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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Nationwide Series News and Notes - Phoenix

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

For Glendale, Ariz. native Michael McDowell (No. 47 Tom’s Snacks Toyota), this spring’s trip to Phoenix International Raceway is a matter of a different series and renewed karma. A year ago, McDowell finished 34th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500. Twelve months later, McDowell has shifted his talents to the NASCAR Nationwide Series behind the wheel of a JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota.

Courtesy: NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 13, 2009) - Call Friday night’s Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 the “Clash of the Titans."

That isn’t to say that 39 other drivers plan to take a back seat to Greg Biffle (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota), Carl Edwards (No. 60 Roush Fenway Ford),  and Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Rheem Tankless Water Heaters Chevrolet).

The four, however, would appear prohibitive favorites based on past performances at Phoenix International Raceway. It’s also safe to say that success at Phoenix has been a significant factor in NASCAR Nationwide Series championships claimed by Biffle, Edwards and Harvick and Busch’s 2004 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year crown.

Edwards holds what amounts to a miniscule championship lead over Busch — 23 points — following Saturday’s race at Nashville Superspeedway in which Busch finished second and Edwards fifth.

Busch is the defending winner of this week’s race. He also won the track’s fall event in 2007 and — like Harvick — has won races in all three of NASCAR’s national series at Phoenix.

Biffle is a multiple Phoenix winner, visiting Victory Lane in 2001 and the spring of 2005. He has an average finish of 8.5 in 10 starts and has led 430 laps — more than a fifth of the laps in which he has competed.

Edwards ended Busch’s bid for a Phoenix three-peat last November and won the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 in 2005. The Missouri native has competed in eight NASCAR Nationwide Series races in the Valley of the Sun posting six top-five and eight top-10 finishes. Edwards has never finished off the lead lap.

Harvick, who isn’t running for the championship but went to Victory Lane in his last series appearance last month at Bristol Motor Speedway, is equally proficient at a track he considers home. The Bakersfield, Calif. veteran won the 2006 spring race and has finished outside the top five just once in his most recent eight starts.

Harvick is one of just two drivers to score a NASCAR Nationwide-NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend sweep at the Desert Mile. He also raced to his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory last November.

The quartet has a combined seven wins, 24 top fives, 31 top 10s and six poles in 38 NASCAR Nationwide starts at Phoenix.

They’ve also won six of the past eight races there meaning any driver able to put the four in the rearview mirror may have a top five finish and, quite likely, a checkered flag.

McDowell’s Homecoming Much Different Than A Year Ago

For Glendale, Ariz. native Michael McDowell (No. 47 Tom’s Snacks Toyota), this spring’s trip to Phoenix International Raceway is a matter of a different series and renewed karma.

A year ago, McDowell finished 34th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500. Twelve months later, McDowell has shifted his talents to the NASCAR Nationwide Series behind the wheel of a JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota.

The Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year contender, who admittedly struggled in NASCAR’s premier series after being plucked from a far less competitive environment, has turned in solid performances during the season’s first six races. He’s ranked 13th in NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings following a 15th-place finish at Nashville Superspeedway. McDowell led his first laps in series competition at Nashville.

Ironically, the NASCAR Nationwide Series is where the 24-year-old McDowell had hoped to be in 2008. The offer of the seat at Michael Waltrip Racing, however, was impossible to refuse — especially since it was the only NASCAR national series opportunity on the table.

“My plan never was to go from the ARCA Re/Max Series to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,” said McDowell earlier in the season. “Now I get back to where I should have been in the first place and I’ll be (better) able to show my abilities.”

McDowell called last year’s experience “humbling” as he ran far behind the race leaders. There was an upside.

“That (Sprint Cup) experience definitely is going to help me this year,” he said.

Logano Edges Teammate Busch: ‘Dash 4 Cash’ Rolls Over

You might say that Joey Logano (No. 20 Sport Clips Toyota) picked his teammate’s pocket — to the tune of $25,000.

Logano, winless in the NASCAR Nationwide Series since last June at Kentucky Speedway, snatched the lead from Kyle Busch with 10 laps remaining in last Saturday’s Nashville 300.

The pair had exchanged the lead 10 times before Logano pulled away to win by .487 seconds.

Busch, by virtue of competing full time in the series, would have been eligible to claim the first Nationwide “Dash 4 Cash” bonus. Logano, a part-time competitor whose primary focus is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is not.

