The 2010 Season, Season Opener for NNS: As Good As It Gets
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2010) – Has there been a more anticipated NASCAR Nationwide Series season than this one? Saturday’s season opener at the iconic Daytona International Speedway carries its own aura, but the glow for its 29th NASCAR Nationwide Series race is nearing super-nova size.
Danica Patrick (#7 GoDaddy.com Chevy) will make her NASCAR debut in the DRIVE4COPD 300. She’ll be joined by her JR Motorsports team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88 Hellmann’s Chevy) on the starting grid.
Earnhardt is one of 14 double-duty drivers entered, and also is one of six former NNS Daytona winners — four of whom have victories in this race. Tony Stewart (#4 Ritz Crackers Chevy) is the defending winner and has won four of the last five season openers at Daytona, including the last two.
Eight former series champions also are entered, led by reigning titlist Kyle Busch (#18 Interstate Batteries Toyota). Six series-only regulars who ranked in the top 10 of the final 2009 standings return and
are joined by five Raybestos Rookies, all but one of whom will be making their series track debuts.
After Daytona, the momentum continues to build. The NASCAR Nationwide Series’ new car will run in four races, complete with two “pony car” models — the Mustang and the Challenger. The 2010 season also looks to be a perfect opportunity for a series-only regular to claim the championship for the first time in six years. This arguably is the strongest Raybestos Rookie class on record. And the series will welcome a new track but will stay in Wisconsin; Elkhart Lake’s Road America replaces the Milwaukee Mile on the schedule.
Danica Debuts at Daytona, Chrissy Hopes to Join
Following last Saturday’s sixth-place finish in the ARCA race at Daytona where she came from the back of the pack following a spin (the control she showed still has plenty of buzz), Danica Patrick decided to make her NASCAR national-series debut this week instead of Feb. 20 at Auto Club Speedway.
She had pointed to ACS as her inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race during her press conference last December announcing her foray into NASCAR with JR Motorsports. But she left open the possibility to run at Daytona depending on her ARCA outcome.
When she starts on Saturday, Patrick — who will run a 13-race NASCAR Nationwide schedule this year in addition to her full IndyCar slate — will be a part of series history. No woman has made her NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Daytona.
And she may not be alone.
Patrick is locked into the starting lineup. However, Chrissy Wallace (#41 Fuel-doctor.com Chevy), the 21-year old daughter of series veteran Mike Wallace (#01 Kendrick Meek for Florida Chevy), also hopes to be. She’ll have to qualify on time, but her short superspeedway career is solid. She finished 13th at Talladega Superspeedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event last October, and was ninth in her superspeedway debut in 2008 ARCA competition at Talladega.
Wallace envisions a second race with her dad, making them the first father-daughter duo to compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. They broke that barrier in the Truck race at Talladega. If Chrissy qualifies, it would mark the first time four members of the Wallace family have competed in a NASCAR national series race – she’s looking to join her dad, her uncle, Kenny (#28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevy), and her cousin, Steve (#66 5-Hour Energy Toyota), on the high banks.
Is 2010 The “Return Of The Regular?”
For the first time since 2005 — when Martin Truex Jr. won the second of his consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series championships — the competition for the crown is wide open.
That’s the last time a series-only regular claimed the championship. This year could signal a return.
Six of the eight series-only regulars who finished in the top 10 in the final standings last year are back: Jason Leffler (#10 ABF Toyota), who was fourth; Justin Allgaier (#12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), sixth; Steve Wallace (seventh); Jason Keller (#35 Tri-Star Chevy), eighth; Brendan Gaughan (#62 South Point Hotel and Casino Toyota), ninth and Michael Annett (#15 Pilot Travel Centers
Toyota), finished 10th. Each of those drivers has at least one full season of experience. However, Leffler (six full seasons) and Wallace (three) may be in their prime for a run at the three full-time “double-duty”
drivers who also will vie for the title.
