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NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes-Series-Only Regulars Rule At Kentucky Speedway

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

Over the last three years, David Gilliland (2006), Stephen Leicht (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) and Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) have all won at the 1.5-mile track, overcoming fields that included nearly six double-duty drivers on average.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Daytona Beach, Fla. (June 9, 2009) - So who’s next?

It’s a three-way question for NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night.

Over the last three years, David Gilliland (2006), Stephen Leicht (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) and Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) have all won at the 1.5-mile track, overcoming fields that included nearly six double-duty drivers on average. The victories were the first for all three drivers and Logano’s was historic — he won from the pole in only his third start becoming the youngest winner in series history.

Will this race produce its ninth different winner and pole winner? Since two-time series champion Kevin Harvick won the inaugural race in 2001, Kentucky winners have been different series regulars. Harvick, Todd Bodine (2002) and Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save A Lot Ford) in 2005 were full-time double-duty regulars in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Bobby Hamilton Jr. (2003) and Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota) in 2004 were the other series-only regulars to win at Kentucky along with Gilliland, Leicht and Logano.

Finally, there’s the $50,000 “Dash 4 Cash” bonus courtesy of series sponsor Nationwide Insurance. It goes to the winner if he’s a fulltime, part-time or limited-races driver. Logano, who isn’t running fulltime in the series this year, won the initial race at Nashville Superspeedway in April. The original $25,000 bonus rolled over to its current total and could increase again by $25,000 if not captured this weekend. The other “Dash 4 Cash” races are at Iowa Speedway and Memphis Motorsports Park. Kentucky Speedway is the “home” track to Nationwide Insurance, which bases its headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Some 1,500 Nationwide associates have purchased ticket packages and are planning on making the two-and-a-half hour trek to take in the race.

Tension, Anyone? Busch, Logano Meet Again

NASCAR Nationwide Series standings leader Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Joey Logano have patched things up since an incident between the two at Dover International Speedway two weeks ago that took Busch out of contention for a win.

Or have they?

The drivers will be at Kentucky Speedway in series competition for the first time since Logano got underneath Busch on the green-white-checkered restart at Dover. Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Chevrolet) took advantage of the tangle and passed Logano for the win. Logano finished second and Busch was relegated to 17th.

It wasn’t until after the race that Logano found out Busch was in trouble anyway due to a tire going flat, which helped the nudge along.

But the raw emotions of both drivers prior to that discovery were enough to warrant watching this next confrontation.

Busch walked quickly away from his racecar without discussing the incident.  

The youthful Logano initially took the blame during an interview on pit road.

Two weeks later, Busch comes to Kentucky following a victory at Nashville, his first after three dominating performances at Darlington Raceway, Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Dover went without wins.

Logano is the defending race winner at Kentucky. He also beat his JGR teammate at the April race in Nashville, the last time they met at a stand-alone event.

Regular Guys: Series-Only Drivers Making Leaders Anxious

Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards may be 1-2 in the standings but they can’t be concerned only with each other. Not when Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) and Brad Keselowski refuse to go away.

Leffler, third in the points, 123 behind Busch, registered his eighth consecutive top 10 – including three top fives – following last Saturday’s race at Nashville. Busch was able to put a little breathing room between himself and Edwards; his lead is now 65 points over the 2007 series champion.

Keselowski has been on a torrid pace of late, with six top-five finishes in his last nine races. Now fourth in the standings, he’s just five points behind Leffler, and after a slow start, is well within striking distance of the leaders.

Meanwhile the rookies aren’t backing down. After 13 races, Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), Michael McDowell (No. 47 Tom’s Toyota) and Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet) are ranked 8-10, respectively in the driver standings and are separated by only 13 points. And Allgaier leads the Raybestos Rookie standings by one point over Gaughan.

Young drivers have done well in other series at Kentucky. Michael Annett (No. 15 Germain Racing Toyota) finished third in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race there last year and was ninth in that season’s ARCA race. Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota) won an ASA race in 2004 and finished fourth in the 2007 ARCA event. Ken Butler III (No. 23 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) was fourth in last year’s ARCA race while John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby’s Ford) was fifth.

