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Virtual Pit Reporter: Updates on 25 Cup teams

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1) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Gordon can go for broke at Bristol, where he has five wins, 12 top-fives, 18 top-10s and five poles, because he already has clinched a spot in the Chase. Another victory would give him five for the season and increase his bonus points entering the 10-race Chase in September. Gordon has led in 23 of his 29 Bristol races for 2,435 laps. He finished third there in March, the first-ever race for the Car of Tomorrow. This is the first track where the COT will make a return appearance. "The thing is that the track is different than the last time we were there," Gordon said, referring to the fact BMS has a new surface. "They've done all new concrete. Nobody really has any laps there. I think it's going to be like going there for the very first time ever. With the new car, I think we learned enough the last time we were there that we should be able to dial the car in but it's just going to be a whole new learning curve on the track this time around." ... Regardless, Gordon likes where his team is at: leading the points and already in the 10-race playoff. "We're solid," he said. "I'm extremely happy, but you always want to be better. That's the thing. You can't ever stop trying to improve. I think we are an awesome team right now just the way we work together, the way we don't panic, the way we've won together and lost together and the way we've been consistent this year. I think that's a championship-caliber team, and I'm really excited about taking this entire team into this Chase. I feel like we've got an excellent chance to get our fifth championship and our first Nextel Cup, but it's going to be a fight. It's going to be a real fight, and there's going to be tracks where we're not as good as some of the competitors. There's going to be tracks where we are as good or better. It's just going to be a fight every single weekend for 10 weeks straight."
  • Last race: For the first time in NASCAR's modern-era (1972-present), the Cup series raced on a Tuesday after the 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway was rained out on two consecutive days. Gordon led most of Tuesday's race but gambled by staying on the track rather than pitting for the final time. The used tires made his car loose, and the gamble did not work. He slid in front of Matt Kenseth and spun across the infield grass to bring out the next-to-last caution of the race. He continued on and finished 27th. "We were really good, starting off way tight, and the track loosened up and I was having a lot of fun," Gordon said. "At the end, we stayed out but I was getting way loose. We might have had a tire going down. This is a great race car, and we can only make it better for some races coming out. If we can't win and get those bonus points, we don't really care where we finish now. Matt Kenseth was probably a little impatient with me there, and I was trying to get my car to tighten up. I knew I was giving up a spot, but the way it turned out, it looked a lot worse than it was today."
  • Etc.: Now that Gordon has crew chief Steve Letarte back on top of his pit box, the points leader believes he has the final piece in place to make his run at a fifth Cup championship. As if he needed more help. What Gordon wants to do most is return to Victory Lane, something he believes he can do now that Letarte is back. "We're always trying to win and get bonus points," Gordon said. "The biggest thing is just trying to make the team and the cars as strong as they can possibly be, and the good thing about Steve not being here is that he's able to work on some things and think about some things clearly without having to get the whole team prepared and be able to travel and go to the race track. So hopefully some of those things he's been thinking about, maybe we can make them work and pay off." ... Letarte has many strong qualities as a crew chief, but one in particular stands out to Gordon. "I think his strong point is common sense," Gordon said. "He's very smart and he understands a lot of things, but he's not a guy that feels like he knows everything. He doesn't mind delegating the jobs to the right people and gathering information from others. He's not afraid to say, 'I don't know enough about this subject, I've got to go to somebody that knows more,' and then I think he's really good with the common-sense side of things when it comes to those pit call strategy and things like that when you're coming down pit road and you've got to make a call. He's making a call with a lot of information, and I think just his ability to have common sense about it and think clearly pays off."

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    2) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Hamlin is the second driver to lock himself into the Chase, joining Jeff Gordon. "It gives us the freedom to do whatever we want," Hamlin said of clinching. "We might push it harder to go for wins than we normally would." Hamlin has one top-10 finish at Bristol and has led one of his three races there for 177 laps. He finished 14th at Bristol in March and was sixth in this race last year.
  • Last race: Hamlin finished fifth at Michigan. "We had a great day, by far the most competitive we've ever been at Michigan," Hamlin said. "If we keep knocking down finishes like this in the Chase, we're going to be tough. If we continue to be competitive like we are, we're going to be a championship contender."
  • Etc.: With three races left before the cutoff for the Chase, Hamlin wants to keep it simple now that he is safely in the field. "You got to make sure you don't wreck race cars, that's for sure, because we don't want to get behind on getting these things ready for the Chase," he said. "... Yeah, we can throw a little bit of caution in the wind when it comes to pit strategy, but as far as on the race track really I got to be careful to not get ourselves in trouble and get ourselves behind."

