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Virtual Pit Reporter: Updates on 25 teams

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3) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson hopes to close the deal at Talladega this time; last year in this race, he was taken out of the race in the third turn of the last lap by his teammate at the time, Brian Vickers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was also in that crash, which left Johnson seemingly out of contention for the title. He came back to win his first championship. Johnson has one win (April 2006), three top-fives and four top-10s in 11 Talladega starts. He arrives at Talladega with a bit of trepidation, clinging to a six-point lead over teammate Jeff Gordon in the first Car of Tomorrow (COT) race at the massive and scary superspeedway. "I feel concerned and worried, but that's no different than any other (restrictor) plate race," Johnson said. "And with all the new things coming along, it's still going to be plate race and we still have the same issues to deal with. I think it's a little bit more difficult now. There are a lot of unknowns that we'll have to sort out. But it's still the feeling of a restrictor-plate race in my stomach." Johnson doesn't know of any proper way to prepare for the intensity of Talladega. "No, you really can't," Johnson said. "It almost makes it one of the easier races we go to because there isn't much you can do. When you go to other tracks where you can work on the cars and adjust the handling, you worry or think about set-ups and springs and shocks. There's a lot going on in my own mind as a driver, about technique and how I'm driving the track and what line I'm using. At Talladega, we're all the same. We've got those plates on and you're running in a big pack and you can't really protect a line or a move or whatever is going to go on track because you're just in a big glob out there racing. So it's really one of the easier tracks to get prepared for. It doesn't mean that we're not going to be stressing out going there and living through it, but mentally, from a driver's standpoint, it's one of the easier tracks."
  • Last week: Johnson stayed away from all the silliness in Sunday's rain-affected race at Kansas Speedway to finish third.
  • Etc.: While this year's Chase has its own brand of intensity, Johnson has taken the battle in stride. "For myself, I'm in such a better position this year, three races in," Johnson said. "The intensity is there, but it's more optimism than it was frustration last year. For myself and I think for the competitors, everybody is dealing with something right now. We had a lot of crashed cars that were in the Chase last week, and I think there are guys in that spot right now that are frustrated and it seems like are performing, but a lot of people are frustrated with their on-track performance. It's been more about luck and circumstances during races. So it's extremely intense and it's only going to get more intense."

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    2) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Gordon is one of the most successful drivers at Talladega this decade. Three of his five career wins there have come since 2004, and one of the other came in 2000. He has 12 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 29 Talladega starts. After testing the COT at Talladega in September, Gordon said to expect big changes in Sunday's free-for-all of a race. "The COT is going to change everything here," said Gordon, who will run a specially painted No. 24 DuPont/Pepsi Chevrolet Impala SS in the 188-lap race. "It's going to be spectacular. During the test, we had 20-car packs and it got pretty dicey at times. When you put 43 cars out there battling for the lead and the win, it's going to be crazy. I don't think NASCAR's intention in creating the COT was Talladega, but the track is going to benefit from its use. The new body style allows us to run a bigger restrictor plate and, with the wing and the wicker, it's only going to enhance the entertainment here. I expect it to be pretty wild, pretty crazy, and it should be a heck of a show for the fans." Gordon said it will be a "dicey" contest. "I expect there to be a lot of shuffling going on during the race -- guys going from the front to the back, then up to the front again," Gordon said. "Some guys prefer to have a smaller group of cars away from the big pack in an effort to avoid the 'big one' (multi-car accidents common at restrictor-plate races). I tried that a few years ago and hated it. But we're racing for a championship, and I might have to make that decision this weekend. It'll just depend on how intense and out of control things are in the lead pack. I like to race and would prefer to take my chances rather than just riding around."
  • Last week: Gordon rallied to finish fifth at Kansas but still lost the point lead to Jimmie Johnson. "What a turn of events," Gordon said. "Man, what a crazy race it was. At one time we were really strong, and we fell back a little bit and we fell way back, all the way to 30th, and I saw the rain and to be able to bring this car from that far back, one lap down, to get our lap back and then to come up there all the way to the top five, I couldn't be happier."
  • Etc.: IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves is one of the contestants on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and his partner, professional dancer Juliana Hough, has had the highest scores the first two weeks. Gordon, who is the only NASCAR driver ever to host NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and is a regular fill-in for Regis Philbin on "Live with Regis and Kelly" was impressed with Castroneves' performance. "I watched that and I would have voted, but I don't think he needs my vote -- that guy is nailing it," Gordon said. "That was very cool to see." Gordon's wife, former model Ingrid Vandebosch, is an avid fan of the show and made sure her husband watched Castroneves' performance as he scored 25 out of a possible 30 points last week and 27 points Monday. "I knew he would do well, but he did better than even I thought he would do," Gordon said. "There is no way I would ever go on that show. Just to have the guts to go on it was impressive to me."

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    3) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Bowyer heads to Talladega for his fourth Cup race there and is hoping to drastically improve on his first three tries. He was 40th in his first race in April 2006 and has finished 35th his last two races. "Everybody is worried about Talladega," said Bowyer, who is just 14 points out of the lead. "It's going to be a handful. You can get away with so much more in this car. You can push each other all the way around the race track. You have to lift in the corner and in the tri-oval to keep from running over the guy in front of you. You drag the brake a little bit on those areas and go right back to it on the straightaways. Obviously, if everyone can keep their heads it will be fine, but I've got a feeling we're going to struggle with that. You can hit each other more and it doesn't effect you. You know the old cliche about being bumper-to-bumper? Well, you're literally bumper-to-bumper with these cars. We'll be pushing each other 10 rows deep touching nose to tail. If somebody wiggles, gets out of line or has to check up, that line is going to drive right through them and it's going to cause a wreck."
  • Last week: While there are many who believe that Bowyer may have been the true winner at Kansas on Sunday after Greg Biffle appeared to run out of gas under caution, he had to settle for a second-place finish at the track nearest his Emporia, Kan., home. But he's still thrilled that he has climbed to third after entering the Chase 12th. "It's been very gratifying," Bowyer said. "I think everyone counted us out when the Chase started. We were the 12th seed, and I think the majority of the media and the critics saw us as just that -- the 12th seed -- nothing more. It's been very satisfying to be able to win a race and run up front these last three weeks. We're becoming a better race team, and I think we've proven that we belong here. I'm excited about how we're running. I can't wait to get to the race track. We've got a couple tracks coming up where we've struggled. We've never finished well at Talladega. We've run well but couldn't get the finish we needed. Same goes for Charlotte. I can't wait to get to both of those tracks and get those races behind us. If we can do what we've done everywhere else this season, we'll be just fine. Right now, I don't car if the critics believe in us or not. If we end up being lucky enough to hold that trophy at the end of the season, we'll be the ones laughing."
  • Etc.: Bowyer tested this week at Nashville Superspeedway in preparation for the remaining intermediate tracks (Charlotte, Atlanta, Texas and Homestead-Miami) on the 2007 schedule.

