Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Memphis

Mike Bliss (Photo Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Jason Smith / The Spokesman-Review)
Mike Bliss (Photo Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Jason Smith / The Spokesman-Review)

In four Memphis starts, Oregon native Mike Bliss has an average finish of 5.5. In his two Memphis races since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Bliss has a Driver Rating of 121.6 and an Average Running Position of 5.3.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

There’s No Quit In Bliss

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mike Bliss (No. 11 Ridemakerz Toyota) is not only making the best of what could have been a trying season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he is also racking up some style points by doing so.

He’s been in the top 10 in the series points standings throughout the season, but following July’s US Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, he was without a full-time ride. At that point, he was sixth in the standings, 14 points out of fifth.

However, that didn’t deter the veteran. In fact, he has more than met his challenge. Since being released from his former team, Bliss has competed with five different organizations in five different cars but still cobbled together starts in the subsequent 10 races, which has kept him in the top 10 in points.

Bliss has run with his current team, CJM Racing, in two of the last four races, placing second in both. He’ll be in the No. 11 this weekend at Memphis Motorsports Park, where he has top-10 finishes in each of his four series races. He’s seventh in the rankings, only nine points behind Steve Wallace (No. 66 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet) for sixth, and 118 behind fifth-place Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge).  Allgaier is the NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings leader by 18 (226-208) over Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 US Fidelis Chevrolet).

Bliss still has a chance at winning races, too. He won in May at Lowe’s Motor Speedway prior to his release, and was second last month at Dover Motor Speedway as well as last week’s race at LMS driving the No. 11. He has posted a top-10 finish in each of his four starts at Memphis Motorsports Park, and has a Driver Rating of 121.6 at the three-quarter mile track, second best among all drivers.

Memphis Last Stop In 2009 ‘Dash 4 Cash’ Program

There is an excellent chance the winner of Saturday’s Kroger On Track For The Cure 250 will come home with an additional $25,000 on top of his share of the prize money. The last of four races for the popular ‘Dash 4 Cash’ program will take place at Memphis, and competitors will fight to take its bonus for the second time this season.

Saturday’s race marks the final NASCAR Nationwide Series stand-alone race of 2009. A $25,000 bonus has been up for grabs for the winner of one of four stand-alone NASCAR Nationwide Series races this season, granted the winner is a full-time or part-time series-only regular or a full-time double-duty driver. The bonus rolled over to the following race since the winner was not a series-only regular.

In July at Iowa, Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Delphi Chevrolet) became the first driver to take home the bonus, which had ballooned to $75,000 after races at Nashville Superspeedway and Kentucky Speedway were won by Joey Logano. He’s not entered at Memphis.

Still, there are several drivers who could throw a wrench into the plans this last time around. Matt Kenseth (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford) is making his first start at Memphis since the inaugural series race at the track in 1999, when he finished 21st, while David Reutimann (No. 99 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) won his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Memphis in 2007. In that victory, Reutimann scored a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0. He finished second last season at Memphis.

Deference From The Leader: Memphis Is “Carl’s Track”

He may lead the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, but Kyle Busch (No. 18 FedEx Toyota) made it known that Memphis is a track at which his closest rival, Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save-A-Lot Ford), excels.

Busch would be correct. Edwards, the 2007 series champion, used Memphis as a springboard in his attempt to capture last year’s title, winning the race from the 34th starting position. It was the second time a Memphis winner has come from outside the top 20 starting positions.

“Next week, we go to one of Carl’s best tracks, which is Memphis,” said Busch, now fourth all-time in NASCAR Nationwide Series wins (28), following his victory last Friday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. “I haven’t been there for a while, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Not only are Busch and Edwards, separated by 195 points, battling for the championship trophy, they are also seeking the Elvis Presley trophy, given to the race winner. It will be the final time the track will present the trophy as the mold will be broken following Saturday’s race.

Standing in for Edwards during practice and qualifying will be Auggie Vidovich, while Busch’s substitute will be Casey Atwood. Others sitting in for entered drivers are Trevor Bayne for David Reutimann  and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for Matt Kenseth.

Cassill Returns, New Developmental Talent Debuts At Memphis

Landon Cassill (No. 1 Miccosukee Resort Chevrolet) is back. The 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year will make his 2009 season debut at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Having won rookie honors with five top 10s and one pole position in 16 races last season, Cassill opted to stay as a developmental driver with Hendrick Motorsports for 2009 and has stayed busy despite not racing in NASCAR.

