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Keeping Pace

Mon., July 6, 2009, 10 p.m.

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Chicagoland Speedway

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

With so many series firsts at the Joliet, Ill. track, who and what are next? Will a driver register his initial Chicagoland victory, or will someone win their first career NASCAR Nationwide race there?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 6, 2009) - In 2001, Jimmie Johnson scored his first and only career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at Chicagoland Speedway, driving a car for Stanley Herzog. Five years later, Casey Mears earned his first career national series win, also in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Needless to say, Johnson – who spent two full seasons in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – has climbed the ladder to great heights in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, having won the last three championships.

Mears, who spent the entire 2002 season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is in his seventh full season in the premier series and registered his first win in 2007.

Fulltime series-only regulars Johnny Sauter (2002) and Justin Labonte (2004) also won their first NASCAR Nationwide races there.

With so many series firsts at the Joliet, Ill. track, who and what are next? Will a driver register his initial Chicagoland victory, or will someone win their first career NASCAR Nationwide race there?

Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet) is the only driver to win multiple times at Chicago, winning in 2005 and ‘07, and Ryan Newman (No. 5 Fastenal Chevrolet) is the only driver to win multiple poles there.

Standings leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) comes in with five wins on the year, which leads the series. He had four at this stage one year ago and left the Windy City area with a NASCAR Nationwide / NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend sweep.

But the odds may be in favor of first-timers in this one since there has yet to be a driver to post consecutive wins there. The same is true with the pole position. And, no driver has won from the NASCAR Nationwide pole at Chicagoland.

Most Popular Driver Voting In The Hands Of The Fans

For the second consecutive year, fans can visit www.nascar.com and cast votes for the 2009 Most Popular Driver of the Year Award for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Additionally, voting is underway for drivers in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR’s Touring Series.

Fans may vote or submit a write-in candidate once per day and are encouraged to vote throughout the season.  Balloting ends Oct. 31 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Last year – the first season NASCAR fans were asked to choose the most popular drivers in these series – more than 250,000 combined votes were cast among the eight series. Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Degree Chevrolet) was the Most Popular Driver recipient in the Nationwide Series, earning 45% of the vote.

This year, fans also may “write in” their favorite driver if he/she is not among the nominees for a specific series. Fans should go to fanfeedback@nascar.com and submit their write-in vote. Results will be announced at each of the respective series’ season-end banquets.

RCR Looking To Daytona Win As Second-Half Catapult

NASCAR has competed at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., since 2001. And for one reason or another, the 1.5-mile track has been kind to Richard Childress Racing, which owns a NASCAR Nationwide Series-leading three victories there, as well as the first two in NASCAR Sprint Cup action.

Friday’s night’s Dollar General 300  comes on the heels of RCR’s first victory in over 15 months, and gives the Welcome, N.C.-based team its first chance at consecutive victories since Clint Bowyer and Scott Wimmer triumphed at Bristol Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway in April 2008.

Bowyer, the 2008 series champion, dominated the Subway Jalapeño 250 last week at Daytona International Speedway in his final series appearance of 2009. His name will be on the car for the remainder of the season now that he’s won the wager with the team’s other two drivers – Jeff Burton (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) and Stephen Leicht – as the team’s best performing driver during the first half of the year.

Burton, meanwhile, will compete at Chicagoland. Two of the organization’s victories there were by Kevin Harvick, now driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for his Kevin Harvick Inc. team, and the other by Johnny Sauter.

Around “The Lincoln State”

Several drivers and team members are from Illinois, where NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors will compete in the next two races.

Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) is from Riverton, about 200 miles from Chicagoland. Another series regular from Illinois is Erik Darnell, who calls Beach Park his home.

Crew members include:

  • Ramie Jones (Olney) – No. 32 engineer
  • Nick Odell (Springfield) – No. 18 front tire changer
  • Joey Forgette (Springfield) – No. 27 rear tire changer
  • Lee Cunningham (Leaf River) – No. 99 rear tire changer

NASCAR Nationwide Series Car Owner Standings

Rk / Owner                    No.   Points
1     Joe Gibbs                18     2,756
2     Jack Roush              60     2,584
3     Joe Gibbs                20      2,535
4     Dale Earnhardt Jr.     88     2,488
5     Delena Harvick         33      2,395
6     Ralph Braun             38     2,367
7     Jack Roush              6       2,364
8     Jack Roush             16      2,290
9     Richard Childress     29      2,287
10   Todd Braun              32      2,167

In the Loop

Keselowski, Burton Looking To Shine In Chicago

February must seem like a lifetime ago for Brad Keselowski.

In a month he would rather forget, Keselowski racked up three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 – a stark contrast from a 2008 season that resulted in two wins and a third-place finish in the series standings.

But since then, he’s been stellar. Keselowski has posted 12 top-10 finishes in the last 13 races. Prior to his sixth-place run at Daytona last Friday night, Keselowski had five straight top-five finishes (including three consecutive third-place runs).

Keselowski will try to extend the top-10 string at Chicagoland Speedway, where – for all intents and purposes – it all started for him.

The 2007 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland was Keselowski’s first as a JR Motorsports driver. In that race, he finish 14th with a respectable Driver Rating of 72.5. Clearly, he’s flourished in the ride.