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    4) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Incredibly, Stewart has six second-place finishes at Talladega but has yet to win a race on the massive superspeedway. He is coming off a 28th-place finish at Talladega in April and was 22nd in this race last year. He has eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 17 Talladega starts. After a disastrous weekend at Kansas, Stewart is 117 points out of first place in the Chase.
  • Last week: Stewart went from winning his 33rd career Cup race at Kansas -- he was leading when rain forced the race to be red-flagged a second time -- to leaving the speedway in a huff. The track was dried off, the race resumed and Stewart was wrecked in the third portion of the race when his front tire went flat and he was rammed by Kurt Busch. Stewart did not speak with reporters before leaving the track.
  • Etc.: Stewart believes drivers who aren't in the Chase give preferential treatment to the ones competing for the championship. "I think we're seeing different ways from different competitors," Stewart said. "There is nothing that says they have to do anything, but if that's what makes this level of the sport really neat and unique is that guys actually do pay attention. Guys understand what is at stake, and they're still out there racing, too. Nobody's asking them to not race. But at the same time they're racing, but they're giving the guys in the Chase some extra room to make sure that they don't ruin somebody's opportunity to have a shot."

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    5) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick has three top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 13 Cup starts at Talladega. He finished sixth in each of the last two Talladega races. "It's going to be like Talladega always is," Harvick said. "You never really know what's going to happen when you get there. It's still just typical Talladega, and the cars are very comfortable to drive. ... It'll be just as exciting as it always has been, but it will probably be more exciting just because the cars are a little less stable than the old ones, which could cause a few more tense moments." Although he is fifth in points, Harvick is 126 points out of the lead. "We're further ahead than where Jimmie (Johnson) was last year," Harvick said. "We're only three weeks into the 10-week journey. It doesn't seem like anybody has really kind of stepped up and really had three good weeks so far. Everybody's kind of had trouble, and we've had trouble two of the three weeks so far. You go out and you race as hard as you can, and if we can keep the performance level at what it's been the last three weeks we'll get back in it, but if we keep having stupid things happen to us we're in trouble."
  • Last week: Harvick was one of the few drivers in the Chase who didn't experience a problem at Kansas. He finished sixth.
  • Etc.: Richard Childress Racing has scheduled a fan day for 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 12 at the team's shop in Welcome, N.C. All of the RCR drivers will be available to sign autographs. Additionally, there will be special museum tours, pit stop ride-alongs, product discounts, food and live music.

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    6) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Young Busch is looking for his first top-10 at Talladega. He finished 11th in this race last year. "I hope it's going to be an exciting race," Busch said. "I think it will be. I hope that guys keep their heads on their shoulders and we don't wreck each other. You need the bump draft more now than you ever have, and when you do bump somebody they get squirrelly. That's not too promising right there, but we're just going to have to see. You can't have four guys deep bumping each other because somebody's going to come spitting out of the middle."
  • Last week: Just 29 laps into the Kansas race, Busch was drilled from behind by the man who is going to replace him at Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Busch was incredulous while he watched his crew repair his wrecked Chevrolet before he returned to the track for a 41st-place finish. "I gave him a lane to try to go on the outside because I knew he would have a run off the corner, but I got run into the back of and spun out down the back straightaway for absolutely no reason," said Busch, who won Saturday's Busch race at Kansas. "It was a pretty stupid move on his part. I'm sure these guys he will be working with next year don't appreciate this because they have a championship they can win this year and he doesn't. I don't know what he was thinking. He ran me over for no reason whatsoever." Earnhardt, who isn't in the Chase, took responsibility for the incident. "We put the No. 5 (Busch) car out," Earnhardt said. "That was an accident. I want to apologize to his fans and their team and Kyle. That was a bad mistake on my part. I just run into the back of him. I was screaming as I was going by for him to save it, but he couldn't gather it up. It was my fault."
  • Etc.: With 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 Formula One World Champion Jacques Villeneuve picking Talladega for his first Cup start, Busch was outspoken about his choice of track. "He's doing what? Holy cow, that's not good," Busch said. "You've got to start somewhere, but the Cup Series at Talladega definitely isn't the place to start."

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    7) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Edwards has one top-five (fifth in 2005) and three top-10 finishes in six Talladega starts. He was ninth in April and 42nd in this race in 2006, when his engine quit after 27 laps. "We are coming off of an obviously disappointing weekend at Kansas and hoping for a much better outcome at Talladega," Edwards said. "Bob Osborne (crew chief) and the guys have been working extremely hard and making lots of advancements with the Car of Tomorrow, so I feel confident that we'll unload and be good to go. My main concern is that we stay out of trouble and get a solid finish." Edwards is 142 points out of first.
  • Last week: Edwards was another Chase driver who had a miserable weekend at Kansas -- he was taken out in the Tony Stewart crash and finished 37th. "I think Tony had a tire going down and he was doing everything he could to get out of the way, and Kurt (Busch) got him there," Edwards said. "Everybody is doing the best they could."
  • Etc.: While he was one of the Chase drivers that had a miserable finish at Kansas, Edwards is hoping for a bit of karma before the end of the 10-race Chase. "As long as everyone gets their fair share, it'll all work out," Edwards said.

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    8) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex, who is 158 points out of the lead, has two top-10 finishes in three Talladega starts -- fifth in this race last year and 10th. "You always know who you're racing with whether they're in the Chase or not," Truex said. "It makes a little bit of a difference but not a huge one. We're out there to get every spot we can get, get the most points we can, try to win the race every week, so it doesn't matter if we're racing Tony Stewart for the win or Dale Jr. for the win, we're going to race them probably the same."
  • Last week: Truex was another Chase driver who struggled at Kansas. He was wheeled back into the garage in 38th place.
  • Etc.: Truex was hobbling around the garage at Kansas -- he said he stubbed his left foot last week, breaking his little toe. "It hurt a little to put my shoe on this morning, but since I've been walking around and everything it feels pretty good," he said. "I kicked the ottoman in my living room, typical, just walking around and basically stubbed my toe and broke it."

