmond and once at Loudon. ... "I like racing at New Hampshire," Busch said. "It's one of those tracks that just suits my driving style. It's a shorter race than most of the Cup races we run, so we'll have to be paying attention and on our toes so we keep up front. It's a hard track to pass on so, you have to be selective when you make your moves, and track position will be very important."
  • Last week: Busch finished third at Chicagoland.
  • Etc.: Two members of the Kellogg's Racing crew will be making a visit close to their home state this weekend. Front-tire changer DJ Richardson is from Leominster, Mass., while jack man Rick Pigeon hails from Fairfax, Vt. ... Busch and the No. 5 Kellogg's car will be featured on a coupon book circulated by Kellogg's commemorating the company's "Fuel for School" campaign. The No. 5 car also will don a "Fuel for School" decal on the TV panel for this weekend's 300-miler in New Hampshire.

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    9) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick has one top-five and five top-10 finishes among 10 Cup starts at New Hampshire. He finished 22nd in this race a year ago and 10th at Loudon last September. Harvick has led in six races at New Hampshire, totaling 68 laps. Harvick's average starting position at Loudon is 15.4, with his best start of fourth coming in 2001. (He went on to finish 26th). Harvick's average finishing position is 14.6, including a second-place result in 2003. "We've had a few things go wrong and fortunately our cars have been running good enough where we can still be in the points contention and still be where we need to be," Harvick said. "Our cars should keep running good every week, and if we can just keep the crazy things from happening and making mistakes, then we should be fine. It's just one of those places where you have to get through the center of the corner and get up off the corner wide open. ... Passing is harder there than at most places because it's so hard to make your car work getting up off the corner. That makes track position probably the most important thing."
  • Last week: Harvick finished fourth at Chicagoland.
  • Etc.: Harvick also will compete in the Busch race on Saturday in chassis No. 046 from the Richard Childress Racing stable, rebuilt for the 2006 season. That is the same car Harvick drove to victory lane earlier this season at Phoenix and Richmond. It's also the car that finished 19th at The Milwaukee Mile after Harvick spun out in the closing laps while battling for the lead.

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    10) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: After capturing his 75th win at Chicagoland, Gordon will look to tie Dale Earnhardt for sixth on the NASCAR career victory list Sunday. Although he has three victories at the 1.058-mile track, the four-time Cup Series champion last visited Victory Lane at Loudon in 1998. To put that into perspective, the win was the 38th of Gordon's career. Along with his three wins in Loudon, Gordon has three poles, nine top-fives and 12 top-10s in 22 career starts. He has paced the field in 14 events for a total of 1,069 laps led, the most of any driver. In advance of this weekend's race, the No. 24 DuPont team tested at the Milwaukee Mile in hopes the two tracks' similarities would pay dividends.
  • Last week: Gordon won last Sunday's race at Chicagoland after spinning out the leader, Matt Keneth, in the closing laps.
  • Etc.: Steve Letarte, Gordon's crew chief, grew up in Cornish, Maine. "Our primary focus each weekend is to win," Gordon said. "Sure, we're aware of possible records and the fact that Steve grew up near here, but that is in the back of our minds. We haven't had the success we would have liked here recently, and we're looking to turn that around. Not because of any record or any hometown ties, but because we're competitors and we want to win."

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    11) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Biffle had two top-five finishes in 2005 at New Hampshire. He hopes to continue that streak this weekend in his bid to get back into the top 10. "We've got eight races until the Chase, which sounds like a lot, but there's no room for us to make any mistakes," said Biffle, who is 47 points back of 10th-place Jeff Gordon.
  • Last week: Biffle ended up 11th at Chicagoland. "We had a car that would run in the top three or four, and we just never got there," he said. "We just never got any track position. Every time it comes down to a fuel-mileage race, we end up not doing well. (The car) was really bad in traffic. That was my worst trait; once I got out of traffic, I was really good."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Doug Richert said: "We're taking the same car we ran at Martinsville earlier this year because they are both flat tracks and we were pretty happy with the way the car ran at Martinsville. New Hampshire used to be one of our weaknesses, but we had two top-five finishes there last year. If we can just go back and finish in the top five again, I'll be happy."

