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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Atlanta

Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) will make his series track debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. It may not be unfamiliar territory — each of Logano’s four NASCAR Nationwide wins this year have come at intermediate tracks.


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Drama Builds Under The Lights At Atlanta

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 1, 2009) – Following his stunning win via a last-turn pass of Marcos Ambrose last Sunday in Montreal, Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save A Lot Ford) made what seems like an obvious sports-related comment: “Just goes to show you should never give up. Anything can happen.”

In that case, and in the scenario in which he finds himself coming to Atlanta Motor Speedway, the cliché is not just fitting. It has life.

Three weeks ago, Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota) had a season-high 339-point lead over second-place Edwards in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings. Over the last two races, Edwards, the 2007 series champion, has sliced 147 points off that advantage to trail Busch by 192.

Now back in the championship chase with 10 races remaining, Edwards heads to the site of his first series victory (from the pole) in 2005. He was 241 points behind Clint Bowyer (and in third place) with 10 races left last year before rallying and falling to Bowyer in the title chase by 24 points.

This weekend provides another opportunity for Edwards to close the gap on Busch, who is tied for the most poles (two) at Atlanta, but has yet to parlay his good starting positions into a win. Busch has posted two top fives in five series starts at AMS.

Busch’s lack of success at Atlanta isn’t for a lack of effort. He led the most laps there last season (153), but a blown tire relegated him to 24th. In 2007 he also dominated the race, again leading the most laps (143) but couldn’t close the deal and finished third.

Make no mistake, Busch is still the man to beat in 2009. He’s posted a series-leading six wins, he and Edwards are tied for the lead with 17 top fives and he’s atop the leader board with 21 top 10s. Busch also has two poles.

Additionally, NASCAR’s Pre-Race Loop Data for Atlanta shows Busch with a higher Driver Rating than Edwards at 122.2; Edwards comes in with 111.0 rating in four races at the super-fast, 1.54-mile track.

The series will run under the lights at Atlanta for the first time in its 18 races there, another ingredient for great drama, which is becoming a staple this year. Fourteen of the first 25 races this season have ended with a margin of victory under one second; eight of those have been under a half-second.

Developmental, Indeed: Keselowski, Darnell Move Up To Cup

The NASCAR Nationwide Series has shown its driver development chops this week as two series-only regulars were given the green light to make the move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Delphi Chevrolet) finally confirmed what had been speculated for a few weeks, signing Tuesday with Penske Racing to run in the premier series on a full-time basis in the No. 12 Dodge beginning in 2010, replacing David Stremme. Keselowski, currently in third place in the NASCAR Nationwide standings with a career-high three wins and two poles, also will carry the tag of double-duty driver next year. He’ll team with Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) — the series’ Raybestos Rookie standings leader — and challenge for the NASCAR Nationwide Series title.

Monday, Yates Racing announced that Erik Darnell, who shares a NASCAR Nationwide Series ride this year with David Ragan (No. 6 Discount Tire Ford), will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut in the No. 96 Academy Ford at Atlanta, in addition to driving in six other premier series races for the organization this year. He’s also scheduled to drive at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bobby Labonte, the only driver to capture both NASCAR Nationwide (1991) and NASCAR Sprint Cup (2000) titles, will race the No. 96 for Hall of Fame Racing at the other five races on the 2009 schedule.

In his 11 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts this year, Darnell has earned his first career pole, two top-five and five top-10 finishes. He ran three full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series seasons from 2006-08 and won Rookie of the Year honors in 2005.

Ragan Rolling, Coming Into Home State

Just over 120 miles south of Atlanta Motor Speedway is Unadilla, Ga., the hometown of David Ragan.

Ragan, 23, who shares the schedule with Roush Fenway Racing teammate Erik Darnell, is making the most of his limited seat time this year.

Ragan, who also is in his second full season in NASCAR Sprint Cup, has run in nine national series races at Atlanta. He has one top-10 finish among those events in NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Camping World Truck competition, but his best finish in two NASCAR Nationwide races at AMS is 16th.

