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Keeping Pace

Richmond NASCAR Nationwide Series Race Will Be Wide-Open Affair

The Nationwide Series moves from the high banks of Talladega to short track action in Friday’s Lipton Tea 250 at Richmond International Raceway. Brad Keselowski, the most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner and NASCAR Nationwide Series regualr, had mixed results on the .75-mile oval in 2008.


Courtesy: NASCAR

Keselowski, Finch Pull NASCAR Sprint Cup Upset At ’Dega

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 27, 2009) - Brad Keselowski became the first NASCAR Nationwide Series regular to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in nearly seven years when he scored a stunning last-lap victory in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

After a slow start to the season at the wheel of the No. 88 JR Motorsports Klondike Chevrolet, Keselowski moved up to sixth in the Nationwide Series point standings following a ninth-place finish in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The last Nationwide Series regular to win a Sprint Cup Series race was Jamie McMurray, subbing for injured Sterling Marlin at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 2002.

Now, the Nationwide Series moves from the high banks of Talladega to short track action in Friday’s Lipton Tea 250 at Richmond International Raceway. Keselowski had mixed results on the .75-mile oval in 2008. He improved from a 33rd-place starting position to finish 11th in the spring race. Last September, he qualified third for the Emerson Radio 250, but finished 21st.

Keselowski was not the only Nationwide Series regular to win Sunday at Talladega.

His victory came at the wheel of the No. 09 Miccosukee Resort Chevrolet owned by James Finch, who owns the No. 1 Miccosukee Resort Chevrolet raced by Mike Bliss in the Nationwide Series.

Bliss went out with overheating problems 40 laps into Saturday’s Aaron’s 312, after getting tangled up in an early-race incident. The 41st-place finish was only the fourth time in his 151-race Nationwide Series career that he’s finished 40th or worse. The last time was October 2007 at Texas, when he was 43rd after an accident on lap 3.

Bliss had been running in the top 10 prior to Saturday’s race, with the DNF dropping him back to 13th position in the point standings.

Darnell To Debut In Roush’s Talladega-Winning No. 6

Erik Darnell has big shoes to fill when he makes his season debut in Jack Roush’s No. 6 Discount Tire Ford for the Lipton Tea 250.

David Ragan won his first NASCAR touring series victory last weekend in the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway. That moved the Georgian up to third in the Nationwide Series points, while the Roush No. 6 leaped to sixth in the hotly contested car owner standings.

The car owner championship is the team’s main goal, with Ragan and Darnell sharing time in the car.

Darnell, a candidate for the 2009 Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award, will be making his second start in the Nationwide Series. He made his debut last year with a lead-lap 26th-place finish in the Jack Roush No. 17 at Mexico City. The 26-year-old Beach Park, Ill., driver is a two-time winner in NASCAR Camping World Series competition.

Ragan’s first Nationwide Series triumph came in his 85th start in the series.
 
NASCAR Nationwide Series Car Owner Standings

Rk / Owner                  No.    Points
 1    Delana Harvick       33      1241
 2    Joe Gibbs              18      1219
 3    Joe Gibbs               20      1168
 4    Jack Roush            60      1157
 5    Jack Roush            6        1139
 6    Richard Childress   29       1089
 7    Ralph Braun           38       1082
 8    Jack Roush            16       1078
 9    Dale Earnhardt Jr.   88       1041
 10  Todd Braun             32       999

Harvick Has Found A Home At Richmond In Nationwide Competition

Kevin Harvick has found a home at Richmond International Raceway in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. He has four victories on the .75-mile oval, second only to Mark Martin’s five.

Harvick came close here a year ago, leading 98 laps dominating the latter stages of the Lipton Tea 250 before being passed by Denny Hamlin with 12 laps remaining. Harvick finished second, .789 seconds behind the Virginian.

Harvick will be making his sixth start of the season in the No. 33 Rheem Tankless Water Heaters Chevrolet he co-owns with his wife DeLana. It will be his second race since winning Round 4 of the season at Bristol. Since then, his only race was at Phoenix, where he placed fifth.

Harvick scored his first victory at Richmond in the 2003 spring event. He won three consecutive races there, taking the 2005 fall round in addition to sweeping the 2006 events.

The Bakersfield, Calif., native has finished in the top five in 10 of his 16 starts at Richmond. He also has a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Richmond, winning the 2006 fall event.

