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Keeping Pace

Busch Has NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship In Sight Heading To Phoenix

After adding to his track record consecutive win streak at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday (now at four), Kyle Busch led the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings by 272 points over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Valvoline/O’Reilly’s Ford).


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 10, 2009) – A little drama has been added to Kyle Busch’s (No. 18 NOS Toyota) quest for his first NASCAR national series championship.

After adding to his track record consecutive win streak at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday (now at four), Busch led the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings by 272 points over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Valvoline/O’Reilly’s Ford).

However, that lead – and the title-clinching scenarios for Busch at Phoenix International Raceway – will more than likely change following a penalty levied against his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

His No. 18 car was found to have an unsecured weight issue during pre-race inspection last Friday at Texas. Penalties are usually handed down by NASCAR on the Tuesday following the event where the infraction occurred.

Regardless of the penalty outcome, the main scenario remains in place for Busch to clinch the 2009 title: He needs to leave Phoenix with a standings lead of at least 195 points over the second-place driver.

Edwards’ second-place slot isn’t set in stone, either. Brad Keselowski (No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) is third, but has been chasing down Edwards like, well, a greased cheetah strapped to a bullet train.

Keselowski was 200 points behind Edwards after the July race at O’Reilly Raceway Park. Coming to Phoenix, he’s cut that deficit to 20 points, the closest he’s been all year to the runner-up position.

Should he capture the second slot, Keselowski would be the first series-only regular to finish that high in the standings since reigning series champion Clint Bowyer (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) did so in 2005.

Battle Royal To Season’s End Throughout Top-10 Standings

While Kyle Busch may be on the verge of clinching his first series championship, there’s no such certainty among seven of the other nine positions within the NASCAR Nationwide Series top 10 with two races to go. And there’s plenty of uneasiness among three more drivers on the cusp of 10th place.

It bears repeating – all 10 drivers will be recognized at the NASCAR Nationwide Series/NASCAR Camping World Truck Series awards banquet, but only the top five drivers in the final standings will be recognized on stage Nov. 23 at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.

Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) is secure in fourth place. Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 5-Hour Energy ES Chevrolet), in ninth, isn’t a total lock, but is closer to maintaining his standing than the others involved in the rankings battle. Gaughan is one of three Raybestos Rookies in the top 10.

The coveted fifth position is coming down to two drivers. Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) has been successful staving off one fifth-place challenger – Steve Wallace (No. 66 USFidelis Chevrolet). But over the last three races, Mike Bliss (No. 11 Ridemakerz Toyota), in sixth, has used veteran savvy to make his move.

At Texas, Allgaier was involved in an accident but came back to run laps that eventually paid off. Bliss gambled late, didn’t pit for new tires and saw a top-five finish and probable fifth-place standing go by the wayside. But Bliss still inched to within 13 points.

Wallace isn’t out of the fifth-place picture; he’s 92 points behind Bliss in seventh. Jason Keller (No. 27 Scott Ford), in eighth, trails Wallace by 25 points. Gaughan is 23 points behind Keller.

Michael Annett (No. 15 Germain Racing Toyota), another Raybestos Rookie, still is holding on to 10th. He’s 34 points in front of 11th-place Michael McDowell (No. 96 K-Automotive Dodge), yet another rookie. Tony Raines (No. 34 Long John Silver’s Chevrolet) is 12th, 62 points out of 10th, while Kenny Wallace (No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet), 13th, is just three points behind Raines.

Trio Tries For The Triple At Phoenix

Kyle Busch came oh-so-close to making NASCAR history last week at Texas. He ran out of gas with a couple of laps to go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race – a race he’d been dominating.

That empty tank dashed his chance to become the first driver to win three national series races in one weekend. He won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race last Friday night, then followed with a victory in the NASCAR Nationwide event on Saturday.

He’ll have another shot at the feat this weekend at Phoenix as he’s entered in all three races. He’ll drive for Billy Ballew in the truck race and for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup events.

Kevin Harvick is going for the trifecta, too. The two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion will drive his own KHI equipment in the NASCAR Camping World Truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series races before moving over to his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

Both drivers have stellar records in all three series at Phoenix. They’re the only drivers to have won at least once in each series there and have a total of 24 top fives and 36 top 10s in 57 races combined among the three series.

Harvick is the defending NASCAR Camping World Truck winner at Phoenix, and has won three of the last four such races he’s entered at the one-mile track. He also earned his first national series victory there.

One more driver wants to join the “three-fer” club at Phoenix – Kevin Conway. Unlike Busch and Harvick, he’ll make his NASCAR Nationwide Series track debut in the No. 26 Chevrolet.

