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NASCAR Nationwide Series News and Notes - Talladega

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regulars Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) and a host of others have put together strong performances in the first seven races this season and currently maintain top-10 positions in the  standings heading into the Aaron’s 312 this Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Leffler Leads Series Regulars Heading To Talladega

Courtesy: NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 20, 2009) - There has been a lot of talk about NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) and Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save A Lot Ford) competing full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Why not? They are running 1-2 in the points standings.

But NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regulars Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) and a host of others have put together strong performances in the first seven races this season and currently maintain top-10 positions in the  standings heading into the Aaron’s 312 this Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

In addition to Leffler, Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Klondike Chevrolet), Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet), Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), Mike Bliss (No. 1 Miccosukee Indian Gaming & Resort Chevrolet) and Jason Keller (No. 27 Scott Shop Towels Ford) are in the top 10 in points. Knocking on the door in 11th and 12th, respectively, are Steve Wallace (No. 66 5-Hour Energy Drink Chevrolet) and Michael McDowell (No. 47 Tom’s Toyota), who are within 18 points of the top 10. Overall, six other series-only regulars are within Keller’s 10th-place standing.

One of the hottest drivers on the circuit, Leffler may be better known as a late-season charger, but already his fourth-place standing suggests otherwise. His second-place finish in last weekend’s Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway was his best finish since August 2005 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Leffler, who has two top fives and five top 10s through the first seven races this season, finished fourth last season at Talladega after leading seven laps. Last year, he entered the Aaron’s 312 eighth in the standings.

In its entirety, the seven series regulars make up the largest group of drivers represented in the top 10 at this stage of the season since 2004, when eight drivers were in the top 10 after seven races.

KHI Working For Car Owner Point Lead; Newman In No. 33

The No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet has had its share of drivers—in fact, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Kelly Bires—who have competed in the car this season. But that hasn’t led to any inconsistencies when keeping the car near the front of the point standings. The car is only nine points out of the point lead, behind the Joe Gibbs owned No. 18 Toyota. Six cars are within 77 points of the No. 18 machine.

Ryan Newman will be the fourth driver to compete this season in the No. 33, which has five top 10s and sat on the pole for the Camping World 300 at Daytona International Speedway. This will be Newman’s first NASCAR Nationwide Series race of 2009 and first time in a Nationwide race at Talladega. The last time Newman competed at a track for the first time in a NASCAR race other than the Sprint Cup Series, he won. Interestingly, it was also with KHI, when Newman picked up the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory last October at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

While KHI is second, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owners hold first, four of the top five and seven of the top 10 spots in Nationwide owner points. The two other series-only regulars that hold spots are the No. 38 Braun Racing Toyota (eighth) and the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet (ninth).

NASCAR Nationwide Series Car Owner Standings

     Owner                  No.    Points
1   Joe Gibbs              18      1,075
2   Delana Harvick       33      1,066
3   Jack Roush            60      1,028
4   Jack Roush            16      1,015
5   Richard Childress    29      1,014
6   Joe Gibbs               20      998 
7   Jack Roush             6       949
8   Ralph Braun            38      932
9   Dale Earnhardt Jr.    88      898
10 Todd Braun              32      891

Seesaw Battle For Point Lead Continues At Talladega

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) and Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save A Lot Ford) have been through this game time and time again. This weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, they’ll continue their battle.

Busch is the new point leader by 47 points over Edwards heading into the Aaron’s 312 after taking the point lead from Edwards last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Neither driver had a perfect race — Busch lost two laps early before clawing his way back to 10th at the checkered flag, while Edwards lost time in the pits with mechanical problems and finished 33rd. That marked Edwards’ worst finish of the season, and only the 15th time in 148 starts he has finished lower than 30th.

Neither driver has won at Talladega, at least in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and the track hasn’t been the most kind to them in the past. Despite winning last April’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Busch averages a 27.5 finish there. Edwards has two finishes below 30th.

While Busch has two victories and they’ve combined for four poles (Edwards with three of those) this season, neither is guaranteed the point lead exiting the weekend. David Ragan (No. 6 Discount Tire Ford) mathematically has the chance to move into first or second.

Junior Nation In Full Force

The Junior Nation will be in full force when it comes to this weekend’s races at Talladega Superspeedway.

