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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis

Kyle Busch celebrates winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 on Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) (Chris Graythen / The Spokesman-Review)
Kyle Busch celebrates winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 on Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) (Chris Graythen / The Spokesman-Review)

Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota) widened his lead to 212 points over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Vitamin Water Ford) with his win at Gateway International Raceway last Saturday.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 21, 2009) - Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota) is hotter than the weather. The NASCAR Nationwide Series standings leader and defending Kroger 200 race winner at O’Reilly Raceway Park has finished either first or second in his last seven races this season. Busch is on pace to catch Jack Ingram’s series record of nine consecutive finishes of either first or second.

Busch widened his lead to 212 points over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Vitamin Water Ford) with his win at Gateway International Raceway last Saturday. The victory marked his 27th career NASCAR Nationwide Series win, placing him in a tie for fourth with Jeff Burton on the all-time series wins list.

Busch’s six wins after 19 races are well on pace to surpass the single-season record of 10 set by Sam Ard in 1983 and tied by Busch last year. With 16 races to go, he also can challenge the series marks for top fives (25 in 32 races by Jeff Green in 2000) and top 10s (32 in 35 races by Kevin Harvick in 2006); Busch has 13 top fives and 16 top 10s in the 19 races thus far.

He’s run four times at ORP in his NASCAR Nationwide Series career, winning two events. It’s been boom or bust for him at the .686-mile oval, though. He was 33rd in his first race in 2003, won in 2004, was 21st in 2006 and won last year.

“I think we’ve got a good shot at it,” said Busch. “Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and all the JGR Nationwide guys have been working really hard on our short track program this season and it really showed at Richmond, New Hampshire and Gateway so far this year.

“But, this is the time of the year where you really focus on the championship now that we are past halfway, said Busch. “Just because you have the points lead doesn’t mean you can relax, that’s when bad things can happen and we know that.”

Jason Leffler Opened The Winning Door For Toyota At ORP

Kyle Busch’s career year is overshadowing some magic seasons for other series drivers; case in point is Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota). A California native who had great success at O’Reilly Raceway Park in USAC open-wheel competition, Leffler is having the best season of his NASCAR career.

He is fourth in the standings and has accumulated five top fives and 14 top 10s. His career highs are eight and 17 in 27 races in 2004. Leffler won the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race for Toyota in 2007 at ORP. He has three top fives in six races there, plus a pole. He made his series debut at the track in 1999 for Busch’s current team, Joe Gibbs Racing.

“ORP is an exciting track for me,” said Leffler. “I love the place. It really is my home track and the track that I have raced at the most in my career. So I am going back there to a lot of family and friends and a lot of supporters in the stands.

“As well as we ran a couple years ago it would be cool to get another win there. I am going to run a USAC midget there on Thursday night, so maybe I could start it off with a win in that race and carry it in from there. “

Since Toyota has come into the series in 2007 the manufacturers’ teams have posted  31 wins, 108 top fives, 211 top 10s and 24 poles.

ML Motorsports Steps Out On Home Turf

Indiana is historically known for its racing heritage and ML Motorsports continues to build on that heritage in NASCAR this weekend at ORP.

From the owners – the only mother-daughter tandem in NASCAR’s three national series – to the driver, to the entire crew, ML Motorsports will definitely enjoy a homecoming at ORP.

The No. 70 team, led by young driver Shelby Howard (No. 70 ForeTravel Chevrolet) (Greenwood) is based in Warsaw, Ind., and is owned by Mary Louise and Stephany Mullen.  Howard replaced Mark Green as the team’s home-grown driver earlier this year for the remainder of its partial 2009 schedule with an eye toward a full-time effort in 2010.

Howard has four top-15 finishes among his nine races this year and will have to qualify on time at ORP in order to race in front of the home crowd. He has yet to post a DNQ this year for MLM.

Howard has one start at ORP in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he started sixth and finished fifth.

Drivers Tony Raines (Laporte) and Chad Blount (Walkerton) are among many other Hoosiers who will be racing in familiar territory this weekend. Morris Van Vleet (Lake Village) is the crew chief for Morgan Shepherd, who is running in his second consecutive full-time season in the series.

Busch, Keller Can Catch Shepherd’s Record Three Wins At ORP

This weekend, the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ seasoned veteran, 67-year-old Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Lagina Plumbing / Eldora Speedway Chevrolet), will return to O’Reilly Raceway Park where he holds track record for most wins (three). This year marks Shepherd’s 42nd consecutive season of driving in a NASCAR national series event.

Shepherd is the only active driver to have won an inaugural event at a track that has been on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule for 20 years or more.

He registered his O’Reilly Raceway Park victories in 1982 (inaugural event), ‘84 and ‘88.  He’s got three top fives and seven top 10s and led two laps at ORP last season.

If Shepherd qualifies for the race,  it will be his 14th start there.

He’s 26th in the series points standings and has posted three top-20 finishes this season.

Kyle Busch and Jason Keller (27 Kroger / Riley Hospital for Children Ford) each have two wins at ORP and are looking to catch Shepherd this weekend.

ORP is one of Keller’s favorite tracks. He has 15 starts there with two wins, seven top fives, nine top 10s and a pole. He made his 400th series start at the track in 2006, only the second series driver to make 400 starts, and he comes off a solid ninth-place finish at Gateway.

In The Loop

Bliss, ‘Special Guest’ Hornaday Boast Solid ORP Histories

With another top-10 finish this past weekend, Mike Bliss climbed to sixth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings, matching his highest position this season.

The success keeps mounting for Bliss in 2009, so much so that an argument can be made that this is a career year for the veteran.

