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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Lowe’s Motor Speedway

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

Kyle Busch may not be known as a sentimental type, but he may just have a soft spot tucked away when it comes to NASCAR Nationwide Series competition at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He made his series debut at this race in 2003, starting fifth and finishing second for team owner Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet), the 1992 series champion. Nemechek won this race in 1997.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Keselowski’s Stand A Springboard For Success

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 19, 2009) - Last year at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota) won the Carquest Auto Parts 300, but Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Chevrolet) won respect.

The memorable stand he made during — and especially following — the race also seemed to serve as an ignition switch, blasting the 25-year-old into a new competitive stratosphere.

Late in the event, Denny Hamlin, one of 14 double-duty drivers competing, felt NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regular Keselowski hadn’t give him enough racing room and gave a bump to the No. 88 to show his displeasure. Keselowski and his JR Motorsports team took exception, especially owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 5 Klondike Chevrolet), who gave Hamlin a retaliatory bump of his own. The on-track incidents led to fisticuffs between the teams’ crews on pit road after the race.

One of the memorable quotes from the 2008 season followed at the tense post-race press conference with Hamlin, who finished second, and Keselowski, who was third, at the podium.

"I race one day a week, not two," Keselowski said. "I have 200 laps to prove myself, not 400. I have to make the most of every lap."

Since that confrontation, he’s certainly taken advantage of his races and laps, and has indeed proven himself.

Dating back to this race last year, Keselowski has secured two wins (including his first career victory), his first career pole, 13 top fives and 21 top 10s in NASCAR Nationwide competition. He also won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with his stunning frontstretch dash to the finish last month at Talladega Superspeedway in only his fifth start in the premier series. He’s the leader of a resurgent group of series-only regulars, six of whom are currently ranked in the top 10.

“The spring race at Lowe’s last year was a race that stands out in my mind for a few different reasons,” Keselowski said. “For one, it proved to a lot of people that my team and I were not going to back down to anyone — Cup driver, Nationwide driver or otherwise — and I think that was evident during the race. 

“I knew my team and team owner, who was also my teammate that night, were behind me. It was kind of the same situation as this year at Talladega, with me holding my ground against Carl (Edwards) to win the race. In both situations, I feel that I made the right decision.”

Looking Back At Leffler’s Charlotte / Indy Double

After participating in a Goodyear tire test at Iowa Speedway during last week’s open date on the competition schedule, Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) took the short jaunt to Indianapolis to visit family and friends. He also took in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

He encouraged fellow NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Stanton Barrett (No. 31 Circle K-Thirst Buster Chevrolet), who was attempting to pull an LMS-Indy double. Barrett, who’s competing full-time in the IndyCar Series this year while also running a limited NASCAR Nationwide schedule, would have to qualify on time for both the CARQUEST 300 and the Indy 500. Unfortunately, he fell short of his Indy quest, failing during last Saturday’s last-chance Bump Day.

Leffler, though, has a much better memory of his “double” in 2000.

That year, Leffler was in his first season as a 24-year-old rookie in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. His start at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on May 27, 2000, was his first at the track in national series competition. He led three laps and finished 21st, one lap down.

The next day, he was at the Brickyard, running as a rookie in the Indianapolis 500 for Treadway Racing. He finished 17th, the third-highest rookie finisher in the race behind Jacques Lazier (13th) and the race winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, one of many open-wheel alums who has made the switch to NASCAR.

Interestingly, Leffler finished ahead of another rookie who has also since moved from open-wheel to stock car racing. That driver had a pretty good showing at LMS last week by winning the NASCAR Sprint Showdown and transferring into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

Sam Hornish Jr. was 24th.  He would go on to win the Indy 500 in 2006 — the same year he made his NASCAR debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Sentiment Aside, Standings Leader Busch Tries For Three Consecutive Wins At LMS

Kyle Busch may not be known as a sentimental type, but he may just have a soft spot tucked away when it comes to NASCAR Nationwide Series competition at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

He made his series debut at this race in 2003, starting fifth and finishing second for team owner Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet), the 1992 series champion. Nemechek won this race in 1997.

Busch’s results since then are well documented: 24 NASCAR Nationwide wins (tied for fifth all-time), the most among his 50 national series victories.