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    12) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Even though Hamlin has never raced a Nextel Cup car at New Hampshire, he believes he will have a good weekend. "I'm really excited about the next few races," he said, "beginning with Loudon, the flat track where I finished third in the Busch car and got my best career finish (in the series). I just love the flat tracks. They seem like they suit me."
  • Last week: Hamlin battled back from an unscheduled pit stop to finish 14th at Chicagoland. But with Jeff Gordon winning the race, Hamlin dropped out of the top 10 in the point standings. "Unfortunately, we had a loose wheel there and had to come in and went a lap down," Hamlin said. "I think with 30 or 40 (laps) to go we were 26th or 27th. We made a decent day out of it. The car was tight most of the day."
  • Etc.: After the race at Loudon, the series moves to Pocono and then on to Indianapolis. Hamlin feels these tracks along with Richmond are places "that I know I can run top five at. I'm really excited about the rest of the season."

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    13) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Busch won both races at New Hampshire in 2004 and finished second in the first race a year ago. He was also second in the 2002 event. "We're heading into a stretch of tracks where we should run really well -- this week at Loudon, then back to Pocono and on to Indy for the Brickyard (400)," Busch said. "We're continuing to get stronger and stronger overall as a team, and we look to continue that momentum that we've been building since the end of May."
  • Last week: Busch finished eighth at Chicagoland for his fifth consecutive top-10 finish. "It was a nice, solid run," Busch said. "We learned a lot (Sunday) for the mile-and-a-half tracks. We used some good pit strategy to get up in the top 10, and once we got up there, we managed to stay. We're getting better and better on these mile-and-a-half tracks, and we'll eventually get it figured out."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Roy McCauley said: "I would want Kurt over any other driver in the garage area in our cars right now. We've grown so much for a first-year team, and Kurt deserves so much credit for the positive course we're on. We continue to learn together as a team each and every week."

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    14) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: In three starts at Loudon, Edwards' best finish is 12th. He knows he needs to improve on that if he is to keep alive his hopes of making the Chase. "It is imperative for the Office Depot team to run well this weekend," Edwards said. "The last couple of weeks have been tough on us in regards to the point standings." Edwards trails 10th-place Jeff Gordon by 193 points.
  • Last week: Edwards battled back from severe handling problems early in the race to finish 20th at Chicagoland. "We had the setup way too loose at the beginning, and I slipped up, hit the wall right off the bat on the first run, and that kind of slowed us down the whole day," Edwards said. "But we recovered pretty well."
  • Etc.: Edwards plans to run all three races at New Hampshire this weekend, including the two events on Saturday -- the Whelen Modified race and the NASCAR Busch Series event. On Thursday night, Edwards will compete in a 100-lap shootout at Middletown, N.Y. "I love racing, so this will be as good as it gets for me," Edwards said. "I am really excited to see how I feel after all of these races."

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    15) Casey Mears, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: On paper, Loudon doesn't look like a good track for Mears. His best finish is 16th, and that came in his 2003 debut at the one-mile speedway. But Mears feels he has a chance to do well on a lot of upcoming tracks, and he lists Loudon as one of them. "Our team is working harder than it ever has to win races and get top-10 finishes," he said.
  • Last week: A late-race spin ruined any chance Mears had of finishing in the top 15. "Really, we had about a 15th-place car," he said after finishing 25th at Chicagoland. "We'd gain spots on restarts and then try to hold guys off as long as I could. We'd get 15 to 20 laps on our tires and everybody would start going by us." Mears was spun out by Sterling Marlin.
  • Etc.: Mears has fallen 228 points out of the top 10. "We're not giving up on that (shot at the Chase) at all," he said. "Until they say we're mathematically eliminated, we're not giving up on it. I feel like if we start reeling off top-fives and top-10s, we'll be there."

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    16) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer has never run a Nextel Cup race at Loudon. He finished 16th in his only Busch Series appearance at the one-mile track. Bowyer will drive the same car that he drove to a fifth-place finish at Phoenix and a 10th-place finish at Richmond. "We've run good at every flat track we've been to this year," he said.
  • Last week: Bowyer finished ninth for his second consecutive top-10 finish as he jumped two spots in the standings to 16th. He was in 19th place at Chicagoland with 47 laps remaining. "We're back on track," a delighted Bowyer said. "I can't say enough about (crew chief) Gil Martin and the entire Jack Daniel's Racing Team. We had great pit stops."
  • Etc.: Bowyer said the key at Loudon is getting the car "to roll through the center of the corner. If you have a car that can do that, it's fairly easy to pass at New Hampshire. If your car is tight in the center, you're going to have trouble."

