Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Texas

Kyle Busch (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)
Kyle Busch (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)

Kyle Busch, the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings leader, is edging closer to claiming his first national series title.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Texas Success Could Push Busch To Title Cusp

Just like a spur to a cowboy’s horse,  Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) is ready to dig in and move out this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch, the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings leader, is edging closer to claiming his first national series title. His lead over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Ortho Ford) isn’t clinch-ready just yet (Busch can’t clinch if Edwards starts at Texas). But with his stellar record at TMS, Busch couldn’t ask for a better place to begin working on his championship acceptance speech.

Not only is Busch the defending race winner, he’s aiming for his fourth consecutive series victory at Texas, which would build on his track record of three straight wins. Another “W” would also move him into a tie with two-time series champion Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet) with four wins, the most at the track.

He’s registered his trio of wins in different fashion. Last November, he started 31st — the deepest starting spot in the field for a race winner. His victory last fall also was his 10th of the year, which equaled the single-season series mark set by the series’ first two-time champion, Sam Ard, in 1983.

This spring, he won from the pole, becoming the first driver to do so in the 17 series races at Texas.

Add to that his back-to-back perfect Driver Ratings at TMS — he posted a perfect 150.0 Driver Rating in this race last year and followed up with another perfecto in April. He leads all series drivers with seven perfect Driver Ratings and his two at Texas are tied for the most at any track; he’s also pitched two perfect games at Auto Club Speedway.

Edwards, Keselowski Need Texas-Size Comebacks

If everything really is bigger in Texas, better include comebacks in that state motto, too.

Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Degree Chevrolet), second and third in the standings, respectively, haven’t conceded the series title to Kyle Busch. And Busch hasn’t dismissed the “anything can-happen-over-the-last-three-races” mantra.

But if a last-gasp overtaking of Busch is to happen, it will be a march of historic series proportion.

The most points overcome to win the championship with three races to go is 125 by Rob Moroso in 1989. Busch has a 215-point lead over Edwards and is up by 257 over Keselowski.

In Moroso’s comeback 20 years ago, he bypassed Tommy Houston — who was the leader with three races left — and also staved off 1988 series champion Tommy Ellis, who was second with three to go.  

Moroso won at Charlotte, which was the third-to-last race of the 1989 season, wrestling the standings lead from Houston. However, Houston took back first place following the next race at North Carolina Speedway. Moroso won the title on the last day of the season at Martinsville Speedway thanks to his third-place finish versus Houston’s 24th-place result due to engine failure.

While Edwards and Keselowski are banking on a miracle, there are plenty of too-close-to-call rankings battles still being waged in the top 10 standings with fifth and 10th places the biggest prizes.

Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) has a hold on fifth, but Mike Bliss (No. 11 Ridemakerz Toyota) is 59 points out. Bliss is in the No. 11 again at Texas; he’s been terrific over his three races in that ride — two runner-up finishes and a fourth-place result.

Michael Annett (No. 15 Germain Racing Toyota) broke into the top 10 after the Oct. 24 race at Memphis Motorsports Park. But, the Raybestos Rookie has plenty of competition for the spot. Michael McDowell is 11th, 13 points out of 10th; Tony Raines (No. 34 Long John Silver’s Chevrolet) is 12th, 62 points from 10th and Kenny Wallace (No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet) is 13th, 65 points behind Annett.

Richardson Comes Home With Texas Swagger Intact

Nothing like coming home with confidence.

Robert Richardson Jr. (No. 23 Mahindra Tractors Chevrolet), a native of McKinney, had plenty of swagger as a high school football star (quarterback at McKinney High) who moved on to play QB at Southern Methodist University.

His transition to racing also began in his home state, at Texas Motor Speedway, starting with Legends cars in 2003.

He made the move to NASCAR’s national series, debuting in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2003.

Since then, Richardson’s ride through NASCAR has included a full-time season in the Trucks in 2006 and three part-time schedules in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, including this season where he’s sharing the No. 23 with Ken Butler III.

He’s had modest success — his average finishes in NASCAR Nationwide and the Trucks is nearly identical at 29.2 and 29.5, respectively. He’s raced TMS seven times in both series with a best finish of 23rd in the Trucks in 2006.

His best career finish among his races in both series is 16th earlier this year at Talladega Superspeedway.

Here’s where that swagger comes in.

Last weekend at Talladega, Richardson attempted — and qualified for — his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. He finished 17th and on the lead lap.

His return to TMS is on a bit of a high note as well — he secured his best NASCAR Nationwide finish at the track — 24th — in April.

Plano’s James Buescher (No. 1 Micosukee Resort Chevrolet) also is treated to a NASCAR Nationwide Series homecoming this weekend. He’s back in NNS for the first time since last year at Memphis where he won his first career pole. He’s also competing full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Trucks this year.

