Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kevin Conway: NASCAR's 2010 Sprint Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year

Courtesy of Kevin Conway/ExtenZe
Racing's Facebook Page
The 2010 NASCAR Raybestos Rookie of the Year award goes to the Toyota ExtenZe Racing driver Kevin Conway. The official award presentation will happen during Champions Week in Las Vegas on Thursday, Dec. 2, during the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon.

Conway started 28 races during the 2010 season and finished 82 percent of his starts. Conway's average starting place this season was 40.3 and his statistics show a 32.6 average finish for 2010. Kevin finished 35th in Cup Series season points after earning 1,830 points throughout the season and bringing home more than $2.5 million in earnings.

Though Conway receives the Rookie of the Year award as the only qualifying Cup Series rookie in the field, if Landon Cassill had declared himself for the ROTY award and been in one more race in 2010, Conway would have still come out on top. If driver Terry Cook, who declared himself eligible for ROTY at the beginning of the season, had stayed in for more than three Cup races, it is likely that Kevin would have beaten Cook for the honors as well. In the three races Cook participated in during the 2010 season, Conway finished an average 10 spots better in all three. Conway earned the 2010 Rookie of the Year award by keeping the car out of trouble on the track, qualifying for and finishing races, and through overcoming much adversity during his 2010 season.

Considering that before the season started, Front Row Motorsports opted to not allow Kevin an attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 because of his lack of superspeedway experience, it is ironic that Kevin's best finish of 2010 came at the Coke Zero 400 in July at Daytona. His 14th-place finish in that race is also the best finish for Front Row Motorsports since the team formed in 2005.

Even with FRM's best finish of their five-year history, after his 21st race of the 2010 season Kevin and ExtenZe Racing left FRM because of a disagreement regarding sponsor payments. Showing himself to not be bitter about the split, Conway said, "It was exciting for me to be able to give Front Row their best finish ... it's unfortunate that we can't work it out to remain in the car for the immediate future."

In week 24 Conway and ExtenZe Racing debuted with Robby Gordon Motorsports. The remainder of the season proved to have several rough spots. During his time with Front Row Motorsports, Conway had just three DNFs in his first 21 races in 2010. In the last seven races of the season, the team shows six DNFs with Robby Gordon Motorsports. With a variety of issues plaguing the Robby Gordon Motorsports Toyota, ranging from a transmission problem and engine failure to brake issues and a bad fuel pump, Kevin said that it felt like going from the frying pan into the fire.

“It was extremely frustrating,” Conway said. “You try to work with what's in control and not worry about the rest. As a team we have to evaluate what went right and improve on what went wrong. To be a competitive race team and get the results you want to have, you have to remain in the sport even with ongoing mechanical issues. When you beat yourself in the shop it's tough.”

When asked how much he is looking forward to the 2011 season after achieving his best finish of 2010 at Daytona, Kevin said, “I'm really looking forward to getting back to Daytona. There was a lot of track changes and handling that came into play last year.”

But Conway expects that with the new surface at Daytona International Speedway, the aerodynamic package will come into play more and with that there are new opportunities. Kevin went on to say, “The new track surface levels the playing field to some extent. The teams who have ability to do research can capitalize on that ... I expect more three- and four-wide racing and better handling.” He said that ultimately, everyone's 2011 season will depend on surviving the races and coming away with decent finishes.

With plans to run both Cup and Nationwide races in 2011, Conway said that hitting the reset button with the switch to Robby Gordon Motorsports led to having limited resources in the latter part the season. Kevin said that not having the equipment or experience in Cup cars proved to create challenges in 2010 for his ExtenZe Racing Team. For 2011, Kevin wants to build more familiarity with the team and improve dramatically on 2010.

With the majority of a full year under his belt, Conway says that the ExtenZe Racing Team wants to finish consistently in the top 20—25 next year and be able to capitalize on other teams' bad days. He said it is up to the driver and the team to create opportunities for success. Setting realistic goals in addition to learning and developing himself as a driver are at the top of the to-do list for Conway in 2011. Keep an eye out for a formal announcement regarding a 2011 sponsorship agreement between Kevin and Robby Gordon Motorsports following Champions Week in Las Vegas, possibly just before Christmas.

Conway said that although nothing is booked yet, after the awards in Las Vegas he is going to take a look at the calendar and is “planning on planning a trip to the mountains” during the off-season. Either somewhere in Canada or maybe the Rockies for some snowboarding, he said.

As a final question, I asked Kevin if there was anything that NASCAR fans should know about him, his season or his team that he would like to share; his reply speaks volumes.

“We've had a lot of racers over the last couple weeks saying you're the new hero; we're making sure that we are keeping the dream alive for the little guy. This is the first time a non-major team has won Rookie of the Year in 12 years. Regardless of the number of competitors, to be able to run the majority of the races we had to have tenacity, persistence and hard work. Six years ago I was racing weekends in midgets, working for Richard Petty Driving Experience to pay the bills. Six years later, to be in a position to compete for Rookie of the Year ... people sometimes don't understand what it takes to get to this position.”

This is a man who has fought tooth and nail for every inch gained on and off the racetrack. A man who believes in himself, his team and his future. A man who had to overcome adversity more than once during 2010. A man who appreciates each opportunity that has come his way.

To Kevin Conway, the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year ... Congratulations. You have earned it.

*A special thank you to Kevin for taking the time to speak with me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NASCAR Off-Season Week 1: Focus on Reed Sorenson
For week one of the NASCAR off-season, we will be taking a closer look at Reed Sorenson. Being at the track as a toddler while his father raced, it is no wonder Sorenson found a love of racing.

Reed first drove a race car when he was six years old, behind the wheel of a Quarter Midget. He competed in Regional Quarter Midget racing for several years, most successfully in 1997. That amazing season found Reed finishing in the top ten in 42 of his 43 starts, taking home the National Championship, 40 top fives, and 22 wins. Anyone watching back then could have guessed we would someday see Reed in the Cup Series.

Sorenson's five years in Legend Cars were just as successful; he won over half the races he started during his rookie season. Reed posts totals including 84 wins and 152 top five finishes in 183 starts. By the time Sorenson graduated from high school in 2004 he had a developmental deal with Chip Ganassi Racing.

