A Decade, A Dash And A Doubleheader At Nashville
Easter weekend at Nashville Superspeedway is the traditional opening of the “stand-alone” season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where the series is the only — or main — draw on the schedule. This is the first of nine such events in 2010. This year, there’s a new twist. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series also will be on the weekend docket, bringing the first doubleheader to the track to help celebrate its 10-year anniversary.
The trucks will race on Friday night followed by the NASCAR Nationwide race on Saturday afternoon, which also is the first of four “Dash 4 Cash” races sponsored by series sponsor Nationwide Insurance. Full-time, part-time and limited-schedule series-only drivers along with double-duty drivers who have competed in every series race have the opportunity to pocket an extra $25,000 with a win. Otherwise, the pot rolls over to the next “Dash 4 Cash” event, June 12 at Kentucky Speedway. Iowa Speedway (July 31) and Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 6) also are “Dash 4 Cash” tracks.
Joey Logano (#20 GameStop Toyota), last year’s winner, is the only ineligible driver. But, just as the spoiler returned to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway (where Logano finished second), he brings his “spoiler” role to Nashville, where he also played that part with his win last year.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series’ 10-year career at the track has been a storied one. The inaugural series race in 2001 was won by Greg Biffle, which also was his first career series win. Jason Leffler (#38 Great Clips Toyota), Reed Sorenson (#32 Dollar General Toyota), Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski (#22 Discount Tire Dodge) all recorded their first NASCAR national series wins as series-only regulars at Nashville in NASCAR Nationwide competition. Scott Riggs (#09 RAB Racing Ford) — who won the first NASCAR race at the track in the truck series in 2001 — also won in consecutive years in the NASCAR Nationwide Series from 2002-03.
Jason Keller (#35 Tri-Star Chevy), has 16 starts at Nashville, more than any other driver. So what makes the track a launching pad for first-time winners? “I don’t know, but I do know it feels like ‘our’ race track, a Nationwide-only race track,” he said. “When the double-duty guys come to race they’re on our turf and it’s special that way. We take ownership of that. We always race hard but maybe that’s why there have been so many first-time winners. When we’re challenged at ‘our’ track, we do what we can to own it.”
RACE 5 @ Nashville Superspeedway
Top 30 Set By 2010 Owner Points After Nashville
Following the Nashville race, the top 30 teams in the NASCAR Nationwide owner standings that are guaranteed starting positions turn over to 2010 points.
Through the first five races of the year, the top 30 are set by 2009 owner points. There are some stout names on the bubble. Kenny Wallace (#28 Jay Robinson Racing Chevy), Brendan Gaughan (#62 South Point Hotel & Casino Toyota), Mike Bliss (#40 Key Motorsports Chevy) and Michael McDowell (#81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge) are fighting to stay in the top 30. Meanwhile, Robert Richardson Jr. (#23 R3 Motorsports Chevy), who will make his 50th career series start Saturday and celebrates his 28th birthday Sunday; Brian Keselowski (#26 K-Automotive Dodge) and the Roush Fenway Racing Raybestos rookie duo of Colin Braun (#16 Con-Way Ford) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#6 CitiFinancial Ford) need to pick up precious positions to avoid qualifying on time starting next week at Phoenix International Raceway.
Bliss-Ful Times Ahead For Mike?
It took a little while, but Mike Bliss may have recaptured the magic he spun for much of last season. In 2009, Bliss finished fifth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, with a Driver Rating of 84.8. In four of the final five races last season, Bliss scored a top-10 finish, and had a Driver Rating of at least 101.8 in each of those results. But all those finishes came in the #11 CJM Racing Toyota, which isn’t running this season (as a footnote, the car’s owner points went to the #7 JR Motorsports ride driven by Danica Patrick for the first three races of the year). Now, Bliss is solely in the #40 Key Motorsports entry. He struggled badly to begin the 2010 season. Here were his numbers through the first three races of the year (at Daytona International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway): an average finish of 31.3, a Driver Rating of 58.1, an Average Running Position of 31.6, one Fastest Lap Run and not a single lap run among the top 15. But then came Bristol. And a seemingly new Bliss showed up. The performance resembled nothing of the previous three races. In an eighth-place finish, Bliss had a Driver Rating of 83.7, an Average Running Position of 15.8, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-17 and 151 Laps in the Top 15. That’s 151 more than he had up to that point.