Other Texas natives in the garage include Sam Abney (Austin), jackman for Jeff Burton’s No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet and John Bousselot (Denton), the front tire changer for the No. 24 Hefty Ford of Eric McClure.

Other Texas ties in the series include a couple of sponsors — GameStop, which adorns Joey Logano’s No. 20 Toyota, is based in Grapevine, just a few miles from TMS. Kimberly-Clark’s world headquarters is in Irving. Jason Keller will drive the No. 27 Kleenex Ford this weekend and seeks the 175th top-10 finish of his career (second all-time to Tommy Houston).

Thumbs Up: NNS New Car Impresses During Final Test

“It drives like a dream.”

That’s how Justin Allgaier described his first laps in the Challenger, Dodge’s NASCAR Nationwide Series new car entry, during Monday’s test at Talladega.

The test, the first for the new car on a track longer than 1.5 miles, is one of the final steps before its introduction at four 2010 points races: the July race at Daytona International Speedway, the August race at Michigan International Speedway, the September event at Richmond International Raceway and finally at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in October.

The new car is targeted for full integration into the series in 2011.

Eight drivers put the new car models from the four series manufacturers — Chevrolet (Impala); Dodge (Challenger); Ford (Mustang) and Toyota (Camry) through the paces. The test was designed to gather information relative to the size of the tapered spacer that the car will need in order to achieve its desired speed at tracks like Daytona and Talladega. Additionally, the test helped to better identify the proper gear ratio that the new car will need to generate the proper RPM.

“The great advantage of this car is we have a lot of time with the first new car (in NASCAR Sprint Cup),” said Jeff Burton, a 27-time winner in the series and one of the test drivers. “This is an evolution of that. I think it’s going to work really well. I like the way the cars look and the way the cars drive.”

IN THE LOOP

Bliss, Harvick Top Challengers To Busch At TMS

Mike Bliss and Kevin Harvick both are hovering around a coveted top-five ranking, though in different standings.

Bliss, who is coming off two consecutive top-five finishes, sits sixth in the driver standings, only 59 points behind fifth-place Justin Allgaier.

Harvick is looking to keep his No. 33 Chevrolet in the top five of the owner rankings. Currently in fourth, the No. 33 is 51 points ahead of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and 89 points ahead of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Statistically, Texas has been kind to both, which could mean a leap for Bliss and a more comfortable position for Harvick.

In the spring race at Texas this season, Bliss scored a seventh-place finish, posting a Driver Rating of 90.4, an Average Running Position of 13.3, three Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 87.5%. It was by far his best race at Texas. Prior to that, he had finished outside the top 20 in three consecutive starts and had not scored a Driver Rating higher than 76.3.

Plus, Bliss has momentum. Over the last two races, he has an average finish of 3.0, a Driver Rating of 125.8, an Average Running Position of 5.6, 84 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 95%.

Likewise, Harvick is white hot in the series, finishing in the top five in seven consecutive starts (though he has not entered the last two series races).  During that span, which includes a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Harvick has an average finish of 3.4, a Driver Rating of 120.7, 193 Fastest Laps Run, 259 Laps Led and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 98.4%.

Those numbers should continue this weekend. Harvick has four wins at Texas, and since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, he has a Driver Rating of 115.6, an Average Running Position of 8.6, 128 Fastest Laps Run, 337 Laps Led and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 84.3%.

NNS Etc: Texas Edition

  • Texas Turnaround For Keselowski

    Before the April race at Texas, Brad Keselowski was wondering if his season was falling apart. He was 15th in the standings following the March race at Bristol Motor Speedway and his average finish on the season was 22nd.

    But at Texas, his fortunes turned. He finished third, the first of three consecutive third-place results, and catapulted himself back into the upper echelon of the series standings.

    In the 27 races since the April event at  TMS, Keselowski has four wins (career high) — including a victory at Memphis in his last race — 19 top fives and 26 top 10s. In addition, he’s grabbed two poles, also a career best.

    He’s third in the standings, still mathematically alive for the series championship and only 42 points behind second-place Carl Edwards.

  • Déjà Vu For Kahne In Great Clips Car

  • Saturday at Texas, Jason Leffler (No. 38) and Kasey Kahne (No. 10) will carry matching Great Clips paint schemes on their Braun Racing Toyotas.

    Kahne drove the No. 38 Great Clips car from 2003-05 under the Akins Motorsports/Stringer Motorsports banner. He captured two NASCAR Nationwide Series wins during that span, including a victory at Texas in 2005.

    Leffler took over the seat in 2006, and in 2007, gave the sponsor its third win — and the first for Toyota in the series — at O’Reilly Raceway Park. He’s finished in the top 10 in the standings the last two years and currently is fourth with three races to go.

    Leffler and Kahne will share the No. 38 next year — Leffler will drive the majority of the races (27) while Kahne will handle eight events. Leffler will drive the No. 10 in the races in which Kahne is behind the wheel of the No. 38.