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    9) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: "Older Brother" Kurt is also looking for his first Talladega win, just like "Little Brother" Kyle. Busch has six top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes in 13 Talladega starts. "After hearing about all the guys saying how much they are dreading the Talladega race this weekend, it may sound pretty strange when I say that I can't wait to get there," said Kurt, who is 177 points out of the lead. "I've said all along that this race will be the "wild card" race of the 10 Chase races because it's a (restrictor) plate race and there are so many new dimensions that enter into the equation. The bottom line is that it will still be a plate race, and that has been one of the stellar aspects of our total program at Penske Racing. We've gotten to the point that we are one of the strongest threats to win in all of the races at Talladega and at Daytona. We're definitely going to have our breakthrough win soon, and it very well could come Sunday at Talladega."
  • Last week: Despite running into the back of Tony Stewart, Busch finished 11th at Kansas.
  • Etc.: Nextel Cup Series director John Darby said that teams are going to practice at Talladega with the restrictor plate, wing angle and wicker height with which they ended a recent test session. But he also said that two of those could change if speeds are too high. "Basically, we're going to start out with this size of a restrictor plate, and if everything proves out OK, we'll leave it," Darby said. "But the ultimate restrictor-plate size won't be determined until the conclusion of final Cup practice. If the speeds do seem to be too high, NASCAR will react accordingly."

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    10) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton has two top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 27 Cup starts at Talladega. He is 186 points out of first place. "Certainly after Talladega we could know who doesn't have a shot at the championship," he said. "There will be some teams who probably have hurt their chances a great deal. The thing about Talladega is it's easy to be in the lead pack and finish 25th, it's easy to be riding there minding your own business and have another car land on top of your car and it's easy to have bad things happen quickly. It's a very volatile race, in my opinion, when you look at the championship contenders. We're going to see a race that looks very similar to the races we've seen at Talladega. I think we're going to see big packs of cars. The only thing that's going to separate the cars, in my opinion, is pit stops. If you have a bad pit stop you could get separated. The interesting thing about the Car of Tomorrow at Talladega is, and I know this contradicts itself, it's easier to lose the draft and at the same time it's easier to catch the draft. It's much more situational. I believe that if you get far enough behind, catching the draft might be questionable. Even if they are three-wide or two-wide, there's a point of no return where you won't catch it anymore. We still don't understand exactly what that point is. I also saw the possibility where people got lined up -- say, the top 10 got lined up -- and 12 on back was double-file. The top 10 will pull away. Those are the things that are hard to tell what's going to happen, but I anticipate big pack racing for the majority of the race."
  • Last week: Burton finished 36th at Kansas, 11 laps down.
  • Etc.: While Roush Racing believes a 25-point penalty assessed to Carl Edwards for failing the post-race inspection at Dover was too much of a penalty in the 10-race Chase, Burton believes that it's hard to have an equivalency formula for penalties. "I think we have to be careful not to minimize penalties," Burton said. "I had a wise man tell me one time if we don't make people do the right thing, nobody ever does the right thing. I don't see in other sports when there is a minute to go in the Super Bowl that what used to be a 15-yard penalty now with only a minute in the game is an 11-yard penalty. A penalty is a penalty no matter what time of year it is."

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    11) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has three top-six finishes in the last four races run at Talladega, but he is still looking for his first restrictor-plate victory. Kenseth admitted he doesn't know what to expect this weekend. "I think it's going to be a crazy race," he said. "I would be surprised if nobody runs into anybody because it's a little more difficult to see out of the COT cars than the other cars and they suck up a little faster in the draft."
  • Last week: For the second consecutive week, Kenseth led a lot of laps but ran into late race problems to put another huge dent in his championship aspirations. "We ran well, and my team did a good job, so that's about all I can ask," said Kenseth. "I couldn't do anything about the wreck; we just got caught up in someone else's mess." He finished 35th with a badly damaged race car. Kenseth is 219 points out of first with seven races left in the season.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Robbie Reiser believes his team is due for some good luck this weekend. "So far the Chase hasn't gone the way we've wanted, but on the other hand, we've had cars capable of running in the top five in all three races," he said. "The luck part of it will hopefully change. We can rebound, but we have to do it right now."

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    12) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Hamlin has never finished better than 21st in three Nextel Cup starts at Talladega. "We're hoping for a change of fortune, not only here at Talladega, but in the Chase as well," said Hamlin. "It's no secret that superspeedway racing isn't my biggest strength, so I'll continue to take what the track gives me and not try to force anything."
  • Last week: Hamlin was a frustrated race driver at Kansas. Even though he had a fast race car, his hopes of getting back into the thick of the championship fight took another major hit as he was squeezed into the wall on lap 182 and sent spinning when Jamie McMurray slid into Paul Menard, who then hit Hamlin. Hamlin finished 29th to fall 248 points back of leader Jimmie Johnson. "This race was just a case of not being able to catch a single break," said Hamlin. "We had a great car this weekend, but I guess it wasn't meant to be."
  • Etc.: Hamlin knows "it's definitely time for us to be a little more aggressive and take some chances because of the spot we're in (in the Chase). Leading laps and staying up front will hopefully keep us out of any trouble taking place behind us. We have to stay focused on what we need to do to run top-fives in the remaining (seven) races."

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    13) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon are tied for the most wins at Talladega among active drivers with five each. Earnhardt won a record four straight beginning Oct. 21, 2001. He believes this weekend is his best shot at getting that elusive first victory of 2007. "I so badly want to win one for my fans and sponsors and especially for my entire team," said Earnhardt.
  • Last week: Earnhardt's hopes for a top-five finish at Kansas faded in the final 30 laps as he battled an extremely tight race car. As a result, he ended up 10th. "Once we started back (after a three-hour rain delay), the car just went back to being tight and I couldn't hold those guys off," said Earnhardt. "I couldn't get the car to turn, and I was about to knock down the turn-four wall every lap."
  • Etc.: Earnhardt accepted blame for the accident that seriously damaged Kyle Busch's championship hopes. "I was committed to my line, so when he came up, I was there and was hard into him before I could do anything," said Earnhardt. "I don't blame him for being upset because I ran into him. I apologize to Kyle and his team and fans." Busch ended up 41st.

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    14) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Biffle has never finished in the top 10 in nine starts at Talladega. Biffle said "we had a decent test down there with the new car that we're taking and I think we learned a few things that will help, but I'm still skeptical about the COT's at a superspeedway. We'll just go and try to stay out of trouble and finish the race with our Ford Fusion in one piece."
  • Last week: Biffle led the last 37 laps of the rain-delayed and darkness-shortened Lifelock 400 at Kansas to score his first win since last year's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Despite slowing on the last lap, Biffle said he was not out of fuel at the end and, if necessary, could have run three more laps. "The caution's out, we were declared the winner, all we had to do was come back around and cross the stripe," Biffle replied when told several other drivers said he wasn't running at the same speed as the caution car and thus didn't win the race.
  • Etc.: Greg Erwin, who won his first race as a crew chief last week at Kansas, said "there is a lot of uncertainty for everyone with the first COT race at a superspeedway, so that sort of evens the playing field. We know the Roush-Yates engines are strong at the superspeedways."