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    3) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has won two of his last four races at Bristol. Those are his only two victories there, but he also has seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 15 career Cup starts at Bristol. He is one driver who insists he doesn't change his driving style as the championship run nears. "I do everything the same every week," Kenseth said. "I drive as hard as I can every week, and whatever our car will give us and whatever situation we're in, we'll get the best finish we can out of it, and that's all you can really do. There's no really extra you can do. If there was extra you could do to try to go from fifth to winning the race, you'd do it every week and try to win every week. We're running as hard as we can run, and we'll go out and give it our best effort every week. I feel good about where we're at, as far as making the Chase -- we're in a pretty comfortable spot. Certainly once they re-grid the cars and everything, I think we're tied for 11th, or something like that, right now. That's not exactly stellar, when you go from third to 11th. But I feel good about my team. They're doing a great job, and they're doing a great job with car prep and all the stuff has been real reliable. We just have to get our cars running just a little bit better to have a shot at it."
  • Last race: Kenseth finished fourth at Michigan. "I hit the wall a little bit early, chasing Kurt Busch around, and he got sideways up there and I kind of lost track of where I was at and bumped the fender in," Kenseth said. "The cars are just so aero-sensitive that we could never quite get that fixed and get that back. But, overall, we had a good car all day and I made that mistake and took us out of a chance to win. We just made some small changes, and we finally had it right right before I hit the wall, and it kind of went downhill from there."
  • Etc.: The Car of Tomorrow will be prominently featured in the 10-race Chase, and Kenseth was asked how much impact the COT will have in determining the title. "I think it's going to have a big impact on it," Kenseth said. "I feel better about it than I felt in the beginning of year. I think we're still behind at some tracks with it than others. I think maybe Dover, some of those tracks, we can be fairly competitive, but Loudon, Richmond, some of those tracks, have been a big struggle for us. We still have some work to do, but we're working on it and I think we're getting it a little bit better."

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    4) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart has one win at Bristol, but that came all the way back in 2001. He has four top-five and five top-10 finishes in 17 Bristol starts, but the two-time Cup champion loves to race at the short tracks under the lights on a Saturday night. "It's probably one of the most exciting races of the year," Stewart said. "Even though it's going to be a little different, it's still Bristol. You can do whatever you want to the race track, it's still going to be Bristol and it's still going to be fun and exciting for everybody. You just don't have time to relax. Everything happens so fast. At the end of the day when the race is done and your adrenaline wears off, you're worn out. But when you're in the car and the adrenaline's pumping, you don't get in that smooth, calm rhythm that you do at a place like Michigan or California where you've got big, sweeping corners and long straightaways. There's no time to relax. You don't get that luxury at Bristol. It's standard short-track racing. You've got to make sure that you keep the fenders on your car all day and that you're not beating up your race car. If that means a guy gets underneath you and you've got to let him go, then that's what you do. But at the same time, you still have to race hard and not give up track position and lap times because it doesn't take long before you're in lapped traffic. It's a track where you need to be really aggressive, but, at the same time, taking care of your equipment all day is key."
  • Last race: Stewart raced his way to a 10th-place finish at Michigan. "The car was just evil on restarts," Stewart said. "It seemed like we were either on one side of the coin or the other. It would be loose where I was just hanging onto it or it was too tight. It's a top-10, but I think we all thought we would be better than that."
  • Etc.: With three races to go before the cutoff for the Chase, Stewart's magic number is 391. That's how many points he needs to have over the 13th-place driver following Saturday night's Sharpie 500 in order to lock himself into this year's Chase -- only the top 12 drivers in points following the 26th race of the season at Richmond advance into the Chase. Stewart enters Bristol with a 512-point lead over 13th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... After missing last year's Chase by 16 points, Stewart is poised to not only clinch a Chase berth well in advance of Richmond, but also to position himself at the top of the Chase standings when the points for the top 12 are reseeded. With three wins so far this season, Stewart has 30 bonus points to start the Chase, only 10 fewer than four-time race winners Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

