Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Gateway

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

NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 New Balance Toyota) has a seemingly comfortable 192-point advantage heading into this crucial stretch that also includes the July 25 race at O’Reilly Raceway Park and Iowa Speedway’s inaugural series event on Aug. 1.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Stand-Alone Second Half: Time For Teams To Make Moves

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 14, 2009) - With Tuesday’s All-Star Game representing the halfway point in the Major League Baseball season, the NASCAR Nationwide Series stand-alone schedule also reaches its second half this weekend at Gateway International Raceway.

And with both events taking place in the St. Louis area, there’s another similarity – the next three races, starting Saturday night in Madison, Ill. – represent the pennant drive for those drivers in the mix for the series championship.

Standings leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 New Balance Toyota) has a seemingly comfortable 192-point advantage heading into this crucial stretch that also includes the July 25 race at O’Reilly Raceway Park and Iowa Speedway’s inaugural series event on Aug. 1.

And in baseball terms, its time for Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save-A-Lot Ford), Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Degree Chevrolet) and Jason Leffler (No. 32 Great Clips Toyota), second through fourth in the standings, respectively, to channel the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals, who overcame an 11-game deficit in late August to overtake the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.

That storyline nearly played out in racing terms last year. Entering Gateway, the drivers in positions 2-4 were 183, 217 and 254 points, respectively, out of first. The furthest back was Edwards, whose 2008 second-half tear is well-documented; he took the championship down to the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway before falling just 21 points short of leader Clint Bowyer.

This time around, Edwards isn’t staring at such a large deficit. He also has the added advantages of being the defending race winner, having won twice at Gateway and being one of the hometown heroes entered in the event. Edwards is from Columbia, Mo., and considers the track to be his home venue.

His nemesis Busch has only raced at the track twice in his series career, in 2004 and ‘06 where he finished fifth and eighth, respectively.

Leffler’s finished fourth the last two years in this race while Keselowski was fifth last year. He was 26th in 2007, his only other series run at the track. Keselowski has made the most of stand-alone season thus far; in the four events, he has an average finish of 2.75, best among series-only regulars. Busch leads all drivers with a 1.75 average finish in those four races.

Strong State, Regional Representation At Gateway

Saturday night at Gateway will represent more than a competition – it’ll also be the foundation for a reunion of some area racing stars. But they’ll have to save the pleasantries until after the event.

One of the largest contingents of local and regional drivers in the series will be “home” in Madison this weekend.

Carl Edwards, the 2007 series champion, is from Columbia, Mo., while up-and-comer Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) is from nearby Riverton, Ill. Allgaier is the series’ Raybestos Rookie standings leader and also is in sixth place in the driver rankings.

Erik Darnell (No. 6 Northern Tool+Equipment Ford) is from Beach Park, Ill. He’s sharing his 16-race rookie season with David Ragan.

The Gateway race wouldn’t be complete without the presence of the St. Louis-based Wallace family – represented on the entry list by Kenny (No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet), Steve (No. 66 USFidelis Chevrolet) and Mike (No. 0 J-D Motorsports Chevrolet).

“I can’t say enough about the talent that comes from Illinois and Missouri,” Darnell said. “With the likes of Allgaier, the Wallaces and my teammate (Edwards), the field is going to have their hands full.”

Some of the “locals” sport heady stats coming to Gateway. Allgaier has two consecutive top 10s, including last week at Chicagoland, and has an average finish of 10.5 in his last nine races. Steve Wallace is a career-best ninth in the standings while his uncle, Kenny, is 14th. Edwards leads the series with five poles and Darnell has a pole, two top fives and four top 10s in his six races thus far in 2009.

Villeneuve Back With Braun Racing For Aug. 30 Montreal Event

First, Patrick Carpentier announced his intentions to return. Next, defending race winner Ron Fellows said he was coming back. Now, add a third Canadian star to the mix for the Aug. 30 race in Montreal.

Braun Racing this week announced that former Formula 1 world champion — and son of the legend for which Circuit Gilles Villenueve is named — Jacques Villeneuve will return to drive the No. 32 Toyota in the third annual event.

Villeneuve made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at the NAPA Auto Parts 200 last year and qualified fifth. He was running in the top five until he was involved in a late accident on the rainy course and finished 16th.