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    15) Casey Mears, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Mears has scored two top-10 finishes in nine starts at Talladega, both of them coming in 2004. The 25 team, with Brian Vickers driving the car, won the fall race a year ago. Mears believes he can duplicate that feat this weekend because of the strength of Hendrick Motorsports with the COT car.
  • Last week: Mears finished fourth at Kansas for his third straight top-10 finish as he moved into 15th place in the standings. "That was a really good run for us," said Mears. "We were very, very tight at the beginning of the race, and the guys just hung in there and did a good job. We made a lot of huge adjustments to try to free up the car, and we got it to where it was real competitive there at the end. I'm real happy with that."
  • Etc.: Mears said drafting with the COT car is much different than it was with the old car. "It seems like when you're 20 cars back, it's harder to catch the pack," said Mears. "Then once you get within 12 or 15 car lengths, it really starts sucking pretty well. Then when you get within about a car length, it really stops again. With the old car, it wasn't these peaks and valleys."

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    16) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Newman finished ninth in the spring race at Talladega for his fourth top-10 finish in 11 starts at the track. "We've had some bad luck the last couple of weeks," said Newman, "so we're hoping to see some improvement this weekend and get another top 10 at Talladega like we did back in April."
  • Last week: Newman suffered major engine problems at Kansas as he finished 43rd to drop from 14th to 16th in the standings. "We dropped a cylinder there a little bit after the (first) rain delay. Then it went all together there at the end," said Newman. "I had a fast car (before his problems)."
  • Etc.: Newman believes this weekend "is pretty much going to be a blank slate for everyone. I don't think there's any one driver or any one team that has a noticeable advantage this weekend. It's the first time any of us will really get a chance to see how the COT car works on a superspeedway."

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    17) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: McMurray has finished fifth in two of the last three races run at Talladega. He won the last restrictor-plate race at Daytona in July. His outlook for Talladega: "It will be very interesting to see how these cars react when we are in a large group, lined up three wide going into the corners."
  • Last week: McMurray's hopes of a top-10 finish at Kansas were wiped out on lap 182 when he pushed up into Paul Menard, who then hit Denny Hamlin, who, in turn, spun in front of McMurray. The damage to McMurray's car was severe enough that he was happy to finish 24th. "We deserved a lot better finish today than this," said McMurray.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Larry Carter said the Car of Tomorrow seems "to work like the trucks did when they ran at the superspeedways; they punch a huge hole of air and creates a ton of downforce, which in turn gives the driver a lot more grip on the speedway. I don't think there is anyone in the garage who knows how this race is going to play out."

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    18) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte has one win, six top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 29 starts at Talladega. "You hear so many times that Talladega is a 'wild card' race," said Labonte. "That has probably never been closer to the truth than this weekend. The debut of the Car of Tomorrow at Talladega is something new for everyone. That makes this race up for grabs for any team."
  • Last week: Labonte was part of the multi-car accident on the restart after the second rain delay at Kansas. As a result, he finished 42nd. "We were running about 12th or 13th, we had a big wreck (when Ken Schrader spun in front of 90 percent of the field), and I had to miss them all and I didn't," said Labonte.
  • Etc.: Labonte believes Friday is going to be a "pretty big day. We're going to draft since it's an impound weekend. That will be the first and only chance to see how the new changes will affect the cars in a draft session."

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    19) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Yeley's best finish in four Cup races at Talladega is 11th, and he said he has a couple of major concerns about this weekend. "There were a couple of flaws that I noticed in drafting," said Yeley. "It's difficult to see driver hand signals behind you because of the rear wing. The car seemed a bit more unstable in the draft as well while bump drafting."
  • Last week: Yeley was one of the drivers who hoped the race would not be restarted -- he was running 10th when the event was red-flagged for the second time. "I was doing the rain dance," said Yeley, who ended up 14th for his third top-15 finish in the last four races. "I just got pinned up too much in traffic there toward the end (after the race was restarted on lap 156)."
  • Etc.: Yeley said he is "more careful on a restrictor-plate track than anywhere else. You don't want to be the guy who makes the mistake that causes a 20-car pileup. But if we get down to the last five laps and I have an opportunity to win, then I'm going to do what it takes, even if there is some risk involved."

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    20) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Montoya finished 31st in his Talladega debut in April. In his first Busch Series start at the track, he ended up seventh. Even though this is the first time the COT cars will be run at Talladega, Montoya believes his superspeedway inexperience will not be a big problem. "Everyone is going to be learning how these cars draft since they are so different than the other cars," said Montoya.
  • Last week: Montoya's day at Kansas ended on a sour note as he experienced major tire problems with only a few laps remaining. "I guess we cut both right side tires going into (turn) three," said Montoya, who bounced off the wall to bring out the final caution flag of the event. "The hit wasn't hard," added Montoya, who finished 28th. "When the (right front) tire broke, it just ripped everything off."
  • Etc.: Montoya admits his first year in NASCAR has been "a big transition. There have been weeks when you get in the car and you've been competitive, everything goes smooth, and then there are weeks where you are like, 'Whoa, what happened?' It's all about learning how far to go and learning the limits of everything. That has been a big challenge for me." Complete Story Version

    1) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Gordon takes a razor-thin lead into Sunday's LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway as the Chase enters its third race. He is just two points ahead of Tony Stewart, four ahead of Jimmie Johnson, 10 ahead of Kyle Busch and 18 ahead of Clint Bowyer. Last year, Gordon entered the Kansas race second in the standings, six points out of the lead. That was before a fuel pump failed, starting a streak in which Gordon then had a wreck and a blown engine in the next two races. "We finished sixth last year in the points, but I don't think it was indicative of how well we ran during the Chase," Gordon said. "We ran well here, at Talladega and at Charlotte -- all races where we had poor finishes. In fact, we were strong at nine of the 10 Chase races with the lone exception being Homestead. I think that carried over to this year. We had a great start to the season and we have four wins so far and a lot of top-fives and top-10s." ... Gordon has two wins (inaugural race in 2001 and again in 2002), three top-fives and four top-10s and has led 169 laps in six Kansas races. "We've had success here, and I really enjoy the track," Gordon said. "A lot of people compare Kansas to Chicago due to their similar layouts, but Kansas is unique. This track has matured over the past couple of years, and I think it now offers great side-by-side racing."
  • Last week: Gordon, who struggled with the handling on his Chevrolet during much of the Dover demolition derby, gained two positions on the final lap to salvage an 11th-place finish. Those two positions -- and six gained points -- are the difference between Gordon entering Sunday's LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway as the Chase points leader. "You have to make the most of the bad days and take advantage of the good days," Gordon said. "When the race started at Dover, the car was awesome and I thought we were going to have a great day. But we lost the handle on the car and it was a struggle from that point on. While a lot of the Chase contenders encountered some problems, we were able to get a respectable finish and the points lead. But there's still eight races to go and many more points to be gained and lost."
  • Etc.: Gordon's new teammate in 2008, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., announced that a competing energy drink will be one of his sponsors next year, so Gordon was asked which tastes better, the one Gordon promotes or Earnhardt's sponsor. "I don't know what AMP tastes like," Gordon said of the Earnhardt brand. "I've never had it. But my stuff's good. I know that." Gordon was also asked if it's fair that Earnhardt has two different sponsors -- AMP and the National Guard -- to sell as die-cast cars? "It doesn't matter; he sells twice as many anyway," Gordon said with a laugh.