Last season at Chicagoland, Keselowski threatened for the win – despite battling against a number of double-duty drivers (he was the only series-only regular in the top five).

Keselowski finished third that race, posting a Driver Rating of 119.5, an Average Running Position of 4.1, 18 Fastest Laps Run and running all 200 laps in the top 15.

Another threat for the win this weekend is Jeff Burton, who could soon lose his place on the NASCAR Nationwide Series all-time victory list. Currently, Burton sits fourth with 27 career series wins. Right behind him is Kyle Busch with 26.

Burton, who has yet to win in the series at Chicagoland Speedway, boasts an incredible average finish of 3.8 at the 1.5-mile track. Burton opened his Chicagoland career with six consecutive third-place runs before finishing eighth last season.

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Burton has a series-best Chicagoland Driver Rating of 117.6, an Average Running Position of 4.5, 57 Fastest Laps Run (which is the third most) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 98.5.

Allgaier Heads Home With Lead

Illinois native Justin Allgaier heads home for a two-race swing as the leader in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.

He’s opened up a small advantage over second-place Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet).

Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Co Toyota) had success at the track last year, winning the ARCA race.

Raybestos Rookie Of The Year

Rk / Driver                      Team         Points
1     Justin Allgaier           Penske        176
2     Brendan Gaughan     RWR            170
3     Michael McDowell     JTG-D          156
4     Scott Lagasse Jr.      CJM             142
5     Michael Annett         Germain        122
6     John Wes Townley    RAB              86 
7     Erik Darnell*             RFR              79
8     Ken Butler III             R3                50

NNS Etc.

  • Ten drivers have won races this season. But only three — Kyle Busch, Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) and Greg Biffle (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford) have multiple victories. Busch also owns a series-high 14 top 10s.

  • Hefty Brand, which has partnered with driver Eric McClure since 2006, is based in Lake Forest, Ill., which is located on the outskirts of Chicago. This will be their third appearance at Chicagoland  and their third full-time year as a NASCAR team sponsor.

  • Matt Carter (No. 61 Specialty Racing Ford) finished 15th at Daytona, the best finish for the team since its “re-debut” at Memphis Motorsports Park in 2007.

  • A total of 105 drivers have made at least one start in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition.

  • Only three drivers — Busch, Keselowski and Steve Wallace (No. 66 USFidelis Chevrolet), have finished in the top 15 in the last three races.

  • Trevor Bayne (No. 99 Aaron’s Toyota) returns to the series at Chicagoland; he will compete in eight more races following this weekend’s event. Bayne, 18, has four starts thus far and has finished 12th twice. He also started on the outside pole twice.

  • Nationwide will be joining the NASCAR Foundation and the American Red Cross for a press conference at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 10 at 1:15 p.m.

Manufacturers’ Standings

2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings

Toyota        116
Chevrolet     106
Ford            98
Dodge          54
Following Race 17 of 35 Daytona International Speedway

Clint Bowyer’s victory at Daytona was Chevrolet’s first NASCAR Nationwide victory since Brad Keselowski’s win at Dover International Speedway last month, and it moved the manufacturer to within 10 points of Toyota, which had won three of the previous four races.

Toyota visited Victory Lane at Daytona last season, when Kyle Busch won from 10th position. However, Chevrolet has the most wins – four – of any manufacturer at Chicagoland in NASCAR Nationwide racing, and looks to close the 10-point gap that Toyota has opened.

Ford stands strong in third, while Dodge is fourth.

Quick Stats For Chicagoland

This will be the ninth NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. The track’s first appearance on the series schedule came in 2001.

No driver has ever won a series race at Chicagoland from the front row. Two of the eight races have been won from outside the top 10, and the furthest back was 34th, with Justin Labonte behind the wheel in 2004. Labonte is the only driver/owner to record a victory at Chicagoland.

Drivers will be aiming to break the qualifying mark of 186.438 mph, set in 2005 by Ryan Newman.

Six different car owners have won at least once in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition at Chicagoland.

Last year’s race, won by Kyle Busch, was run at record speed—144.443 mph.

Up Next: Gateway

Standalone season returns on July 18 at Gateway International Raceway, the second consecutive series race in the state of Illinois.

The 1.25-mile track has been a fixture on the series schedule each season since the inaugural event in 1997.

Carl Edwards, who grew up about two hours from the track, has won two of the last three races there.

FAST FACTS

The Race: Dollar General 300 Powered By Coca-Cola
The Place: Chicagoland Speedway
The Date: Friday, July 10
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Polesitter
: David Reutimann

Event Schedule (all times CT):Thursday – Practice 2:30-3:50 p.m.; 6-7:25 p.m. Friday – Qualifying 2:05 p.m.

DRIVER STANDINGS

Rk  Driver                      Points
1     Kyle Busch              2,756
2     Carl Edwards           2,584
3     Brad Keselowski      2,488
4     Jason Leffler            2,367
5     Joey Logano            2,200
6     Justin Allgaier          2,006
7     Mike Bliss               1,986
8     Brendan Gaughan    1,956
9     Steve Wallace         1,950
10  Jason Keller             1,907




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Keeping Pace

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