Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Michigan

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

This weekend, Ryan Newman returns to a track filled with fond memories. It was at Michigan International Speedway – when he was just 23 years old – that Newman nabbed his first NASCAR national series victory in 2001.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Oh, Brother! Keselowskis Bring Different Strengths Home

Usually, sharing isn’t something siblings do well. In the case of the Keselowski brothers – Brian and Brad – they don’t have much of a choice this weekend.

They’ll share the spotlight – and the track – as the natives of Rochester Hills come home to Michigan International Speedway.

Brad, younger by three years, is the more well-known of the two. The driver of the No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, is having his best year overall in NASCAR national series competition, with two wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and his first victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He’s also third in the NASCAR Nationwide standings.

Brian, 27, is steadily making his own name in the series, showing a versatility that has many taking notice.

Handling the K-Automotive operation, Brian will serve in multiple capacities this weekend. He’s overseeing the No. 92 and No. 96 Dodges (his uncle Ron and dad Bob, respectively, will handle the crew chief duties), and he’ll also serve as crew chief on the No. 26 Fischer Honda Dodge that he’s driven in 14 of his 16 races this year. The No. 26 will feature Michael McDowell behind the wheel – a partnership that is quickly becoming a successful one.

It was a tough decision for Keselowski, but McDowell, a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate, has driven the No. 26 over the last two races with Brian acting as crew chief. At Iowa Speedway, the duo brought home an eighth-place finish. Last week at Watkins Glen, McDowell was having a solid run until getting caught in a late-race incident pushed him back to 27th at the finish.

“Michael (McDowell) stepped up to the plate for me and has done a great job and I helped him out by keeping him in the driver points race,” Brian said. “I’m a driver and I want to drive, but as a team owner, manager and mechanic I need to make a business decision about my team. No driver  – and I mean no driver – wants to sit back and watch his car on the track. But I’m not just a driver; I own my own business. So I have to look at the big picture and this is what I need to do to make it work right now.”

Luck of the Irish (Hills) For Edwards?

Saturday’s race certainly doesn’t represent a “last stand” for Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save-A-Lot Ford). But the time to make the most of an advantage at a track like Michigan represents is starting to tick away.

Edwards is second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings, 212 points behind leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota).

Not insurmountable. Last year after 22 races, Edwards was third in the standings, seven points behind second-place Brad Keselowski and 180 in back of first-place driver Clint Bowyer.

Edwards managed to make up all but 21 points of the difference before succumbing to Bowyer in the last race of the 2008 season.

If the 2007 series champion is going to make a similar run over the last third of this season, Michigan may be the place to make the magic happen.

He’s the defending winner of this race (from the pole) and went on to sweep the weekend’s events last year also by winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. He posted the best Driver Rating for a series race at Michigan last year at 146.6 and also has a 114.3 rating – fourth best among all drivers – in NASCAR Nationwide competition at MIS.

Busch has solid stats at the 2-mile track but hasn’t raced there in series competition since 2006. He won in 2004, his series track debut, and finished 14th three years ago. His Driver Rating at MIS is 81.8, which is his worst among all active NASCAR Nationwide Series tracks.

Series-Only Regulars On The Verge Of Stat-Special Season

With 13 races left in the 2009 season, series-only regulars are compiling strong stats against their double-duty driver cohorts that suggest a special year is in the making.

Heading to Michigan, there are seven series-only regulars ranked in the top 10 in the driver standings, the most since eight were listed in 2005 also following 22 events.

Brad Keselowski, in third, leads the group with Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota), rookie Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), Steve Wallace (No. 66 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet), Mike Bliss, Jason Keller (No. 27 Kleenex Ford) and another rookie, Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 US Fidelis Chevrolet) in fourth through ninth, respectively.

They’ve put three wins on the board thus far  – two by Keselowski and one by Bliss. That’s one victory away from matching last year’s output by series-only regulars.

They have three poles, one shy of last year’s total of four, and three of those were by Joey Logano. This year, three different series-only regulars have won poles (Keselowski, Gaughan and Erik Darnell).