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    2) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart is the defending winner at Kansas, but he enters Sunday's race with a much different scenario than last year, when he was not in The Chase. Stewart had nothing to lose at Kansas and gambled on fuel mileage at the end, going the final 71 laps on a single tank of fuel. Stewart ran out of fuel on the final lap but was able to coast across the finish line first, turning the Chase into the Coast. "We've lost races that way, so it was nice to finally get one," Stewart said. "It was a battle between the driver and the crew chief. The crew chief is yelling at you every lap to save fuel, but you're not slowing down enough and he knows it because he's looking at the stopwatch. When you've got guys behind you, you know you don't want to give those spots up in case they happen to make it on fuel. So I tried to save as much fuel as I could and still hold guys off. We were able to take the chance because we had nothing to lose. Not being in the Chase gave us that opportunity to take the chance and go ahead and run for it. It's not a chance we can take this year." The situation is far different this year -- Stewart is only two points out of the lead. But he won at the sister track to Kansas -- Chicagoland Speedway -- in July and is hopeful he can be the man to beat this weekend. "I'd like to think that if you had success at one track that you'd have success at the other," he said. "But at the same time, there are no guarantees in this sport. As fast as technology changes, what worked a month ago might not work now. We won't know anything until we hit the track." Stewart has an outstanding record at Kansas: the one win, a pair of fourth-place finishes and a pair of eighth-places finishes along with a 14th in six previous Kansas Cup races.
  • Last week: Stewart was ninth at Dover, one lap down to the lead six cars.
  • Etc.: Stewart will make a return to the NASCAR Busch Series on Saturday, driving the No. 33 Old Spice Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) in the Yellow Transportation 300 at Kansas. It will be Stewart's second career Busch Series start at Kansas; his best finish was a fourth-place result last year in a KHI-prepared Chevrolet. The Yellow Transportation 300 will mark Stewart's 11th race as part of his 12-race Busch Series schedule for 2007. Stewart has two wins, four poles, 19 top-fives and 26 top-10s in 75 Busch Series starts.

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    3) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson has never finished in the top five in five previous Kansas races. He finished sixth in 2005 and seventh in 2003. He was 14th there last year. It's the only track where he has not finished in the top five in his career. "Obviously, with the crazy weekend we had (at Dover) and being four points out of the lead after what we went through, (it) is exciting for us," Johnson said. "We ran really, really well (at Kansas) last year. Unfortunately, we had a tire problem, which seems to have happened to us here lately. We had a tire problem that kept us from having the finish that we wanted. But we led a lot. I think we led the most laps, so we're excited." Johnson expects the Chase to remain tight until the final race of the season, at Homestead in two months. "I think it's going to stay close for a long time," he said. "Once we get down to two races to go, there might be more of a clear favorite. But if you look at where Denny (Hamlin) is in 12th, granted, 11 guys could have a bad day, but he's not that far out. I was a lot further out and came back over five or six races or whatever it was last year. So I'm not counting anyone out. I do think that it's tougher this year. You have two more cars in the mix. It's a much more competitive Chase. I think it's going to keep us talking each and every week as to how things unfold and where people are."
  • Last week: Johnson was 14th, two laps down, at Dover.
  • Etc.: Monday is when Johnson puts out the "Do Not Disturb" sign. "Yeah, Monday usually ends up being my off day to do anything from hanging around the house doing nothing to playing golf and visiting with friends," he said. "So Monday is kind of my fun day or my off day. I can take that for myself in most cases."

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    4) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch got his first top-10 finish at Kansas when he was seventh there last year. Before that, he finished 37th there in 2004 and 21st in 2005. He also was a relatively strong 13th at Chicago this year. Busch is another driver that thinks success at Chicago equates into a good run at Kansas. "Kansas and Chicago are practically identical," Busch said. "I've never seen two racetracks that were made so similarly. The only differences are that Kansas is a little bit flatter, narrower and it says 'Kansas Speedway' on the soft walls."
  • Last week: With a fifth-place finish at Dover, Busch is fourth in the championship standings, a mere 10 points behind the leader, Jeff Gordon. Busch's points position is a marked improvement over last year. Heading into the third race of the 2006 Chase, Busch was in 10th in the points, 224 points out of first place.
  • Etc.: Busch isn't going to let the Chase keep him from extra duty in October. Busch will race in both the Cup and the Craftsman Truck Series races at Talladega, Martinsville and Atlanta. Busch will also compete in the Busch Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, where he has scored two career wins.

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    5) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: While Homecoming Weekend is big in college football, Bowyer gets his own homecoming this weekend. The Emporia, Kan., driver will compete in his second Cup race at Kansas Speedway. He started sixth and finished ninth there as a rookie in 2006. "I can't wait to get back home," he said. "It's going to be a big week. I'm excited to run the dirt cars and having the opportunity to go back and see everyone. This is an important race for me. Last year we almost got our first Cup win at Kansas. Last year was the first time I actually led a significant amount of laps and I felt like, as a team, we stood on our own two feet. You know, we had something for them. If I hadn't made a mistake, I think we had a legitimate shot to win the race. Nonetheless, we were fast and that's all you can ask for. It's so nerve-wracking to go to your home track because that's where you want to be able to perform and run well. If you can run up front, lead laps and be in contention to win in front of the hometown crowd -- that's important." Although he has a long career ahead of him, Bowyer believes Kansas is the one track where he "has" to win at before his career is over. "Absolutely," he said. "It would be so cool to be able to celebrate a victory with everybody who has helped me and supported me during my career. I've got so many family and friends who will be there, and then there's everyone who I used to race with. It's just everything that goes along with racing an hour and a half away from where I grew up. Lakeside Speedway is only five miles up the road."
  • Last week: Bowyer is coming off a 12th-place finish at Dover.
  • Etc.: Bowyer had a busy week in store when he returned to Kansas this week. On Wednesday night, Bowyer, along with RCR development driver Austin Dillon and fellow Cup Series competitors Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace and David Ragan were scheduled to race dirt modifieds in the second annual Capital City Clash at Heartland Park Topeka's three-eighths-mile dirt oval. On Friday night, he returns to Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City for the Capital Federal Savings Late Model Showdown. Dillon, son of RCR vice president of competition Mike Dillon and team owner Richard Childress' grandson, will also be on hand for the evening's race. Before he was hand-picked by Childress to share the No. 21 Busch Series ride with Harvick in 2004, Bowyer won dirt modified championships at Thunderhill Speedway in Mayetta, Kan., (2000), Heartland Park Topeka (2001), Lakeside Speedway (2001 and 2002) and a late model crown at the famed I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo. (2002). The 28-year-old driver is the 2002 NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Midwest Division Champion.

