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Keeping Pace

Tue., June 2, 2009, 9:15 p.m.

Series-Only Regulars Ride Hot Streak Into NASCAR Nationwide Series Stand-Alone Season

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

Stand-alone races offer series-only regulars a prime opportunity to shine — and win — since the majority of double-duty drivers who would race at combo events don’t make the back-and-forth trips to the different tracks.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relation

The start of June signals the true beginning of “stand-alone season” in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Over the next three months, half of the races — seven of 13 — will either feature the NASCAR Nationwide race or have it as the marquee event as opposed to supporting a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

Nashville Superspeedway, which kicked off the first of nine stand-alone races on the 2009 schedule in April, also hosts the traditional summer starting point with Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 300.

Stand-alone races offer series-only regulars a prime opportunity to shine — and win — since the majority of double-duty drivers who would race at combo events don’t make the back-and-forth trips to the different tracks.

This year, though, series-only regulars haven’t had to wait for the “opportunity” associated with stand alones. Instead, they’ve been making the most of their opportunities in the previous 12 races.

Case in point: Wins in the last two races at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway by Mike Bliss (No. 1 Miccosukee Resort Chevrolet) and Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Hellman’s Chevrolet), respectively. Those races, companion events with NASCAR Sprint Cup, averaged 12 double-duty entrants. Those were the first consecutive victories by full time series-only regulars when competing at a companion event since 2003 when Brian Vickers and David Green won in back-to-back fashion at Dover and Kansas Speedway, respectively. Those races averaged 6.5 full time NASCAR Sprint Cup entrants.

A season-low two double-duty drivers will be at Nashville this weekend — but they’re the two who are competing full time in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and in NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota), the NASCAR Nationwide standings leader, and Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts/Ortho Ford), 40 points behind Busch in second, will have to navigate a strong field of regulars along with the travel from Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday’s Pocono 500. Five years ago, Edwards missed the Nashville race as it was postponed to the following day — Pocono race day — due to weather.

Waiting to pounce are the six series-only regulars who reside in the top 10 rankings this week. Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) is third while Keselowski is fifth. Both drivers are primed to make a move. In addition to his win at Dover, Keselowski has seven top-10 finishes in his last eight races, including five top-five results. Leffler has nine top 10s — six consecutive — in his last 10 outings. Both registered their first career series wins in this race — Keselowski last year and Leffler in 2004.

Will Busch’s Luck Turn At Nashville?

Kyle Busch leads the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings. He also leads the series with three wins and in Driver Rating (126.1). He’s led a staggering 1,071 laps on the year, including 349 of a possible 523 in the last three races.

So why would this guy be suffering from bad luck?

For starters, he has no wins in the last three races despite leading a bundle of laps. Leading or poised to strike for the lead in those events, a bizarre series of late-race incidents have helped the proverbial black cloud form over his head.

You can’t make this stuff up:

  • A flat tire forced him to pit heading to a green-white-checkered restart at Darlington Raceway (he ultimately finished 16th);

  • Pitting just before a caution cost him — and the bulk of the field — track position at Lowe’s Motor Speedway prior to the race being called complete early due to rain (finished third);

  • Having a tire issue with three laps to go last week at Dover, resulting in Joey Logano, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, inadvertently punting him from the lead (he finished 17th).

Add to those finishes his record at Nashville, where he has just two top 10s — although one was his runner-up finish in April (he led 77 laps to winner Logano’s 95) — in seven career races.

And it figures that his closest competitor in the points, Carl Edwards, would have the opposite record at the track. Edwards has three wins, seven top fives and seven top 10s in eight career starts there.

Busch and Edwards will have to count on substitute drivers to set up their cars this weekend. Aric Almirola will stand in for Busch while Auggie Vidovich is preparing Edwards’ ride.

NASCAR Nationwide Garage Comes Together For Tornado Victims

As the schedule moves into summer, the racing gets more competitive.

But the start of heated rivalries will take a back seat this weekend throughout the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage.

The series returns to Nashville following its first visit in April, when a series of violent storms rocked the area, resulting in a devastating tornado that destroyed neighborhoods in nearby Murfreesboro. The funnel cloud actually hovered near the track before making a turn and touching down in Murfreesboro.

The day after the April 10 storm struck, the Nationwide Foundation made a $25,000 donation to the Nashville-area chapter of the American Red Cross. Various teams also offered support to the victims,  from assisting with clean-up to securing hotel rooms.

This weekend, series sponsor Nationwide Insurance and Nashville Superspeedway along with drivers and teams, will join together to raise funds for the storm victims who are still attempting to rebuild.