His four wins at LMS — three in this race tying Mark Martin’s event record — are the most he’s accumulated at any one track in NASCAR Nationwide competition. He swept the 2008 races there and will try to become the third driver to win three straight, joining Rob Moroso (1988-89) and Martin (1995-96).

He’s also got Martin’s all-time record for wins (six) at LMS in his sights.

His excellence at this track comes at an opportune time. Busch has seen his lead in the series standings dwindle to 37 points over Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford), the lowest his advantage has been over the second-place driver since he led Edwards by 20 points following Busch’s victory at Auto Club Speedway in February.

Edwards won this race in 2006, but has an average finish of 21.7 in his other three May events. Aside from his trio of victories, Busch has an average finish of 13.6 in the three May races at LMS.

JD Motorsports Brings Sentimental Favorite Back To NASCAR

It started as a minor associate sponsorship deal between seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Dale Earnhardt and his famed No. 3 Chevrolet and a soda beverage bottler out of the Charlotte, N.C. area.

A decade later, Sun Drop Citrus Soda  — Earnhardt was known to buy 10 cases at a time — makes its return to NASCAR this weekend at Charlotte-based Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

The sponsor will adorn the hood of the No. 01 Chevrolet of JD Motorsports and driver Danny O’Quinn Jr., the 2006 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year.

Sun Drop is scheduled as the primary sponsor on the No. 01 for a limited number of races this season. The marketing package between JDM and Choice USA Beverage Inc. will also include a show car, apparel, die casts and stand-up displays — big ones — of O’Quinn, who is well over 6-feet tall.

“This is a great opportunity for Sun Drop to get back in racing,” said Choice USA President Jay Falls. “We loved racing and teaming up with Dale Sr., but JD Motorsports and Danny will represent our brand well. We couldn’t be more excited about it.”

In The Loop

Slow And Steady Really May Win The Race — Just Ask Logano

Slowly – and quietly – Joey Logano (No. 18 GameStop Toyota) is living up to the unbelievable hype that surrounded him as soon as the belts snapped him into his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Dover International Speedway last season.

It was one year ago on May 24 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway that he celebrated his 18th birthday, signaling the start to his national series career.

He won quickly – it took only three races for him to claim his first victory in the NASCAR Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway – but 2009 brought new challenges. Logano joined the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on a full-time basis and early polls said the jump might have been harder than expected.

But slowly, he has come around on the NASCAR Sprint Cup side, scoring two top 10s in the last three races.

He has the NASCAR Nationwide Series to thank for that. Except for one race this year – at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Logano has pulled double duty all season. Despite missing that one race, he’s fourth in the standings, 199 points out of first.

It’s that kind of seat time that hastened the learning curve (see: Juan Pablo Montoya, 2007). It’s also the confidence that bloomed with each passing successful NASCAR Nationwide race. Ask David Ragan (No. 6 Discount Tire Ford), who was a prime example in 2007-08.

Figure on another similar scenario this weekend in Charlotte.

In his only LMS race last season, Logano thrived racing against a number of double-duty drivers. His 14th-place finish last October was solid, but the result itself was not indicative of how he actually performed throughout the event.

In that race, Logano had a Driver Rating of 101.4, an Average Running Position of 10.8, 12 Fastest Laps Run and 32 laps led.

Also on the youngster front – watch for a strong run from Raybestos Rookie Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota).

Lagasse scored a 13th-place finish in his only LMS race, also last October. In that event, he had a Driver Rating of 76.0 and an Average Running Position of 18.9, solid stats for a first-time visit.  

NNS Etc.

  • Make Room For Burton In “300 Club” 

    When he starts the CARQUEST 300, Jeff Burton (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) — the self-proclaimed “Nationwide driver who happens to be driving on Sundays” — will become the 13th driver in series history to start 300 races.

    Burton made his series debut on March 13, 1988, at Martinsville Speedway for his father, John. His race lasted only two laps due to a blown engine. He finished last.

    Twenty years later, Burton has more than made up for that inauspicious start. He’s collected 27 wins (fourth all-time), 11 poles, 88 top fives and 147 top 10s in Nationwide Series competition and has blossomed into one of the top drivers — and garage spokesmen — in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

    He’s got three wins at LMS.