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    6) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Edwards dropped from third to sixth when he was penalized 25 points because his Ford failed its post-race inspection -- the car was found to be low in the right rear area. Roush Fenway Racing president Geoff Smith said in a statement following NASCAR's announcement, "We have the misfortune of violating a rule which makes no sense. It was promulgated to address restrictor plate races, not downforce races. I say misfortune because we are being penalized for a violation that actually impaired the car's performance. We intend to appeal the unfair assessment of the point's penalty. What is unfair is that Carl is receiving a penalty that is 250 percent greater in its effect than a similarly assessed penalty against a non-Chase driver. Chase drivers are competing for a total of 1,950 points. All drivers competed for 5,070 points in the first 26 races. Do the math. The net effect is that a 25-point penalty falls unfairly hard on a Chase contender. That's simply not right. To equalize the penalty impact on all competitors not more than 10 points should have been taken from a Chase contender." Edwards has one top-five finish (third in 2005) and two top-10 finishes in four Cup starts at Kansas. "It's my hometown track, so it will be neat having so many family and friends there," Edwards said.
  • Last week: Edwards won at Dover before he was penalized for the car infraction.
  • Etc.: Edwards has made two Busch Series starts at Kansas and three Craftsman Truck Series starts. In his three Truck Series starts, Edwards has one win, two top-five finishes and three top-10s.

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    7) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex finished 23rd last year at Kansas in his only Cup start at the track. "It's sort of like Chicago but without the curved back straightaway, but it's a fast track," Truex said. "It's not really banked like Texas or Atlanta or places like that. It's a little bit flatter, but it's got a lot of grip and asphalt and it's definitely a fun track to race on. The groove gets real wide, and that's probably the best part about it. Last year it was about an eight (on a scale of 1-10). It was real good. The top groove came in and we were able to run against the wall and make it a lot fun."
  • Last week: Truex finished 13th at Dover, the same track where he was the winner in June.
  • Etc.: Truex doesn't mind that most of the attention in the Chase goes to the bigger-name drivers. "People go off past races and experience and results and them guys had the results because they've been doing it so long so you can't really say that they're overlooking us or anything," Truex said. "We just haven't had the results over the past few years. That's kind of the reason why I think that happens. They have all the statistics and that's what they go by. We're not even on that sheet yet."

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    8) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: When Burton finished fifth at Kansas last year, it was far and away his best finish at the track in six races and his only top-10 finish there. "I've had good race cars at Kansas, but it just seems like we have things go wrong there," Burton said. "I feel good about going to Kansas. I really enjoy that race track and look forward to racing there. As the race track gets older, it becomes a much better track to race on. I have high expectations this weekend. I don't think the Chase truly becomes in focus until the sixth race. There may be some people in the fourth race where you might say, 'That guy is definitely out,' but I don't think you can completely eliminate people. There is still time to make things happen. I think the fifth or sixth race is when you can start really focusing in on who's going for the title. You can put yourself in position to win it early and you can put yourself in position to lose early. You won't win it or lose it in one race or two races; instead, you need to start positioning yourself to make a run at it."
  • Last week: Burton was able to avoid the mayhem at Dover and finished seventh.
  • Etc.: With all three of Richard Childress Racing's drivers in the Chase, Burton was asked if it's an advantage or disadvantage. "I think the reason that teams are in the Chase is because of the quality of the teams," he said. "Having all three teams in the Chase is a verification and a result of the work that's been done at our company. I think it's good to have as many teams as possible from your company in the Chase. We're going to work together the same way we've always worked together. We're not going to quit that communication or effort because we're racing each other for a championship. Our goal, from a company standpoint, was to get all three teams in the Chase and then have a chance for all three teams to win a championship. Not that those goals are easy to achieve, but we were able to achieve the first part and hopefully we can finish the second part off. I know there's a lot of concern about teams continuing to work together as they're competing in the playoffs and competing for the championship, but we don't have that concern internally."

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    9) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick's sixth-place finish in 2003 is his only top-10 finish in six races at Kansas. "Past stats don't mean anything," Harvick said. "We have been able to step up our mile-and-a-half program over the past year. Kansas is a lot like Chicagoland except for where the bumps are located, and we were able to finish fourth there in July. We should be as good or better this weekend." Harvick will drive Chassis No. 120. This is the same Chevrolet Harvick drove to a seventh-place finish in July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and is a regular car that is being phased out at the end of this season. "They both present different challenges," Harvick said, referring to this model car and the Car of Tomorrow. "You just race whatever you have underneath you and whether it's the Car of Tomorrow or it's the old-style car, you just go out and race and do the best you can. I don't think the crews look forward to switching back and forth. They have to completely change their thought process with each car. One type of adjustment may work on one car but not the other. So I think it puts a little added pressure on the crew."
  • Last week: Harvick finished 20th at Dover.
  • Etc.: In 17 races at Kansas Speedway dating to 2001, team owner Richard Childress has yet to take home the winner's trophy. The team has earned one top-five and three top-10 finishes with drivers Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Harvick. The only other tracks on the current schedule where RCR hasn't earned Cup Series wins are California, Homestead-Miami and Las Vegas.

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    10) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has one top-five and two top-10 finishes in six Kansas starts. "Kansas is a lot like Chicago, and we've been very competitive there the past two years," he said.
  • Last week: Kenseth appeared to be the "Dover Dominator," leading most of the race before a broken valve spring knock him out with 26 laps to go. He finished 35th. "Dover was a big disappointment, for sure, considering we had a car capable of winning and ended up with nothing to show for it," Kenseth said. "But I can't help but look at the positives from that race. That's the first time all year that we've been able to compete for a win in the Car of Tomorrow. We ran really well and just had a problem at the end that we really couldn't do anything about. So, instead of getting down and thinking about what could've been, I feel like we've finally got some promise in these COT cars, and I think we should be able to compete now. Carl (Edwards) won, Greg (Biffle) finished second and Jamie (McMurray) finished top-10, so obviously Roush as a team is making a lot of improvement with these cars.
  • Etc.: Kenseth will drive chassis RK-323, which finished fourth at Michigan in August. "We're bringing our favorite car to the track," said crew chief Robbie Reiser. "This car has run well the last two times out at Michigan and Chicago, and there's no reason to think it won't be able to compete this weekend."