Speaking of Logano, this is one of the few combination events in which he won’t be entered. Brad Coleman will drive the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing at Michigan. It will be only the second time this year Logano has sat out a combo event. He also stepped aside at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

His absence is significant for a couple of reasons. First, Logano can fall out of the top 10 in the standings for the first time since he won at Nashville Superspeedway in April. After that race, he vaulted from 12th to sixth in the rankings. He’s currently 10th.

Second, Michael McDowell is 11th, just 97 points out of 10th. In the two races he’s driven for Brian Keselowski’s organization, he’s averaged 112 points which would not only give him a great shot at 10th, but also put three rookies in the top 10 this late in the season for the first time since 2005.

Michigan Victory A Crown Jewel Among Manufacturers

A victory in the Motor City is big for series manufacturers.

It’s well-documented how special the wins at Michigan International Speedway have been for Jack Roush’s Livonia, Mich.-based operation. Roush has won four times at MIS, including last year with driver Carl Edwards.

Chevrolet owns the most wins at Michigan with 11, including the series’ inaugural win at the track by Todd Bodine in 1992.

Ford is second with its five wins while Dodge has one victory. Ryan Newman won for Roger Penske in a Ford in 2001 – his first NASCAR national series victory and the only Ford victory that doesn’t belong to Roush – and he also posted the lone win for Dodge to date in 2005. This weekend, he’ll be driving the No. 5 Fastenal Chevrolet that also must be considered a favorite.

Although 2009 manufacturer leader Toyota has earned six top-10 finishes over its first two years of series competition at MIS, it has yet to win there. 

Saturday’s race should be wide open in terms of a favorite. Over the last three races, a different manufacturer has won: Ford at O’Reilly Raceway Park; Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway and Toyota last week at Watkins Glen.

MANUFACTURER'S STANDINGS

2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings

Toyota        155
Chevrolet    133
Ford            127
Dodge         69
Following Race 22 of 35 at Watkins Glen International

IN THE LOOP

Newman Looks To Go 3-For-3 At Michigan

This weekend, Ryan Newman returns to a track filled with fond memories.

It was at Michigan International Speedway – when he was just 23 years old – that Newman nabbed his first NASCAR national series victory in 2001.

He has won 20 more races since then, and will be a favorite for another one this weekend when he steps into the strong No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Newman has run two series races at Michigan, both resulted in victory.  

In his last series trip to Michigan (2005), Newman had a Driver Rating of 123.2, an Average Running Position of 5.9, seven Laps Led, 12 Fastest Laps Run and has a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 92.

But momentum swings both ways, and his success in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season has varied.

In five series starts this season, Newman has an average finish of just 19.2, with a Driver Rating of 91.3, an Average Running Position of 15.4, seven Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of negative-27 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 65.2.

But also watch for a strong run from Jason Leffler, who seems due for a win sooner or later. This season, he has been the strongest of all the series-only regulars, with a Driver Rating of 98.4, an Average Running Position of 9.8, 117 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential of plus-118 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 91.5.

Leffler is solid at Michigan, finishing in the top 15 in his last five series races there.

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, at Michigan, Leffler has a Driver Rating of 84.3, an Average Running Position of 15.3, five Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential of plus-57 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 61.8.

“We’ve had a good mix of races over the last month so it’s fun to throw in a race like Michigan.” Leffler said. “It’s is a super-fast track with multiple grooves that allow you to run anywhere you want, or where your car handles the best. I love it because there’s a lot of side-by-side and three-wide racing which keeps it pretty exciting the entire race.”

NNS Etc: Michigan Edition

  • CJM Tag-Team At MIS

    Last week, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 CARFAX Toyota) made his debut for CJM Racing. This week, he’s again behind the wheel of the No. 11 car but will have a teammate in tow.

    Justin Lofton will attempt his series debut in the No. 14 Lofton Cattle Toyota for CJM. The ARCA regular currently is second in the standings in that series with three wins and 10 top-five finishes. He was 30th at MIS in the June 12 race but won there last year.

    Hamlin is no slouch at Michigan, either. The last time he raced there in NASCAR Nationwide competition in 2007, he won. He hasn’t finished out of the top 10 in three series races at MIS.

    CJM Racing is now on Twitter. You can follow the team at www.twitter.com/CJMRacing.

  • Kelley A Keselowski Party-Crasher

    The Keselowski family – dad Bob, mom Kay, uncle Ron and brothers Brad and Brian – aren’t the only Michigan natives in the NASCAR Nationwide garage this weekend.