The 2004 season found Reed in ARCA and Nationwide racing. Sorenson claimed top five finishes in all three of his 2004 ARCA starts; his first start at Charlotte Motor Speedway found him in the fourth finishing spot and his second ARCA race found him in Victory Lane. In his 2004 Nationwide starts, Reed claimed one top five finish, three top tens, and led several laps in the October race at Atlanta.
Hoosier Racing Tire, 2004

2005 brought Sorenson to the Busch Series as a full-time driver and eligible for the Rookie of the Year award. He won his first race, ended his freshman season in fourth place, and second in the ROTY competition to Carl Edwards. Reed joined the Cup ranks on a part-time basis in 2006 while also running as a full-time Busch Series driver. With five top ten Cup finishes and 14 top tens in the Busch Series, Reed put together a solid year in which he finished 24th in the Cup standings, 10th in the Busch Series, and fourth in the Cup Series ROTY. 2007 brought Reed his first pole start in the Cup Series, a third place finish at his home track of Atlanta, and a fourth place finish at Charlotte.
2008 brought trouble to the Sorenson camp; his fifth place finish at the season opener in Daytona was the highlight of his year. In a quest for owners points, Reed found himself temporarily replaced by another driver, had a short day because of a wreck at Talladega, and found himself moving to Gillett Everham Motorsports for the 2009 season. As 2009 began it was announced that there would be a merger between Gillett Everham and Richard Petty to form Richard Petty Motorsports. In order to keep the team financially able to operate, Reed raced for free for part of the 2009 season to keep his crew members employed. 

Getty Images
Reed finished the 2010 season in the 12th place in season standings in the Nationwide Series, and 39th in the Cup Series. Sorenson ran a limited schedule for Red Bull Racing as a replacement driver for Brian Vickers and in later stages of the season for Braun Racing. Sorenson posted just one top ten finish in his Cup season, but 21 top ten finishes, and nine top fives in the Nationwide Series in 2010. With an 11.6 average Nationwide Series finish, Reed has shown he knows how to handle a car. With the right equipment in a Cup Series ride he could be a title contender within a few years.


Reed plans to run a full-time Nationwide schedule with Turner Motorsports in 2011. Sorenson will be driving the #32 Dollar General Chevrolet Impala with engine support from Hendrick Motorsports in Nationwide Series racing. During the few weekends that Sorenson isn't in a race car Reed enjoys fishing, boating, and spending time with family and friends. Sorenson purchased his first home a few years ago on a lake so he can fish, have a boat right outside the back door, and have plenty of space for visitors. This 24 year old has an impressive resume, has been successful at multiple levels of racing, and looks like he will have better equipment in 2011 to work with on the track. Reed Sorenson is definitely one driver that NASCAR fans should keep an eye on in the coming years.

*Next week.....Cole Whitt
Amy McHargue

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NASCAR Ford 400 from Miami-Homestead Preview...Beyond the Numbers

Homestead Miami Speedway brings the 2010 NASCAR season to a close this weekend in southern Florida. This mile-and-a-half oval track has been around since 1995 and cost more than $70 million to construct. The last race of the NASCAR Cup season has been held at Homestead-Miami since 1999. The final race posts eight different winners in 11 races. This final race of the season is a 400 mile race with drivers circling the track 267 times before the Checkers wave. Two of the eleven Cup Series finales have been Green-White-Checker finishes whereas none have been shortened due to weather. Watch for some clouds on Sunday as the forecast is showing a 30% chance of rain in the afternoon.
 Tony Stewart won the first two Cup races in Miami in 1999 and 2000. With three other top five finishes at this track, Tony posts a 12.8 average finish. Stewart has never had a DNF at this track; in addition, he has always finished on the lead lap. The #14 Office Depot team will be coming in this weekend looking to not only keep that streak alive but to add to a tally mark to the top five totals. Fighting for each position in the Chase, Tony has a place or two to gain back that have been lost over the last few weeks. Currently in the ninth position in Chase standings Tony Stewart could finish the season, realistically, as high as fifth or as low as 11th depending on Sunday's performance.

Carl Edwards can't do much this weekend to move up in the standings; he is 218 points behind his nearest competitor and 246 points behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin. He does have several drivers behind him in the points who are going to be fighting to take Carl's fourth place position away. With a 6.5 average finish at Homestead it is unlikely that any driver behind Carl in points will be able to take the place from him, however. In his six Cup Series starts at this track Edwards' lowest finish has been 14th place, he has five top ten finishes, and one win from 2008. Carl could prove to be the man that Chase contenders have to catch in order to gain points towards the top of the Chase Leader Board. Carl also has momentum on his side coming into Miami; with two back flips in a Cup and a Nationwide Series race in the past two weeks Edwards has confidence.

AP Photo
Our Chase leader coming into Homestead is Denny Hamlin. With a narrow 15 point lead over second place there is no room for error on Sunday. In five Cup starts in Miami Denny posts three top five finishes but he has never started better than 25th position. Hamlin has proven over and over this season and in past performances at this track that his starting position does not matter to his finishing spot. With Denny's track record here if he can make it to the front without being collected in an accident he may take the win and the Championship. Hamlin's first priority should be to get all the bonus points that he can for leading a lap, the most laps, and for the win.

Kurt Busch has nine starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one win, and three other top five finishes. Historically Kurt has either finished in the top five at this track or outside of the top 20. Due to this one extreme or the other performance at this track, Busch has just a 16.9 average finish here. This is another driver who can claim three of his last five Cup starts in Miami have resulted in top five finishes. Unfortunately, his other two of the last five have been finishes of dead last. If Kurt can stay out of trouble on the track Sunday he could improve his current 10th place standings in the Chase.

Getty Images
 Jimmie Johnson is in a place he hasn't been for the last four years; he is not coming into the Chase finale with the points lead. Jimmie is knocking on the door, just 15 points behind the leader. It is going to take a stronger than normal performance from Johnson to claim his fifth Championship title – one-third of Johnson's races here have given up top five finishes. Another third of his Cup starts at Homestead find Jimmie finishing outside of the top 15. His average finish of 16.9 is an accurate representation of an average day at this track for Johnson. With just one finish inside the top five in the past five years in the season finale Johnson might be expected to finish in the top ten but would be a surprise top three finisher. It will take a outstanding performance by each member of the Lowe's #48 Team on Sunday to bring home a win or a fifth consecutive Championship.

Another contender for the Sprint Cup Championship is Kevin Harvick. Coming into Miami in the third place in points, Harvick is 46 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. If Kevin wants to take the top spot away from Hamlin, Harvick will have to lead laps and hope for an error by the #11 Team. With an 8.4 average finish at this track Kevin may be a contender for the win by the end of Sunday's race. Harvick has not won at this track but does claim seven top tens to his credit. Three of Kevin's last four starts on this mile-and-a-half track has given him top five finishes. It will take another top five, and possibly a win for Harvick to take the Championship this year. One scenario in which Harvick takes the Championship is if he wins the race, leads the most laps, and Hamlin finishes seventh or worse.

