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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Keselowski Back In Championship Conversation

Brad Keselowski hasn’t just climbed back into the title picture, he’s forced points leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 Combos Toyota) and second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save A Lot Ford) to pay close attention to his whereabouts on the track.


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Will Saturday night’s race at The Milwaukee Mile be yet another defining moment in Brad Keselowski’s (No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) season?

After the third race this year, Keselowski was mired in 22nd place in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver rankings. His standing as a favorite to challenge for the series title was in serious doubt.

But that’s all changed.

Starting with the April 4 race at Texas Motor Speedway, he’s literally gone into overdrive. Since that event 10 races ago, he’s compiled a result sheet that reads like, well, a championship resume:

  • Seven top-five finishes, including a win at Dover International Speedway;

  • Nine top-10 finishes — his worst finish in that span was 11th at Darlington Raceway;

  • A runner-up finish at Nashville Superspeedway;

  • Three consecutive third-place finishes, two at combination events;

  • His first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Talladega Superspeedway in his seventh start.

Keselowski hasn’t just climbed back into the title picture, he’s forced points leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 Combos Toyota) and second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save A Lot Ford) to pay close attention to his whereabouts on the track. He’s 208 points out of first place and 71 points behind Edwards.

After his third-place finish at Kentucky Speedway last Saturday, he jumped fellow series-only regular Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) to move into third  in the standings by a 10-point margin. And Leffler certainly hasn’t slumped in losing his previous five-race foothold on that spot. He’s been similarly consistent to Keselowski with nine consecutive top 10s, including three top fives.

But its at stand-alones where Keselowski has taken advantage of Leffler with two thirds and a second place in the three events to date (an average finish of 2.7), while Leffler’s average finish in those races is 5.6.

Now, Keselowski comes to Milwaukee with plenty of confidence, the stats to back it up and a solid run last year (eighth) that began with his first NASCAR national series pole.

Beer Capital Meets Wine Country For Key Double-Duty Travel

Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have skirted any issues that could have impacted their travel to and from separate NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup double-duty events.

But this weekend’s jaunt from Infineon Raceway to The Milwaukee Mile is the longest of the four events that require back-and-forth travel.

Double-duty drivers have always managed to get from Sonoma to Milwaukee to compete in the race — sometimes at the last moment.

It’s not uncommon for double-duty drivers to miss the Driver’s Meeting and be forced to start from the back of the field at Milwaukee. The closest call recently was in 2007 when Denny Hamlin got to the track well after the start of the event.

Aric Almirola was Hamlin’s substitute driver. He won the pole and started the race, and was leading when Hamlin finally made it to pit road. Hamlin took over on Lap 58 and went on to cross the finish line first. However it was Almirola who was credited with the win since he started the event.

Almirola, who leads all drivers with two NASCAR Nationwide Series poles at the track, will be making his first appearance at Milwaukee since that race, driving the No. 40 StopRepairBills.com Chevrolet for Key Motorsports.

Busch and Edwards will count on the weather, their pilots and substitute drivers to keep them in the position to maintain their top two spots in the series standings.

Johnny Sauter, a native of Necedah, Wis., and the 2005 winner of this race, will sub for Busch. Edwards will count on young Colin Braun, who won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race last Friday at Michigan International Speedway. Braun started 10th in this event last year; just his third series start and his first at The Milwaukee Mile.
 
Is It Wimmer’s Turn For A Home-Track Win?

It’s every driver’s dream — to win at his home track.

With so many great racers from Wisconsin, it was surprising that a native son hadn’t won any of the first 14 NASCAR Nationwide Series races at the track dubbed “America’s Legendary Oval,” a home to racing for 106 years.

But in 2005, Necedah’s Johnny Sauter finally broke through. And one year later, Paul Menard, from Eau Claire, was celebrating in Victory Lane.

Now, Scott Wimmer (No. 5 Fastenal Chevrolet) hopes his turn is next.

Wimmer is from Wausau and has had a solid NASCAR career. He’s competed in each of the top three national series to the tune of a combined 288 starts. He’s accumulated 180 of those in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and has six victories — but none at his home track.

He’s come close, finishing second in 2007 and third in 2002.

He’s driven for three different owners in his quest to land the coveted win. This weekend, he’ll have solid equipment from JR Motorsports.

Kelly Bires (No. 10 Braun Racing Toyota), a native of Mauston, also is entered at Milwaukee.

Erik Darnell (No. 6 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford) and Jason Keller (No. 27 Kimberly-Clark Ford) aren’t from Wisconsin but are racing for home-state pride.