And now he heads to a track – Nashville Superspeedway – where he has enjoyed success. Last season, driving the #1 Chevy for Phoenix Racing, Bliss scored finishes of eighth and fourth, respectively. In those events, he racked up a Driver Rating of 109.2, an Average Running Position of 6.9, 25 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential of plus-12 and had a very strong Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 99.1 % (he ran all but four of the laps among the top 15). Bliss’ 2009 success also helped him secure double-duty in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where he drives the #36 Chevy for Tommy Baldwin.
Fans First: Riggs’ Fan Club, Followers, Fellow Competitors Step Up
Scott Riggs and his RAB Racing team knew entering the season that securing sponsorship after the first three races would be a challenge. The team responded well on the track — Riggs was 10th in the driver standings after the first three events, but fell to 22nd after failing to qualify at Bristol Motor Speedway. Undaunted, the organization has continued to prepare its veteran driver — who was the 2002 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year and also boasts two of his four careers wins at Nashville Superspeedway — for competition. But the off-track sponsor scenario wasn’t as rosy, until the team used social networking — its Twitter account and Riggs’ own fan Web site — to ask for support. And the response has been enough to get the driver and team back on track at Nashville. The “Sponsor Scott” fan car came together just over two weeks ago. The opportunity offered different levels of sponsorship and more than 75 fans raised in excess of $30,000 through various efforts including a “chicken plate fundraiser” sponsored by Riggs’ old schoolmates in and around the Durham, N.C., area. Additionally, fellow NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier (#12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) and his family stepped up to help the 39-year-old driver with a significant donation. RAB and the Allgaier’s family-owned operation worked closely during their time together racing in ARCA, thus the answer for the call to assist. The “Sponsor Scott” fan car will carry new colors for the Nashville race – grey and white with red numbers.
Back To Racing Means Back To Title Chase
Following Justin Allgaier’s first career win March 20 at Bristol – which was supplemented by teammate Brad Keselowski’s second-place finish (and pole) – the young Penske Racing duo is squarely staring down standings leader Carl Edwards (#60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford). All Edwards has done so far in 2010 is finish in the top five in each of the first four races. But his standings advantage is just 26 points over second-place Keselowski and 31 over Allgaier, who’s in third. Not much of a comfort zone for the 2007 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion. Saturday’s race at Nashville normally would be one that fills Edwards with confidence. He’s the all-time series wins leader with three — all in succession from 2006-07. He also has eight top-five finishes in nine starts. But Keselowski, 25, is nearly as good and has a more recent win (2008) to go along with four top fives in six starts. Allgaier, 23, started his first two series races at Nashville last year but didn’t meet with much success. He has some work to do with an average finish of 21.0. The Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Joey Logano and Kyle Busch (#18 Z-Lines Designs Toyota), who won last year in April and June, respectively, is back while Kevin Harvick, who hasn’t competed at Nashville since 2006 — and since winning the second of his two series titles — brings his track resume of one pole, one win, two top fives and three top 10s in three series races with him. Another driver bears watching — veteran Mike Wallace (# 01 Monster Diesel Chevy). He’s ninth in the standings, the first time a J-D Motorsports driver has ranked in the top 10. Wallace is chasing his nephew, Steve (#66 5-Hour Energy Toyota), who’s eighth, just 14 points in front of his uncle. Steve had a string of five consecutive top-10 finishes snapped at Bristol when he was caught up in an accident with Colin Braun. Nashville may be the track where Braun rights himself, however. In two NASCAR Camping World races at the 1.33-mile track, Braun has an average starting position of 3.0 and an average finish of 4.5.