Saturday, nearly half the drivers entered for the Federated Auto Parts 300 will participate in an autograph session at the Nationwide display at Expo Row at Nashville Superspeedway from noon – 1 p.m. There, fans can make a donation to the local American Red Cross.

Before the race, there will be competition of a different kind throughout the garage with Nationwide’s “Tornado Relief Fund Team Challenge,” to see which team can raise the most funds, also to benefit the Nashville-area American Red Cross.

ESPN2 will highlight the team that secures the largest donation on its pre-race broadcast which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Race coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Nashville Produces A Parade Of Young Drivers

They’ve already made their series debuts, but this stand-alone season offers Trevor Bayne (No. 99 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota), Sean Caisse (No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford) the opportunity for progression as NASCAR drivers starting at Nashville.

Bayne and Caisse recently learned that they would have more starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year.

Bayne, 18, a former developmental driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc., made his series debut for Jimmy Means at Bristol Motor Speedway in March. He’s now on board with Michael Waltrip Racing for seven events, all stand-alones except Montreal, plus the August race at Bristol and the November event at Phoenix International Raceway.

He has added incentive this weekend — he’s a native of Knoxville, Tenn., about two hours from Nashville Superspeedway.

Caisse, 23, made his series debut last year at Dover for Kevin Harvick Inc., and is now a developmental driver for RCR. He’s scheduled for a limited number of races this year with an eye on an expanded schedule in 2010.

The 2005 NASCAR Camping World Series East Rookie of the Year, Caisse has seven wins in that series. He’s in one of RCR’s flagship cars and has a champion crew chief to lead him. Dan Deeringhoff took Clint Bowyer to the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver title last year.

Stenhouse Jr. made his series debut at Nashville in April and made an early impression with his fifth-place starting position. He ran in the top 10 most of the day until a late-race incident relegated him to 23rd. He’s set for six more races this year.

A couple of “old” new faces will make their season debuts at Nashville. Brad Coleman (No. 20 Toyota), 21, is back with Joe Gibbs Racing after a one-year hiatus. He’ll drive the defending owner champion car that ranks third in the current owner standings, only 61 points behind the team’s No. 18 Toyota. He made his series debut at Nashville in 2006.

And Cale Gale is back for one more turn in the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet. Gale, 24, has competed in 20 races over the last two seasons for KHI, and will move over to the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series for the remainder of the season following this race. He’ll be the first of four different drivers in the No. 33 Chevy during the month of June.


Can “Concrete Carl” Regain His Nashville Crown?

Two statistical storylines always spring up when the NASCAR Nationwide Series visits Nashville Superspeedway: “Concrete Carl” and “Standalone Standouts.”

Carl Edwards has earned the nickname “Concrete Carl” for good reason, and his success at Nashville is a prime reason for the handle’s origination.

Edwards has run at Nashville eight times – seven of those resulted in top-five finishes. Three of those were victories. His worst finish at Nashville was a still-impressive 13th, in last season’s June event.

In his Nashville career, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 118.2, an Average Running Position of 5.7, 229 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 96.3%.

Nashville also signals the beginning of stand-alone season where the series does not share the weekend with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This often means that series-only regulars shine, as victories by Brad Keselowski and Scott Wimmer (No. 40 Federated Auto Parts/ Chevrolet) last season would prove.

A number of series-only regulars pepper this weekend’s entry list. And many of those have strong stats at Nashville.

Chief among those is Wimmer, who has done most of his Nashville damage in the No. 29 car. This weekend, he’ll be in the No. 40. Still, look for a solid run from Wimmer. He has a Nashville Driver Rating of 106.2 and an Average Running Position of 10.0.

Other series-only regulars with strong stats:

  • Kelly Bires (No. 91 MSRP Chevrolet): Driver Rating of 94.6 and an Average Running Position of 11.2

  • Stephen Leicht (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet): Driver Rating of 93.1 and an Average Running Position of 10.7

  • Michael McDowell No. 47 Toyota): Driver Rating of 91.9 and an Average Running Position of 10.3

  • Mike Bliss: Driver Rating of 89.8 and an Average Running Position of 13.2

  • Brad Keselowski: Driver Rating of 85.2 and an Average Running Position of 18.8.

NNS Etc.

At Home In Tennessee 

In addition to Knoxville’s Trevor Bayne, Tennessee natives will be working throughout the garage at Nashville Superspeedway.

