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Keeping Pace

Sat., Dec. 19, 2009, 6 p.m.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Top Performances Of 2009

Kyle Busch (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)
Kyle Busch (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)

In capturing his first NASCAR national series title and the first series driver championship for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch put together a dominating year making good on the media’s pre-season prediction for the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

There certainly were some outstanding performances – both from a driving and racing standpoint – that took place during the recently completed 2009 NASCAR season. The following is a look back at some of those standout performers and memorable races, as selected from discussions with the national series directors, competition department and NASCAR PR managers.

Top Drivers (in alphabetical order)

  • Kyle Busch – In capturing his first NASCAR national series title and the first series driver championship for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch put together a dominating year making good on the media’s pre-season prediction for the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion. Yet, he didn’t run away with the crown, a testament to the overall strength of the series. But make no mistake: Busch was the best. His nine wins led the series and he finished second 11 other times. He led 2,698 of a possible 6,715 laps and posted four perfect 150.0 Driver Ratings. His 25 top-five finishes tied the series record, and in only 173 career starts he has 30 victories, now fourth all-time. He also became the first driver to win two national series races on the same day when he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Auto Club Speedway on Feb. 21.
  • Brad Keselowski – In his second full year in the series, Brad Keselowski was expected to improve, but his results exceeded those expectations. After starting 2009 in a slump, he rebounded to win four times – arguably four of the most exciting races of the year – the most for a series-only regular since 2005 and fourth-best in the series in 2009. He won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in just his seventh event and challenged for second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings until the season finale. His 105.9 Driver Rating is the highest for a series-only regular in a single season. He’ll keep alive this decade’s streak of at least one full-time series-only regular who finished in the top 10 in the standings moving up to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series the following season … and he’ll take his rivalry with Denny Hamlin along with him.
  • Joey Logano – Lost in the shuffle of Kyle Busch’s dominance, Brad Keselowski’s vast improvement and solid performances by other series-only regulars and double-duty drivers, was the quiet, but steady production of Joey Logano. In 22 NASCAR Nationwide races this year, Logano, 19, registered five wins (tied for second in the series with full-time double-duty driver Carl Edwards), 13 top fives and 16 top 10s. He also won four poles, second to Edwards’ seven in 35 races. Logano made the most of the pole positions, winning twice and finishing second twice in those four starts.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year

  • Justin Allgaier – The leader of a stellar rookie class, Justin Allgaier fended of challenges from Michael McDowell and Brendan Gaughan – unlike Allgaier, drivers with previous NASCAR national series experience before their NASCAR Nationwide rookie-honor run. Allgiaer captured the award and came within 26 points of fifth in the final standings, a battle he’d waged with Steve Wallace and Mike Bliss before ultimately ceding to Bliss. Allgaier collected three top fives and 12 top 10s in addition to his first career pole (Memphis Motorsports Park). He was one of three rookies (Gaughan, ninth; Michael Annett, 10th) who finished in the top 10 in the standings, a first for the series since 2005 (Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorenson).

Top Team Owner

  • Joe Gibbs Racing – For the second consecutive year, Joe Gibbs Racing ruled the NASCAR Nationwide Series owner standings. And for the first time in four seasons, the organization unified the driver and owner championship with the No. 18 Toyota team of crew chief Jason Ratcliff and driver Kyle Busch. In 2008, JGR’s No. 20 Toyota won the owner title while Clint Bowyer took the driver championship. In 2009, JGR’s two teams combined for 14 wins, 39 top fives, 48 top 10s and nine poles.

Top Breakthrough Performers

  • Justin Allgaier – The 2009 Raybestos Rookie of the Year parlayed his 2008 ARCA championship into an opportunity with Penske Racing that turned into a successful partnership this season. With his No. 12 Dodge team returning intact along with the added strength of young veteran Brad Keselowski as a teammate, Allgaier could realistically challenge for a top-five standing if not a run at the title in 2010.
  • Trevor Bayne – He didn’t compete in enough races this year to be considered for Raybestos Rookie of the Year status, and he ran too many to challenge for the award next year. But Trevor Bayne’s results in his first 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series races were enough to warrant “breakthrough” designation. He earned his first pole (O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis), and posted two top-10 finishes. Ten of his 15 starts were in the top 10. He’ll be full-time in the series next year for Michael Waltrip Racing.
  • Brad Keselowski – His two-year association with JR Motorsports nearly translated into a championship challenge in 2009 and his results carried him to his second consecutive Most Popular Driver award as voted by the fans. Next year, in a full-time double-duty season with Penske Racing as a teammate to Justin Allgaier, Keselowski may reach the realm of favorite to claim his first NASCAR national series championship in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
  • Steve Wallace – The improvement meter for Steve Wallace tipped well into the black this year, his third full season of series competition. He matched his career-best finish (fifth) and posted nine top 10s, also a career high. Most telling was his standings finish, where he was as high as fifth before settling for seventh, his first foray into the season-ending top 10. His Driver Rating escalated from 72.6 in 2008 to 82.4 this past season, second only to Brad Keselowski among series-only regulars.

Comeback Driver of the Year

  • Mike Bliss – His accomplishments this past year were nothing short of amazing. Mike Bliss started the season with Phoenix Racing and registered his second career series win in the rain-shortened spring race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Despite his sixth-place points standing, he was released from the organization following the race at Iowa Speedway. Over the remaining 14 events, he drove for five different teams and rallied from ninth in the standings, 202 points out of fifth, to claim that coveted position by 26 points over Justin Allgaier for a spot on the post-season NASCAR Nationwide Series Awards stage. His seven top fives (including two seconds) and 15 top 10s were career bests.

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Keeping Pace

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