Busch and Edwards, along with Joey Logano, will have to travel to Kentucky from Michigan International Speedway where they’re preparing for Sunday’s LifeLock 400. Busch is entered in all three NASCAR national series races this weekend.

Substitutes on hand for double-duty driver practice and qualifying at Kentucky are Jeremy Clements (Logano); Brad Coleman, who finished 10th at Nashville last Saturday (Busch) and Auggie Vidovich (Edwards).

Keller Approaches Another Career “Mile”–stone

With as many milestones as Jason Keller (No. 27 Cottonelle/Meijer Ford) has surpassed in his NASCAR Nationwide Series career, its hard to remember the 19-year veteran just recently celebrated his 39th birthday.

He’s the series’ “Iron Man,” holding the mark for all-time starts and preparing for his 470th at Kentucky.

He’s also its winnings leader, is third among all drivers with 82 top-five finishes and his 170 top 10s are ranked among the top 11 drivers in series history.  

He’s been a surprise to many – although he shouldn’t be – with his current seventh-place ranking in the driver standings. All Keller has done when in a fulltime ride during his series career is finish in the top 10 in the standings nine out of 10 seasons, including seven in succession from 1999-2005.

Three weeks ago at his home track, Darlington Raceway, the Greenville, S.C., native became the first series driver to surpass 5,000 miles at the unique, egg-shaped oval.

Saturday at Kentucky, he’s eyeing another mile marker – 100,000 miles logged in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Should Keller complete Lap 157 of the 200-lap event, he’ll hit six digits’ worth of miles. He comes to Kentucky having registered 99,765.5 thus far in his career, which began with just over 17 miles at Lanier Speedway in 1991. An accident after 47 laps on the .375-mile track brought an early end to his series debut.

"Going over the 100,000-mile mark isn't a goal I ever set and honestly it kind of snuck up on me,” Keller said. "The biggest thing it shows is that I've been around this series for a long time and to do that means I’ve been successful along the way.

“That’s taken support from many different people along the way starting with my Dad in the early years. As long as my name is still above the door I'm going to keep climbing in the car and adding on more miles."

In The Loop

Leffler Trying To Keep Up Momentum

Jason Leffler has been white hot of late, keeping points leader Kyle Busch within his crosshairs.

The proof is in Leffler’s numbers this season: a Driver Rating of 99.1, an Average Running Position of 9.9, 63 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of +73 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 90.8% – a number that screams consistency.

Leffler has posted single-race Driver Ratings over 100.0 in six of the last eight races, and his lowest during that span was a still-solid 87.3.

The strong performances have led to eight consecutive top-10 finishes, meaning he’s been lucky as well as good. Though, as the saying goes: “You make your own luck.”

But will his success – and luck – continue into this weekend at a track that’s been unkind to Leffler in the past?

Leffler has only one top-10 finish in his four Kentucky starts, and that occurred five years ago in a seventh-place run in 2004.

Over his last three starts, Leffler has one DNF and an average finish of 23.3. Over that three-race span, he has a Driver Rating of 72.5, an Average Running Position of 20.4, 15 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential of +7 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 41.3%.

Leffler can take solace in his most recent run. Though he finished 16th last season, his statistics suggest he deserved much better.

In that race, he had the second-best Average Running Position (5.0), the eighth-best Driver Rating (102.2), the fourth-most Fastest Laps Run (11) and ran 191 of the 200 laps among the top 15, which was ninth-most.

Series Joins Grand Marshal Hillary Duff’s “Blessings In A Backpack” Initiative

Last Saturday at Nashville, series drivers and teams raised more than $22,000 — $13,000 by RAB Racing alone — for the Nashville Area American Red Cross to assist victims of the April 10 tornado that struck Murfreesboro.

That donation was coupled with the Nationwide Foundation’s $25,000 contribution the day after the storm.

This weekend at Kentucky, the series is once again stepping up to assist a worthy cause.

Actress / singer Hillary Duff, who will serve as Grand Marshal of the Meijer 300 presented by Ritz, also is the national spokesperson for the “Blessings in a Backpack” program, an initiative designed to feed children in grades K-5 who qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Meal Program but may not have enough food for the weekends.