“I am confident the No. 32 will be at least as good as the car the team prepared for me last, which is exciting,” Villeneuve said. “But what makes me even more happy is the fact that this time around, I’m part of the equation from a much earlier stage. Together we will be able to better prepare for the end of August race and it should have a good influence on our results.”

He has captured championships in both the CART and Formula 1 Series and was the winner of the 1995 Indianapolis 500, a feat that has been accomplished by only two other drivers.

“(Villeneuve) is a highly talented driver and had a very strong run in our car last year,” said team owner Todd Braun. “He has unparalleled experience to add to our team and its road course program.”  

Villeneuve will team with Jason Leffler for Braun, while Fellows and his JR Motorsports teammate Brad Keselowski are a formidable pair. Carpentier will be a solo driver for Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 99 Toyota, but his series stats at the 2.709-mile course will make him an instant favorite. In two starts at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, he has a pole and two runner-up finishes.

Triple-Double On Display At Gateway

Four drivers have won two races at Gateway since the NASCAR Nationwide Series began racing at the unique 1.25-mile track in 1997.

Three – Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet) and Reed Sorenson (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) have entered Saturday night’s race. The fourth multiple winner, two-time series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., will be represented by Brad Keselowski in his No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

This will be a trip down memory lane for Harvick. Also a two-time series champion, he won the first of his 33 races at Gateway in 2000. This will be his first appearance at the track in three years and also the first in his own KHI car.

He’ll also be part of a promotion on Thursday when he’ll surprise a local business with a personal delivery of his sponsor’s sandwiches via his No. 33 Chevy. He’ll also have prizes and race tickets to give away.

Sorenson ran in only two series races last year, one of which was at Gateway where he finished 29th due to an accident on Lap 116. This race will mark his 96th career start; he spent two full years in the series from 2005-06.

Scott Wimmer (No. 40 StopRepairBills.com Chevrolet) is one of two former Gateway pole winners entered. Wimmer still holds the qualifying record from his 2007 run — his first career pole — at 33.246 seconds/135.355 mph.

Wimmer’s sponsor also is based in St. Louis; he’ll handle plenty of meet and greets this week.

Casey Atwood (No. 05 31W Insulation Ford) won the pole in 1999.

In The Loop

Can Coleman Keep No. 20 Up Front?

Will Brad Coleman (No. 20 Rudy’s.com Toyota) feel any pressure to perform this weekend at Gateway International Raceway?

The No. 20 Toyota he is stepping into has three wins this season, including the last one at Chicagoland Speedway.

Coleman’s most recent spin in the car, June 20 at The Milwaukee Mile, resulted in a 24th- place finish, the lowest for the No. 20 in 2009. That finish doesn’t tell the whole story of that race. Coleman was much stronger, leading 35 laps and posting a solid Driver Rating of 96.5.

So, Coleman might be feeling a bit of pressure going into only his third start of the season – all in the No. 20, which sits third in the owner championship standings.

But he has proven he can succeed. In his two previous 2009 starts – at Nashville Superspeedway in June and at Milwaukee – Coleman has combined for a Driver Rating of 97.6, an Average Running Position of 10.2, 14 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 74.3.

He has two career starts at Gateway, with mixed results. His first start there, in 2007, was a 27th-place DNF while driving a No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet. Last season, he finished 17th in the No. 27 Baker-Curb Racing Ford.

Combined at Gateway, Coleman has a Driver Rating of 69.1, an Average Running Position of 18.1 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 26.3.

Also watch for a strong run from another series-only regular, Jason Keller (No. 27 Kleenex Ford). The series all-time starts leader (going for No. 476 Saturday night) finished third at Gateway last season, his first top-three finish since 2004.  

His statistics in that race prove the finish was no fluke. Keller had a Driver Rating of 100.3, an Average Running Position of 9.5, two Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 96 (he ran 192 of the 200 laps among the top 15).

NNS Etc: Gateway Edition

Team “Kez”/Massaro Wants Balloon Toss Revenge: One constant at Gateway in July is the heat. Last year, the NASCAR Nationwide Series PR Rep Task Force organized an event that fit perfectly with summer and hot weather – a water balloon toss contest featuring teams made up of a driver and media member.

