The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

October 4, 2006

Burton maintains lead in NASCAR Chase for the Nextel Cup


By Jenna Fryer

AP Auto Racing Writer



The 10 drivers competing in NASCAR’s Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, in order of points:



DRIVER: Jeff Burton

TEAM: Richard Childress Racing

CAR: No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: First, 5,511

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Burton was one of the few drivers to not have fuel mileage problems in Kansas and managed a fifth-place finish. Although he finished fourth at Talladega in May, he’s not thrilled about returning there this weekend.

SPEAKING: “Talladega is probably the most nervous I am before a race. If you do this long enough, you have to understand the odds. The odds are there is going to be a big wreck at Talladega. The odds are every two or three races you’ll end up being in one of those wrecks. So is it your turn? You kind of feel like you’re playing Russian Roulette a little bit,” Burton said.

———

DRIVER: Denny Hamlin

TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing

CAR: No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Second, -69

POSITION CHANGE: Plus 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Hamlin twice was penalized for speeding on pit road, and had a vibration in his wheel. Still, he finished 18th and improved his place in the Chase standings. Hamlin will be making his second start at Talladega. He was 22nd in the spring, partly because of a penalty.

SPEAKING: “I think if you asked the guys running in the Chase, most of them would say this is the wild-card race on the schedule. It will come down to having a car that will handle in the draft and a little bit of luck this weekend. You do what you can to avoid that trouble and save your car, but it’s not always in your control,” Hamlin said.

———

DRIVER: Mark Martin

TEAM: Roush Racing

CAR: No. 6 AAA Ford

CHASE POINTS: Third, -70

POSITION CHANGE: Plus 3

WHAT HAPPENED: Martin made the biggest jump in the Chase standings behind his third-place finish in Kansas. He isn’t expecting to follow it up at Talladega, a track he openly hates because of his bad luck there. Martin does, however, have two career wins there.

SPEAKING: “Based on my past experience, my expectation would be to wreck at Talladega. If we come through Talladega, we might have a chance,” Martin said.

———

DRIVER: Matt Kenseth

TEAM: Roush Racing

CAR: No. 17 DeWalt Tools Ford

CHASE POINTS: Fourth, -84

POSITION CHANGE: Minus 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Kenseth’s car was off the entire day in Kansas, and no amount of work could fix it as he struggled to a 23rd-place finish. Kenseth will make his 250th career start at Talladega, and hopes to continue his recent run of plate-racing success: He’s led in the three previous races this season.

SPEAKING: “I had no idea this was number 250 until someone told me. We race so much and so often that you really don’t have time to think about the races behind you because you’re so focused on the race ahead of you. Of course, 250 really isn’t that much if you consider that Mark Martin has over 650 starts and somebody told me that Terry Labonte is closing in on 850,” Kenseth said.

———

DRIVER: Kevin Harvick

TEAM: Richard Childress Racing

CAR: No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Fifth, -96

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Harvick spun through the infield early and had to race his way from the back of the field after falling a lap down. He came back and finished 15th. Unlike other Chase drivers, he’s not getting too worked up about Talladega.

SPEAKING: “There really is no need to make more out of it than we need to. It is just another race. We are doing everything we can do to be at the top of our game, putting out the equipment on the racetrack that we have. The rest of it is circumstances like luck and making the right calls when they need to be made,” Harvick said.

———

DRIVER: Jeff Gordon

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

CAR: No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Sixth, -120

POSITION CHANGE: Minus 4

WHAT HAPPENED: Gordon was on his way to a terrific finish in Kansas until his fuel pump broke late in the race and dropped him to a 39th-place finish. At Talladega he’ll try to tie the late Dale Earnhardt’s mark of 11 restrictor plate wins. But he’ll have to be better than he was in the spring, when he made a tactical error on the final lap and went from first to 15th.

SPEAKING: “I learned a very valuable lesson earlier this year, and that’s not to try to pass my teammate while he’s leading with one lap to go and put myself in position to finish 15th,” Gordon said.

———

DRIVER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

TEAM: Dale Earnhardt Inc.

CAR: No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Seventh, -123

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Earnhardt ran over a spring rubber and damaged his car, falling back as far as 20th at Kansas. But he wound up 10th and is looking forward to Talladega, where he has five wins.

SPEAKING: “Talladega is always a track that shakes things up in the Chase. We can make some serious gains in the points this week with a good run. Talladega is obviously a race I look forward to, and I know our chances of winning are as good as anybody’s,” Earnhardt said.

———

DRIVER: Jimmie Johnson

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

CAR: No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Eighth, -165

POSITION CHANGE: None

WHAT HAPPENED: Johnson was headed toward a strong finish when bad luck struck at the worst time. He was heading to pit road when Kasey Kahne’s spin made him change his mind out of fear of the caution coming out. So he had to make his stop later, was flagged for speeding on pit road, and finished 14th. He’ll try to reverse his fortune at Talladega, where he won in the spring.

SPEAKING: “I get upset about the luck because you can’t control it, but at the same time it’s what makes our sport exciting and unpredictable. Sometimes you just don’t understand why it goes the way it does,” Johnson said.

———

DRIVER: Kyle Busch

TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports

CAR: No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet

CHASE POINTS: Ninth, -233

POSITION CHANGE: Plus 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Busch led 64 laps, but was caught speeding on pit road and sent to the back of the field. He made it up when fuel mileage cycled through at the end of the race and he finished seventh. He needs to pick it up at Talladega, where he has never finished higher than 32nd in his previous three starts.

SPEAKING: “Our restrictor-plate program has really picked up here recently — this year especially. We’ve been able to run strong. At Talladega, I think we got wrecked there on lap 8 after qualifying well. So we’ll just have to see,” Busch said.

———

DRIVER: Kasey Kahne

TEAM: Evernham Motorsports

CAR: No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge

CHASE POINTS: 10th, -273

POSITION CHANGE: Minus 1

WHAT HAPPENED: Kahne was headed toward a top 10 when he ran out of gas and lost three laps. He also spun entering pit road for his gas — all leading to his 33rd place finish. The outlook for salvaging his Chase doesn’t look good — three of Kahne’s five Talladega finishes were outside the top 25.

SPEAKING: “Things change. You look at the points and there’s definitely a chance. Jimmie Johnson came from a bunch of points down in ’04 to just about win the championship. It’s something that can be done. It’s going to be tough to be done, but it’s possible if all the teams have hard luck,” Kahne said.