The program currently is feeding over 11,500 children in seven states, including Kentucky.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series garage will assist the organization’s request for empty team backpacks that can later be filled with food and distributed to children in the program.

Duff will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway to discuss the program. She also will receive a check on behalf of “Blessings in a Backpack” from the track and race sponsor Meijer.

Following the press conference, children involved in the program will participate in a bike relay on pit road with series drivers serving as team captains for the event: Michael Annett; Ken Butler III; Brendan Gaughan; Scott Lagasse Jr.; Stephen Leicht and John Wes Townley.

In The Garage: Kentucky Natives

  • Rob Tracy (Frankfort) – No. 32 shock specialist
  • Aaron Pieratt (Lexington) – No. 11 gas man
  • Dann Fenwrick (Livermore) — NASCAR Nationwide Series Technical Inspector
  • Jon Eicher (London) – No. 18 catch can
  • Bryan Horseman (Louisville) – No. 27 mechanic
  • David Colognesi (Owensboro) – tire specialist / front tire carrier / windshield / driver support
  • Mark Green (Owensboro) – No. 0 driver
  • Jeff Green (Owensboro) – No. 91 driver
  • Michael Waltrip (Owensboro) – No. 99 owner
  • Getty Cafitt (Owensboro) – No. 32 jack man
  • Patrick McGarey (Prestonberg) – No. 32 transport driver
  • Timothy Russell (Sharon Grove) – No. 27 transport driver / gas man

Petty Team To Partner With Braun

Richard Petty Motorsports has announced it will partner with Braun Racing for five races this season.

Kasey Kahne, who ran 72 of his 151 series races in the Great Clips car for Akins Motorsports, winning two, will compete in four of the events starting with the July 3 race at Daytona International Speedway.

Elliott Sadler will drive in the July 27 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Manufacturers’ Standings

2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings

Toyota          86
Chevrolet      81
Ford              78
Dodge           41
Following Race 13 of 35 Nashville Superspeedway

Toyota got back into Victory Lane for the first time in four races with its win at Nashville last weekend, and that momentum could very well carry over to Kentucky.

Toyota won this race last year, breaking a five-year “timeshare” by Ford and Chevrolet, who traded victories each year from 2003-07.

Chevrolet has the most wins at Kentucky with four followed by Ford’s three victories. Dodge has yet to win at Kentucky but has had at least one car finish in the top 10 since 2003.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                   Team                 Points
1   Justin Allgaier           Penske                 132
2   Brendan Gaughan     RWR                     131
3   Michael McDowell     JTG-D                    127
4   Scott Lagasse Jr.      CJM                      117
5   Michael Annett         Germain                  94
6   Jon Wes Townley     RAB                        71
7   Erik Darnell              RFR                        40
8   Ken Butler III            R3                          34
9   Peyton Seller           CM                         29
10 Marc Davis               Braun/MDM             24
11 Terry Cook               MSRP                     13

Up Next: The Milwaukee Mile

The historic Milwaukee Mile will host the season’s third consecutive NASCAR Nationwide stand-alone race on Saturday, June 20 before a three-week series of companion events with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Carl Edwards got his first win of the season last year at the track, starting his second-half charge toward standings leader and eventual series champion Clint Bowyer.

Brad Keselowski won his first career series pole at Milwaukee last year.

The one-day show will be broadcast by ESPN2 beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Fast Facts

The Race: Meijer 300 presented by Ritz
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Saturday, June 13
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Joey Logano
2008 Polesitter: Joey Logano

Event Schedule (all times ET): Friday—Practice 5-6:15, Final Practice—6:45-8 p.m.; Saturday—Qualifying 5:10 p.m.


Rk Driver                   Points
1   Kyle Busch             2,031
2   Carl Edwards          1,966
3   Jason Leffler           1,843
4   Brad Keselowski     1,838
5   Joey Logano           1,670
6   Mike Bliss              1,520
7   Jason Keller            1,519
8   Justin Allgaier          1,468
9   Michael McDowell    1,465
10 Brendan Gaughan    1,455

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Keeping Pace

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