Athletic News/U.S. Army

Ryan Newman has incentive to have a good weekend at Homestead-Miami – a new baby girl. Ryan's wife Krissie gave birth Thursday to Brooklyn Sage Newman. In past seasons new fathers and new husbands tend to often have great performances in the race following the event. Ryan's numbers at Homestead show that he typically qualifies better than he finishes. Newman posts a 9.75 average starting position here but just a 20.6 finishing average. As a non-Chase contender Newman really has nothing to lose and can run on the adrenaline of this week. With no top five finish at Homestead since 2005 Ryan is more than due for a good day in Miami; this should be the weekend he will do it.

Jeff Gordon sits in the sixth position in the Chase and could realistically make his way as high as fourth with a strong finish at Homestead. With a 9.5 average finish here it will be tough to keep Gordon out of the top ten. He claims no wins but nine top ten finishes and five top fives in his 11 Cup starts here. That adds up to an 81% chance that Jeff will find his way into the top ten by the end of the day. A slip by one of the drivers in front of him in the standings could move him up a position or two. It's been a long time since fans have seen a Jeff Gordon win; it's unlikely that one will come this week but he should be running strong with the leaders at the end of the day.

AP Photo
  Keep an eye on Clint Bowyer this weekend. With four Cup starts under his belt at Homestead-Miami Speedway Clint has finished inside of the top ten on two occasions, finished 11th once, and had just one finish outside of the top 15. With a 75% chance that Clint will finish Sunday in the top 15 there is a good chance his points standing could improve as well. In the 11th spot after a 21st place finish last week lost him a spot in the Chase Bowyer will be doing whatever he can to gain every point he can. The last track that Clint raced with almost flat straightaways and mid-banked turns was New Hampshire; Bowyer gained a win that weekend.

Greg Biffle moved into the eighth spot in the Chase after a fourth place finish last week in Phoenix. Biffle posted a fifth place finish the week before; steadily moving up through the points could prove to give the confidence that this team needs to move up one or two more spots in the season-ender. With eight starts in Miami Greg has an interesting statistic – he either wins or he finishes outside of the top ten. Three wins in 2004, 2005, and 2006, plus five finishes 13th or lower give Biffle a 13.5 average finish at this track. Watch for Greg to be near the front of the field throughout most of the day on Sunday regardless of where he starts.

AP Photo
 My pick for the win on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway is Carl Edwards with Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart rounding out the top three. Also with top ten finishes should be Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and Greg Biffle. I'm calling for a fuel mileage race at the end of the Ford 400 this weekend with Jimmie Johnson being forced to drop back to conserve fuel, causing him to not reach the top of the Chase points standings. Hamlin will take a close top five finish after leading the most laps on Sunday and come out on top in the Chase to the Championship.

Tune in all weekend for NASCAR season finale coverage spread across several networks. ESPN2 has first practice Friday at 11:30 am and Qualifying on Friday afternoon coming on air at 3 pm. SPEED Channel picks up the second practice on Saturday at 1:30 pm then televisions should switch to ESPN2 for final practice at 3pm. RaceDay coverage starts on SPEED Channel at 9 am and continues on ESPN2 at Noon for NASCAR Countdown. Coverage of the Ford 400 starts at 1 pm on ESPN. Don't miss a minute of final week coverage with have-at-it-boys racing from Homestead-Miami Speedway where every point will be extremely important.

Amy McHargue

Friday, November 12, 2010

NASCAR Kobalt Tools 500 from Phoenix Preview: Beyond the Numbers


This season is winding down fast as NASCAR teams head to Phoenix this weekend. Placed about 15 miles west of the Phoenix Metro area, Phoenix International Raceway is a one mile track that the drivers will make 312 trips around on the quest for Victory Lane in Sunday afternoon's Kobalt Tools 500. Ford has taken the most wins at PIR, with half of the 22 fall Cup Series races offering up a trip to the Winner's Circle to Ford drivers but the last seven trophies have went home with Chevy teams. Just one fall race at Phoenix has been called early due to rain, and two have been extended for green-white-checker finishes.

Kevin Harvick is lurking in third place in Cup standings behind the leader by 59 points. Watch for Kevin to be driving it like he stole it at Phoenix on Sunday. Harvick has won at PIR twice before, and claims a total of six top ten finishes in his 15 previous starts at this track. With a 15th place average finish, Kevin might appear to not be a shoe-in for the top ten this week, but with seven of his last nine Cup starts in Arizona resulting in top tens I think we should watch for Harvick to be near the front as laps wind down on Sunday afternoon.

Holding the leader spot in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship with a 33 point lead is Denny Hamlin. The #11 FedEx driver has never won at Phoenix International Raceway but successfully has found a top ten finish in 60% of his Cup starts here. Half of Denny's Phoenix races have found him in the top five at the end of the day. He isn't going to give up the points lead easily; if someone else makes his way to the top spot after this weekend that driver will have to fight to take it from Hamlin.
The Birmingham News / Doug Demmons

Kyle Busch posts top ten finishes in seven of his 11 starts here at PIR. The only win he has at this track is also his only top five finish; from the first year he raced here in the Cup Series, 2005. This Busch brother has lost three Chase spots in the past two races and is now in the seventh position in points. On one hand, Kyle is only 22 points out of the fourth position in the Chase standings. On the other hand, he is also just 33 points away from sliding back another two spots. Kyle Busch will have to stay with the front of the pack to salvage a upward swing in his 2010 Chase standings.

The only driver in the field this week to have started all 27 Cup Series races at PIR is Mark Martin. Mark posts 18 top ten finishes and 12 top five finishes over the years in Phoenix; with a 8.7 average finish here Martin may be the guy to beat this weekend. He certainly has experience on his side – Mark has completed 8,283 laps around Phoenix International Raceway. Recent appearances here have given Martin good results with four of his last five starts showing top five finishes. Mark's last two starts at PIR have resulted in fourth place finishes; the spring race of 2009 found Martin in the Winner's Circle. The #5 might find its way back to Victory lane this weekend for Hendrick Motorsports.

Tony Stewart has a good chance to make up some lost ground in the Chase this weekend. With an 11.7 average finish the odds say the Tony will find his way to the top ten this Sunday; he's done it in nearly 53% of his starts at PIR. Stewart lost another spot in Chase points standings after last week's 31st place finish. Just four races ago Tony was in fourth position in points; now he is in eighth. Making up points should be the primary focus of the #14 team this weekend. Realistically, Stewart could move up as high as fourth place after this weekend with a strong finish.

Getty Images

Another driver to keep an eye on this weekend should be Jeff Gordon. With the buzz from last week's altercation between Gordon and Jeff Burton still existing the #24 Team will come into this weekend with a lot of attention coming their way. Without a win in 2010 Gordon comes to PIR with 74% of his previous starts here giving him a top ten finish. Jeff finished in the runner-up position in the early-season race this year; another finish like that and he could gain back the two Chase standing positions he lost last week after finishing 37th in Texas. A win in 2007, nine top five finishes over the last 17 years, and a 10.4 average finish at PIR says that Gordon should be considered a contender for this week's race.