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    17) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: McMurray's chances of being one of the 10 drivers in this year's Chase for the Championship are fading fast. He has slipped back to 17th in the standings, and he is 298 points out of the top 10 with only eight races left to make up ground. In six starts at Loudon, McMurray does have three top-10 finishes.
  • Last week: It was a long weekend for McMurray and his team. On Friday, he wrecked his primary car when a "sway bar bolt rubbed a hole in the right-front tire and we lost all the air (in the tire) and hit the wall," McMurray said. Then the team struggled with the backup car and never ran well in the race. McMurray limped home in 39th place.
  • Etc.: McMurray has formed the Jamie McMurray Foundation to promote awareness of individuals and families affected with autism. "Autism knows no boundaries as it throws many obstacles at families with autistic children," McMurray said. "I firmly believe NASCAR fans are the best and they are the most generous in giving to good causes such as this."

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    18) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Newman will be seeking his second consecutive win at New Hampshire and the third of his career at the flat one-mile track. He has led all eight races he has run at Loudon, and his only finish outside the top 10 came when he suffered engine failure in 2004. "We won the last time we were there, and I know everyone on the team feels like we can do it again," Newman said.
  • Last week: Newman's hopes of making the Chase for a third straight year took a beating at Chicagoland as he finished 36th to drop to 18th in the standings, a whopping 304 points back of 10th-place Jeff Gordon. Newman said the car was "wicked loose" during the final 50 laps. Newman's hopes of a top-25 finish ended on lap 227 when he was caught in the middle as Michael Waltrip and Clint Bowyer raced by on both sides. Newman bounced off both cars and spent the rest of the race "just riding it out."
  • Etc.: Newman believes he is not out of the running for the Chase. "But we need some better runs if we're going to make it in," he said. "New Hampshire is a good place for us to go in order to get that finish we're looking for."

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    19) Elliott Sadler, No. 38 Ford, Robert Yates Racing
  • This week: Sadler has only three top-10 finishes in 11 starts at New Hampshire, with eighth being his best finish. He has started in the top 10 the last three races at Loudon and led in two of the three events. Sadler will be looking for his third top-10 finish in the last four races.
  • Last week: Nothing went right for Sadler as he finished a disappointing 38th at Chicagoland. The problems began early as Sadler battled an "extremely loose" car. The handling problems worsened as the race went on, and he hit the wall on lap 107, resulting in heavy right-side and rear damage. A severe tire rub and damage to the spoiler plagued the team later in the race. "It was just a long, long day," Sadler said.
  • Etc.: Sadler hates to see teammate Dale Jarrett leave Robert Yates Racing at the end of the season. "I think the world of Dale Jarrett," he said. "I can still see the fire in his eyes. It's gonna be very hard to replace him, but I wish him well."

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    20) Brian Vickers, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: In four starts at Loudon, Vickers' best finish has been 11th. He did win the pole for this race a year ago, and he led both races in 2005. Vickers knows his chances of qualifying for the Chase are slim, but he believes he can be in the top 15 by the second Richmond race. Presently, he is 134 points behind 15th-place Casey Mears.
  • Last week: After qualifying second-fastest at Chicagoland, Vickers had high hopes of challenging for the win. But he had to be content with a 13th-place finish. "We started out strong and then kind of faded toward the middle part of the race," he said, "but when it mattered toward the end, they (his crew) got it right."
  • Etc.: Asked if he has become more aggressive since he announced his decision to leave Hendrick Motorsports for Toyota, Vickers replied, "I'm sure everybody is going to have different opinions on the situation. I felt like I've always gone in there and given 100 percent. Anytime change comes, no matter who you are and what you do, change can be a refreshing thing sometimes."

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    21) Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Sorenson has only run at New Hampshire one time, and that was in the Busch Series race last year. He finished 14th. "There were a lot of cautions that day and we successfully avoided those," he said. "That is usually half the battle when racing on shorter tracks. The other part is pit strategy and having a solid car that is fast because it is hard to pass."
  • Last week: Sorenson finished seventh as he was both the top-finishing rookie at Chicagoland and the best-finishing Dodge driver. "We ran well all day," he said. "The car was solid all day. We ran in the top five a little bit, and this is probably one of the best cars we've had all year. The cautions hurt us at the end."
  • Etc.: Sorenson has four top-10 finishes in 20 Cup starts, with two of those coming in the last four races. "We've had good cars at many races this year, but it seems like something always kept us from getting a good finish," Sorenson said. "This time (at Chicagoland) everything went right. I'm hoping it is a sign of things to come."