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    5) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Edwards has one top-five and two top-10s in six previous Bristol starts. His best finish is fourth in the 2006 March race. He finished seventh in this race last year and 12th last March. He has one win, five top-fives and nine top-10s this season. "I'm glad that we've got a few weeks left," Edwards said. "We went and did some testing last week, we're going to test some more before the Chase starts, and I don't think you can ever be prepared enough. Right now, we're not quite as fast as some of the other teams at different places, but we're approaching them. So the more time that we have to prepare ourselves, the better."
  • Last race: Edwards finished seventh at Michigan.
  • Etc.: Edwards has a huge lead in the Busch Series standings, and once the Chase begins he could make a bid at winning both Busch and Cup titles in the same season. "I'd love to win both championships; that's my mission this year," Edwards said. "That's why we all do this, so to me it would be an amazing achievement. It would be something that I would be extremely proud of, so I'm working really hard at it."

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    6) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: The defending Cup champion still is looking for his first Cup win at Bristol, where he has two top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 starts. His best finish is third in this race in 2004. "There's not a lot I look forward to when it comes to racing at Bristol," Johnson said. "I love to go watch the races there. I think it is a great place for a spectator. But when you are in the car you know how you seem to be escaping disaster multiple times each lap. I guess the only other way you would enjoy it is if you had a huge points lead, so maybe the 24 (Jeff Gordon) will have a good time there. For us it is tough. It is a track where when you see it in the rear-view mirror you are relieved that you got out of there. It's a rush to drive the track. No doubt about it. But you are in a different mindset when you have something to lose when you go there versus if you are a fan or have a great position in the points. The place can be a lot of fun then."
  • Last race: Johnson finished third at Michigan. "We were competitive, we led some of the race and at the end I thought we had the right strategy going with two tires, but it took me four or five laps to catch them," Johnson said. "We've been at Michigan so long, it's like we've been here for two race weekends. With (crew chief) Chad Knaus back we have a great race team."
  • Etc.: Johnson expects the intensity level to go way up for some drivers in the next three weeks leading into the final 10-race championship run. "A lot of it depends on where you are in the points," he said. "I think it's a relaxing period of time for the guys in the top five. Everybody near that 12th position in the points, it's pretty brutal right now getting ready for the Chase. Your whole season is based on getting in the Chase. So there's a lot of pressure in those areas right now."

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    7) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Even though he's a true short-track warrior, Burton has never won a Cup race at Bristol. He has seven top-fives and 11 top-10s in 27 Bristol starts. His best finish is second, which he accomplished three times (1998, 2005 and last March). He is optimistic about making the Chase but is wary of a slipup. "We certainly don't want to put ourselves in a situation that we didn't have to be in because I did something silly, or we had a mechanical problem, there is no question about that," he said. "But at the same time, you have to compete at a high level. You don't not run hard in these cars and expect to finish this. This competition is too tough to do that. So we are going to go out and try to win the race. If we can't win the race, then we are going to try to finish second. If we can't finish second then we are going to try to finish third. That is what we try to do every week. That is what we will do this week."
  • Last race: Burton is coming off a fourth-place finish at Michigan.
  • Etc.: An appeals court ruled last week that AT&T's sponsorship of Burton's car is in violation of Nextel's exclusive deal with NASCAR, and a ruling Tuesday gave NASCAR permission to demand that AT&T logo be removed. "Certainly it is not something that we want to be dealing with at this point in the year, but it is what it is," Burton said. "AT&T is committed to being in the sport. They are going to do everything in their power to be here. It certainly has the potential to be a distraction, but this team is really focused and full of very mature people who have been around a long time. We are paying attention to the races and things ahead of us that revolve around competition. That is what we are focusing on."