David Reutimann has a better average finish on Intermediate tracks than any other track type. With just six Cup Series starts at PIR Reutimann has two top ten finishes to his credit. He has posted three top ten finishes in the last four races of this season, however. With confidence on his side from his recent Cup performances and most of his better performances coming at Intermediate tracks, David may have what he needs to fight his way to the front of the field on Sunday. Watch for the #00 Michael Waltrip Racing driver to continue making headlines this week in Arizona.

Clint Bowyer comes to Arizona in the tenth place in the Chase after moving up two positions with a seventh place finish last week at Texas. Three of Clint's last five Cup starts at PIR have resulted in top ten finishes and his best finish of second place came in the 2008 April race. Clint has been in ten prior Cup races at Phoenix and posts a 14.9 average finish. A top five finish would considerably help Bowyer's Chase goal of finishing the season in the top five in points. Just 72 points separate the #33 Richard Childress Racing driver from the fifth spot in the Chase.
Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. posts seven top ten finishes out of his 17 Cup starts at Phoenix International Raceway. Dale has found Victory Lane twice, has two more top five finishes, and a 18.8 average finishing spot here. After a less than stellar season, Earnhardt is likely to do well in Arizona this weekend. Only two of his last five starts have been top finishes; the odds say this time around, Dale should find the top ten by the end of the day. Earnhardt finished in the 12th position here in April of this year; driving the fan-designed “Paint the 88” Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Sunday, watch for an improvement in Dale's finishing position.

Carl Edwards comes to Phoenix with an upward trend; over the past four races, he has improved from seventh to fourth place in the Chase standings. 317 points out of the top spot in points, Edwards is racing to hang on to fourth – there are six drivers out there who would love to take it from Carl. Eight top ten finishes out of his 12 Cup Series starts at Phoenix have resulted in Edwards having a 12.8 average finish at this track. Carl's best finish at PIR has been fourth place. He has finished fourth three times here, twice in 2008 and in the 2006 spring race. Watch for Edwards to qualify and race well; the #99 Aflac Ford will be looking to repeat the strong performance they had here in April.

Getty Images

My winner pick for this weekend's Kobalt Tools 500 at PIR is Kevin Harvick, with Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards taking second and third. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, David Reutimann, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Mark Martin will complete the top ten. Suspiciously missing from my top ten picks is Jimmie Johnson; after the near meltdown of Chad Knaus last week and the swap of pit crews with the #24 team I am just not feeling like the Lowe's Team is going to be pulling it together this week. In fact, I'm going to predict a rare DNF for Johnson this weekend caused by an on-track tangle with a non-Chase driver. Also will call for Clint Bowyer to move up to the number six spot in Cup point standings by the end of Sunday's race.

Coverage of the Kobalt Tools 500 from Phoenix International Raceway began today with one practice session and qualifying. Carl Edwards posted the top speed in the first practice and took the pole in qualifying, breaking the former track qualifying record by more than half a second. The second practice comes on the air on SPEED at 1:30 pm on Saturday. Final practice will air at 3 pm Saturday afternoon, on a ten minute delay, on ESPN2. RaceDay coverage on SPEED begins Sunday at Noon and runs until 2 pm when coverage is picked up by ESPN2 for NASCAR Countdown. Switch to ESPN for race coverage beginning at 3 pm. It's going to be a full weekend of NASCAR coverage – don't miss a second of this next-to-last weekend of the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


10. It takes 1 minute to register and 10 seconds to vote daily...or less. Why wouldn't you help?

9. The Hamburger Helper site asks immediately after you register about email – they will NOT spam you.

8. If she wins, Amy promises to post lots of up-close and personal pictures of all your favorite NASCAR drivers (or their wives, girlfriends, etc. whatever is requested) all dressed up at the Most Popular Driver Awards.

7. Heels and a dress at the MPD Awards luncheon...

6. Amy has never been west of Missouri before. This Hoosier chick would LOVE to go to Las Vegas!

5. Amy has the best video in the contest anyway!

4. Once the contest is over Monday night at 11:59pm she will stop bugging you to vote.

3. Amy is extremely competitive and hates to lose. The last contest she was a part of she finished second, please don't let that happen again.

2. Karma ~ Last week Amy donated a dozen Nike footballs to her local Boys Club. The week before eight footballs were taken to her nephew's school as a donation. She won a contest that gave her 20 Nike footballs. Instead of selling them she donated to places that needed them.

And the #1 reason you should vote for AMY for Hamburger Helper Most Passionate Fan...How can you say no to a set of abs like this?? 

What are you waiting for?? Ten good reasons say it's time to go to and Vote Video #1 for AMY!!!

Amy McHargue

Thursday, November 4, 2010

AAA Texas 500 Top Ten Preview...Beyond the Numbers

Texas Motor Speedway, on the far north side of Fort Worth Texas, is a 1.5 mile tri-oval. Sound familiar? The track is a close cousin in set-up to the tracks at Charlotte and Atlanta. Cup drivers will make 334 laps around the track on the way to 500 miles in Sunday afternoon's AAA Texas 500. The eighth race of ten in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship, it is getting very close to do-or-die time for drivers not sitting atop the points leader board.

Getty Images
 Sitting atop the Chase leader board, Jimmie Johnson's chances for another top ten finish this weekend look good. With a 10.1 average finish at this track, one win, and 10 top tens in his 14 Cup starts at Texas Motor Speedway, there doesn't seem to be much reason to expect Johnson to not finish well on Sunday. If Jimmie does make his way into a top ten finish on Sunday, his #48 Lowe's Chevrolet team will have top ten finishes in nine of the ten last Cup Series starts. With this momentum, someone is going to have to step up to keep this Hendrick Motorsports team from taking home another Championship.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has as good a chance as anyone to take home the checkered flag this weekend. With 16 Cup starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Dale posts eights top ten finishes in the record book. Earnhardt won his debut race at TMS in 2000, but would be fairly happy this weekend if the #88 can duplicate the eighth place finish he earned here in the Spring race this year. Watch for Dale to run strong after the halfway point on Sunday.

Also with a shot at the win in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 is Carl Edwards. In 11 Cup Series starts at Texas Carl has finished in the top ten four times. Out of those four top ten finishes, three of them were wins. Carl has been involved in accidents in his past two showings in TMS Cup racing that have kept him out of contention at the end of the day; his three starts prior resulted in one 10th place finish and two trophy finishes. Watch for Carl to lead the field on Sunday, at least part of the day.