The teams of Jason Keller/Lee Montgomery (NASCAR Scene) and Landon Cassill/Kyle Rickey (MRN) tied for the win as each had their balloons explode in a cascade of water on the final toss.

This year, eight drivers and media members are ready for Round II, especially the team of ESPN’s Mike Massaro and Brad Keselowski. Keselowski is relishing the opportunity. He claimed Massaro’s “hands of stone” cost their team the win. He wants redemption.

This year’s winning team will have a $100 check donated in its name to the Victory Junction Gang Camp. Nationwide Insurance will provide t-shirts and towels for the participants.

The toss will take place at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday in the area behind the media center and in front of pit road.

Seeking Milestone Starts: Series veteran Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge) is set to make another mark in his stellar NASCAR Nationwide Series career.

Saturday at Gateway, Hamilton is aiming for career start No. 250. The 31-year-old made his first start at North Carolina Speedway in October, 1998. He’s won five times in the series and has finished inside the top 10 three times, most recently in 2007 when he was sixth.

Johnny Chapman (No. 90 MSRP Motorsports Chevrolet) will  have to qualify on time at Gateway, but if he does so, he’ll make his 75th start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, dating back to his first start in 1994.

Neighboring Natives In The NNS Garage:

Illinois

  • Justin Allgaier (Riverton) – No. 12 driver
  • Tim Bermann (Lake Villa) – NASCAR Advance Logistics & Race Coordinator
  • Lee Cunningham (Leaf River) – No. 99 rear tire changer
  • Erik Darnell (Beach Park) – No. 6 driver
  • Joey Forgette (Springfield) – No. 27 rear tire changer
  • Ramie Jones (Olney) – No. 32 engineer
  • Nick Odell (Springfield) – No. 18 front tire changer

Missouri

  • Kyle Davis (Savannah) – No. 15 car / truck chief
  • Carl Edwards (Columbia) – No. 60 driver
  • Kenny Wallace (St. Louis) – No. 28 driver
  • Mike Wallace (St. Louis) – No. 0 driver

Third Consecutive Year For Carl’s Columbia-To-Madison Jaunt

Carl Edwards is back on his bike for his annual ride to Gateway. Tuesday morning, for the third consecutive year, he began the 190-mile trek from his hometown in Columbia, Mo.,

The first 15 miles of the trip were open to all riders as a fundraiser to benefit a friend of Edwards’ who was paralyzed while riding. The remainder of the ride will be among Edwards and a few friends en route to the track.

Edwards’ ride follows his appearance last Sunday at the new Busch Stadium (see photo on Page 1 of this release) where he’d planned to participate in a celebrity all-star softball game as part of MLB’s All-Star Game events. However, rain postponed the start of the softball game and Edwards was forced to leave before it began due to another scheduled appearance.

Manufacturer Standings

2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings

Toyota        125
Chevrolet     112
Ford            102
Dodge          57
Following Race 18 of 35, Chicagoland Speedway

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                      Team        Points
1.    Justin Allgaier          Penske     183
2.    Brendan Gaughan    RWR         175
3.    Michael McDowell    JTG-D       158
4.    Scott Lagasse Jr.    CJM           145
5.    Michael Annett        Germain     127
6.    Jon Wes Townley    RAB           93
7.   Erik Darnell              RFR           79
8.    Ken Butler III           R3             50

FAST FACTS

The Race: Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 presented by Ventrilo
The Place: Gateway International Raceway
The Date: Saturday, July 18
The Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 250 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Carl Edwards
2008 Polesitter: Jamie McMurray

Event Schedule (all times CT): Friday – Practice 6-7:15 p.m.; 7:45-9 p.m. Saturday – Qualifying 4:05 p.m.

DRIVER STANDINGS

Rk   Driver                   Points
1     Kyle Busch            2,931
2     Carl Edwards          2,739
3     Brad Keselowski     2,597
4     Jason Leffler           2,527
5     Joey Logano           2,395
6     Justin Allgaier         2,140
7     Mike Bliss              2,129
8     Brendan Gaughan   2,080
9     Steve Wallace        2,065
10   Jason Keller           2,013




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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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