Darnell’s car sponsor also is the race sponsor. And Keller, who’s eighth in the standings — he’s been out of the top 10 (11th) just once this year — carries the banner for one of the series’ longest-standing sponsors. Kimberly-Clark’s long-time base was in Neenah.

Lucky 13: Raines Continues Standings Climb

Familiar names leap to mind when considering NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regulars in the top10 in points, or those on the brink of breaking in. 

Brad Keselowski, Jason Leffler, Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet), Jason Keller, Mike Bliss (No. 1 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet), Steve Wallace (No. 66 USFidelis Chevrolet), Michael McDowell (No. 47 www.constructionjobs.com Toyota), Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota), Tony Raines (No. 34 Long John Silver’s Chevrolet) …

Tony Raines?

Very quietly, the 12-year veteran of NASCAR national series competition is working his way toward the NASCAR Nationwide Series top 10.

Driving for owner Bob Jenkins, he’s currently 13th, his best ranking of the season and his highest since 2002, his most recent full-time season when he finished 12th in the final standings.

He’s got the No. 34 team settled in 19th place the top 30 in owner points.

He was fourth at Talladega in April, his best series finish since 2005.

Raines began his national series career in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series from 1997-98, capturing four wins before moving on to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He ran four consecutive full-time seasons from 1999-2002 for Bill and Brian Baumgardner. 

Raines cracked the 200-start barrier in NASCAR Nationwide racing earlier this year and has 134 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

He’s also pulled double duty twice this season, most recently last week when he raced at both Kentucky and Michigan.

The 45-year old from LaPorte, Ind. has a top five and two top 10s — including a ninth-place finish last year — at Milwaukee.

In The Loop

A Little “Truck” Always Helps At The Mile

Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet) knows a few things about bouncing from a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race to a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at The Milwaukee Mile.

He’s pulled double duty in the same season four times (1998 and 2005-07), and has 18 total races there between the two series.

Hornaday’s had success at Milwaukee – he won the NASCAR Nationwide race in 2004 and has finished in the top 10 in all nine of his NASCAR Camping World Truck starts.

In three NASCAR Nationwide starts since the inception of Loop Data, Hornaday has a Milwaukee Driver Rating of 82.7, an Average Running Position of 18.9 and 15 Fastest Laps Run.  His stats in a NASCAR Camping World Truck are even better as he has scored three top fives in the last four races. In the last four NASCAR Camping World Truck races, he has a Driver Rating of 116.7, an Average Running Position of 5.5, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 96.9 and 81 Fastest laps Run.

Eric Darnell hopes his transition to the series will be as smooth.

Darnell will run his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Milwaukee on Saturday, but also has had success in his four NASCAR Camping World Truck starts there.

Darnell finished fourth at The Mile last season, his second consecutive top-10 Milwaukee finish. In his three Milwaukee races since 2005, Darnell has a Driver Rating of 98.5, an Average Running Position of 9.3, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 83.7 and 28 Fastest Laps Run.

This will be Darnell’s fifth NASCAR Nationwide start. Three have come on tracks over a mile in length (Darlington, Nashville and Kentucky) and one was a short track (Richmond International Raceway).

In those starts, he has posted a solid Driver Rating of 90.7, an Average Running Position of 11.6, seven Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 64.7.

NNS Etc.

  • Thanks, Dad

    Sunday is Father’s Day and plenty of raicng stories have been passed down from father to son resonate throughout the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage.

    Jason Keller got his start in the series thanks to his dad, Joe. Justin Allgaier drove to the ARCA title for his dad, Mike, last year; his father now follows by driving his motorhome to each event along with his wife, Dorothy.

    Scott Lagasse Sr., a former SCCA great, retired so his son Scott Jr., then 15, could follow in his footsteps. Brad and Brian Keselowski’s (No. 26 Go Wings Dodge) father, Bob, will assist Brian on top of the pit box at Milwaukee.

    Eric McClure (No. 24 Hefty Ford) can expect encouragement from his dad, Jerry, who takes several days off from work each week to follow his son’s exploits on the track. Ditto for John Wes Townley’s (No. 09 Zaxby’s Ford) dad, Tony, who has played an instrumental role in his sons’ racing career.

    But for Ken Butler III (No. 23 Aaron’s Chevrolet), Burney Lamar (No. 32 Dollar General Chevrolet) and Michael McDowell, this Father’s Day is special. The drivers are celebrating as first-time dads.

    Butler has always had the support of his dad, Ken, who’s a regular at his son’s races. But this year, “KB3” has a different kind of support, that of new daughter Piper Shay, born May 23.