Getty Images
 One of many drivers chasing Jimmie Johnson on Sunday will be Denny Hamlin. Hamlin has started 10 Cup races here in Texas and has a 9.6 average finish. Seven of his ten starts resulted in top ten finishes for Denny; four of those were top fives. Hamlin has one win at Texas Motor Speedway. Just 14 points behind Chase leader Johnson, Denny is only going to be satisfied with the top spot at the end of the race. Denny has claimed a win and a runner-up finish in his last two Texas Cup starts – he'll be looking for another win Sunday afternoon.

Clint Bowyer is coming into this weekend the low man on the Chase standings totem pole. Just six points out of 11th place and 50 points away from seventh place in the Championship race Clint has an honest shot at moving up considerably after Sunday's race if he can have another strong finish. Bowyer has 44% success in finding the top ten in his previous Cup races at TMS; he'll be looking for the front of the pack throughout the AAA Texas 500.

Getty Images
Kevin Harvick is another driver hoping to finish ahead of the Chase leader this weekend; he is just 38 points out of the top spot in the Chase. Kevin will be looking for a better than average weekend in Texas, Harvick has a 12.9 average finish at TMS from his 15 Cup starts at this track. Four of Kevin's last six starts at this track have resulted in top ten finishes but the #29 RCR team will be looking to get their first win at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. A win could put Harvick on top of the Chase leader board ahead of Hamlin and Johnson.

Another Chase driver to watch this weekend is Jeff Gordon. Nine of Jeff's 19 Cup starts in Texas have given him top ten finishes and he has one win here. Jeff averages an 11.9 average finish on Intermediate tracks; the odds are that he will have a solid day on Sunday. Three of Gordon's last five Texas starts have given up top ten endings; he will be looking to keep it over 50% with another top ten this weekend. Whereas Jeff is 207 points out of the Chase lead, he is still fighting to retain his 4th place standing just 23 points in front of Kyle Busch.

AP Photo
 Speaking of Kyle Busch, he lost a spot in Chase standings after a 25th place finish last week. With no wins in Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway Kyle will be driving for the front of the field on Sunday. Coming off of a third place finish in the Spring race here in the Lonestar state Busch will also have the Trucks race to gain knowledge about track lines before Sunday's race. Watch for Kyle to be a competitive threat this weekend.

Tony Stewart won at TMS in 2006 and has 10 top tens out of 17 Cup starts at this track. Stewart was taken out of contention in the earlier 2010 race in Texas by an accident but had three consecutive top ten finishes before the Spring race. His 13.4 average finish is one of the better averages among Chase drivers; watch for Smoke to be near the front by the end of the AAA Texas 500.

Be ready for Jeff Burton to have a strong showing this weekend. In 19 Cup starts at Texas Motor Speedway Burton has two wins and seven additional top ten finishes. In recent performances Burton has not finished outside of the top 15 in a Texas race since 2006. With his average finish at Texas and his Intermediate track average finishes both being right at 15.0 it's going to take a good day to gain back his spots in the Chase that were lost after last week. Jeff is sitting in the 10th spot, and needs a strong finish on Sunday to keep from losing any more positions.

Getty Images
 My pick for the trophy win in Sunday's AAA Texas 500 is Kevin Harvick. Expect to see Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top three. Also finishing in the top ten should be Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Burton. With just two races left in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship all drivers will be looking for glory in the Lonestar state; watch for hard racing and at least a couple big wrecks.

AAA Texas 500 coverage starts on Friday with first practice airing on the SPEED Channel at 3 pm on a two-hour delay. Qualifications will be live on SPEED at 4:30 pm. Friday afternoon. Saturday morning we wake up to two live practices at 9:30 am. and 11 am., both on SPEED. NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED begins Sunday at 9:30a.m., with a second Special Edition of RaceDay beginning at 1 pm. We will then switch our television channels to ESPN for NASCAR Countdown at 2 pm and live coverage of the AAA Texas 500 beginning at 3 pm. Don't miss Sunday's mid-afternoon special from Fort Worth, with the Chase winding down this is sure to be an exciting weekend!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Talladega AMP Energy 500 Race Preview...Beyond the Numbers
 Talladega Super Speedway; the 2.66 mile Tri-oval in Northern Alabama that since 1968 has been entertaining race fans. We love to watch the boys get down and dirt, bump and rub, race hard all the way from the Green Flag to the Checkers. And there is always the “Big One” to look for. The Speedway is located in the northern part of Alabama, just south of Interstate 20 and about 50 miles to the east of Birmingham. The AMP Energy 500 will take place on Halloween – Sunday October 31st and drivers are hoping for treats instead of treats as they circumnavigate the 'Dega track 188 times on their way to 500.08 miles. Who will be at the top of the Leader Board when the Checkers fly?

Tony Stewart lost a spot in the points after last week's race in Martinsville...and he wants it back. With four of his last five starts at 'Dega finding Tony outside of the top ten at the end of the race, he needs to set a goal of duplicating his win in the 2008 AMP Energy 500. Other than that win, Stewart has taken the Checkered flag in the top ten on 11 other occasions. Tony find the top ten by the end of the day in more than 50% of his Cup starts at Talladega and in 54% of his Superspeedway starts. Will Tony get tricks or treats this year in his goodie bag?

Getty Images
 Jimmie Johnson comes to Alabama the Chase leader but with 41% of his starts at Talladega ending with top ten finishes Johnson is definitely not a shoe-in this weekend. One start for Johnson has resulted in a win and four more times he has posted top five finishes. In recent appearances at 'Dega Jimmie has only found the top ten by the end of the race two out of his last five starts. Johnson has also had two finishes in the 30's and one 13th place finish in the spring 2008 race in his last five starts here.

Five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. comes into this weekend with only two of his past five starts ending in a top ten finish. Dale's last top ten came in the Spring 2009 race in Alabama, his last two starts have given him 11th and 13th place finishes. He has flirted with the top ten in all but one of his last six Cup starts at this track. Earnhardt has never started from the pole position at this Superspeedway but coming off of a seventh place finish last week he should have quite a bit of confidence about this Halloween weekend.

Denny Hamlin currently resides in the second position for the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship just six points behind Jimmie Johnson. Denny is in the best position anyone has been in after six Chase races to take over the points lead. With no wins at 'Dega and three top tens in nine starts, Denny posts a 19.3 average finish here. Hamlin has fought hard to gain on the points leader, however so don't expect a less-than-desirable average at this track to stop Denny from coming out with guns blazing.

Getty Imagaes
 Kevin Harvick is working at the 62 point deficit that exists between himself and the Chase points leader. Kevin sits in third position in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship, won in the Spring Talladega race, and has eight top ten finishes in his 18 Cup starts at this track. With a 20.8 for an average finish in his last five Cup starts in Alabama Harvick needs to improve on all but the most recent of his appearances at 'Dega – his win in this year's Spring race - and go for the points this weekend. Maybe Kevin should dress as a race winner for Halloween this year...