Carl Edwards (#60 Fastenal Ford), the 2007 series champion; Brad Keselowski (#22 Discount Tire Dodge), who’s in his full year in NASCAR Sprint Cup and Paul Menard (#98 Menard’s Ford), who makes his full-time return to the series for the first time since 2006, are in for full seasons in the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Edwards was selected as the favorite via a preseason poll on NASCARMedia.com to become the eighth series driver to win multiple titles.
Reigning series champion Kyle Busch is scheduled for 20-plus NNS races this year, but will those be enough to keep him in the mix?
Leffler, however, thinks 2010 is the year where the regulars make their stand.
“I absolutely think it’s within the realm of possibility,” he said. “I think back on the mistakes I made personally, and the ones we made collectively as a team. If we could have just gotten those back we would have been a lot closer to that goal last season.
“Scott Zipadelli (crew chief) made a lot of improvements to our cars over the winter and made some personnel changes that I think will help us even more. I definitely think we can contend for it.”
Bevy Of Drivers Look For Success With New Teams
Four interesting names swapped teams since the last race of 2009: Jason Keller, John Wes Townley (#21 Zaxby’s Chevy), Scott Lagasse Jr. (#43 Baker Curb Racing Ford) and Brad Keselowski.
The biggest move came with Keselowski’s shift to Penske Racing. After success with JR Motorsports (six wins, including four in 2009), he becomes a double-duty driver for the first time in his career.
The increased workload, plus new equipment and crew, will make for an interesting watch. Keselowski has been statistically strong at Daytona in the past. In four Daytona races, he has an Average Running Position of 9.5, a Driver Rating of 96.5, 15 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 82.3.
Townley also could surprise. After a rookie year spent with RAB Racing, he moves to one of NASCAR’s top teams, Richard Childress Racing. The change should mean better results. In the two Daytona races last season, Townley finished 21st and 36th. Combined at Daytona, he has a Driver Rating of 41.0, an Average Running Position of 33.5 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of just 3.2%.
Keller was with Baker-Curb Racing last year, and notched a top-10 finish in the season opener at Daytona. Now he’s driving for owner Mark Smith. At Daytona since 2005, Keller has a Driver Rating of 59.6 and an Average Running Position of 24.8.
Lagasse now is with Baker-Curb after showing signs of promise last year with CJM Racing. At Daytona last season, he had a Driver Rating of 64.3 and an Average Running Position of 24.1.
The race favorite is the defending winner, Tony Stewart, who has won four of his last eight NASCAR Nationwide Series races. In seven Daytona starts since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Stewart has a series-high Driver Rating of 111.8, an Average Running Position of 9.8, 24 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-113 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 74.8.
Wind Them Up And Watch Them Grow
With a new decade opening for the series, the march of new stars is in full force, reinforcing the series as a true developmental opportunity.
This year, watch for the likes of Colin Braun (#16 Con-way Ford) and his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#6 CitiFinancial Ford). Both have already won poles in limited NASCAR Nationwide competition, and Braun (pronounced “Brown”) was selected by the media to finish fifth in the final standings and also was predicted to claim the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award.
James Buescher (#1 Phoenix Racing Chevy), Parker Kligerman (#42 Smith Ironworks Dodge) and Brian Scott (#11 Braun Racing Toyota) also are in the Raybestos Rookie program. Buescher (pronounced “Busher”) and Kligerman have won poles as well in their limited NASCAR Nationwide Series races while Scott graduates from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He won his first NASCAR
national series race last year at Dover and finished seventh in the standings.
Although not in the rookie program since he started 15 races last year, watch Trevor Bayne (#99 Diamond-Waltrip Racing Toyota). Chosen to finish 10th in the standings by the media in the preseason poll, he’s another of the young drivers who has a series pole to his credit.
The 2010 crop of new drivers hopes to land a spot on the impressive list of those who made
the transition to NASCAR Sprint Cup from the NASCAR Nationwide Series over the just completed decade.