He has a win (his first since 2004), four top fives and 10 tops 10s. With 16 races remaining, Bliss has ample opportunity to match his career highs in top fives (eight in 2003) and top 10s (15 last season).

This season, Bliss has racked up some impressive statistics. He has a Driver Rating of 89.7, an Average Running Position of 13.5, 115 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 70.3.

Those numbers, as well as his top-five and top-10 figures, should increase this weekend. Bliss is strong at ORP, finishing in the top 10 in his last four races there (including a third-place run last season).

In his last two trips to ORP, Bliss posted some of the top statistics in the series. At the Indianapolis short track, Bliss has a Driver Rating of 107.5, an Average Running Position of 8.5, 12 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 88.3.

Also watch for a strong run from Ron Hornaday Jr., the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader who will hop into the No. 33 Chevrolet in the NSACAR Nationwide Series this weekend. This will be Hornaday’s second series start of 2009 – his first was a ninth-place finish in Milwaukee.

Expect another top 10 this weekend. Hornaday finished fifth in 2007 (his last series trip to ORP), posting strong statistics: a Driver Rating of 107.2, an Average Running Position of 8.6, 16 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 85.

Overall in the series at ORP, Hornaday has a Driver Rating of 91.8 and an Average Running Position of 11.5.

NNS Etc: O’Reilly Raceway Park Edition

  • ”Crazy Eight” Double-Duty Drivers In Indy:

    Eight drivers will pull double duty – four from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; four from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – this weekend in Indianapolis.

    Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, David Reutimann (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) and Matt Kenseth (No. 16 Citifinancial Ford) come from the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers.

    Those drivers will have substitutes on hand at ORP – Johnny Sauter will stand by for Busch; Colin Braun for Edwards; Brian Ickler for Reutimann and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is subbing for Kenseth.

    Kenseth will be making his first trip to ORP in 10 years. He has three starts at the track (1997, ‘98, ‘99) and finished sixth, sixth, and fourth, respectively in those races.

    Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Vlasic Chevrolet), Aric Almirola (No. 40 Westerman Chevrolet), Terry Cook (No. 91 MSRP Motorsports Chevrolet) and Dennis Setzer (No. 96 Dodge) make up the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers.

  • Annett, Ickler Throwing 1st Pitches In Iowa:

    Michael Annett (No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota) and Brian Ickler will participate in a media advance for the inaugural race at Iowa Speedway by attending the Iowa Cubs baseball game on Wednesday, July 22. They’ll both throw out first pitches, sign autographs and meet with members of the media.  Annett is a local favorite from Des Moines.

  • Keller Runs Special Scheme At ORP:

    This weekend, the hood of Jason Keller’s No. 27 Ford will be adorned with multi-colored handprints and the names of 34 patients and their families from Riley Hospital for Children.

    “I’m really proud to have the kids from Riley featured on our car and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them during the ‘Brickyard Party’ at the hospital,” said Keller.  “I’m thrilled to have the chance be a part of this outstanding program.”

Manufacturers’ Standings

2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings

Toyota          134
Chevrolet       116
Ford              108
Dodge            60
Following Race 19 of 35, Gateway International Raceway

Raybestos Rookie Of The Year Standings

Driver                          Points
1. Justin Allgaier            187
2. Brendan Gaughan       176
3. Michael McDowell       159
4. Scott Lagasse Jr.        146
5. Michael Annett            138
6. Jon Wes Townley        101
7. Erik Darnell                 90
8. Ken Butler III               57

Up Next: Iowa Speedway; $75,000 “Dash 4 Cash” Bonus Adds Incentive

The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Iowa Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 1, for the inaugural NASCAR national series event at the track.

It also marks the third stop for the Nationwide Insurance “Dash 4 Cash” challenge. A $75,000 bonus is on the line at this race.

Here’s how the program works. It’s open to all NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regulars, up-and-comers and those series regulars who run limited schedules. Double-duty drivers must be full-time in both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to be eligible for the bonus. Should a “Dash 4 Cash” race winner not be eligible, the $25,000 payout rolls over to the next Dash 4 Cash race.

Joey Logano won the first two “Dash” races at Nashville Superspeedway and Kentucky Speedway. He’s not an eligible driver so the bonus has rolled over to it’s current $75,000 standing at Iowa.

Logano isn’t entered at Iowa, but two-time series champion Kevin Harvick is. He’s not eligible for the bonus, but will certainly be a favorite to win the race.

At the end of the four-race “Dash 4 Cash” schedule (the Oct. 24 race at Memphis Motorsports Park closes out the program), the eligible driver with the most cumulative points from the four events will be awarded an additional $50,000 at the season-ending awards banquet.

The Nationwide Insurance initiative was designed to build more awareness around the stand-alone events and put a premium on series-only competition.


The Race: Kroger 200 benefitting Riley Hospital for Children
The Place: O’Reilly Raceway Park
The Date: Saturday, July 25
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 laps / 137.2 miles
TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Polesitter: Colin Braun

Event Schedule (all times ET): Saturday – Practice 9:30-10:45 a.m.; Final Practice 11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Qualifying 5:05 p.m.



 Driver                        Points
1 Kyle Busch               3,121
2 Carl Edwards            2,909
3 Brad Keselowski       2,744
4 Jason Leffler             2,648
5 Joey Logano             2,395
6 Mike Bliss                2,289
7 Justin Allgaier           2,270
8 Brendan Gaughan     2,156
9 Steve Wallace          2,151
10 Jason Keller           2,150

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Keeping Pace

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