Jamie McMurray won the AMP Energy 500 in 2009, finished in the runner-up spot in the 2010 Spring race; we have seen Jamie make things happen this year when he expects to do well. McMurray has 16 starts at the Talladega Superspeedway; six of those starts have given him top ten finishes at the end of his day. One-third of all of Jamie's starts at Superspeedways have resulted in top tens. After a pole start at the Auto Club Speedway, a win two weeks ago in Charlotte, a win in the AMP Energy 500 in 2009, and a second place finish at his last Cup start in Alabama McMurray is coming to town with some big plans for a Halloween party in Victory Lane.

Mark Martin brought home a second place finish in Martinsville last week; can he do it again in Alabama? Martin certainly has the edge on the rest of the field in regard to experience. Mark has 45 Cup starts at Talladega dating back to 1982. Over the course of these last 28 years Martin has posted just two wins but claims a top ten finish in more than half of his starts at this Superspeedway. One-third of Mark's 69 top ten finishes at Superspeedways have happened at Talladega.
 Kurt Busch is sitting in the ninth position in the Chase points standings. This could be Kurt's best chance for a big points weekend in the remainder of this season. Although this Busch brother has never won at 'Dega, he posts a 12.8 average finish and has found his way to the top ten in 13 of his 19 starts here. This Alabama track is by far his best Superspeedway – 42% of Kurt's Superspeedway top ten finishes have come at this track. Coming off a string of finishes outside of the top ten, Kurt has his eye on a strong run on Sunday at Hallow-Dega.

Clint Bowyer is out f the Chase but his season is far from over. After a dismal week at Martinsville found him in the 4th turn wall less than a third of the way through the race, he finished 38th due to a rear gear failure after his team got him back o the track post-accident. Clint comes to Talladega with the desire to gain points on 11th place Greg Biffle who is 90 points in front of Clint. Bowyer can claim three top ten finishes at 'Dega in his nine Cup Series starts and finished in the seventh position here in the Spring. Clint is going to be racing for his first Cup win at in Alabama Sunday in the AMP Energy 500.

Gaining two places in the Chase after Martinsville, but still 246 points behind Chase leader Johnson, Jeff Burton comes to Alabama this weekend with 13 top ten finishes to his credit at this track. Finishing in the top ten in three of his last five starts at 'Dega helps Jeff with the confidence aspect and the mental side of this weekend's Halloween special. Jeff typically performs just barely better at the Fall race in Talladega than in the Spring. His Fall race average finish is 18.06 whereas he posts a 18.64 for his Spring race average finish.

 My pick for the win in Sunday's AMP Energy 500 is Jamie McMurray with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounding out the top three. Also in the top ten we should expect to see Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch will be the cause of the “Big One” while racing against Jeff Gordon, taking Juan Pablo Montoya out of the race in the process. Watch for veteran driver Mark Martin to dominate early but fall off in the later stages of the race to the rear of the top ten.

The AMP Energy 500 practice on Friday will air at 2pm and 3:30pm on the SPEED Channel. Saturday brings us Live Practice, again on the SPEED Channel coming on-air at Noon. Raceday will be on the SPEED Channel from 10am until Noon. ESPN2 picks up coverage at Noon and will carry on until race coverage from Talladega starts on ESPN at 1pm. Don't miss this afternoon of Have-at-it-Boys racing on Halloween from the South.

Amy McHargue

Monday, October 25, 2010

Once in a Lifetime Opportunity...PLEASE HELP

A couple of weeks ago I submitted a video for the Hamburger Helper Most Passionate Fan contest. The contest is running in conjunction with the NASCAR's Most Popular Driver fan vote. Five finalists were chosen from all of the entries submitted; I made the top five!

From Monday October 25 through 11:59pm Monday November 8 there is a live fan vote being held at http://bit/ly/9ddRfp I am Video #1. Unfortunately, the administrators were concerned about whether my shirt could be considered offensive, so they blurred it. The video ending makes a lot more sense with the shirt viewable. On the upside...THAT'S WHY I HAVE A BLOG! I can post anything I want :) So here it is, t-shirt intact, bringing NASCAR fans and INDYCar fans together for 29.5 seconds.

If the "Milka" reference didn't make sense to you, check here:

Welcome to how I have single-handedly brought NASCAR and INDYCar together....okay, maybe not. But it IS funny! So, WHY am I enjoying the heck out of being silly for everyone on the Internet to see?

The Video (Video#1, that's me!!!) with the most votes at the end of the voting period (November 8th at 11:59pm) wins a three-night stay at the Wynn Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, baby. DURING NASCAR Champions Week! AND gets to help award the NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award!!! Registering at the site will take less than a minute for most people, and a daily vote will take all of 15 seconds. Probably will take long for the page to load on your computer screen than it will for you to actually vote! Hint: Choose the "Save Password" option and you shouldn't have to login again during the contest period. So what are you waiting for???? Please, go to http://bit/ly/9ddRfp and *Vote Video #1 for AMY*


Friday, October 22, 2010

NASCAR Martinsville Preview: Tums Fast Relief 500...Beyond the Numbers

Much like Talladega, it is tough to predict how any driver will perform at this week's Martinsville Speedway race. The track conditions can vary dramatically due to air and track temperatures, whether the sun is out or it is overcast, and even minor adjustments can cause big changes to a race car on the track. Martinsville Speedway is a .526 mile long, narrow oval located in Ridgeway, Virginia just south of Martinsville. Martinsville has the distinction of being the shortest track on the Cup circuit and is sometimes referred to as the Paperclip due to it's appearance from above. The Tums Fast Relief 500 takes place Sunday afternoon, and includes 500 laps to equal 263 miles before the checkers wave.
 Denny Hamlin has finished in the top ten in the last seven races at Martinsville. Hamlin has won three of the last four races at Martinsville and came in second to Kevin Harvick in the one he did not win. Denny posts an impressive 6.6 average finish at this week's track, and comes in with a healthy dose of confidence – as well he should, considering he has only finished outside of the top ten in one of his nine Cup race starts at Martinsville. Sitting just 41 points behind the Chase leader, Hamlin doesn't want to let this Sunday's opportunity pass him by.

Sitting just a bit farther back in Chase points, Kevin Harvick is 77 points off the lead in second place but has yet to post a win at Martinsville in a Cup Series event. Harvick's best finish in his 18 Cup Series starts has been seventh place on three occasions in 2003, 2006, and 2008. In recent appearances at this track, Kevin has two top ten finishes in his last five Cup starts. With an average finish of 18.2 Harvick needs to come off of the green flag strong and both he and the #33 Richard Childress Penzoil team must make no errors in the pits.