Thus, the bonus rolls over to its second of four rounds on June 13 at Kentucky Speedway where an eligible winner can pocket $50,000.

Logano is the fifth different driver to win in the first six races of the 2009 season. The 18-year-old moved to sixth in series points standings despite competing in only five races.

Busch still posted his best NASCAR Nationwide finish in seven starts at Nashville.

“Hats off to Joey because he had the best car today,” Busch said.

Rookie Drivers Still Holding Their Own

Six races into the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide schedule, there’s evidence a number of Raybestos Rookie contenders have the staying power to compete for a top-10 position overall.

With Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Toyota) leading the way at Nashville Superspeedway, three freshman drivers rank among the top 10.

This appears to be the strongest Raybestos class since 2005 when three rookies — Carl Edwards, Reed Sorenson and Denny Hamlin — finished the season third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the standings.

Lagasse nailed down his second top 10 of the season to rank ninth in points standings. Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Dodge) ranks seventh with Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Chevrolet) lodged in the No. 8 slot.

The Nashville 300 marked the first time that Lagasse, from St. Augustine, Fla., has captured Raybestos rookie of the race honors.

Allgaier continues to lead the Raybestos standings by a slim five points over Gaughan. Lagasse is third, a single point behind Gaughan while Michael McDowell is fourth.

Eight points cover the top four drivers heading to this week’s Bashas’ Supermarkets 200.

Last year’s Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 saw only a single rookie finish among the top 20. Dario Franchitti was 11th.

Greg Biffle is the only Raybestos Rookie contender to win at Phoenix. Biffle won the fall event in 2001.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                   Team         Points
1   Justin Allgaier           Penske        63
2   Brendan Gaughan     RWR            58
3   Scott Lagasse Jr.      CJM             57
4   Michael McDowell     JTG-D           55
5   Michael Annett          Germain       47
6   John West Townley   RAB             43 
7   Ken Butler III             R3               19
8   Peyton Sellers          CM               7
9   Marc Davis               MDM             6
10 Erik Darnell*             RFR               0
*First race not until Richmond 5/1

In The Loop: Statistics Favor Logano At Phoenix

Becoming the first driver to win two NASCAR Nationwide Series races before the age of 19, Joey Logano clearly has set up a path to stardom.

Though experiencing some growing points in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – he’s just 35th in points – Logano is enjoying success beyond his years in NASCAR Nationwide competition.

Logano sits sixth in points, despite running only five of the six races this season. His statistics jump off the page – making fans wonder what he could do if he ran a full season.

In five races this season, Logano has a Driver Rating of 108.5, an Average Running Position of 7.3, 65 Fastest Laps Run, 918 Laps in the Top 15 (92.3%) and has led 95 laps. All those rank in the top three in the series.

And according to the pre-race Phoenix statistics, things should only get better for the youngster – which is saying a lot considering Phoenix’s tricky dogleg layout.

In his only Phoenix race (last November), Logano scored a 10th place finish and racked up some impressive statistics. That race, Logano posted a Driver Rating of 106.7, an Average Running Position of 9.1, 168 Laps in the Top 15 (84.1%), 14 Fastest Laps Run and a Pass Differential of 27 (40 green flag passes compared to 13 times passed).

Also watch for a strong run from fellow phenom Justin Allgaier, who finished one spot behind Logano in last year’s November Phoenix race.  

Allgaier is seventh in the points, with a season-to-date Driver Rating of 87.1, by far the best among Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates. Additionally, Allgaier has an Average Running Position of 13.3, 28 Fastest Laps Run and 1,000 Laps in the Top 15 (83.1%).

Those numbers will likely improve if he has a performance like he did last year in the desert. In last year’s Phoenix race, Allgaier had a Driver Rating of 80.1, an Average Running Position of 16.8 and ran 128 of the 201 laps among the top 15.

KHI Accelerates Bid For Second NASCAR Owner Championship

Somebody once said that too many cooks spoil the broth, but that’s hardly the case at Kevin Harvick Inc.

Three different drivers in the past three races have produced a victory and a trio of top-five finishes for the NASCAR Nationwide Series-only team.

Kelly Bires is the latest KHI driver to notch a top five finishing fourth at Nashville. His solid performance follows a second at Texas by Tony Stewart and Harvick’s first victory in his own car at Bristol last month.