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    8) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch scored his first career Bristol victory in March in the first race for the Car of Tomorrow. He finished second in this race last year and has two top-fives and three top-10s in five previous Bristol races. Busch is looking forward to racing on the new concrete surface after testing on it in a truck and in a Busch car (his Cup test was rained out). "It's completely different now," Busch said. "There's no aspect to that place that's the same. ... I've heard that late model races there have been really, really good. It should be fun."
  • Last race: Busch was 13th at Michigan.
  • Etc.: Busch is one driver who has to continue to run well to make the final 12-driver cut for the Chase. "If we come out of this weekend with a strong run and, unfortunately for a couple of other guys, they have trouble, then I think hopefully we can put ourselves in the Chase through just starting the last two races," Busch said. "I think we're pretty good right now -- we're not as good as we want to be -- but with three more races to go we've got a legitimate shot of climbing up to fifth in points. If we can do that, it would be pretty cool."

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    9) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer has just one top-10 finish, an eighth place last March, in three Bristol starts. The second-year driver credits his two RCR teammates (Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick) for helping him be in a position to make the Chase. "Working together has been the biggest thing," Bowyer said. "Teamwork and all of us pushing each other to be better. Everyone at RCR is working really well and giving us good equipment. Preparation in the shop is first, but the three crew chiefs and all the three drivers getting along and all pushing each other to be better is a large part of it. With Harvick you never know what to expect, with Burton you always know what to expect -- the right thing, someone to learn off of. With me, being new to all of this, it's awesome. It's a perfect blend to learn from. I'm definitely very fortunate. I think that I've now caught up experience-wise to them -- it's not just them running good and the third team running bad. If we have eighth-place cars, we're all running around eighth, sixth, seventh, eighth."
  • Last race: Bowyer is coming off a 17th-place finish at Michigan.
  • Etc.: Bowyer, Harvick and Denny Hamlin are only one of three drivers in the top 10 who have finished every race this year.

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    10) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick won at Bristol in 2005 and has seven top-fives and nine top 10s in 13 Bristol starts. He finished 40th there last March.
  • Last race: Harvick was 15th at Michigan.
  • Etc.: Harvick said he's still irritated at Juan Pablo Montoya after their incident at Watkins Glen. When asked if he had worked it out with Montoya, Harvick replied, "Uh, no. I've had a look at the tape, and what I've seen is what I saw in my mirror: a car dart to the right, block and run into the side of me. He drives like he doesn't know what he's doing, to be honest with you. He goes out, he can run fast but he's all over the place and every week it seems like he runs into a different person. In four weeks it's cost us a couple of hundred points, and he shrugs it off like he doesn't really care about anybody or anything, that he's just here to race. You make him mad and it's 'Well, I've got a five-year contract and I'll just wreck you every week.' It's hard to talk to him, and he doesn't really respect anyone around him." Harvick believes he's not alone in his assessment of the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1999 CART champion and winner of seven Formula One races. "My opinion is pretty widespread," Harvick said. "I'm not the only one with that opinion. Everybody's tired of tearing their stuff up for no reason." Montoya took exception to Harvick's claim that he "doesn't know what he's doing." "If I didn't know what I was doing, then I wouldn't have won the Indy 500, the CART championship and Formula One races," Montoya said. "I'm pretty comfortable with what I've done. When it's been my fault today, I've said I made a mistake and I'm sorry. Martin Truex came up to me today and apologized. Things like that will happen. It's racing and we understand. It's a shame that (Harvick) doesn't. I guess I'm a better story." Montoya said he and Harvick were called to the NASCAR Transporter last week by series officials, but neither driver was penalized because they did not actually assault each other. Both drivers have been put on probation and told to cool it.

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    11) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex calls Bristol "the wild card" in the race to the Chase. "Anything can happen there," said Truex, who finished 37th in the spring race at Bristol. His best finish in three Cup starts there is 18th, but he has four top-seven finishes in five Busch Series races at the track.
  • Last race: Truex finished second for the second consecutive time at Michigan as a late race decision not to pit paid huge dividends. He moved a giant step closer to clinching a spot in the Chase. "That was a no-brainer for us after that (breaking a clutch during a stop on lap 167) to stay out," said Truex. "That was the best the car had been all day long." Truex is only 16 points out of the top 10.
  • Etc.: Truex believes this weekend is his biggest hurdle in making the Chase. "I think if we can get through Bristol with a decent day without any troubles, we'll be in great shape," said Truex. "We run very well at California and Richmond, so I look forward to them. Just need to get through Bristol."

