Reality Show: Drivers Look Forward To California Comfort
The 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series season began last Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
But to the drivers and teams, the Stater Bros. 300 at Auto Club Speedway is where the season starts.
There are three restrictor-plate races on the NASCAR Nationwide schedule, along with three roadcourse events. But the bulk of the schedule — the remaining 29 races, starting with the 2-mile oval at ACS— is more representative of the series’ racing venues.
“The real season starts at California because your performance there will be a pretty good indicator of where you stand in comparison with everyone else, and what areas you need to work on for the first part of the season,” said Jason Leffler (# 38 Great Clips Toyotoa), who’s a native of Long Beach.
Moving past Daytona would be a good thing for Leffler. He was caught up in a 10-car incident midway through last Saturday’s event and never recovered, finishing 33rd. He experienced similar disappointment last year. After a promising start in the 2009 season opener, he was hit with a five-lap aggressive driving penalty and finished 31st. However, he collected himself and finished fourth in the final standings, the second time in three seasons he’s ranked among the top five.
Coming home to California hasn’t been the consistent elixir Leffler has hoped for, but he’s expecting different results this trip. His home track report card shows an average finish of 22.2 with only two top 10s.
This year, his Braun Racing team is one of the strongest in the garage, with four cars and a mix of talent that includes himself, Raybestos Rookie candidate Brian Scott (#11 AccuDoc Toyota) and Reed Sorenson — all series-only regulars — and double-duty drivers Brian Vickers (#32 Dollar General Toyota), the 2003 series champion, along with Kasey Kahne and David Reutimann (#10 Beringer Toyota).
Leffler will reach a career milestone Saturday at ACS, making his 225th series start.
Nice Start For Regulars; Patrick Set For Round 2
Tony Stewart was one-and-done in the series this year with his Daytona victory. Although he’s the standings leader coming to Auto Club Speedway, the attention now can turn to those who are in the running for the championship and the Raybestos Rookie honor.
Carl Edwards’ (#60 COPART Ford) second consecutive runner-up finish in the season opener gives him a head start on his quest for a second series title. He won the pole for last year’s Auto Club Speedway race and finished fourth. Bakersfield’s Kevin Harvick (#33 Rheem Tankless Chevy) was third at Daytona, and although he hasn’t officially announced his intentions to compete full time in the series, he’s been dropping hints that he may jump in and challenge for an unprecedented third championship.
Like Jason Leffler, a win at Auto Club would be a career highlight for Harvick. He’s coming closer, having improved from sixth to third to second, respectively, in his own KHI equipment over the last three years there. ACS is one of just seven active NASCAR Nationwide tracks where Harvick has yet to win. A trio of series-only regulars also has momentum heading West. Justin Allgaier (#12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), posted a career-best finish with his fourth-place result at Daytona. James Buescher (#1 Phoenix Racing Chevy), was eighth (the second top 10 in his short nine-race series career) and also staked claim to the Raybestos Rookie standings lead. Steve Wallace (#66 5-Hour Energy Toyota) was 10th, his best finish at Daytona.
Until she competes at Phoenix International Raceway in November, this is as close to home as Phoenix resident Danica Patrick (#7 GoDaddy.com Chevy) gets. She made her NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Daytona, but her day ended early (35th) in the same 10-car mishap that took Leffler out of the race. She’ll be the fourth woman — and the first since Shawna Robinson in 2005 — to race at ACS.
Busch, JGR In the Zone At California
Kyle Busch (#18 Z-Line Designs Toyota),the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, may be looking ahead to next week when the series races in his hometown of Las Vegas. But he seems pretty comfortable at Auto Club Speedway.
So does his Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Come to think of it, so does Toyota.
Busch, the defending race winner, made NASCAR history at Auto Club last season, becoming the first driver to win two national series races on the same day. After winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, he also won the NASCAR Nationwide Series event as part of a doubleheader. His NASCAR Nationwide victory also was his second consecutive at the track; he’d won the fall race in 2008.
Both of Busch’s wins were for Joe Gibbs Racing, and are sandwiched between two other wins by JGR, creating its current four-race winning streak at ACS. Tony Stewart won this race in 2008 while Joey Logano (#20 GameStop Toyota) won the 2009 fall event.