While Harvick won’t win a third driver championship, his team appears to have the horsepower to challenge Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing for the owner title.

KHI already has a NASCAR national series title locked away. Ron Hornaday Jr. drove one of the team’s Chevrolet trucks to driver and owner championships in 2007.

Roush and Gibbs, on the strength of solid performances by Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, respectively, rank one-two in owner points with six races completed.

But KHI — and Childress, also employing multiple drivers — are only 48 points out of the lead. 

While the owner points take a second seat to the driver championship, there’s no doubt that serious bragging rights are at stake among the high-profile teams.

KHI is the only team among the current top five that doesn’t field a NASCAR Sprint Cup team on a full-time basis.

The last NASCAR Nationwide Series-only owner to win a title was Greg Pollex in 2000. Jeff Green was the driver champion.

NNS Split Decisions

There have been different driver and owner champions on three occasions in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Year   Driver                     Owner
2003   B. Vickers, No. 5      RCR, No. 21
2007   C. Edwards, No. 60   RCR, No. 29
2008   C. Bowyer, No. 2      JGR, No. 20


  • On the move: Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Delphi Chevrolet) left Daytona in a points hole following a 22nd-place finish. Two consecutive third-place finishes have boosted him to fifth place.

  • Roush Fenway Racing’s next victory will be No. 100 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

  • Austin Dillon (No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) is set to make his third career series start. Dillon, 19, finished fourth in last October’s race at Memphis Motorsports Park.

  • NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Brian Scott (No. 10 Great Clips Toyota) will compete in Phoenix following his 25th-place debut at Nashville. He’s teamed with Jason Leffler and Phoenix Copper World Classic winner Burney Lamar (No. 32 Dollar General Stores Toyota) at Braun Racing.

  • Darryl Harr (No. 31 Circle K Thirstbuster Chevrolet), a NASCAR Camping World Series West and Canadian Tire Series veteran from St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, hopes to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Phoenix.

2009 Manufacturers’ Championship Standings

Chevrolet     40
Toyota         40
Ford            33
Dodge         19
Following Race 6 of 35 Nashville Superspeedway

Chevrolet and Toyota each have scored 40 points as the frontrunners in the 2009 Bill France Performance Award standings entering the seventh race of the season.

The Nashville 300 marked the third victory for Toyota — one more than rival Chevrolet.

The race also found Joe Gibbs Racing teammates finishing one-two for the first time since July 4, 2008.  Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch grabbed the top two finishing positions of the Winn-Dixie 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway.

Chevrolet is the only multiple winner of the Phoenix spring race wining in 2006-07.

Bliss, Leffler Love Phoenix

Safe to say Phoenix seems like home to Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) and Mike Bliss (No. 1 Miccosukee Indian Gaming and Resort Chevrolet).

Each has been to Victory Lane multiple times in multiple series. Both would like to add the NASCAR Nationwide Series to their list of victories.

Bliss has a pair of top-10 finishes in NASCAR Nationwide competition and a victory (1998) in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He’s also won three USAC Silver Crown races and a sprint car event. He is making his 150th start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Friday.

Leffler, who similarly starred in open-wheel cars before moving to NASCAR, has won one Silver Crown and one midget race. His best NASCAR Nationwide Series effort came in his first start — second in 2000.

Bliss finished sixth in last spring’s Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 and was eighth in the track’s fall race.

Leffler had an “off” year at Phoenix in 2008 with finishes of 14th and 25th.

Up Next: Talladega Superspeedway

The NASCAR Nationwide Series makes its only stop of the season at Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron’s 312 on April 25.

Tony Stewart is the defending winner of the race. Stewart’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota snapped a five-race domination of Victory Lane by Chevrolet.

Stewart became just the second driver to win the race from the Coors Light Pole.


The Race: Bashas’ Supermarkets 200
The Place: Phoenix Int’l Raceway
The Date: Friday, April 17
The Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN, 9 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch

Event Schedule (all times MST)
: Friday - Final Practice 8-10 a.m.; Qualifying 2:30 p.m.


Rk  Driver                 Points
1    Carl Edwards         959
2    Kyle Busch            936
3    David Ragan           799
4    Jason Leffler           762
5    Brad Keselowski     733
6    Joey Lagano           728
7    Justin Allgaier          676
8    Brendan Gaughan    676
9    Scott Lagasse Jr.    672
10  Jason Keller            667

Keeping Pace

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