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    12) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Busch is tied with Jeff Gordon for the most wins among active drivers at Bristol with five. "If we could win, it would be more than just our sixth victory on my favorite track -- it would mean much, much more than that," he said. "It would be vindication (for his poor run in the spring when he finished 29th). The spring race was one of the lowest points of my career. We practiced terrible, we qualified terrible and we raced terrible."
  • Last race: Busch won for the second time in the last three races in another dominating performance as he led 92 of the final 100 laps at Michigan. The impressive victory enabled him to pull within 49 points of 10th place and pad his lead over 13th place to 163 points with only three races left until the Chase. "We made one big adjustment at the end of Happy Hour (on Saturday), and three days later we were able to put it to use," said a beaming Busch. "It really turned out great. It was a really smooth and steady day for us."
  • Etc.: Busch has decided to call his winning car at Michigan "Roger" for car owner Roger Penske. "Rusty (Wallace) started the tradition many years ago for the Penske teams to name their cars after their first trips to Victory Lane, and we're continuing that by naming this car 'Roger'," said Busch. "The biggest determining factor for naming the car 'Roger' is the fact that this is our first race win that we've been able to celebrate face to face with the 'Captain' in Victory Lane."

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    13) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six races at Bristol, including a dominating win in 2004 when he led a career-best 295 laps. "We've run great the past six weeks or so but just can't catch a break," said Earnhardt. "We'll need a really big break in the point standings to get back in contention to make the Chase."
  • Last race: Earnhardt made a costly mistake on pit road when he overshot his pit stall on lap 167 of the 200-lap event at Michigan. The mistake not only ended any chance Earnhardt had of finishing in the top five (he was fifth when he pitted), it hurt him dearly in his bid to qualify for the Chase. Earnhardt finished 12th and is 163 points out of the top 12 with only three races left to determine the 12 drivers who will be in the championship chase.
  • Etc.: Earnhardt said of his pit-road mistake, "I took my eyes off our stall for just a second to look at another car that was pitting, and I just missed it. It was a dumb mistake that cost us. It was a big miscue and it was all my fault."

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    14) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Newman has posted five top-10 finishes at Bristol in 12 starts. "You never know what is going to happen there," said Newman. "You can get lucky and miss all the accidents, or you can get caught up in one that ruins your whole day, especially if you have a really good car. That was the case for us in the spring (when he finished 39th)."
  • Last race: It was a strange day for Newman as a loose "shark fin" ended any hopes he had of finishing in the top 10. He was leading when he pitted on lap 170, but when his crew went to repair the loose fin on the back window they ran into problems as Newman fell a lap down. He was able to get the "lucky dog" award seven laps later and ended up 16th. "We gave one away," said Newman, who dropped to 14th in the standings, 171 points out of 12th.
  • Etc.: While in Michigan, Newman visited Mill Lake Youth Camp, a camp he wants to "resurrect." Newman said the camp is "very historic. It's neat. I like old things, I like rustic things. It's beyond a little bit rustic right now, but we're trying to resurrect it a little bit. The camp itself is neat, it's well laid out."

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    15) Greg Biffle, No. 21 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Biffle finished fifth in the spring race at Bristol, his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races at BMS. "I got to test the Busch car on the new surface at Bristol, and I have mixed feelings," said Biffle. "I've never been a fan of resurfacing race tracks, and I think Bristol put on a good show with their old surface."
  • Last race: Biffle led once for 20 laps early in the Michigan event but battled an extremely loose race car afterward. He was still battling for a top-10 finish when he spun with two laps remaining. As a result, he finished 19th to all but end his chances of making the Chase. He trails 12th-place Kurt Busch by 296 points with only three races left until the Chase begins.
  • Etc.: "The car was just too loose -- too much spring in the back, or something," said Biffle after his disappointing finish at Michigan. "I got the car just way too loose, mechanical chassis-wise, and we weren't able to recover all day."