NNS Etc.: Nashville Edition
► Double-Duty Of A Different Kind
Six drivers will be pulling double-duty at Nashville, running in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night before Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide main event: James Buecher (#1 Phoenix Racing Chevy), Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick (#33 Armor Chevy), Brad Keselowski, Johnny Sauter (#27 Red Man Moist Snuff Ford) and Steve Wallace. Sauter is driving for locally-based Baker Curb Racing on Saturday. He’s seeking a milestone at Nashville, going for the 50th top-10 finish of his NASCAR Nationwide career. He finished second for BCR at Nashville in 2004 and won the pole before finishing second for Richard Childress Racing in 2003.
Two of Sauter’s three career series wins also have connections to RCR. Crew chief Rick Viers guided Sauter to his first career series victory at Chicagoland Speedway in July 2002 and Baker Curb co-owner Mike Curb was the owner of Sauter’s #43 when he won at Richmond International Raceway in September 2003.
► Bayne, Allen Lead Homecoming
For the second consecutive week, Trevor Bayne (#99 Diamond-Waltrip Racing Toyota) and Willie Allen (#05 31W Insulation Chevy) are racing at home.
Bayne, 19, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., considers Nashville and Bristol his home tracks.
He made his track and Diamond-Waltrip Racing team debut in last year’s June race. Allen, from Bon Aqua, Tenn., runs for Wayne Day and comes to Nashville off his career-best finish, 15th, at Bristol. Five of his 12 series starts have come at Tennessee tracks.
Additionally, Dollar General, the sponsor for the Braun Racing Toyotas of Reed Sorenson (#32) and Brian Scott (#11), is based in Goodlettsville, Tenn.
This week, Sorenson and crew chief Trent Owens will visit the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center as part of Dollar General’s commitment to literacy and Autism. Owens’ two-year-old son was diagnosed with Autism last year.
Drivers and teams will have the added bonus of race fans throughout the garage on Saturday. Nashville Superspeedway’s unique “All Access” plan is a ticket add-on that gives fans unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the driver/crew chief meeting and pre-race access to Victory Lane, pit road and the Fan Walk behind the garage area.
Nashville Superspeedway has been a track-winning streaks for series manufacturers. Chevy and Toyota, both with 24 points in the Bill France Performance Cup standings, have won the last four races, Toyota the last two. Ford won three straight, the longest winning streak at the track, from 2006-07, and also had a two-race victory string in 2000-01. Of active manufacturers, only Dodge (2005) has yet to piece together a winning streak. But the hot tandem of Justin Allgaier and Brad Keselowski could change that for Dodge, tied with Ford with 20 points.
► Raybestos Rookie Standings
Driver Team Points
1. James Buescher Phoenix 43
2. Brian Scott Braun 40
3. Colin Braun RFR 37
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR 35
5. Parker Kligerman SPR 16
► Get NASCAR Day Pins At Nashville
The NASCAR Foundation will be accepting $5 donations for the 2010 NASCAR Day collectible lapel pins at Nashville Superspeedway. “Miss Motor Speedway” representatives will be located at a midway booth on Friday and Saturday to greet fans.
Proceeds from the pins will benefit The NASCAR Foundation to help children live happier, healthier lives. To learn more visit www.NASCAR.com/foundation.
► Up Next: Phoenix
The final western swing until November is up next for the NASCAR Nationwide Series after its Music City stop as the series travels to Phoenix for the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 on Friday, April 9. ESPN2 has the race at 9:30 p.m. ET. Greg Biffle won last year, while his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, won the pole. Biffle and Edwards are tied for the most wins — three — at the 1-mile track while Jack Roush has seven wins in 16 races at PIR.
1 Carl Edwards 670
2 Brad Keselowski 644
3 Justin Allgaier 639
4 Kyle Busch 594
5 Kevin Harvick 569
6 Greg Biffle 563
7 Paul Menard 528
8 Steve Wallace 472
9 Mike Wallace 458
10 Brian Vickers 457
Next Race: Nashville 300
The Place: Nashville Superspeedway (1.333-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, April 3
The Time: 4 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 225 laps
TV: ESPN, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Listen locally on WRQQ-FM 97.1.)
2009 Winner: Joey Logano
2009 Polesitter: Carl Edwards
Schedule prior to race day (times CT): Friday, April 2–Practice, 2:30-3:55 p.m.; 5:30-6:30 p.m..; Saturday, April 3– Qualifying, 11:05 a.m.