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    11) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: While Busch has only two top-10 finishes in six starts at Kansas, he feels good about this weekend since he will be driving the car that won at Pocono in a dominating performance last month. "We have a lot of faith in this car," said crew chief Pat Tryson.
  • Last week: For the second consecutive week, Busch ran into trouble while running in the top five. With only 14 laps left in the 400-lap event, Busch said "something broke" in the right front, sending him hard into the wall. He bounced off in front of a huge pack of cars triggering a 10-car accident. Busch ended up 29th and now trails point leader Jeff Gordon by 151 points.
  • Etc.: Busch admits he is "pretty frustrated right now because we had cars strong enough in both races to be up there with the (points) leaders. A broken fifty-cent part got us at New Hampshire, and we still don't know exactly what happened (at Dover). We've really dug ourselves a hole -- a deep one -- but we'll be doing everything possible to dig back out."

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    12) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Hamlin made his Nextel Cup debut at Kansas in 2005. His best finish in his two starts at the track is 18th. Despite his troubles at Dover, Hamlin believes "this (the championship Chase) is not over for us. We're going to bounce back. It is not a devastating blow for us."
  • Last week: Hamlin's championship hopes took a severe beating when he ran into the back of Kyle Petty and slammed hard into the wall just past the halfway point of the Dover race. As a result, Hamlin finished 38th to drop to 12th place, 158 points out of the lead. Petty was upset about the incident and confronted Hamlin while Hamlin was still in his race car. NASCAR officials and team members had to keep the two drivers apart during the heated exchange in the garage area.
  • Etc.: Hamlin said what upset him the most during the confrontation between him and Petty was when Petty flipped down his visor during the argument. "Don't smack me on the helmet," said Hamlin. "You push on my visor and I will punch you in the face."

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    13) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Earnhardt has three top-10 finishes in six starts at Kansas, including a 10th a year ago. Earnhardt knows time is running out in his bid to win a race for DEI before he departs for Hendrick Motorsports. And this is especially true since crew chief Tony Eury Jr. is leaving the team after the Talladega event. "We need to close out his career at DEI with a big 'W'," said Earnhardt.
  • Last week: Earnhardt rallied in the waning laps at Dover to finish third for his seventh top-five finish of the season. "There have been so many races this year when we should have been in the top three when we blew up or had some sort of late race issue that stopped us, and it's about time we have some sort of positive result to reward this crew of guys that have busted their butts all season," Earnhardt said.
  • Etc.: Earnhardt thought he had a winning car at Chicago in early July "until the power steering went out. This track (Kansas) is similar, but not exactly like, the track at Chicago, so maybe we can get that (first win of the season) this weekend."

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    14) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing
  • This week: Newman finished second, second and first in his first three races at Kansas, but his best finish the last three years has been 24th. "We haven't had much luck in Kansas lately, but our intermediate program has been much better this year than it has been in the last couple of years," he said.
  • Last week: Newman's hopes of a top-10 finish were wiped out with 14 laps to go when teammate Kurt Busch hit the wall on the backstretch and bounced into Newman's path. When the dust cleared, 10 cars were involved. "Just in the wrong spot at the wrong time with a good car race that was capable of a top-five," said Newman, who ended up 28th.
  • Etc.: Newman was one of the drivers who visited Walter Reed Medical Center last week and spent time with soldiers who are back from Iraq and Afghanistan. This was Newman's first trip to the annual "Tribute to the Soldiers" event.

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    15) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Biffle has scored two top-three finishes in the last three races at Kansas. "I came really close to a win there a couple of years ago," said Biffle, "and it would be incredible to get the Aflac Fusion into Victory Lane this weekend. We had a good run last weekend at Dover, and I think we can keep the momentum and hopefully finish this season on a high note."
  • Last week: A late race decision to change four tires almost resulted in a win for Biffle as he came close to running down winner Carl Edwards in the waning laps. "If I could've got to his bumper, it might have been a challenge for him," Biffle said after his best finish of the season. "I need a win pretty bad, but we were going to race him clean."
  • Etc.: Biffle will be racing the same car that he ran earlier this year at Indy and Michigan. Crew chief Greg Erwin believes the team has "learned a few things since then that will help us" at Kansas. "I just want to continue improving in these last few races."

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    16) Casey Mears, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Mears finished second last year at Kansas for his second consecutive top-10 finish at the 1.5-mile track. He believes another top-10 run is a definite possibility this weekend based on "how well we ran there last year and how well we have run on the intermediate tracks this year."
  • Last week: Mears finished sixth at Dover for his second consecutive top-10 finish. This was a career-best finish at Dover for Mears, who had struggled at the track in the past. "We had a strong car, and our pit stops were great -- today was a total team effort," said Mears.
  • Etc.: Mears was one of four drivers tire testing at Daytona earlier this week. "The tires we're putting on are just a little bit different, nothing real excessive or totally different than what we had in the past," said Mears. "They (Goodyear) just want to get laps and good information and see what kind of heat these (COT) cars put in the tires as opposed to our old cars."

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    17) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: Labonte is still looking for his first top-10 finish at Kansas. His best finish in six starts is 16th. Labonte knows he needs a top-10 run this weekend if he wants to boost his chances of finishing in the top 15 in the point standings. He is 184 points out of 15th.
  • Last week: Labonte battled handling problems all afternoon at Dover before being part of a 10-car accident late in the race that left him in 27th place. "It's tough to get these new cars to turn in the middle (of the corner) but not be too free getting in (the corner)," said Labonte. "Dover is not a place where you want to be loose getting in or coming off the corners."
  • Etc.: Because Kansas is the first of five mile-and-a-half tracks that teams will compete on in the final eight races of the year, Labonte believes "Kansas is going to be a critical race for all of us. We have races left at Lowe's, Atlanta, Texas and Homestead. They are similar to Kansas, and you need to be right on top of your game with the 'old' race cars right now."