Conway also will attempt to make his NASCAR Camping World Truck and NASCAR Sprint Cup debuts this weekend – in the No. 71 R3 Motorsports Chevrolet in the trucks and in the No. 70 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet in NASCAR Sprint Cup. All three will carry the ExtenZe sponsorship.

“I’ve never been accused of doing things normally,” Conway said. “To make my Cup and Truck debuts at a track that I’ve never even seen is pretty ambitious but I’m excited to have the opportunity.”

For Bowles, It’s Better To Race Than Receive

As the 2009 champions from North America take the stage for the NASCAR Touring Series Awards Gala in Concord, N.C., on Saturday, Jason Bowles (No. 61 Specialty Racing Ford) will be more than 2,000 miles away.

But the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Series West champion has a great excuse: He’ll be driving in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Phoenix.

For Bowles, who parlayed a victory at Phoenix this spring in the NASCAR Camping World Series event to his first title, the chance to take the next step is too good to pass up. Bowles, who has finished third, second and first in consecutive years in the NASCAR Camping World Series West, is hoping a good run at a familiar track will open more doors for the 2010 season.

“Jason certainly opened some eyes with his championship performance this year,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR managing director of racing operations. “The NASCAR ladder system is designed to help drivers progress up toward their ultimate goals, and this is a great example of a driver getting a chance to prove himself at the next level after having success in our top developmental series.”

While he will have to cut his banquet week short, Bowles will attend many functions during the champion’s week. “I have mixed emotions,” he said. “We worked hard all season to bring home that championship trophy, and I look forward to taking part in the festivities and meeting all the NASCAR champions. As much as I’d like to be on that stage Saturday night, this is why I race and this is what I need to use this championship for. This might open the door for other opportunities and hopefully create some more for 2010.”

IN THE LOOP

A Little Rookie Magic Resides In The Top 10

The number 10 is the magic number for this year’s Raybestos Rookie class, one of the strongest in years.

Four Raybestos rookies are gunning for a top 10 points position spot, and those same four likely will have a solid shot at getting a top-10 finish in Saturday’s race at Phoenix.

As far as NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regulars go, the rookies rank statistically stronger than anyone.

At the top of the list is Brendan Gaughan, who sits ninth in the points standings and can lock in a top-10 spot Saturday – or improve. He’s run only one series race at Phoenix, but it was a good one. In a seventh-place finish, he posted a Driver Rating of 92.8, an Average Running Position of 11.2, two Fastest Laps Run and ran 200 of the 203 laps among the top 15.

Right behind Gaughan on the stat pages is Justin Allgaier, who is trying to hold on to his fifth-place points position. Allgaier has two starts at Phoenix, with finishes of 11th in November of 2008 and eighth earlier this season in April.

Allgaier, the Raybestos Rookie of the Year frontrunner, has a Phoenix Driver Rating of 85.4, an Average Running Position of 14.6, two Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 73.8.

The statistics suggest Gaughan and Allgaier are more likely to be in the thick of the top 10 than some of their other rookie counterparts. But Michael McDowell and Michael Annett might surprise.

McDowell has finished in the top 15 in both of his Phoenix races, scoring a 14th-place in November 2007 and an 11th-place finish earlier this year. In the April Phoenix race, McDowell scored a Driver Rating of 77.7, an Average Running Position of 18.3 and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-19.

But the pressure lies squarely on Annett who sits 10th, just 34 points ahead of McDowell. In his only Phoenix start – earlier this season – Annett finished 16th with a Driver Rating of 71.0 and an Average Running Position of 18.7.

NNS Etc: Phoenix Edition

  • Media Alert: Championship Events

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

    A luncheon featuring the champions of both series, their owners, crew chiefs, NASCAR President Mike Helton, NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Director Wayne Auton will be held from 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. on the Conference Terrace at the Loews and is open to the media.

    Media interested in attending the luncheon should RSVP to Sue Redstone (sredstone@nascar.com) by Saturday, Nov. 21.

    Beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, to kick off Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a hauler parade featuring rigs from both series will rumble down the MacArthur Causeway and on to Ocean Drive, ending at Lummus Park for driver / fan events.

    From 3:30-5:30 p.m., the top five drivers in each series will participate in the events, which include a driver Q & A session hosted by Mike Bagley of MRN Radio, and a driver autograph session. The autograph session is open to the first 150 fans who check in at Lummus Park and receive a wristband. Fans are limited to one item for drivers to sign.

  • Tagliani Makes NNS Oval Debut

    Alex Tagliani (No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge) will make his NASCAR Nationwide Series oval debut at Phoenix.

    The open-wheel veteran from Montreal made his series debut in August at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve driving for fellow Canadian Randy MacDonald. He finished 26th.