  • Nationwide “Driving While Distracted” Campaign Begins; Petty Is Spokesperson

    Series sponsor Nationwide Insurance and NASCAR veteran Kyle Petty have joined to raise awareness of DWD — “Driving Whille Distracted.”

    The national campaign, in conjunction with the series, begins its second year this week with the first of seven events conducted at high schools in cities where the series races. Petty and Roush Fenway Racing teammates David Ragan and Erik Darnell will be at New Technology High School at Garinger in Charlotte on Friday at 1:15 p.m.

    The program pushes messages to young drivers that multitasking behind the wheel is a dangerous practice. Students will be able to learn firsthand from Petty and series drivers the impact of a short attention span by utilzing a NASCAR simulator.

  • Hockey-Crazy MacDonald Supports ‘Canes

    The NASCAR Nationwide Series season may be at the quarter pole, but hockey season is in full playoff mode. And Randy MacDonald, owner of the No. 81 D.H. Griffin - Go 'Canes Dodge driven this week by Kevin Hamlin, couldn’t be happier keeping up with both.

    MacDonald was a standout youth hockey player in Canada, and was inducted into the Clarington Sports Hall of Fame two years ago for his hockey accomplishments at the Junior level.

    He’s a huge Carolina Hurricanes fan and will have the team’s logo on the No. 81 as he supports their run for the Eastern Conference championship against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    “I’ve been going to the Hurricanes games since they arrived in Greensboro in 1997,” MacDonald said. When (they won) Thursday’s dramatic 3-2 game, we had to incorporate the ’Canes into the race at LMS.”

    "The Hurricanes are delighted that MacDonald Motorsports (is) supporting their current run to the Stanley Cup,”  said Ben Aycock, Director of Marketing and Brand Development for the team.

  • Stout’s Volunteers Try For Team Debut

    The 51 cars vying for 43 spots Saturday night represent the most entries for any of the 11 races thus far in 2009. An average of 48 cars have entered each race this year.

    JC Stout and his all-volunteer No. 19 Stellar-Quest Racing team will try to break into the field and make the organization’s series debut. Stout has five career starts for Johnny Davis — two this year. All but six of his 25 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts since 2003 have also been for Stellar-Quest.

    Brandon Knupp (No. 75 Schacht Motorsports Chevrolet), with nine NASCAR Camping World Truck starts since 2007 — five this year including last Friday at LMS where he was a career-best 23rd — will attempt his series debut.

  • Allgaier, Lagasse Jr. Lead Rookies

    Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) has what this season is a commanding lead in the rookie rankings; he’s seven points ahead of second-place Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet), who has cooled off following a hot start. His average finish over the last three races is 27.6. Scott Lagasse Jr. and Michael McDowell (No. 47 Tom’s Toyota) are both eight points back.

    This week, it’s Lagasse who’s best among the strong rookie class in its season-long joust among the top 10 in the point standings. He’s eighth, while Allgaier is six points out in ninth.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                  Team       Points
1     Justin Allgaier        Penske    102
2     Brendan Gaughan  RWR        95
3     Michael McDowell  JTG-D      94
4     Scott Lagasse Jr.   CJM        94
5     Michael Annett      Germain   75

Up Next: Dover International Speedway

Last year, it was Joey Logano who made the headlines as far as his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Dover.

Next week, one of Logano’s former challengers in the NASCAR Camping World Series East prepares for his next step up the national series ladder.

Jeffrey Earnhardt, a third-generation driver, will attempt to debut at a track where his grandfather, Dale, and uncle, Dale Jr., have a combined six wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series. He’ll drive for Rick Ware Racing.

Logano finished sixth in his highly-anticipated debut for Joe Gibbs Racing.

His JGR teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, have won the last three races at Dover. Hamlin won the fall 2007 race and this event last year while Busch won the 2008 fall race at the Monster Mile from the pole.

ABC will carry the Heluva Good! 200 beginning at 2 p.m. ET. The race will be the third of four to be broadcast on ABC this season. 

The Race: CARQUEST 300
The Place: Lowe’s Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, May 23
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Distance:
300 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius XM Radio / PRN
2008 Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Pole: Brian Vickers
Event Schedule:
Thursday—Practice, 1-2:30 p.m.; Final Practice, 6-7:00 p.m. Saturday—Qualifying, 3:45 p.m.

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Keeping Pace

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