In addition to his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series  endeavors, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 5 Go Daddy Chevrolet) will also compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Rick Hendrick. The Aaron’s 312 will be the fourth start for Earnhardt in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season.

Though he has five victories in Sprint Cup competition, the former Nationwide Series champion only has series victory in six starts.

Meanwhile, Earnhardt’s car will be competing and also look to continue moving up the charts. Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Klondike Chevrolet) is still seeking his first victory of the season and has moved into the top five in points.

Rookies Still Running Well

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates continue to impress heading into the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Among those in the top 10 in the series point standings are Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet) and Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge). However, Allgaier continues to lead the rookie standings by three (76-73) over Gaughan after seven races. Following Phoenix, Michael McDowell (No. 47 Tom’s Toyota) moved into third in the rookie standings, one point ahead of Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Company Toyota).

Last season, only one rookie, Patrick Carpentier, finished in the top 10 at Talladega.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                       Team Points
1     Justin Allgaier             Penske 76
2     Brendan Gaughan       RWR 73
3     Michael McDowell       JTG-D 64
4     Scott Lagasse Jr.        CJM  63
5     Michael Annett            Germain 55
6     John West Townley     RAB  48 
7     Ken Butler III              R3  26
8     Peyton Sellers           CM  7
9     Marc Davis                 MDM 6
10   Erik Darnell*               RFR  0
*First race not until Richmond 5/1

NNS-Only Drivers Vie For Talladega Victory

Three NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regulars should make a major play at stealing a win from a double duty NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

Chief among them are Joe Nemechek, Mike Bliss and Brad Keselowski. All three have solid recent statistics at Talladega.

Nemechek has two wins at the high-banked Alabama mainstay, but hasn’t raced there since 2005. In that 2005 race, Nemechek started second and ran well, but finished just 29th thanks to an accident. His statistics in that race, though, show a much better performance than his finish would suggest. In the 2005 edition, Nemechek had a Driver Rating of 100.8, an Average Running Position of 11.6 and ran 68.3% of the laps among the top 15.

Bliss should also be a major threat to visit Victory Lane. Last season, he started second and finished seventh. In 2007, after a 31st-place starting position, he worked his way through the field to finish 14th. Over those two races, Bliss has a Driver Rating of 93.1, an Average Running Position of 12.8 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 66.2.

Keselowski, after a rough start to the season that saw three consecutive finishes outside the top 20, has now posted three consecutive third-place finishes. He has only one Talladega start in his career, but his performance was a solid one. Like Nemechek, his Talladega finish fails to tell the whole story.

Last season, Keselowski finished 23rd after starting fifth. But in the race, he earned a Driver Rating of 87.3, an Average Running Position of 16.1, had three Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the top 15 percentage of 48.7.

If he can stay out of trouble, Steve Wallace may also be a factor. Wallace has had two career Talladega starts, both of which were DNFs because of accidents. Still, his stats are solid there. In the last two Talladega races, Wallace has a Driver Rating of 85.5, an Average Running Position of 16.0 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 55.3.

Seeking More Victories

After winning his 100th race at Phoenix International Raceway, Jack Roush is looking for what would be only his second NASCAR Nationwide victory at Talladega Superspeedway. In addition to Carl Edwards, Roush is fielding cars for David Ragan and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford). The No. 16 won at Phoenix with Greg Biffle behind the wheel.

Another driver looking to put together a solid performance is Brian Vickers (No. 32 Dollar General Stores Toyota), who earned his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at the 2.66-mile track in 2006. Todd Braun’s two-car team also has David Reutimann (No. 10 Toyota) scheduled to compete Saturday.

In addition to Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Chevrolet), who has twice captured victory at Talladega in Nationwide competition, other former winners entered for this weekend are Jason Keller (No. 27 Scott Shop Towels Ford) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 5 Go Daddy Chevrolet). With a victory, Nemechek would tie Martin Truex Jr. with the most NASCAR Nationwide Series victories at Talladega—three. 

More Of This Weekend’s Entry List

Several drivers are aiming to make their first NASCAR Nationwide Series starts of the 2009 campaign.

In addition to Ryan Newman (No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet), those drivers are Kerry Earnhardt (No. 31 Chevrolet, owned by Stanton Barrett), Bobby Gerhart (No. 275 Chevrolet, owned by Bob Schacht) and Justin Hobgood (No. 91 Chevrolet, owned by Randy Humphrey). Earnhardt attempted to compete earlier in the season but was unable to earn a starting spot.