    Lamar became a father for the first time on March 4 to daughter Ciel Taylor, and McDowell on Feb. 25 with son Trace Christopher.

    Lamar and McDowell will face off in a diaper changing challenge on Saturday at Milwaukee. “Veteran” dad Jason Leffler (son Charlie Dean will be 2 in August), will “officiate.”

  • Edwards Seeks Milwaukee Rewind

    Last year, Carl Edwards won his first race of the season at Milwaukee. That kick-started his second-half pursuit of standings leader Clint Bowyer; he won six of the remaining 18 races and made up 204 points on Bowyer before ultimately falling short in his title chase by 21 points.

    Edwards is in a similar scenario now. He’s still seeking his first win of the year and is 137 points behind Kyle Busch, the largest lead by any of the three different standings leaders this season.

    Edwards’ chances to turn things around look good at Milwaukee, where Roush Fenway Racing drivers have completed all but two laps and have been running at the finish in each of their 13 starts at the track.

  • Happy Birthday For Hornaday?

    Ron Hornaday Jr. turns 51 on Saturday and could become the first driver to win a NASCAR Nationwide Series race on his birthday.

    He’s already had a Victory Lane birthday celebration; he won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on his 40th birthday.

    Hornaday, the three-time NASCAR Camping World Truck champion, is one of three drivers, along with Mike Bliss and Terry Cook (No. 91 MSRP Motorsports Chevrolet), entered in both races at Milwaukee.

  • In The Garage: Wisconsin Natives

    Scott Wimmer (Wausau) – No. 5 driver
    Kelly Bires (Mauston) – No. 10 driver
    Gary Bria (Fredonia) — NASCAR Nationwide Series Technical Inspector
    Shannon Bednarek (Princeton) — NASCAR Nationwide Series Technical Inspector
    Leo Thorson (Stoughton) – No. 18 car chief
    Jered Lynch (Milwaukee) – No. 11 mechanic
    Don Stadler (Oskosh) – No. 11 transport driver
    Anthony O’Brien (Cambridge) – No. 15 front tire changer
    Toby Bigelow (Neilsville) – No. 18 windshield/driver support
    Scott Van Someren (Baldwin) — NASCAR Series Operations Account Executive
    Matt Klug (Milwaukee) — No. 29 PR Rep

Manufacturers’ Standings

2009 Manufacturers’ Championship Standings

Toyota         95
Chevrolet      87
Ford             81
Dodge          45
Following Race 14 of 35 Michigan International Speedway

The 1-2 finish by Joey Logano and Kyle Busch last Saturday at Kentucky helped Toyota maintain its lead in the Bill France Performance Cup standings.

Ford is the defending winner at Milwaukee but Chevrolet’s nine wins there lead all manufacturers. Chevy has won three of the last five races.

Johnny Sauter carried Dodge to victory in 2005 the first, and to date only, win for the brand at the track.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                     Team        Points
1    Brendan Gaughan      RWR           149
2    Justin Allgaier            Penske        148
3    Michael McDowell      JTG-D          132
4    Scott Lagasse Jr.      CJM             124
5    Michael Annett          Germain       107
6    Jon Wes Townley      RAB              75
7    Erik Darnell               RFR              48
8    Ken Butler III             R3                 40
9    Peyton Sellers          CM                29
10  Marc Davis               MDM              24
11  Terry Cook               MSRP            13

Up Next: New Hampshire

The NASCAR Nationwide Series takes a break from the stand-alone portion of its 2009 schedule next week.

It will be a companion event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, June 27, for the Camping World RV Sales 200 presented by Turtle Wax.

Last year, in keeping with series tradition at the track, Tony Stewart became the 22nd different race winner.

Landon Cassill, the eventual NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, captured his first career pole.

ABC will carry the race beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET. It’s the last of four broadcasts on the network for the year.

FAST FACTS

The Race: NorthernTool.com 250
The Place: The Milwaukee Mile
The Date: Saturday, June 20
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 250 miles / 250 laps
TV: ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Carl Edwards
2008 Polesitter: Brad Keselowski

Event Schedule (all times CT):
Saturday—Practice 9-10:15 a.m., Final Practice—10:45 a.m.-noon. Qualifying 4:35 p.m.

 

DRIVER STANDINGS

 

Rk  Driver                  Points
1    Kyle Busch           2,211
2    Carl Edwards        2,074
3    Brad Keselowski   2,003
4    Jason Leffler         1,993
5    Joey Logano         1,860
6    Justin Allgaier       1,628
7    Brendan Gaughan 1,620
8    Jason Keller         1,613
9    Mike Bliss            1,599
10  Steve Wallace       1,543


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

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