Jimmie Johnson is the only driver with a better average finish at Martinsville than Denny Hamlin; Jimmie posts a 5.4 average finishing spot. Sitting atop of the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship leader board, Johnson is coming into this weekend's Tums Fast Relief 500 with tons of confidence. This confidence will transfer to the track as the #48 Lowe's Team has been on a roll since the Chase started. Watch for the Hendrick Motor Sports Team of Johnson and Chad Knaus to be near – or at – the front by the end of Sunday's race.

Getty Images
 Clint Bowyer may be effectively out of the Chase in 12th place but he is not ready to give up on his season. With more than 50% of Clint's finishes at Martinsville resulting in top ten finishes Bowyer can stand to be a bit optimistic toward this weekend. Clint has had some success at this track in the Nationwide Series – he holds the record for fastest qualifying for his efforts at the 2006 Nationwide race. Four of the last five starts in Cup Series Racing at Martinsville have ended in top ten finishes for the #33 RCR Team. Clint needs a strong finish to move up in points; he is 44 points back from his nearest competitor in the points.

Juan Pablo Montoya will be the first of non-Chase drivers to make a top ten finish out of Sunday's race. He post a 14.6 average finish at Martinsville and has two top ten finishes out of his seven Cup Series starts at this track. Juan is coming off an 11th place finish last week, and has just two finishes outside of the top fifteen in his last ten Cup starts. Montoya should finish strong in the Tums Fast Relief 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the second non-Chase driver I have finishing in the top ten this week. Dale has a 14.1 average finish at Martinsville Speedway, but can claim top ten finishes in just under half of his 21 Cup starts here...and he hasn't had a top ten in either of his two most recent Martinsville starts. Earnhardt needs a strong finish, as since his 4th place finish in New Hampshire five races back he hasn't found a way to finish within the top 15. This could be a good comeback week for Dale.

Carl Edwards has a good shot at a strong finish on Sunday; he claims a 17.5 average finish at Martinsville and although he has no wins to his credit at this track, has been good on Short-Track racing. Edwards posts top ten finishes in one-third of his Short-Track Cup Series Starts. Carl's best finish at Martinsville was in this race in 2009 when he took home a third place finish. Watch for Carl to drive agreesively to get himself back into the points race – at an even 200 points behind Chase leader Jimmie Johnson, for Carl this weekend is do-or-die when it comes to the Chase.

Rounding out my non-Chase three for the top ten is Jamie McMurray, a driver who has been underestimated for the most part of this 2010 season. Even with his wins at major events like the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, no one really expects much out of Jamie – except for Jamie himself. With nine top ten finishes in McMurray's 15 Cup Series starts at Martinsville Speedway Jamie comes into this week expecting to perform well. McMurray's win last week could give him the extra confidence and momentum his team needs to end the day with a top ten finish on Sunday.

Coming into Martinsville with a 12.6 average finish in Virginia is Tony Stewart. After loosing a spot in the Chase standings after a 21st place finish last week Stewart wants to take that spot back and then some. Stewart has shown he can navigate the Paperclip, with three wins, and 13 top ten finishes in his 23 Cup starts at Martinsville. When Tony wants something, the rest of the field better watch out, because Stewart is willing to take it, and Tony wants to get back withing a realistic reach of the leaders in the Chase to the Championship.
 Kyle Busch earns a spot in this week's top ten finishers after gaining four spots in Chase points standings due to last week's runner-up finish. Kyle has no wins at Martinsville in his 11 starts here, but can claim four top five finishes in his prior Cup appearances at this track. With a 17.8 average finish Kyle may not be a favorite to win, but I think he will bring a tough race and finish in the lower half of the top ten in Sunday's race.

Getty Images
I pick Kevin Harvick for the win this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway with Jimmie Johnson in the runner-up position and Denny Hamlin in third. Finishing out the top ten will be Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch. Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth will continue to lose points on the Chase leaders, and a strong finish by Bowyer will move him into the 11th place in the standings, leaving Kenseth in 12th in the Chase.

Tune in on Friday afternoon for live practice coverage on SPEED, starting at 11:30 a.m. EST. Qualifying coverage starts on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. Saturday practice is live at 10 a.m. on Speed, whereas Saturday's second practice session will begin at 11:15 a.m. But will air on a significant delay, not coming on until 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2. NASCAR RaceDay begins Sunday morning at 10 a.m. At Noon, pre-race coverage picks up on ESPN2 with coverage of the Tums Fast Relief 500 from Martinsville Speedway switching over to ESPN at 1 p.m. Don't miss the sixth race in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Win NASCAR tickets, TVs, Cash, and Condos...Get your Dream Ticket!!!

Small town America...where small and quaint locally-owned shops line the street, antique streetlights light the night, benches and trees dot the sidewalks, and where everyone has a smile for a visitor. So what happens when small towns start to struggle financially? Stores begin to close, families move out. I grew up in one of those small towns. Seeing it happen over the years makes me want to help take care of other small towns in the region. An organization in Johnson City Tennessee is stepping up to do just that – they are helping take care of a small town with The Dream Ticket.

Ron Campbell / Johnson City Press

The WIN Firm, in conjunction with charity Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City has put together a raffle to benefit the charity. Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, meaning that your raffle ticket purchase is a tax deductible charitable donation. The raffle has been designed to raise a quarter of a million dollars for Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City. A spokesperson for the charity says that the main goal is to promote the area, to get more people to visit the area in Southeastern Tennessee, and to give people more to do in the area through festivals and events.

The prize list is what makes this raffle amazing. Grand prize winners will receive a condo. Not for a weekend and not for a week - you will receive the title of ownership for a condo in Southeastern Tennessee. The condo in question will allow occupants to wake every morning to the sight one of the premier NASCAR and Drag Racing facilities. Did I mention that there may be TWO condos awarded? The prize list also includes FOUR 50” Plasma Screen TVs. I know I would enjoy watching a weekend of sports on that! What about cash? How about a prize of $2,500...or a trip to Las Vegas for a Spring NASCAR race including hotel stay, airfare, and transportation...season tickets to a certain NASCAR track nearby Johnson City...or single race tickets to a NASCAR race at that same track...the prize list even includes the Richard Petty Driving Experience and the Richard Petty Ride Along Experience passes. With a prize list this rich the $99 raffle ticket price is well worth the investment. And remember, all proceeds from this raffle go to the Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City charity.

Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City sponsor First Fridays and the Blue Plum Festival in downtown Johnson City. The Blue Plum Festival is a rapidly growing annual event that takes place in June of each year. The festival includes food and craft vendors, entertainment stages, a kids area, cornhole tournaments, and a 5k run/walk. In 2010, the 11th annual Blue Plum Festival brought more than 80,000 people to downtown Johnson City. Musicians from Jazz to Reggae, Southern Gospel to Southern Rock grace the stages at the Blue Plum Festival to viewers from near and far; one couple travels every year from New York City to attend. The festival isn't just for entertainment, the Johnson City Press reports that the 2010 Blue Plum Festival also gathered more than 1,000 pounds of recyclables.