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    16) Casey Mears, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Mears finished 10th in the spring race at Bristol, his first top-10 finish in nine starts at BMS. Mears said he isn't "sure what to expect this weekend. The track sounds like it is a good bit different in the way that it drives. There are a number of unknowns, but I'm looking forward to getting on track and trying it out for myself."
  • Last race: Mears edged Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 11th place as the two raced across the finish line side-by-side. It was Mears' fourth top-15 finish in the last five races. But with Kurt Busch winning the Michigan event, Mears' hopes of contending for this year's championship have been all but eliminated. Mears trails Busch by 363 points with only three races left until the Chase begins.
  • Etc.: Mears said the key to staying out of trouble at Bristol is "staying up front. The best thing you can do as a driver and as a team is to qualify well and hopefully hold that position when things start to get wild behind you during the race."

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    17) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: McMurray finished ninth in the spring race at Bristol for his fourth top-10 finish at the track in nine starts. "After our run in the spring, I'm really looking forward to going to Bristol this weekend," said McMurray. "We've been pretty good on the shorter tracks with the Car of Tomorrow, which gives me a lot of reasons to look forward to Bristol."
  • Last race: McMurray's hopes of a top-10 run at Michigan ended on lap 106 when he was squeezed into the wall by rookie David Reutimann. "After I was pinched by the 00 into the wall, the car was too tight and then after we adjusted on the car, it seemed then the car was too loose," said McMurray, who ended up 30th. "I think we broke something underneath the car."
  • Etc.: McMurray believes the practice sessions at Bristol this weekend are "going to be really important for all the teams. We really don't know what to expect with the new surface."

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    18) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte will be making his 30th start at Bristol in the Sharpie 500. He has scored three top-five and nine top-10s at the track. "It's pretty important for us to qualify up front at Bristol," said Labonte. "Hopefully we can have another strong qualifying run because you want a pit stall on the front stretch."
  • Last race: Labonte was at his strongest in the final 25 laps as he rallied to finish ninth for only his second top-10 finish of the season. Labonte gave most of the credit for the late rally to new crew chief Doug Randolph. "We had a really smooth weekend," said Labonte. "He has a great demeanor about him. I think that is just what the doctor ordered."
  • Etc.: This weekend will be the first time the Dodge teams will be running the Avenger at a track for a second time. "That's a huge plus," said Labonte. "That is really a big deal. This is an opportunity to go back and see what worked and what didn't work."

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    19) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Montoya finished 32nd in the spring race at Bristol. An early race spin forced Montoya to play catchup all day. He certainly hopes for a better outing on Saturday night. Montoya leads the Rookie of the Year standings by 23 points (213-190) over David Ragan.
  • Last race: The race didn't start well for Montoya as he spun on lap 14, but he didn't hit anything. He then battled back and was running just outside the top 10 before faltering in the final 50 laps to finish 26th. "We had a strong car, then on one of the long runs we came in and changed tires," said Montoya. "The balance went and we lost over half a second a lap."
  • Etc.: Montoya and his wife, Connie, were featured in the ABC-TV special "NASCAR in Primetime" on Wednesday night. The program focused on Montoya's first trip to Bristol.

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    20) Mark Martin, No. 01 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: With Martin taking the weekend off, Aric Almirola will make his debut in the 01 Chevrolet. It will be the second career Nextel Cup start for the 23-year-old driver and his first with Dale Earnhardt Inc. "I might be a rookie, but I know all about the pitfalls of the Bristol track," said Almirola.
  • Last race: A broken seal in the engine ended Martin's day early as he finished 42nd at Michigan. "We had a pretty good car today, and it was just starting to come to us when we started smoking," said Martin. "... It was just an unfortunate incident."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Ryan Pemberton admits that having Almirola make his first start with the team at Bristol might not be fair to the Tampa, Fla., native. "This is without a doubt the toughest race and toughest track to make your first start," said Pemberton. "We just want to put a whole race together and run every lap."