Meanwhile, 22 drivers have competed in all seven Nationwide Series races this season. The highest positioned driver who has not competed in all seven is Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota).

Forty-seven cars are vying for 43 spots this weekend. Among those looking to make the field on speed are Scott Wimmer (No. 40 Chevrolet; 31st in car owner points), Jeff Green (No. 05 31W Insulation; 32nd), Brian Keselowski (No. 26 Schweitzer Tile Dodge; 33rd), Kenny Hendrick (No. 42 Dodge, owned by Chip Ganassi; 34th) and John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby’s Ford; 35th).

NNS, Etc.

  • This weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race will be shown live on ABC, the second of four races on the national network.

  • Drivers will be aiming for Mark Martin’s Talladega Superspeedway race record of 168.937 mph, set April 26, 1997.

  • Drivers Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota), Burney Lamar, Marc Davis and Erik Darnell, as well as veteran driver, SPEED TV personality and Virginia native Hermie Sadler, on Tuesday will be in Richmond, Va., to promote the Lipton Tea 250 (NASCAR Nationwide Series) and Crown Royal presents The Russ Friedman 400 (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) races next weekend at Richmond International Raceway. The event is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. The event will be a late night talk show format, with Sadler serving as emcee for the event. A comedian from Funny Bone Comedy Club and the Virginia Commonwealth University Pep Band will provide entertainment. In addition, Americrown — the exclusive caterer for RIR — will debut the Richmond Hot Dog.

  • Thirteen drivers are entered to compete in both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Manufacturers’ Standings

2009 Manufacturers'
Championship Standings
Chevrolet     46
Toyota         44
Ford             42
Dodge          22

Chevrolet broke yet another tie with Toyota at Phoenix and leads Toyota by two points heading into the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway. The points go toward the 2009 Bill France Performance Award standings.

Chevrolet has been dominant at several races this season, and looks to continue its dominance at Talladega again. Chevrolet had a five-race streak snapped last season by Toyota, when Tony Stewart won. Overall, Chevrolet has 12 victories in 17 Talladega races in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition.

Ford is only four points behind Chevrolet after Greg Biffle won at Phoenix last weekend. Dodge is fourth with 22 points.

Quick Stats For Talladega

  • Expect a close finish this weekend. None of the 16 races held at Talladega, under the electric timing, has produced a greater margin of victory than 0.052 seconds (1997), with Mark Martin winning over Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Chevrolet).

  • Starting up front doesn’t necessarily mean finishing up front. In 17 previous races, only Nemechek in 1998 and Tony Stewart in 2008 have won from the pole. More than half of the races have been won from outside the top 10, and twice the winner has come from further than 30th.

  • Speaking of polesitters, only Nemechek and Jeff Purvis have multiple pole positions in Nationwide Series competition at Talladega. Unless Nemechek earns another pole, only reigning series champion Clint Bowyer (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) has a chance to score the top starting position.

  • Talladega Superspeedway is the second longest track on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve) and largest oval on the circuit.

Up Next: Richmond International Raceway

From the biggest track on the schedule to one of the smallest, NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers will make the transition from Talladega Superspeedway to Richmond International Raceway in back-to-back weekends.

The race is the first of two at the three-quarter mile Virginia oval. Last season, Virginia native Denny Hamlin captured the first race, while Carl Edwards took the second race. 


      Driver                  Points
1    Kyle Busch           1,075
2    Carl Edwards         1,028
3    David Ragan           949
4    Jason Leffler           932
5    Brad Keselowski     898
6    Joey Logano           893
7    Brendan Gaughan   822
8    Justin Allgaier         818
9    Mike Bliss              789
10 Jason Keller             779


The Race: Aaron’s 312
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, April 25
The Time: 3 p.m. ET (2 p.m. CT)
The Distance: 311.22 miles / 117 laps
TV: ABC, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Tony Stewart
2008 Polesitter: Tony Stewart
Event Schedule (all times CT): Thursday—Practice 3-3:45 p.m.; Final Practice 4-4:50 p.m. Friday—Qualifying 10:30 a.m.

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.