However, the 2007 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year comes home this weekend in a nice position — following a win.

He posted his first two NASCAR national series wins this year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, at Talladega in April and in his most recent race last month at Bristol Motor Speedway. Overall this year he has five top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 15 starts.

“It has been a breath of fresh air to grab two wins this year,” said Ragan. “When we go to the track now it is an entirely different feeling.

“It’s a big weekend for me. We’ve been very fast in our NASCAR Nationwide Series car the last few weekends, and to win at Atlanta would be huge.”

Another driver coming home is John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby’s Ford), who is from Watkinsville, Ga., located 75 miles east of Atlanta.

Townley, 19, is in the running for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. He’ll be making his series track debut this weekend for co-owners Rob Benton and Brack Maggard, who is from Eatonton, Ga.

Townley returns to the No. 09 Ford for this race after stepping aside in favor of veteran road course specialist Boris Said at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Said also ran for Townley at Watkins Glen International.

Series Is Well-Represented By Double-Duty Drivers In Atlanta

Fifteen double-duty drivers are on the entry list at Atlanta this weekend, the second-most this season only to the 16 that competed at Watkins Glen last month.

Among them are four former race winners at Atlanta, led by Jeff Burton (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) who had consecutive victories in 2006-07.

Carl Edwards won in 2005, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford) won in 2003 and Joe Nemecheck (No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet) was the 2001 winner.

Eight series championships are represented among six drivers in the field led by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 5 Degree Chevrolet) and Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet), each with two.        Biffle, Edwards and Brian Vickers (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) — who won his last time out at Michigan International Speedway — are the other series champions in the field.

The only thing that’s stopped Kyle Busch from perhaps becoming Atlanta’s all-time leader in Coors Light pole awards was the weather. Busch had won two consecutive poles from 2006-07, but the field was set by the rule book last year due to inclement weather.

Biffle, Dave Blaney (No. 91 MSRP Motorsports Chevrolet), Edwards and Ryan Newman (No. 1 Miccosukee Resort Chevrolet) are the others who have won poles at Atlanta. Biffle and Edwards won their races from the pole.

IN THE LOOP

Burton May Hold The Atlanta Key

With last year’s winner Matt Kenseth watching instead of racing, the door is wide open for a 14th different winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

But drivers may have to go through Jeff Burton first.

Before Kenseth captured last year’s event, Burton was on a two-race winning streak from 2006-07. 

In six series starts at Atlanta, he has two wins and three top fives. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, he ranks first among all drivers in Driver Rating at AMS at 129.5 and is also first in Average Running Position there (3.8).

He also is ranked fifth in Laps in the Top 15 at Atlanta with 97.4% of his laps run in the top 15.

Kasey Kahne (No. 10 Frito’s Toyota) is another viable candidate at Atlanta. He’ll be making his third start of the season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driving for Braun Racing.

In his two previous series starts this season for owner Todd Braun, he’s had mixed results with a top-five finish at Daytona International Speedway in July, and a 37th at Bristol last month after an overheating issue ended his night.

Kahne and the team hope the third time’s a charm at Atlanta, where he’s made seven consecutive series starts resulting in three top fives and six top 10s.  

This weekend could represent a successful one. NASCAR’s Loop Data for the Degree V12 300 shows Kahne ranking fourth in Average Running Position (7.7) and sixth in Driver Rating at 110.5.

He’s been one of the biggest movers at Atlanta in Green Flag Passes, ranked third with 153 passes over the last four years.

Those passes also have been productive — he’s ranked third in Laps in the Top 15 with 86.7% of his laps run in the top 15.

NNS Etc: Atlanta Edition

  • In The Garage

    Georgia natives in the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend include:

    Mary Briscoe (Marietta) — No. 09 VP, Business Operations
    Brack Maggard (Eatonton) — No. 09 co-owner
    Jacob Norman (Marietta) — No. 32 rear tire changer
    Craig Pope (Marietta) — No. 16 mechanic and shock specialist
    David Ragan (Unadilla) – No. 6 driver
    Jon Wes Townley (Watkinsville) – No. 09 driver

  • Townley, Stinchcomb Team Up

    J
    ohn Wes Townley will visit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on Wednesday. Townley also will appear on a brief closed-circuit TV show for the kids explaining his duties as a NASCAR driver before spending some time with them coloring and playing games.

