Race to the Chase rolls into week 2

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, July 2, 2009

One week down, nine more to go in the “Race to the Chase” which serves as the prelude to NASCAR’s “playoffs”.

Restrictor-plate racing throws a wild card into the deck that’s sure to be stacked with excitement for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola.

Tony Stewart is the series points leader – and a two-time winner of Daytona’s summer race. Stewart leads Jeff Gordon by 69 points but an even more intense battle rages further down in the top 12. From eighth place to 14th, the separation is only 71 points. From 10th to 14th, the gap is merely 17 points.

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In the middle of that maelstrom is none other than Juan Pablo Montoya, holding down the tenuous 12th-place position for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, somewhat surprisingly. Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion and former Formula One star, is in his third NASCAR season and appears to be acclimating.

“When I came here my expectations were not that high,” Montoya said. “I think the ability is there [now] and the momentum is there … we’ve just got to keep the ball rolling.”

New restart rule is favorite for fans and drivers

The advent of “Double-File Restarts – Shootout Style” in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been greeted enthusiastically thus far as an obvious boon to competition.

Enthusiasm will get a further boost Saturday night when the series races at Daytona International, home of the Budweiser Shootout each February, a non-points event that long has used the double-file restarts.

In addition, double-file restarts will debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, in Friday night’s event.

Double-file restarts replace the previous approach of having lead-lap cars in one row on the outside and lapped cars in the other row alongside.

“I’m a big fan of this double-file restart stuff,” said Stewart. “It’s so much fun restarting with the guys that you’re racing with and are used to running up front with and not having to deal with some of these other guys on the restarts that you sometimes have to deal with.”

“I think restrictor plate racing will be the biggest beneficiary of double-file restarts,” Greg Biffle said. “We’re already racing two-wide and three-wide all the time already, why not start them two-wide.

“It totally makes sense.”

Silver Anniversary of Petty’s 200th win

July 4, 1984 at Daytona International Speedway was a day that surely crossed boundaries for many sports fans.

Whether you were a follower of stock car racing or not, you had to appreciate the scene of NASCAR’s most prolific and popular champion, Richard Petty, getting his milestone 200th victory, winning the Firecracker 400 in his iconic No. 43 STP Pontiac.

Likewise, no matter your political leanings, chances are you had to admit it was pretty cool that President Ronald Reagan gave the command to start the race from Air Force One, did a short stint in the MRN radio broadcast booth – actually giving the call for a few laps – and joined Petty for the post-race victory celebration.

“We got the President of the United States on the sports page, and the President of the United States got us on front page,” Petty said. “So it was a pretty good trade-off.”

Petty never won another race, although he tried for the rest of 1984 and eight more frustrating seasons after that. In retrospect, it seems almost as if fate intervened to have Petty get his last victory at the track where he built his legend, mainly via a record seven Daytona 500 victories.

Saturday, Petty will have a chance to celebrate. Daytona’s summer race, now called the Coke Zero 400, no longer is always held on July 4 but rather the Saturday closest to the holiday. The calendar, though, has fallen just right this year.

“Everything was perfect for that day for us,” Petty said last week during a NASCAR CAM video teleconference.

“So, you know, although it’s been 25 years ago, I still remember a lot of it. But [since] it’s the last time I won a race driving, naturally that’s going to be in your memory the most.”

Two weeks ago at Infineon Raceway, Petty, now a part-owner in a first-year organization called Richard Petty Motorsports, returned to Victory Lane as an owner for the first time since 1999, thanks to Kasey Kahne’s victory.

2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Standings – Top 12

Driver Points

1. Tony Stewart 2,524

2. Jeff Gordon 2,455

3. Jimmie Johnson 2,355

4. Kurt Busch 2,254

5. Carl Edwards 2,157

6. Denny Hamlin 2,132

7. Ryan Newman 2,127

8. Kyle Busch 2,108

9. Greg Biffle 2,106

10. Matt Kenseth 2,054

11. Mark Martin 2,052

12. Juan Pablo Montoya 2,049