With the economy in its current condition, donations are down for Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City. Donations are the lifeblood of any charity – without donations the charity cannot sponsor events. The Dream Ticket raffle is a way that you can support this charity and small town USA. For a $99 tax-deductible donation you receive one raffle ticket. At the most 10,000 tickets will be sold. Between four and eight prize packages will be given away. That makes your odds better than most of the slot machines at the casino. You only have until December 17th to purchase your Dream Ticket; if less than 10,000 are sold your odds are just that much better! Visit to learn more and to purchase your Dream Ticket now...what are you waiting for?? There may never again be raffle with such an impressive prize list and such great odds that allows a charity to continue improving an area rich with tradition! Get your Dream Ticket now!

Amy McHargue

Friday, October 15, 2010

NASCAR Bank of America 500 - Charlotte Preview...Beyond the Numbers

Charlotte Motor Speedway – the mile and a half Intermediate track that most people have strong feelings about. Love it or hate it, that's where our favorite NASCAR drivers are heading this weekend to fire up the engines in the fall. Charlotte Motor Speedway is considered a Quad-Oval track with 24 degree banking on the turns and 5 degree straightaways. CMS is located in Concord North Carolina, just northeast of Charlotte. Cup Series drivers will make 334 laps to reach the checkered flag in the Back of America 500 on Saturday night.

Getty Images
 Will Charlotte Motor Speedway be Jimmie Johnson's house again on Saturday night? Johnson won the 2009 fall race at CMS and has finished in the top ten in 13 of his 18 Cup races in Charlotte. Jimmie's 10.2 average finish, paired with the six wins he claims at this track make him a formidable competitor. Sitting atop the Chase leader board, Johnson has no reason to worry that this track will cause him trouble.

Jeff Gordon is moving up; he has the Pole for Saturday night's race and moved up one spot in the Chase for the Championship after last week's 9th place finish at Fontana. He finished sixth at Charlotte in the Summer race and claims 20 top ten finishes in his 35 Cup Series starts at CMS. Jeff has finished in the top ten in three of the four Chase races so far; can he make it through another week with a top ten finish? There doesn't seem to be any good reason why not.

Saturday will be Mark Martin's 52nd start in a Cup race at Charlotte. In his previous 51 starts he has had 23 top ten finishes and four wins. Mark's average finish of 15.7 is in the upper third of all active Cup drivers. Martin has been around this track enough to have learned how the track responds to all different temperatures and weather conditions. If anyone has the experience to take a top ten finish away from the Back of America 500 it will be Mark.

 Kyle Busch has never won at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a Cup Series race. Busch posts seven top ten finishes in his thirteen starts, but shows only a 17.8 average finishing spot because of three DNF's in the early part of his Cup career. Kyle has had two disappointing weekends, finishing 35th last week after the engine failed on his car at Fontana, and a 21st place finish at Kansas the week before. Busch's poor showings of the last two weeks have caused him to go from 3rd place in Series Points after Dover to 9th place going into CMS. It is do or die time for Kyle; a top ten finish is a must this week to keep his Championship hopes alive.

Clint Bowyer's last two finishes at Charlotte have been in the the top ten. Clint's goal is to make it to the top five in Chase standings by the end of the season; another finish in the top three will likely get him to 11th spot in front of Matt Kenseth. Still 247 pints back from the points leader, Clint has a lot of work to do. His temporary crew chief Scott Miller has the experience, and he and Bowyer have a good working relationship. With just one top five finish in Clint's past Cup outings at CMS, Clint will need to have another solid performance to bring the #33 Chevrolet to the front of the pack.

Getty Images
  Jeff Burton won this race in 2008, has three total wins at CMS, and has posted 15 top ten finishes in his 33 Cup starts at CMS. Another veteran of this track, Jeff moved up one spot into 8th place in the Chase standings after last week's race at Fontana. Burton has not been good at this track lately; his races here since his 2008 win have all been outside the top 10. This Saturday Burton will need to come in strong and fight his way through traffic to gain the points he needs in his team's Championship quest.

Two-thirds of finishes by Kevin Harvick's team this season have been in the top ten. He has a 9.5 average finish on the season, but just a 20.7 average finish here in Charlotte. It has been 14 races since Harvick has finished in the top ten in a Cup Series race at CMS; this is the week for his comeback at this track. Kevin knows the importance of this weekend. Saturday night's race could help him gain points on the Chase leader or drop Harvick back significantly if he is unable to make it into the top ten by the end of the race. Just 54 points back from points leader Johnson, Kevin should come out an prove he is a contender Saturday night.

Denny Hamlin has a good shot at performing well in this week's race. Coming out of three of four Chase races ending in top ten finishes, Denny has momentum and confidence to count on. This track is not one of his best, however. The last time Hamlin finished in the top ten at CMS was the Summer 2007 race. Team Hamlin will be working on race set-up and going for more consistent runs than he has shown in recent racing in Charlotte. At the end of the day, Denny should find his way to the top ten.

AP Photo
  The big mover in Chase points last week was Tony Stewart; he moved up five spots into the 5th place in the standings, 107 points behind Johnson. Coming into the Charlotte race Tony has claimed one win and 11 top ten finishes in his previous 23 Cup starts ay CMS. With Stewart's win last week he gained the confidence that a driver needs to perform under pressure. Stewart is a veteran driver and should be able to take the pressure. We should expect Tony to move up the Chase to the Championship leader board with another good finish this week.

Since the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship began, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been quietly improving his game. This Hendrick Motorsports Team has struggled all season but looks like they have started to pull things together. With a 4th place finish at New Hampshire and last week's 16th place day in Fontana, Dale has started to feel some confidence in his team and in himself. This improved attitude has carried over into Earnhardt's qualifying efforts; he starts from within the top ten Saturday night at CMS. At the end of the 334 laps I expect to see Dale still running in the top ten with a solid night all the way around from the pits to the track.

AP Photo
  My pick for the win this week is Kevin Harvick, with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounding out the top three. Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart complete my top ten. Kurt Busch will be mired back in the mid-20's with Matt Kenseth as both slide backwards in Chase Points. 

NASCAR Raceday comes on the air on the SPEED Channel at 5 p.m. Saturday. NASCAR Countdown begins at 7 p.m. On ABC. Bank of America 500 coverage continues on ABC at 7:30 p.m. Race coverage will also be aired on MRN Radio Stations. Don't miss the fifth race in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship as points driver try to battle for points while non-Chase drivers battle for bragging rights. Saturday night under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway should be a wild ride.

Amy McHargue