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    22) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex, who will be making his Nextel Cup debut at New Hampshire, he considers Loudon to be a home track. "It holds some special memories," he said. "We used to race there a lot in the Busch North Series. I got my first victory in Busch North there, and we usually have a lot of family and friends show up for the race. New Hampshire is not that far away from where I grew up in New Jersey, so there are a lot of people in the area who saw me race when I was coming up through the ranks."
  • Last week: Truex finished 16th at Chicagoland. "We had a decent car," Truex said, "but we just struggled with the handling of the car for most of the race. It wouldn't run on the top of the track, and the lapped cars kept clogging up the bottom. The slower cars really hurt our progress."
  • Etc.: Truex won a Busch Series race in New Hampshire last July. "You definitely have to take care of your equipment at Loudon," he said. "You race hard into the corners and mash the brakes. If you're not careful, you'll burn the brakes up."

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    23) Scott Riggs, No. 10 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Riggs has not fared well at Loudon in his four starts, with 26th being his best finish. He hopes to run much better than that this weekend. "Loudon is a tough track to get a handle on," Riggs said, "but I am confident that we will be able to come up with the right chassis setup."
  • Last week: Riggs was not happy with his 15th-place finish at Chicagoland. "It was a rough day for us," he said. "We fell back at the beginning. We were way too loose off the corner. About three-quarters through the race we got our car dialed in, but at a place like this where track position is so critical, it's hard to claw your way back up there through those guys. "
  • Etc.: Riggs said the biggest improvement he has made as a driver in recent years is "I've learned a lot about what my race cars need to feel like at these different race tracks. I've learned a lot about the tires. The tire change came when I moved to the Cup level. To go from what I call harder construction tires, not really harder on the surface but just the side walls and the feel of the tire, was a lot different in 2003 than it was in 2004, '05 and '06."

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    24) Dale Jarrett, No. 88 Ford, Robert Yates Racing
  • This week: In 22 career starts at New Hampshire, Jarrett has scored 14 top-10 finishes, including a win in July 2001. Nine of those 14 top-10s have come in the July event at the one-mile track. Jarrett's string of seven consecutive top-10s in the summer race ended last year when he finished 16th. "New Hampshire is a track for whatever reason that this team has performed well in the past," Jarrett said. "Hopefully, we can continue that trend this weekend."
  • Last week: Jarrett had a tough time at Chicagoland, finishing 31st. "We struggled in practice Friday and then of course qualifying (starting 41st)," he said. "The car was just terrible at the start (of the race). Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) improved the car to where I could at least drive it, but then the transmission problem hurt us there in the end (when he lost third gear). It just wasn't our weekend."
  • Etc.: UPS announced Friday that it had signed a two-year agreement with Michael Waltrip Racing to continue to sponsor Jarrett for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Jarrett announced earlier this year that he would be leaving Robert Yates Racing to drive for Waltrip for the next two years.

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    25) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte has nine top-10 finishes in 22 starts at New Hampshire, including a third in the first race a year ago. He feels he can add to that total this weekend. "We've had some really good runs there in the past," Labonte said. "I really like the track and think we'll have a good run this weekend."
  • Last week: Labonte finished 12th at Chicagoland, "but we really wanted to be inside the top 10," he said. "We ran second for a while, and we had a pretty good car. But, yeah, it's good to get that finish after what happened at Sonoma and Daytona. That put us back on the track to get some good runs the rest of this month."
  • Etc.: Labonte threw out the first pitch before the White Sox-Red Sox game on July 7 in Chicago. But he almost missed the opportunity when practice at the track lasted until 6:35 p.m. He was due at the ballpark an hour later. After a helicopter ride from the track to Midway Airport, Labonte was forced to sprint into the stadium and through the tunnel. He didn't have any time to warm up, but he still delivered a nearly perfect pitch to home plate. "We made it in time, and it was very cool," Labonte said.

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

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