All four victories have come from either first– or second-place starting positions. Stewart was on the outside pole after weather canceled qualifying in his 2008 race. Busch won from the pole that fall and started second in this race last year. Logano won from the pole last October. Busch, who made his series debut in 2003 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will start his 175th
career race on Saturday.
LOOP DATA: Auto Club Could Signal Turnaround For Steve Wallace, RWR
Rusty Wallace Racing switched to Toyota in the off season, forming a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. It was a bold move, one that could launch the team into prominence. After all, JGR has won the last two series owner titles.
Though the season is very young, the change looks smart. Steve Wallace nabbed a top-10 finish at Daytona, posting impressive statistics in the event. In the race, he had a Driver Rating of 83.5, an Average Running Position of 14.1 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 65.8%. His start could foreshadow a career year.
He now heads to Auto Club Speedway, a track where he performed well in 2009. Last season, Wallace finished 10th and 29th at ACS, but the results weren’t exactly indicative of his performance.
In those two races he had a Driver Rating of 84.9, an Average Running Position of 11.7 and a Laps in the Top 15 of 87.2%.
The stats suggest that of the two races, his best occurred in the 29th-place finish. In that event, Wallace had an Average Running Position of 11.2 and a Driver Rating of 82.1. His teammate, Brendan Gaughan (#62 South Point Hotel & Casino Toyota) did not have as successful a Daytona race as Wallace (he finished 30th with a Driver Rating of 67.4), but his numbers are strong at Auto Club.
Last season, his rookie campaign in the series, Gaughan scored two top-10 finishes at ACS. Combined, he had a Driver Rating of 92.4, an Average Running Position of 12.0, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus- 24 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 93.0%. In this event last year, he ran all 150 laps among the top 15.
Biffle Looks For Early-Career Auto Club Magic
Greg Biffle (#27 Redman Moist Snuff Ford) would tie Matt Kenseth, his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teammate with Roush Fenway Racing, for the most NASCAR Nationwide Series wins at the track. Kenseth leads all drivers with four wins; Biffle has three.
But Biffle, the 2002 series champion, this year has switched NASCAR Nationwide allegiances for 2010, driving a partial schedule for Baker Curb Racing. The team, formerly Brewco Motorsports, was home to Biffle for 27 races in 2005 (he finished 10th in the final standings with one win), and for select events throughout the 2006-07 seasons.
The organization is a two-car team with the addition of Scott Lagasse Jr. (#43 Baker Curb Racing Ford).
Biffle was stellar earlier in his series career at ACS, regardless of his team. In addition to three wins, he totaled five top fives — including a runner-up finish in the 2005 fall race for BCR — and seven top 10s. But those stats came in nine starts from 2001 to this race in 2007, when he finished fifth.
His last three races at ACS haven’t been vintage Biffle, with finishes of 32nd, 34th and 14th, respectively. He didn’t compete at ACS in series competition in 2003 and 2008.
His wins all have come for Jack Roush, who is the leader among series car owners at ACS, with six victories.
One of Biffle’s new co-owners, Mike Curb, the successful record label owner, songwriter and producer, was born in Georgia but raised in the San Fernando Valley. He also is known for his political service to his home state.
In November 1978, Curb, a Republican, was elected California’s lieutenant governor, serving with Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat.
During the 1979-83 portion of his term, Curb was acting governor for nearly a year, helping guide the state through a tumultuous time that included floods, fires and a threatened prison guard strike.
Curb, who owned the car in which Richard Petty secured his record 200th and final NASCAR Sprint Cup victory, is a graduate of Cal State Northridge and also has served on the University of California Board of Regents, the California State University Board of Trustees and was chairman of the Economic Development Commission.
NNS Etc: Auto Club Speedway Edition
Rough Start For Some Rookies
James Buescher and Brian Scott were the only two drivers in the new class of NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookies to come through Daytona unscathed.
Buescher’s eighth-place finish was the best season-opening result for a driver in the program since Bryan Clauson was sixth in 2008.
Scott managed a lead-lap, 19th-place finish in his series track debut.
But the rest of the group will have to rebound at Auto Club Speedway.
The toughest luck among the trio went to Parker Kligerman (#42 Smith Ironworks Dodge), who didn’t make the race since rain washed out qualifying.