NNS Drivers To NSCS Over The Last Decade
►Dale Earnhardt Jr.* (last full-time NNS season: 1999; first full-time NSCS season: 2000)
►Carl Edwards* (2005; 2005)
►Matt Kenseth# (1999; 2000)
►Kevin Harvick* (2000; 2001)
►Jimmie Johnson#(2001; 2002)
►Greg Biffle*, Jamie McMurray (2002; 2003)
►Brian Vickers*, Kasey Kahne (2003; 2004)
►Kyle Busch* (2004; 2005)
►Martin Truex Jr.*, Clint Bowyer*, Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorenson (2005; 2006)
►Paul Menard, J.J. Yeley (2006; 2007)
►David Ragan (2007; 2008)
►Marcos Ambrose (2008; 2009)
►Brad Keselowski (2009; 2010)
#Went on to win NSCS title; *NNS champion
NNS Etc: Daytona Edition
Balash, Colts Bow To Auton, Saints
If the outcome of the Super Bowl wasn’t bad enough for diehard Colts fan Joe Balash, the director of the NASCAR Nationwide Series, then the ensuing “payoff” of the friendly wager he made with Wayne Auton, director of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (and loyal Saints fan) certainly will be.
Balash must wear a Saints cap in Race Control during the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday at Daytona.
Auton, a life-long Saints fan, and Balash, who grew up a Los Angeles Rams fan before the Colts moved to his native Indianapolis, were travel mates last Saturday en route to the Big Game in Miami. They sat on opposite ends of the stadium during the contest, “trash texting” each other throughout the game.
As soon as the game ended, Auton bolted for the concourse and secured a brand-new Super Bowl champion cap for Balash to wear.
“Tough loss, but it was a great time,” Balash said. “I’ll take my lumps and wear the cap.”
► “Papa” Riggs Steadies Youthful RAB Racing Team
Scott Riggs (#09 RAB Racing Ford), the 2002 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, makes his return to the series for the first time since 2007 at Daytona. He and RAB Racing hope to find sponsorship to carry them through his first full season in the series since 2003.
Riggs, 39, is the elder statesman on the young team that’s led by co-owner Robbie Benton, 30. Ben Gable, also 30, has taken over as crew chief. The team has nicknamed Riggs “Papa.”
Although this is Gable’s first opportunity as a crew chief, he’s been in the industry for 20 years working under many top names in the sport like Bill Ingle, Harold Holly, Richard “Slugger” Labbe, Doug Randolph, Todd Parrott and most recently, Brad Parrott.
Gable has been with RAB for a year and is one of the youngest crew chiefs in the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage.
► NNS Drivers And The Daytona 500
In addition to the three double-duty drivers who will drive in the Daytona 500 — Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard — two series-only regulars are on the entry list. One is locked in while the other will have to use the Gatorade Duel at Daytona to earn his way into the field.
Robert Richardson Jr. (#23 Mahindra Tractors Chevy) has a spot in The Great American
Race with Front Row Motorsports. He’ll be making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track debut at Daytona.
Michael McDowell (#81 D.H. Griffin Companies Dodge) is entered for PRISM Motorsports for the 500 and will have to use the Duels as his ticket in. Additionally, Mike Bliss (#40 Key Motorsports Chevy), who is looking for an opportunity to pull full-time double duty this year on the NASCAR Nationwide side, also must get into the 500 field by virtue of the Duels. He’s competing full time this season for Tommy Baldwin in NASCAR Sprint Cup.
► ML Motorsports Sponsor Provides Help For Haiti Relief
ML Motorsports sponsor Biomet has worked behind the scenes to lend aid to the earthquake victims in Haiti. The team runs the #70 Foretravel Motorcoach/Biomet Chevy in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with driver Shelby Howard, and is entered for the season opener at Daytona.