    One other homecoming is that of Jerry Kelley, 27, the car chief and rear tire changer on the No. 11 CARFAX Toyota.

    Kelley, from Sherwood, Mich., attended Tri-State University and played football at Union City High School in Union City, Mich.

    On another Keselowski note, Brad will attend University of Michigan football practice Thursday in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are his favorite college football team.

  • NNS Raybestos Rookie Standings

    Could Michigan be a roadblock in Justin Allgaier’s march toward the Raybestos Rookie title?

    He hopes his first series trip to Michigan will be better than his previous four ARCA events there where his average finish was 37.0 and he failed to finish three of the four races. Michigan is one of only two tracks in Allgaier’s ARCA career at which he didn’t register at least one top-10 finish.

    Off the track at MIS, Michael Annett (No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota) and John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby’s Ford) will sign autographs from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Saturday at the NASCAR merchandise trailer located in front of Gate 30 at the north end of the Fan Plaza at MIS.

    Driver                   Team      Points
1. Justin Allgaier         Penske     197
2. Brendan Gaughan   RWR         186
3. Michael McDowell   MMS         175
4. Scott Lagasse Jr.   CJM           153
5. Michael Annett       Germain     148
6. Jon Wes Townley   RAB           105
7. Erik Darnell            RFR           104
8. Ken Butler III          R3               67

  • Yeley Returns To NNS At MIS

    It’s been two years since J.J. Yeley (No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge) competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but he’ll be back this weekend at MIS.

    In three previous starts there, he has a top five and two top 10s.

    Yeley’s first three seasons in the series were spent in the No. 18 car for Joe Gibbs Racing. He  ran two full years for JGR (2005-06) and had his best season in 2007 when he finished seventh in the standings, had three poles, nine top fives and 22 top 10s.

    He ran 30 races for James Finch in 2007; his last NASCAR Nationwide event was the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

  • Five Former Series Champs At MIS

    Five former series champions are entered at Michigan and two of those have also won races at the track.

    Carl Edwards (2007), Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet) in 2001 and ‘06, Brian Vickers (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) in 2003, Greg Biffle (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford) in 2002 and Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet) in 1992 are the former champs. Edwards (2008) and Harvick (2003) are the former winners. Interestingly, Harvick’s win is his only victory in any series on a 2-mile track.

    There has yet to be a repeat pole winner at Michigan and four former polesitters are entered — Edwards (2008), Biffle (2007), Jeff Burton (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet), who won from the pole in 1998 and Derrike Cope (No. 78 Dodge), who will attempt to make his 150th career start in the series.

Up Next: Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol at night.

What more needs to be said?

The Aug. 21 Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway is the precursor to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Sharpie 500, but is no less exciting.

Last year, Brad Keselowski took advantage of a bobble by Clint Bowyer with 24 laps to go and held on to win. He became the first series-only regular to win that event since two-time series champion Kevin Harvick in  2000.

That victory was the first of four overall at Bristol for Harvick, who is tied with Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Lagina Plumbing/Eldora Speedway Chevrolet) for the series lead there.

One of the young drivers out of Harvick’s KHI operation, Cale Gale, won his first career series pole at this event last year.

Shepherd and Jason Keller are tied for the most poles at Bristol with three.

ESPN2 will carry the broadcast beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.

FAST FACTS

The Race: CARFAX 250
The Place: Michigan International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, August 15
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 250 miles / 125 laps
TV: ESPN2, 3:00 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN; (local, WVFN-AM 730)
2008 Race Winner: Carl Edwards
2008 Polesitter: Carl Edwards

Event Schedule (all times ET):
Friday – Practice,1:45-3:30 p.m. and 5:15-6:15 p.m. (Approx.); Saturday –  Qualifying, 10:35 a.m.

2009 STANDINGS

     Driver                   Points
1   Kyle Busch            3,646
2   Carl Edwards          3,434
3   Brad Keselowski     3,237
4   Jason Leffler           3,073
5   Justin Allgaier         2,605
6   Steve Wallace         2,555
7   Mike Bliss               2,513
8   Jason Keller            2,509
9   Brendan Gaughan    2,462
10 Joey Logano            2,459




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Keeping Pace

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






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