Rheem, VFW To Entertain Troops

In addition to sponsoring Kevin Harvick’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet, Rheem Manufacturing and the Veterans of Foreign Wars will team up to co-host a hospitality event Friday night at Richmond International Raceway to entertain 100 wounded soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The hospitality event will feature appearances by more than a dozen NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers, including Eric McClure, Brad Keselowski, Scott Wimmer, Todd Bodine, and Cale Gale, as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Ryan Newman and team owners DeLana Harvick and Richard Childress. 

Lagasse Makes Move To Third

Scott Lagasse Jr. finished a solid eighth in the Aaron’s 312, enabling the driver of the No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Company Toyota to move up to third in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.

Michael McDowell was second among the rookie contenders, placing 15th, but dropped a position to fourth in the standings.

Justin Allgaier ran with the leaders before getting involved in an accident and finishing 32nd. He continues to lead the standings with 83 points, four better than Brendan Gaughan, who overheated and placed 38th at Talladega.

Entering Friday’s Lipton Tea 250, Lagasse is only six points behind Allgaier, with McDowell another three points back.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                    Team        Points
 1    Justin Allgaier          Penske      83
 2    Brendan Gaughan    RWR         79
 3    Scott Lagasse Jr.    CJM           77
 4    Michael McDowell   JTG-D         74
 5    Michael Annett        Germain     63
 6   John West Townley   RAB          57 
 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

Points Battle Intensifies Between Edwards, Bowyer

The NASCAR Nationwide Series points battle between Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer intensifies with each week. Bowyer owns a see-sawing lead of 27 points.

Seemingly, their statistics mirror each other at each upcoming track. The same holds true at Richmond, where each have a win.

Edwards’ victory came in 2005, while Bowyer’s came during last season’s spring race. Check out the tale of the tape between the two drivers at Richmond:

  • Driver Rating: Bowyer edges Edwards, 102.7 to 102.5

  • Average Running Position: Edwards leads Bowyer, 9.7 to 12.4

  • Fastest Laps Run: Bowyers leads Edwards, 136 to 71

  • Laps in the Top 15: Edwards leads Bowyer, 84.7% to 77.1%.

But of course, this won’t be a two-horse race. Look for series regular Jason Leffler to make a charge to the front. Leffler has been solid at Richmond in his career, posting top fives in the fall race of 2004 and the spring race of 2005. The last time the series raced there, Leffler scored an 11th-place finish.

Since 2005, Leffler has a Driver Rating of 91.1, an Average Running Position of 13.3, 33 Fastest Laps Run, and has run 71.6% of the laps among the top 15.

And, as usual, Kyle Busch should pose a serious threat for a Victory Lane visit. He was brilliant in last year’s Richmond fall race, leading 227 of 252 laps in a win. In the victory, Busch scored a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0 and a race-high 72 Fastest Laps Run.

Overall Busch, winner of three NASCAR Nationwide Series races already this season, has a Richmond Driver Rating of 96.6 and an Average Running Position of 12.6.

Martin Returns To Richmond

Mark Martin, Richmond’s leading winner in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition, will be making his 2009 series debut in Friday’s Lipton Tea 250.

It will be his first start at the .75-mile oval since 2005, and his first appearance in the Nationwide Series since finishing third last fall at Texas Motor Speedway. Martin raced five times in the series last year, winning in his debut in the JR Motorsports Chevrolet at Las Vegas. That was his Nationwide Series-leading 48th victory.

Martin, who will race Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 Lipton Chevrolet, won five races at Richmond, four of them for Jack Roush. He’s raced here 24 times, all in Fords. Martin’s last victory at Richmond was in 1999. He won his debut race here in 1987, driving for Bruce Lawmaster, swept the 1993 events and won the 1997 spring event.

Martin’s most recent NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond was in 2005, when he won the pole and finished fourth in the No. 9 Red Apple Group Ford.

Brian Keselowski In Top 30

Brad Keselowski wasn’t the only big winner in his family last weekend. His older brother, Brian, finished 14th in the Aaron’s 250. That was good enough to move the No. 26 Schweitzer Title Dodge up four positions in the Nationwide Series car owner points, to 30th position.

That means the Dusty Whitney-owned Dodge has a guaranteed starting position in Friday’s Lipton Tea 250. With 49 entries received for Round 9 of the 2009 campaign, that means six teams will go home disappointed.