In July, he accompanied four NASCAR teams to England for the Goodwood Festival of Speed and drove the “T-Rex,” the then revolutionary No. 24 chassis that four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon drove to victory in the 1997 NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.

Cassill will not be the only young talent in Saturday’s race. Additionally, Matt DiBenedetto (No. 20 Toyota), who turned 18 in July, will make his first series start at Memphis as part of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable.

“Matt D,” as he is known, put together a solid NASCAR Camping World Series East campaign this season, notching two victories, three pole positions, four top fives and five top 10s in seven starts.

Richard Boswell II (No. 5 RCCA Chevrolet), also will attempt to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut. Boswell is a JR Motorsports late model driver who has been with the team for three seasons. He has posted three victories in 58 starts. He must qualify on time.

Another driver, Nick Joanides (No. 31 Chevrolet), is scheduled to debut for Rick Ware Racing. He has championships in the NASCAR Super Late Model and Late Model classes at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, Calif., and finished third in the 2009 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings.

IN THE LOOP

Pardon My Rust: Busch Back At Memphis After Five-Year Layoff

Carl Edwards needs to take advantage of this weekend’s race at Memphis if he hopes to make any kind of charge at standings leader Kyle Busch.

Two things must take place for Busch’s 195-point lead to be dramatically slashed. One, Edwards, currently in second, needs to continue past success at the Tennessee short track. Two, Busch needs to show some rust that may have built up after five years away from Memphis.

The last time Busch ran at Memphis was in 2004, where he finished 14th and led 59 laps.

But Edwards has competed at Memphis in each of the last four years, including a win last season. Over that span, Edwards has a Driver Rating of 106.5, an Average Running Position of 11.6, 100 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 72.4%.

As impressive as they are, those numbers probably don’t do Edwards’ success complete justice. He had an uncharacteristic 25th-place finish at Memphis in 2007, and his numbers at that race drag down an otherwise stellar Memphis tenure. In that event, he had a Driver Rating of 68.9 and an Average Running Position of 18.6.

Three other drivers could also help Edwards in thwarting Busch’s path to Victory Lane.

One is Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota), whose Memphis statistics also are not as impressive as they maybe should be. Overall, Leffler, who’s fourth in the standings, has a Driver Rating of 89.2 and an Average Running Position of 13.2. But his last two Memphis races might tell a more accurate tale. In those events, he averaged a Driver Rating of 108.0 and an Average Running Position of 8.3.

Another is Mike Bliss, who has two runner-up finishes in the No. 11 Toyota that he’ll drive again this weekend. In four Memphis starts, Bliss has an average finish of 5.5. In his two Memphis races since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Bliss has a Driver Rating of 121.6 and an Average Running Position of 5.3.

Also, watch for Kelly Bires, who will be in the No. 33 Kevin Harvick, Inc. Chevrolet that has two wins this season (both with Kevin Harvick behind the wheel).

Bires has run two races at Memphis, both in the No. 47 JTG Ford.  In those two events, Bires had an average finish of 16.0, a Driver Rating of 67.0 and an Average Running Position of 22.7.

This will be Bires’ final race for KHI before he moves on to a full-time series ride with JR Motorsports in 2010.

NNS Etc: Memphis Motorsports Park Edition

  • McDowell Leads Tight Battle For 10th

    Michael McDowell (No. 96 AT&T Dodge) has quite a cast vying for his 10th-place spot in the standings. The Raybestos rookie is trying to hold off four drivers, all of whom are within 81 points of taking that position away.

    Tops are fellow Raybestos rookie Michael Annett (No. 15 Germain Racing Toyota), who is only seven points behind McDowell with four races remaining. Next is Tony Raines (No. 34 Long John Silver’s Chevrolet), who is 12th, 51 points behind Annett.

    Joey Logano, with five victories this season, is 13th in points, 12 behind Raines and 70 behind McDowell. Kenny Wallace (No. 28 US Border Patrol Chevrolet) still is lurking back in 14th, 81 points out.