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    18) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: McMurray has two top-10 finishes in four starts at Kansas. "Racing at Kansas is always pretty cool because it's my hometown track," said McMurray, a native of Joplin, Mo. "You always see a bunch of people that you know and remember when you lived there."
  • Last week: McMurray recovered from a mid-race spin to finish eighth at Dover, his eighth top-10 finish of the season. McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya bounced off each other while racing for position on lap 203 with McMurray spinning down the backstretch. McMurray was able to keep the car off the wall, and, after three pit stops to repair the damage, he returned to the race in 15th spot. "Needless to say, it was a long day, but we hung in there and came out with a pretty good finish," said McMurray.
  • Etc.: McMurray believes "the last few weeks have been really good for the No. 26 team. Each weekend we've unloaded a really good car. Even though we didn't finish Richmond, I knew how good our car really was, and so did the rest of the team. And the last two weeks in the COT, we've continued making big strides and feel like we are starting to catch up with everyone else."

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    19) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Montoya will be making his first trip to Kansas. The 1.5-mile track is the only speedway left on the 2007 schedule that Montoya has yet to race on. He will be driving chassis No. 706 this weekend. Montoya has earned two of his four top-10 finishes in the car.
  • Last week: After qualifying second at Dover, Montoya was able to stay out of trouble all afternoon as he finished 10th, his fifth top-10 finish of the season. In winning the rookie-of-the-race honors for the 12th time this season, Montoya was able to pad his year in the rookie standings to 15 points (222-207) over David Ragan.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Donnie Wingo thought the team had a "10 times better race car today (at Dover) than we had here the first time. All the guys at the shop have worked really hard on the COT stuff trying to get the package down a little bit better with the bump stops and stuff, and they've done a really good job of getting it better."

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    20) J.J. Yeley, No. 18 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Yeley finished 41st in his first Nextel Cup start at Kansas a year ago, but he did have two top-10 finishes in three Busch Series events at the track. Yeley admits "the last four or five races in the conventional cars haven't been as good of runs as we would have liked. I'm hoping we can get that turned around this weekend."
  • Last week: Yeley was one of 10 cars involved in a late race accident at Dover that left Yeley in 33rd place when the checkered flag was waved. "I went to the bottom (to try to miss the accident) and I thought I was clear, but someone on the outside got me," said Yeley. "Then I hit someone really hard, and that was it. It was just a tough deal, but that's all a part of being at Dover. There's a big wreck every so often on the straightaway."
  • Etc.: On Saturday, Yeley will jump back into a USAC Silver Crown car as he seeks his third straight win in that series. "It's been a lot of fun getting to go back and run those cars even though they are a lot different than what we used to run when I was the 2003 champion of that series," said Yeley. "Anytime you get a shot at winning a race, it makes it fun and worthwhile to do."

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    21) David Ragan, No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
  • This week: Ragan finished 17th in his first Nextel Cup race at Talladega in April. He is 14 points back of Juan Pablo Montoya in the race for the rookie of the year award with seven races to go. "I'm pretty excited about heading back to Talladega," said Ragan. "I think now that I have a little more experience I may have a few more friends out there that will be willing to draft with us."
  • Last week: Ragan finished 16th at Kansas and won the rookie-of-the-race honors for the 13th time this season. He has claimed the top rookie honors in four of the last five races. "We were off a little bit there at the end but still (had) a decent finish, a top-20, and we gained a few points," he said.
  • Etc.: Crew chief Jimmy Fennig believes the Talladega race "is going to give us a little bit of a sneak peak into what we are going to be up against next season when we run the COT full-time."

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    22) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Gillett Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne finished second in this race a year ago. It is his only top-10 finish in seven starts at Talladega. Kahne believes this weekend's race will be "the best COT race because of the way the cars drive. Still, it's Talladega. There will be plenty of side-by-side racing, and it will be exciting for the fans."
  • Last week: Kahne finished ninth at Kansas for his fourth top-10 finish in the last six races. "The car was good all day," said Kahne. "We had a problem and had to make an unscheduled pit stop, which got us a lap down, but we were able to make that up. We would have preferred to run more laps (the race was stopped because of darkness) because we were one of the fastest cars on the track at the end."
  • Etc.: Kahne admits he hasn't had much fun this year. "We're here to have fun and win races, but we haven't won any races," adds Kahne. "We had a good run at Kansas, so that was another step in the right direction. We're not there yet, but we're certainly getting closer."

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    23) Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Sorenson is still looking for his first top-10 finish at Talladega. In three Nextel Cup races and three Busch Series events, Sorenson's best finish is 17th. He knows Lady Luck will probably play the biggest role in whether he is able to finally get that first top-10 on Sunday. "If we can survive the big one, we can have a good day," said Sorenson.
  • Last week: Sorenson finished seventh at Kansas for only his fourth top-10 finish of the season. "It was a good day," said Sorenson. "There at the end it was kind of crazy. We had a good battle with the 19 (Elliott Sadler). I was on the bottom and he was a little bit better than me. Then I moved to the top and I was better than him. I think there at the end I could have gotten by the 29 (Kevin Harvick) and a couple others (if the race had gone to a green-white-checkered finish)."
  • Etc.: Car owner Chip Ganassi announced that reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti has signed a multi-year contract to drive the 40 car in 2008. Franchitti will succeed David Stremme, who will finish out the season in the car.

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    24) Mark Martin, No. 01 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Martin will take the weekend off with rookie Aric Alirola taking over the driving duties at Talladega. This will be Almirola's first Cup race at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, but he has run in one Busch Series event and one Craftsman Truck race there. "I learned a lot about drafting in those races," said Almirola.
  • Last week: Martin rebounded from a poor qualifying effort to finish 12th at Kansas. "We were all over the place in qualifying and practice, but they just wouldn't give up on the car," said Martin. "Once the race started I was able to do things with the Army Chevy that I had not been able to do all weekend. We were awful on Friday (when he qualified 39th). It's unbelievable to end the weekend like we did."
  • Etc.: Almirola was part of the Talladega test. "The COT cars drafted really well and had a pretty good closure rate," said the rookie driver.

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    25) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Gillett Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler has only two top-10 finishes in 16 starts at Talladega, but he has won three poles at the high-speed oval. Sadler said "the test at Talladega was pretty hairy. You can't see as good with the new car as you could with the old car. The greenhouse is a lot bigger. The rear wing is a lot bigger. It's more difficult to see what's happening behind you."
  • Last week: Sadler finished eighth at Kansas for his first top-10 finish since the season-opening Daytona 500 in February. "Today was a lot of fun," Sadler said afterward. "Probably the most fun I have had in a race car in a long time. It's by the far the best race car I've had (this season), and it was so much fun to drive."
  • Etc.: Sadler believes it will be a "normal" Talladega weekend with "lines of cars bunched together two and three wide. I don't think anyone will be able to pull away and break from the draft. There'll be a lot of bump drafting. When something goes wrong, it usually involves a lot of cars."

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    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Kyle Petty, Dario Franchitti, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Reed Sorenson, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, David Stremme, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers, Jacques Villeneuve

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