    Tagliani also has 13 starts in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series since 2007; he won his first race in that series in 2008 and captured poles in the two races he entered this year.

    Another Canadian driver, Daryl Harr, is entered in the No. 31 Fuel-doctor.com Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. Harr, from St. Albert, Alberta, made his series debut at Phoenix in April, finishing 37th due to engine failure.

    A career-high 12 of Harr’s 71 starts in the NASCAR Camping World Series West have come at PIR.

  • NNS Garage Gets In Giving Spirit

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

    Through Monday, Nov. 16, select NASCAR Nationwide teams will have donation collection containers at their shops so that fans can donate non-perishable items until the deadline. Fans can visit Braun Racing and Germain Racing (Mooresville); Kevin Harvick Inc. (Kernersville); RAB Racing and Roush Fenway Racing (Concord) and Richard Childress Racing (Welcome) to donate.

    Those teams, along with CJM Racing, Faith Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Key Motorsports and Team Rensi Motorsports, also are collecting items among their organizations for the donation.

    Additionally, the Task Force has scheduled a NASCAR Nationwide driver autograph session at Phoenix on Saturday from 8:30-9:30 a.m. local time in Gatorade Victory Lane. Fans are asked to bring at least one non-perishable food item or donate $5 to receive a special infield wristband in order to participate. Food item or cash donation collection in exchange for a wristband will begin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Gate 8 at PIR.

    All proceeds will benefit the West Davidson (N.C.) Food Pantry. NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers, including Michael Annett and Ricky Stenouse Jr., will deliver the donations to the location on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

  • Kimberly-Clark’s Final NNS Run

    Saturday will be the final race that Kimberly-Clark will serve as primary sponsor for the No. 27 Ford of Jason Keller, ending a 15-year association as the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ longest-running continuous sponsor. Kimberly-Clark announced earlier this season that it will be moving to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 2010 as a sponsor of JTG Daugherty’s No. 47 Toyota driven by Marcos Ambrose.

    The United States Postal Service will be the primary sponsor on the No. 27 for the season finale at Homestead.

    As a send-off, Ursulline Okonkwo, Miss Phoenix, will serve as an honorary crew member for the No. 27 team for Saturday’s race.

  • Four-Car Team For Braun In 2010

    Braun Racing announced it will field four cars in the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year, including a ride for Brian Scott, who is completing his second full season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He has one win, nine top fives and 19 top 10s in that series and currently ranks sixth in the standings. Scott has competed in his first seven NASCAR Nationwide Series races this year, five for Braun and two for CJM Racing.

    Jason Leffler and Kasey Kahne also will be part of Braun’s plans in 2010.

    David Reutimann (No. 10 Berringer Vineyards Toyota) and Reed Sorenson (No.  32 Dollar General Toyota) will team with Leffler this weekend at Phoenix.

  • NNS Raybestos Rookie Standings

    Driver                    Team       Points
1. Justin Allgaier          Penske     228
2. Brendan Gaughan    RWR        220
3. Michael McDowell    K-A          192
4. Michael Annett        Germain    190
5. Erik Darnell             RFR          156
7. John Wes Townley  RAB          135
8. Ken Butler III           JDM           87

Up Next: Homestead-Miami Speedway

The 2009 season officially comes to an end next Saturday, Nov. 21, at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the NASCAR Nationwide Series champion will be crowned.

Carl Edwards won last year, the second win in the last three races for Roush Fenway Racing. Joey Logano capped off an amazing first year in NASCAR national series racing with the pole.

ESPN2 will carry the race live beginning at 4 p.m. ET. The race broadcast starts at 4:30 p.m.

Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet), the 1992 series champion, leads all drivers with three wins at Homestead-Miami. Jeff Burton is the only other driver with more than one victory (two).

Jeff Green, the 2000 series champion, is the only driver to register more than one pole position at Homestead-Miami (two).

FAST FACTS

Next Race: Able Body Labor 200
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, Nov. 14
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET
Radio: SIRIUS NASCAR Radio/MRN
2008 Winner: Carl Edwards
2008 Polesitter: Denny Hamlin

Event Schedule (all times CT): Friday – Practice, 10-11:50 a.m., Final Practice 1:35-2:20 p.m.; Saturday – Qualifying, 10:05 a.m.


2009 STANDINGS

      Driver                   Points
1    Kyle Busch           5,374
2    Carl Edwards         5,102
3    Brad Keselowski    5,082
4    Jason Leffler          4,349
5    Justin Allgaier        3,831
6    Mike Bliss             3,818
7    Steve Wallace        3,726
8    Jason Keller           3,701
9    Brendan Gaughan   3,678
10  Michael Annett        3,395


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

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