Some include:

  • Casey Atwood (Antioch) — No. 05 driver

  • Stewart Cooper (Mt. Juliet) — No. 10 crew chief

  • Scott French (Knoxville) — NASCAR Nationwide Series Advance Logistics & Race Coordinator

  • Bobby Hamilton Jr. (Nashville) – No. 81 driver; No. 24 co-owner

  • Burney Lamar (Brentwood resident) — No. 32 driver

  • Kevin Moss (Mt. Juliet) — NASCAR Nationwide Series Technical Inspector / Flagman

  • John Reese (Mt. Juliet) – No. 27 car chief

  • Rocky Ryan (former Nashville resident) — No. 29 spotter

  • Jeff White (Nashville) – No. 27 engineer

  • Butch Waugh (Smyrna) – No. 27 rear tire carrier

Shepherd Up For Talladega Walk Of Fame

Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Eldora Speedway-Lagina Plumbing Chevrolet) is among 13 active drivers — the sole NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regular — up for a place among the “all-star” drivers voted by fans along the Davey Allison Memorial-Walk of Fame.

Shepherd, who has 770 starts in each of NASCAR’s three national series, has raced 38 times at Talladega, five in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Fans can vote online at through July 15. The 2009 induction ceremony will be held Oct. 31.

“Incredible Hero” Helps Save Mother, Baby

When Herman Patton was crossing the Jubilee Bridge in Nashville this past Easter morning on his way to church, he noticed a car stopped on the wrong side of the bridge.  After stopping to check on the driver, he realized she was in labor and in danger. Cynthia Price was losing blood quickly, and her baby was being born the wrong way — feet first.

Patton dialed 911 and stayed with Price until help came. Only 30 minutes later, Malik Isaiah was born at Baptist Hospital.

Had Patton not stopped to assist, Price would have bled to death according to hospital staff.

Patton will be recognized as an “Incredible Hero” as part of the America’s Incredible Pizza Co. season-long program at cities in which the NASCAR Nationwide Series races.

He will be the guest of the No. 11 AIPC Toyota team of Scott Lagasse Jr. on Saturday.
Steve Wallace Hits 100

Steve Wallace (No. 66 5 Hour Energy Chevrolet) reaches a career milestone this weekendat Nashville — his 100th career series start.

Wallace, 21, made his debut at Memphis Motorsports Park in 2005. He made his first top 10 apperance in the points earlier this year and is currently ranked 12th, 58 points out of 10th.

Rookies: A Tie At The Top

The Raybestos Rookie competition may be heading toward a two-man race.

Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 USFidelis Chevrolet) and Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) are tied for the lead and may be in prime position to pull away from a talented rookie group.

Michael McDowell is third, 11 points out of the lead, which is the largest deficit between first and second place this season.

None of those three drivers had a particularly good outing at Nashville in April. But Allgaier may have added incentive. He’ll be celebrating his 23rd birthday on race day.

The top five Raybestos Rookies entering Nashville:

Rk / Driver                  Team     Points
1  Brendan Gaughan     RWR      124
2  Justin Allgaier          Penske    124
3  Michael McDowell    JTG-D      113
4  Scott Lagasse Jr.     CJM        108
5  Michael Annett        Germain    89

Close Quarters In Manufacturer’s Race

After 12 races, only three points separate first from third in the Bill France Performance Cup standings.

Three of the four manufacturers — Toyota, Chevrolet and Ford — have led the standings at least once this season.

Toyota’s win with Joey Logano at Nashville in April broke a two-race Chevrolet winning streak at the track. It was the first win in series competition there by Toyota. Each of the current manufacturers in the series has won at Nashville Superspeedway at least once.

Chevrolet has the most wins at the track with seven, the most recent coming last year at this race by Brad Keselowski.

2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings

Toyota        77
Chevrolet    75
Ford            74
Dodge         38
Following Race 12 of 35 Dover International Speedway


The Race: Federated Auto Parts 300
The Place: Nashville Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, June 6
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 225 laps
TV: ESPN2, 7:00 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski
2008 Polesitter: Joey Logano
Event Schedule (all times CT):
—Practice 5-6:15 p.m.; Final Practice 6:45-8 p.m. Saturday—Qualifying 1:35 p.m.


Rk  Driver                   Points
1    Kyle Busch            1,836
2    Carl Edwards          1,796
3    Jason Leffler           1,683
4    Joey Logano           1,670
5    Brad Keselowski     1,663
6    Jason Keller            1,434
7    Brendan Gaughan    1,364
8    David Ragan            1,358
9    Mike Bliss               1,355
10 Justin Allgaier           1,344

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Keeping Pace

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