    On Thursday, Matt Stinchcomb, a former University of Georgia star who went on to play with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, will join Townley at the Zaxby’s on Highway 20 in McDonough, Ga., from 6-8 p.m. to help raise funds for the Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF). Stinchcomb, a major advocate of CTF, helps host the “Countdown to Kickoff,” an annual CTF fundraiser at UGA. The No. 09 Ford show car will also be on display.

    Townley, Zaxby’s and RAB Racing have teamed up to support CTF by raffling a helmet signed by some of NASCAR’s top drivers. The raffle began Aug. 24 and runs through Sept. 7.

    Additionally, RAB Racing team will host two families of children with Neurofibromatosis (NF) at Saturday’s race. NF is a set of genetic disorders that in its most common form affect one in every 3,000 births and causes tumors to grow anywhere throughout the body. The team has been working to raise money for CTF, a non-profit medical foundation dedicated to improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by NF.

NNS Raybestos Rookie Standings

    Driver                     Team         Points
1. Justin Allgaier           Penske      207
2. Brendan Gaughan     RWR         197
3. Michael McDowell     N/A           184
4. Michael Annett         Germain     162
5. Scott Lagasse Jr.     N/A            154
6. Erik Darnell              RFR           113
7. John Wes Townley   RAB           109
8. Ken Butler III            R3              75

  • AMS Series Track Debut For Logano

    Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) will make his series track debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend. It may not be unfamiliar territory — each of Logano’s four NASCAR Nationwide wins this year have come at intermediate tracks.

    It’s also a semi-homecoming for Logano. His family lived in the Atlanta area for six years. At age 12, he set the Legends Car record for the most consecutive wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway with 14.

    Logano did make one start earlier this season at Atlanta in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series where he started 42nd and finished 30th.

NASCAR Nationwide Series 2009 Manufacturers’ Standings

Toyota        171
Chevrolet     152
Ford            149
Dodge          78

Only two manufacturers own the 17 NASCAR Nationwide Series wins at Atlanta. Chevrolet leads with 10 while Ford has seven victories.

Carl Edwards’ win last week in Montreal closed the second-place gap between Ford and Chevrolet to three points with 10 races to go.

Up Next: Richmond International Raceway

Next weekend the NASCAR Nationwide Series rolls into Richmond International Raceway for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 on Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. ET.

A special and impactful pre-race memorial for the 9/11 victims will be held, and one of the final pieces for the 9/11 Memorial will be on hand for fans and drivers to autograph before it will be shipped up to New York and put into place at Ground Zero.

Also, Benny Gordon (No. 72 VSI / Samuel and Sons Ford) will run a special paint scheme to remember the 9/11 victims.

It also will be a special time for Kenny Wallace (No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet); he’ll make his 800th NASCAR national series start at this event.

FAST FACTS

The Race: Degree V12 300
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile quad oval)
The Date: Saturday, September 5
The Time: 7 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300.3 miles / 195 laps
TV: ESPN2, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: SIRIUS NASCAR Radio / MRN (Local, WEKS-FM 92.5 )
2008 Winner: Matt Kenseth
2008 Polesitter: N/A – Inclement Weather

Event Schedule (all times ET): Saturday – Practice, 8-9 a.m. and 9:30-10:50 a.m.; Qualifying, 2:40 p.m.

2009 STANDINGS

     Driver                     Points
1   Kyle Busch              4,034
2   Carl Edwards           3,842
3   Brad Keselowski      3,752
4   Jason Leffler            3,429
5   Steve Wallace          2,900
6   Justin Allgaier          2,898
7   Jason Keller            2,821
8   Brendan Guaghan    2,787
9   Mike Bliss               2,774
10 Michael McDowell    2,738


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

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