The Whitney entry is only two points ahead of Lori Morgan’s No. 01 sponsordavis.com Chevrolet driven by Danny O’Quinn Jr., who will be among the 19 drivers participating in knockout qualifying to make the field.

Among the cars also in striking distance of the top 30 are the No. 09 Zaxby’s Ford of John Wes Townley, 39 points back, and the No. 05 31W Insulation Chevrolet of Casey Atwood, 56 points in arrears.

Stanton Barrett, now a regular in the IRL IndyCar Series, makes his return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the No. 41 Rick Ware Chevrolet. Barrett, son of the Sprint Cup Series’ original Skoal Bandit Stan Barrett, will also field the No. 31 Chevrolet for Travis Kittleson.

Etc.

  • Tony Raines is making the most of his opportunity to drive the No. 34 Long John Silver’s Chevrolet after landing the ride on the eve of the 2009 opener. Raines finishes a season-best fourth in the Aaron’s 312—his best outing since finishing fourth at Nashville for Kevin Harvick in 2005.

  • With 2008 Lipton Tea 250 winner Denny Hamlin not in the field, the mantle of local favorite for the Virginia fans shifts to Jeff Burton. The South Boston driver has finished in the top 10 in three of his four 2009 series starts, including a sixth at Auto Club Speedway. Burton will be at the wheel of the No. 31 Holiday Inn Chevrolet. He’s seeking his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory since 2007, when he won five races for RCR.

  • Among the other double-duty drivers also racing in Saturday’s Crown Royal presented the Russ Friedman 400 are Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Scott Speed and Joe Nemechek.

Manufacturers’ Standings

2009 Manufacturers’ Championship Standings

Ford             51
Chevrolet      50
Toyota         50
Dodge          25

Ford leapfrogged from third to take the lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Manufacturer’s Championship standings.

Chevrolet led Toyota by two points entering Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway, with Ford another two points back.

David Ragan’s victory gave Ford a one-point lead with 51 points, with Chevrolet and Toyota only one point behind. 

Chevrolet had a five-race winning streak at Richmond snapped last season. Denny Hamlin won the Lipton’s Tea 250 for Toyota, while Carl Edwards captured the fall race for Ford.

Quick Stats For Richmond

  • Drivers will attempt to break a five-year-old track record in qualifying Friday at 4:10 p.m. Kyle Busch set the track record of 20.874 seconds (129.348 mph) back in May, 2004.

  • The race record is even older — with Dale Jarrett winning the fall 1997 event in 109.047 mph.

  • While the pole winner has gone on to win nine of the 50 NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Richmond, the most winners (10) have come from the third starting position. Half of the winners have started in the top three, with six winners coming from the outside front row. No other starting position has won more than three races at RIR.

  • Kyle Busch is a two-time pole winner at RIR, and went on to win both races (2004 and 2007). Those are his only two victories here.

  • Kevin Harvick won three consecutive races at RIR from Fall 2005 through both 2006 races. The only other driver to win three consecutive races here was Harry Gant in 1991-92.

  • The last winner from outside the top 10 was Johnny Sauter, who started 30th in 2003.

Up Next: Darlington Raceway

The NASCAR Nationwide Series visits storied Darlington Raceway for the only time in 2009 with the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 on Saturday, May 8.

Last year, Tony Stewart drove to victory in a Joe Gibbs Toyota on the egg-shaped 1.366-mile oval. Carl Edwards broke the track record in qualifying with a lap of 176.994 mph in a Jack Roush Ford.

FAST FACTS

The Race
: Lipton Tea 250
The Place: Richmond International Raceway
The Date: Friday, May 1, 2009
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 187.5 miles / 250 laps
TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin
2008 Polesitter: Kasey Kahne

Event Schedule (all times ET):
Friday — Final Practice 9-11:45 a.m.; Qualifying 4:10 p.m.

Track Contact:
Aimee Turner, (804) 228-7645,
1turner@rir.com

NASCAR PR Contact:
Tracey Judd, (386) 947-6733,
tjudd@nascar.com

DRIVER STANDINGS

     Driver                  Points
1   Kyle Busch           1,219
2   Carl Edwards         1,157
3   David Ragan           1,139
4   Jason Leffler           1,082
5   Joey Logano           1,063
6   Brad Keselowski     1,041
7   Jason Keller            925
8   Scott Lagasse Jr.    886
9   Justin Allgaier          885
10 Michael McDowell    879


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

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