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    21) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Yeley has never finished better than 31st in three Cup starts at Bristol. But he did lead nine laps in the spring before an exhaust pipe shook loose and sent the Interstate Batteries machine behind the wall for repairs. Yeley hopes the new surface will mean a much better finish this weekend. "It's a totally different race track," said Yeley.
  • Last race: It was a long day for Yeley as he finished 25th at Michigan. "I just didn't have a lot of confidence in the car, and I couldn't get the wheel turned very well," said Yeley. "Seemed like the more Steve (Addington, crew chief) adjusted on the car, we could fix the center and the exit (of the corners) but could never do much for the entry."
  • Etc.: Yeley feels the changes made at Bristol mean "it's just not Bristol anymore. Some of the drivers are going to love it and some are going to hate it."

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    22) David Ragan, No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Ragan finished 26th in his first Cup start at Bristol. "We had a decent finish at Bristol back in March, but I think we can definitely improve on that finish now that I have more experience in the COT and in the car in general," said Ragan. "Our main objective is to complete all the laps and bring our car home in one piece."
  • Last race: Ragan finished 18th at Michigan to win rookie-of-the-race honors for the eighth time this season. "I feel like we lost a little bit those last two re-starts," said Ragan. "It took our car a few laps to get rolling. But, all in all, an excellent day for the AAA Ford, and a top-20 is a good way to head into Bristol."
  • Etc.: Ragan said things "got a little crazy there at the end" of the Michigan race. "Everybody was driving hard, trying to get the last few spots, and just trying to get this thing finished so they can get back home (after two days of waiting for the rain to end). We've all had a long, boring weekend, and we were ready to get it in."

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    23) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Gillett Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler scored the first win of his Cup career at Bristol on March 25, 2001. He finished second in April 2005. But he has only two other top-10 finishes in 18 starts at the track. Yet Sadler calls BMS his "favorite track."
  • Last race: Sadler started fifth, but any hopes he had of finishing in the top 10 ended early as he once again struggled with an ill-handling race car. "I just couldn't do anything with the car," said Sadler after finishing 32nd. "It was loose entering the corner and everything we tried just didn't help the situation."
  • Etc.: Sadler and his two teammates have struggled all season, and Sadler has only one top-10 finish. Ray Evernham said it is his responsibility to change it. "It's on my shoulders," said Evernham.

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    33) Dave Blaney, No. 22 Toyota, Bill Davis Racing
  • This week: Blaney's best finish at Bristol in 13 starts is 14th. "Being back in the top 35 will help us out this weekend," he said. "It takes some of the pressure off and will allow us to work on race setup. Our main objective (Saturday night) will just be to survive."
  • Last race: A gamble not to pit with 25 laps to go enabled Blaney to finish sixth for his best finish of the season as the team moved back into the all-important top 35 in the car owner standings. "That's a big relief to get into the top 35, but you have to enjoy a nice run like this even more than that," said Blaney. "If we can keep this up week in and week out, we'll be fine."
  • Etc.: Blaney believes the team has been "getting a lot better lately. The last month and a half or so we've been using different set-ups on the car and the car has been way more competitive. If we just have smooth days, we are competitive."

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    39) Brian Vickers, No. 83 Toyota, Red Bull Racing
  • This week: Vickers will be looking for his first top-10 finish at Bristol. His best finish in seven starts there is 12th. Still, Vickers said "Bristol has been one of my favorite tracks since I first raced there in 2002. I'm eager to see and race on this new surface because the old one was pretty much a one-groove track where you had to be on the bottom to not be moving backward."
  • Last race: Vickers, who led three times for 11 laps, finished eighth at Michigan for his third top-10 finish of the season. "We had a top-five car most of the race, but we're not complaining about coming home eighth," said crew chief Doug Richert. "We tried to tighten the car up at the end but ended up being too tight."
  • Etc.: Vickers is another Toyota driver who thinks the team is making a lot of headway. "We are definitely improving; we just need to keep working on it," said Vickers. "We've gotten better and better. Toyota brought a new (engine) package this weekend (at Michigan) -- a new intake manifold -- and that helped."

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    Tagged: Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Reutimann, David Ragan, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Dave Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr.

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