  • NNS Raybestos Rookie Standings

    Driver                      Team        Points
1. Justin Allgaier            Penske     226
2. Brendan Gaughan      RWR        208
    Gaughan has put together his best back-to back finishes (7th at Auto Club Speedway, 15th at
    LMS) since July when he was 4th at Kentucky and 13th at the Milwaukee Mile.
3. Michael McDowell      K-A          190
4. Michael Annett          Germain    185
5. Scott Lagasse Jr.      N/A           154
6. Erik Darnell               RFR          149
7. John Wes Townley    RAB           127
8. Ken Butler III             R3              87

  • Hitting Another Milestone

    This weekend, two drivers will reach milestones, while another is seeking one. Kenny Wallace will make his 450th series start, while Mike Bliss is making the 175th start of his career.

    Jason Keller (No. 27 Cottonelle Ford), will seek his 175th top-10 finish. His Nashville-based Baker Curb Racing team will have driven to 13 of 32 races this season after Memphis, totaling 3,665 miles, thanks to five in-state events and its close proximity to most of the series’ tracks.

  • Volunteers Only By Affliation

    They are not volunteers for the teams, per se, but these drivers and crew members are Volunteers as Tennessee natives. In addition to drivers Willie Allen (No. 42 Smith Ironworks Dodge) of Bon Aqua, Mark Day (No. 05 31W Insulation Chevrolet) of Clarksville and Brad Teague (No. 52 Chevrolet) of Johnson City, Tennesee native crew members include:

Bobby Hamilton Jr. (Nashville) - No. 24 co-owner
Jeff White (Nashville) - No. 27 engineer
Stewart Cooper (Mt. Juliet) - No. 10 crew chief
John Reese (Mt. Juliet) - No. 27 car chief
Butch Waugh (Smyrna) - No. 27 rear tire carrier
Also Of Note: Rocky Ryan
, the No. 29 spotter, played hockey at Vanderbilt before entering the hotel management industry in Nashville. In addition, FedEx, the sponsor of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, is headquartered in Memphis.

Manufacturers’ Standings

Toyota can clinch its second consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series manufacturer championship Saturday, needing only to finish better than fourth among manufacturers, or have Chevrolet finish anywhere but first.

Even in a dominating season, however, Toyota has only one victory at Memphis while Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with six wins. Ford has two victories at the .75-mile track and sits third in this year’s standings.

NASCAR Nationwide Series 2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings

Toyota         214
Chevrolet    190
Ford            182
Dodge         96
Following Race 31 of 35 at Lowe's Motor Speedway

  • Nuts And Bolts

    Carl Edwards’ car will carry a  pink paint scheme at Memphis in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

    Brian Ickler (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) will return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series for his second race this season and the third of his career. Ickler’s spotter is Tom Busch, father of Kyle Busch, the driver Ickler considers his mentor.

    Mike Wallace (No. 01 Nutone Chevrolet) will compete in the final four races this season. His JD Motorsports team has partnered with NOLAND Company, which will sponsor the No. 01 for the rest of 2009.

    There will be a driver autograph session at the track Friday from 5:15-6:15 p.m. following final practice. Saturday at 11 a.m., the NASCAR Foundation is sponsoring a Track Walk.

Up Next: Texas Motor Speedway

If Kyle Busch keeps up his momentum at Texas Motor Speedway, he will almost be assured of winning the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.

Following a sweep of last season’s races at the 1.5-mile track, Busch is in search of his fourth consecutive victory at Texas. He also won April’s O’Reilly 300 after starting on the pole, becoming the first driver to accomplish that feat at TMS.

Busch’s first victory there in April 2008 was a race record. And he wins again at TMS in November, he will tie Kevin Harvick’s mark of four victories, set in the second 2007 race.

TMS has held 17 NASCAR Nationwide Series races since 1997 and is one of nine tracks to welcome the series twice in a season, which it has done since 2005.

FAST FACTS

The Race: Kroger On Track For The Cure 250
The Place: Memphis Motorsports Park (.75-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, Oct. 24
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 187.5 miles / 250 laps
TV: ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: SIRIUS NASCAR Radio/ MRN
2008 Winner: Carl Edwards
2008 Polesitter: James Beuscher

Event Schedule (all times CT): Friday – Practice, 1:30-3 p.m., Final Practice 3:30-5 p.m.; Saturday – Qualifying, 9:45 a.m.

2009 STANDINGS

     Driver                     Points
1   Kyle Busch              5,004
2   Carl Edwards           4,809
3   Brad Keselowski      4,732
4   Jason Leffler            4,019
5   Justin Allgaier          3,632
6   Steve Wallace         3,523
7   Mike Bliss               3,514
8   Jason Keller            3,495
9   Brendan Gaughan    3,403
10 Michael McDowell    3,185




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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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