Team owner Mary Louise Miller, who with her husband Dane founded Biomet, a leading manufacturer of orthopedic devices based in Warsaw, Ind., last month donated more than $250,000 of equipment to the relief effort.
Recently, the sponsor stepped up again. Over the last two weeks, the Millers learned of an effort by Sister Laureen Painter, vice president of St. Joseph Hospital Foundation in nearby South Bend, Ind., to gather local doctors to go to Haiti to volunteer their expertise. Working with Friendship Flights Inc., based at the Goshen, Ind., airport, Biomet donated the company's jet to fly the medical volunteers to Haiti. The Biomet flight crew is expected to bring the doctors back to the U.S. next week.
► Great (Clips) Day At Daytona
When Kasey Kahne takes the green flag on Saturday in the #38 Great Clips Toyota, the sponsor officially will become the longest-running primary sponsor in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Minneapolis-based Great Clips Inc. came onto the scene in 2001 as a primary sponsor of Akins Motorsports’ #38 entry. Kahne won his first series race in the car in 2003.
Kahne and Jason Leffler are sharing the Great Clips ride this year — Leffler will drive 27 races in the #38, Kahne 10. Leffler will drive the #10 Braun Racing Toyota in the races he’s not in the #38 (as he is at Daytona), thereby holding on to his full-time status.
► Up Next: Auto Club Speedway
A cross-country venture is up next for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Destination: Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The 2-mile track is the site of the Stater Bros. 300 next Saturday, Feb. 20. ESPN2 will carry the race live beginning at 5 p.m. ET.
The series stays out west the following week, racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Feb. 27.
Kyle Busch made history last year at this event, not only winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, but also the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race earlier in the day. The dual wins made him the first driver to claim two national series victories in the same day.
Busch also had won the fall race from the pole at ACS in 2008, giving him consecutive wins. But Joey Logano (#20 GameStop Toyota) won there last fall, breaking Busch’s streak.
Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyotoa bring a four-race winning streak at ACS into this event, dating back to this race in 2008 when Tony Stewart won.
The Race: DRIVE4COPD 300
The Place: Daytona International
Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval)
The Date: Saturday, Feb. 13
The Time: 1:15 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 120 laps
TV: ESPN2, 12 p.m. ET
Radio: SIRIUS NASCAR Radio/MRN
(Local: WNDB AM 1150; WKRO FM
2009 Winner: Tony Stewart
2009 Polesitter: Kevin Harvick
Event Schedule (all times ET):
Wednesday – Practice, 3-5 p.m.; Thursday – Final Practice 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Friday – Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.
Nationwide Series -- Race #1 – DRIVE4COPD 30050
Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile oval) – Daytona Beach, Fla.
Fast Facts for February 10-13, 2010
Tire: Goodyear Eagle Superspeedway Radials
Number of Tires: Nationwide Series: Left-side – 600, Right-side – 600
Tire Codes: Left-side -- D-4180; Right-side -- D-4006
Tire Circumference: Left-side -- 87.8 in.; Right-side -- 88.4 in.
Technical Inspection Inflation: Left Front -- 30 psi; Left Rear -- 30 psi; Right Front -- 55 psi; Right Rear -- 50 psi
Minimum Recommended Inflation: Left Front -- 27 psi; Left Rear -- 27 psi; Right Front -- 48 psi; Right Rear -- 45 psi
Notes: Teams in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series will be running the same combination of left- and right-side tires at Daytona this week, though the Nationwide tires will be branded Goodyear Eagle,” while the Truck tires will be branded “Goodyear Wrangler” . . . teams in these two series will be running a different tire combination than those in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series . . . this left-side tire code (D-4180) was first run by teams in these two series in 2009 . . . this right-side tire code (D-4006) dates back to July 2006 for Nationwide teams and January 2007 for Truck teams . . . Daytona is the only track at which these teams will run either of these two tire codes in 2010 . . . as on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run inner liners in all four tire positions at Daytona . . . air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.