    Braun’s third entry, the No. 32 Dollar General Toyota, will be driven by 2003 series champion Brian Vickers for the final time in 2009 at Texas. In 16 races this year, he has seven top fives and 11 top 10s. Reed Sorenson will be in the No. 32 next week at Phoenix International Raceway while David Reutimann closes out the season in the car at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

  • McClure Cleared To Drive At Texas

    Eric McClure, who injured his ankle following an accident two weeks ago at Memphis, has been cleared to return to racing.

    McClure has the fifth-most starts in his series career at Texas Motor Speedway (six) and finished 34th in this race last year.

  • Shepherd Readies For Annual Trip

    Morgan Shepherd’s No. 89 Chevrolet will carry the image of country music artist Kellie Pickler on the car this weekend at Texas to kick off the 23rd Annual Morgan Shepherd Charitible Fund trip to Galax, Va.

    The trip will take place on Dec. 14. Pickler will headline entertainers that also include Berry McGee, the 2007-08 Inspirational Country Music Awards Comedian/Entertainer of the Year. Guest speakers include Joe Gibbs, while 2007 series champion Carl Edwards is also scheduled to participate. The NASCAR Sprint Cup show cars of Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano will be on display.

    The Fund was founded in 1986 by Shepherd in order to assist handicapped or underprivelaged children and adults.

  • ML Motorsports, WCF Team Up

    This weekend, the No. 70 ML Motorsports Chevrolet will feature the images of Ahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim, twins from Cairo, Egypt, who were conjoined at the head and separated.

    Following the successful 2003 procedure performed in Dallas, the boys were cared for under the direction of the World Craniofacial Foundation, which also is headquartered in Dallas. The WCF focuses on craniofacial surgeries and provides care for children with deformaties of the skull and face.

    The team and WCF will hold a press conference at 8:45 a.m. CT Saturday at Texas.

  • Driven To Donate

    The NASCAR Nationwide Series PR Rep Task Force has organized a non-perishable Thanksgiving Food Drive among NNS teams to assist needy families in the Charlotte, N.C. area.

    Through Monday, Nov. 16, select NNS teams also will have donation collection containers at their shops so that fans can donate non-perishable items until the deadline. Those teams currently include: Germain Racing (Mooresville); Kevin Harvick Inc. (Kernersville); RAB Racing and Roush Fenway Racing (Concord) and Richard Childress Racing (Welcome), with more to be announced.

  • NNS Raybestos Rookie Standings
        Driver                     Team        Points
    1. Justin Allgaier           Penske      227
    2. Brendan Gaughan     RWR         217
    3. Michael McDowell     K-A           191
    4. Michael Annett         Germain     188
    5. Erik Darnell              RFR           156
    7. John Wes Townley   RAB            129

Up Next: Phoenix International Raceway

One more trip out West in 2009 awaits the NASCAR Nationwide Series as Phoenix International Raceway hosts the Able Body Labor 200 on Saturday, Nov. 14.

The 200-lap event at the 1-mile track in the desert starts at 4:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on live on ESPN2.

Carl Edwards is the defending race winner. Denny Hamlin won the pole for last year’s event.

Earlier this year, 2002 series champion Greg Biffle, Edwards’ Roush Fenway Racing teammate, was victorious at PIR.    

Biffle’s win made him the all-time series leader in that category at Phoenix. Edwards and Kyle Busch are the other multiple winners with two each.

Busch leads all drivers with three poles at PIR; Edwards has two as does Jason Leffler.

Jack Roush’s six wins lead all series owners at Phoenix, while Ford is the top manufacturer with eight wins.

The 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series / NASCAR Camping World  Truck Series Awards Banquet is Monday, Nov. 23 at the Loew’s Miami Beach Hotel (by invitation only).

A luncheon featuring the champions of both series, their crew chiefs, NASCAR President Mike Helton, NNS Director Joe Balash and NCWTS Director Wayne Auton will be held from 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. on the Conference Terrace at the Lowe’s and is open to the media.

RSVP to Sue Redstone (sredstone@nascar.com) by Saturday, Nov. 21.

FAST FACTS

Next Race: O’Reilly Challenge
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, Nov. 7
The Time: 12:45 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN2, 12:00 p.m. ET
Radio: SIRIUS NASCAR Radio/PRN
2008 Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Polesitter: Carl Edwards
Event Schedule (all times CT): Friday – Practice, 9-10:15 a.m., Final Practice 10:40-11:55 a.m.; Qualifying, 5:35 p.m.


2009 STANDINGS

     Driver                  Points
1   Kyle Busch           5,179
2   Carl Edwards         4,964
3   Brad Keselowski    4,922
4   Jason Leffler          4,184
5   Justin Allgaier        3,743
6   Mike Bliss             3,684
7   Steve Wallace        3,626
8   Jason Keller           3,574
9   Brendan Gaughan   3,563
10 Michael Annett       3,298




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Keeping Pace

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






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