Colin Braun (#16 Roush Fenway Ford) and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#6 Citi-Financial Ford) were relegated to 34th and 36th places, respectively, after they both were tangled in a 10-car accident.
All five drivers are making their series track debuts at Auto Club Speedway.
Driver Team Points
1. James Buescher Phoenix 14
2. Brian Scott Braun 10
3. Colin Braun RFR 9
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR 8
5. Parker Kligerman SPR 0
► Fatherhood Countdown For Carl
Carl Edwards was breathing a little easier following last Saturday’s race at Daytona. And it had nothing to do with his secondplace finish.
His wife, Kate, is scheduled to deliver the couple’s first child, daughter Annie, this week. Wednesday was the target due date.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Annie hadn’t made her grand entrance. In case she waits until closer to race day, Erik Darnell is on standby for Edwards for this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide on-track activity at Auto Club Speedway.
Edwards has a win at ACS in the 2005 fall race and won the pole for this event last year.
► McClure Has Hollywood Ties
Eric McClure (#24 Hefty Ford) is at the furthest travel point from his home in Abingdon, Va., to Saturday’s race desitnation in Fontana, Calif.
However, he’s got Hollywood ties that are a little closer than that.
McClure’s first cousin, Scott McClure Cooper, was recently recognized for writing and directing the
movie “Crazy Heart,” which features Oscar nominees Jeff Bridges (Best Actor) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Best Supporting Actress) along with Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall.
The film also has been nominated for Best Original Song, “The Weary Kind.”
The 82nd Academy Awards gala is Sunday, March 2.
► Annett’s “Six Degrees” Of The Winter Olympic Games
He’s turned in his skates for a 3,400-pound race car, but Michael Annett (#15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota) still has his eyes on the sport of hockey and particularly the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Annett made the sport switch in 2005, following the conclusion of the United States Hockey League season. He played as a defenseman with the Waterloo Black Hawks, where he helped earn two Clark Cup championships and was named the team’s Most Improved Player in 2004.
In between his racing preparations, Annett will watch the Olympic hockey tournament. He’ll also keep a close eye on Canada’s superstar Sidney Crosby, a former USHL opponent.
Annett registed his career-best finish of sixth last fall at Auto Club Speedway. He’s working with a new spotter in 2010 — Jason Jarrett, the son of 1999 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett (also a charter driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with 329 starts and 11 wins).
► Manufacturers’ Standings
Following the season opener at Daytona, Chevy has come out of the box quickly, taking the early lead in the 2010 Bill France Performance Cup Standings. Toyota has won the last two awards, but before bursting onto the scene, it was Chevy that others were chasing, having won five consecutive titles from 2003-07 and 14 overall since the inception of the award in 1991.
Ford is the overall winner at Auto Club Speedway wtih eight victories, but hasn’t won since this race in 2007. Toyota has won the last four races at ACS, but each manufacturer has at least one win since 2006.
► Up Next: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The second of two consecutive West Coast races for the NASCAR Nationwide Series is Feb.
27 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
ESPN2 will carry the Sam’s Town 300 live beginning at 5 p.m. ET.
Recent series races at LVMS have been some of the most thrilling with the Margin of Victory in the last four races averaging .216 seconds.
Greg Biffle won the 2009 event while Scott Speed claimed his first NASCAR Nationwide Series pole.
Kyle Busch, the reigning series champion and a native of Las Vegas, has yet to win at his home track in six tries in series competition. He has one top-five finsih there, second in 2007.
Otherwise, his average finish is a very un-Busch like-23.0.
The race also will mark the final appearance for Danica Patrick before she heads back to her full IndyCar schedule. She’ll return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 26.
The Race: Stater Bros. 300
The Place: Auto Club Speedway (2-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, Feb. 20
The Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 150 laps
TV: ESPN2, 5 p.m. ET
Radio: SIRIUS NASCAR Radio/MRN (Local: KFRG-FM, KVFG-FM, KXFGFM)
2009 Winner: Kyle Busch
2009 Polesitter: Carl Edwards
Event Schedule (all times PT):
Friday – Practice, 11-11:50 a.m.; Final Practice – 1:40-3 p.m..; Saturday – Qualifying, 9:35 a.m.