Lot on line for Earnhardt, Almendinger, others in final races
With two races left, all eyes are focused on the two-man battle between
Here's a look at some important goals beyond the championship as the 2009 NASCAR season winds down.
After Junior ran out of fuel at Texas, his PR man
He's right; even in races where the No. 88 seems a lock for a top-10 finish, a wreck, mechanical failure or poor pit strategy pops up out of nowhere to send Junior straight to the sidelines. Now, not only does Junior sit winless with two races left, but also he's on tap for the worst points finish of his 10-year career (he was 19th in 2007). Sitting 23rd in the standings, he needs to close a 286-point gap on
It's been a difficult fall for Allmendinger, who put his RPM ride in jeopardy with an embarrassing DWI arrest the end of October. On the track, it's been a bit of a roller coaster season, with five top-10 finishes, which leaves him 25th in the standings and eight points ahead of Truex. Striving for 25th may seem trivial, but with the Sprint Cup point fund extending to just the top-25 point finishers each season, it's an important achievement to work towards -- especially for a team setting new goals as it transitions to Ford Fusions for the final two weeks.
While the 'Dinger tries to seal the deal on his bonus, he could really help himself by running up front. Allmendinger is the only driver this season who's run every race without leading a lap, which hasn't been done since
The Biff has quietly established himself as one of the more consistent drivers on the NASCAR circuit; he's visited Victory Lane in each of his six full-time seasons on tour. But this year, a series of tough luck finishes has put that streak in jeopardy. Pit road problems have plagued his team all season, and loose lugnuts and sloppy strategy left them unable to capitalize on fast cars at Texas and Darlington this Spring. But the biggest disappointment came at Michigan in June, when Biffle led on the white-flag lap only to run out of fuel on the backstretch, handing the win to former teammate
Still, there's hope for a team that's currently 7th in the Chase. Biffle has a "feast or famine" record at the season finale at Homestead, setting a record with three wins in seven career starts, while running 13th or worse in the other four. Expect more of the same this year as he engages in a desperate bid to keep his streak alive.
Biffle is not the only standout driver to be shut out of Victory Lane. Four Chasers remain winless heading to Phoenix, the highest number since the playoff format began in 2004. Edwards is perhaps the most disappointing, going from a season-high nine wins in 2008 to none this year.
"We can do it," a confident Edwards says in his latest diary entry (coming Nov. 13 on SI.com), referring to his bid to turn a disappointing Chase around with a win. "The biggest thing to me is to finish the season strong as a team.
Between Newman, Montoya and Edwards, the latter has the best shot as Homestead's defending champ. Not only have Newman and Montoya been shut out at the final two tracks on the schedule, but also Montoya has yet to win at an oval track during his Cup career.
Ever since a young
On the track, that turmoil's translated into an inability to do what Burton stresses so often: "Put yourself in position to win." With just 244 laps led among four cars, it's their lowest season total since 1982 -- when the team owned just one.
But hope springs eternal in the Childress camp for the final two races. They've collected 10 top-10 finishes in the last eight weeks, and Phoenix is historically one of the best tracks for Burton and Harvick. A new crew chief/driver pairing of Burton and
"He's smart," Berrier says of his new, veteran driver. "He does think a lot, and if he's looking for something I think he can pretty well explain it. Sometimes, too much information is better than none."
Over the final two weeks, you can bet that no amount of effort will be too much -- this old school organization is focused on erasing its goose egg before the season is out.
-- How tough is it in the Silly Season market these days? Four drivers are fighting tooth and nail for a ride that may not even run all 36 races the distance in 2010.