It’s April, But Title Chase Has End-Of-Season Feel
Over the last few years, the first five races of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season haven’t presented many surprises in the driver or owner standings. Since 2005, the driver leader had a solid advantage over second place at that early stage of the year — an average of 71 points — and an even larger average of 152 points over the fifth-place driver.
The top 30 in owner points over that span — after the switch from the previous season’s owner standings— didn’t have many heavy-hitters on the outside looking in, either.
But this year, it’s radically different. Carl Edwards (# 60 COPART Ford) remains the driver leader, but Brad Keselowski (#22 Discount Tire Dodge) is 16 points behind in second. That’s the closest the second-place driver has been after five races since 2002 when Greg Biffle (#27 Red Man Moist Snuff Ford) led 2000 series champion Jeff Green by seven points. Biffle went on to win the title that year.
Meanwhile, 61 points separates first from fifth in the driver standings, with Justin Allgaier (#12 Verizon Dodge) in third, 21 points behind Edwards; reigning series champion Kyle Busch (#18 CombosToyota) fourth, 56 points out and red-hot Kevin Harvick (#33 Jimmy John’s Chevy), a two-time series champion, fifth. Those drivers also represent each of the four manufacturers.
Over the last five seasons, only two drivers went on to win the series title at this juncture — Harvick in 2006 and Edwards in 2007.
On the owner side, Roush Fenway Racing, with seven wins at Phoenix International Raceway including the last three, has two of its four full-time teams outside the top 30. Pre-season Raybestos Rookie favoriteColin Braun (#16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford) is 34th while fellow rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#6 Roush Fewnay Racing Ford) is 36th. They’re now forced to qualify on time along with Phoenix nativeMichael McDowell (#81 Mobile-Shop Dodge). McDowell is only three points out of 30th. Braun (27 points) and Stenhouse (64) still are within striking distance of a top 30-standing. On the flip side, only 45 points separate the teams in positions 25-30.
Duo Of Biffle, Lagasse Jr. Have Baker Curb On Upswing
Greg Biffle is the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to finish in the top 10 in each race in the premier series this year. The defending NASCAR Nationwide winner at Phoenix also has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three NNS events, giving him a nine-race streak of top-10 finishes among both series. Biffle looks to extend that streak at PIR, which has been one of his dominant tracks in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In 11 career series starts at Phoenix, he has three wins, six top fives and nine top 10s. Two of his wins – including this race last year – came for Jack Roush. His other victory was for Brewco Motorsports in 2005, the precursor to his current team, Baker Curb Racing.
And he isn’t the only Baker Curb driver on the move. For the fourth consecutive week, Biffle’s teammate, Scott Lagasse Jr. (#43 Baker Curb Racing Ford), has continued his rise in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings. After leaving Daytona in 32nd, he’s knocking on the door of the top 10. He’s currently 12th, only 23 points behind 10th-place Michael Annett (#15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota). Annett posted his best finish of the season — ninth — last Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway to move into the top 10 for the first time this year and the first time since finishing in that position as a rookie in 2009.
As other drivers came and left Nashville, Lagasse was busy settling into a condominium he leased near Vanderbilt University. “Throughout the first two months of the season, I’ve been on the go a lot and I think settling into a place in Nashville is going to be huge in helping to get settled in with my new team,” he said. “I’m going to be at the shop everyday doing everything I can to help this team keep improving every week.”
Sorenson Revitalized In NASCAR Nationwide Ride With Braun
There was no doubt about it, Reed Sorenson (#32 Dollar General Toyota) struggled through most of 2009.
In NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, his numbers were disappointing. Though he competed in all 36 races, he did not finish in the top five and landed in the top 10 just once. Sorenson’s average finish last season was just 25.3, his Driver Rating just 56.7.
But when he raced in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, it was like returning home. He was certainly more comfortable, numbers-wise. He ran only eight races, but almost all were strong. Sorenson had two top fives and five top 10s, an average finish of 11.9 and a Driver Rating of 92.2.
So “home” he will stay for the majority of 2010, save for a limited number of NASCAR Sprint Cup races for Braun Racing’s fledgling program. Already, it’s clear he enjoys his surroundings.
Sorenson missed the first three NASCAR Nationwide Series races of the season, ceding to teammate and 2003 series champion Brian Vickers, but has run the last two. Both results were stout.
At Bristol Motor Speedway, Sorenson finished seventh, with an Average Running Position of 11.7 and a Driver Rating of 98.1. Last Saturday at Nashville, he almost won — if the race were about five laps longer, he might have. In a runner-up finish, Sorenson had an Average Running Position of 6.3 and a Driver Rating of 113.0.
In his two races this season, Sorenson has a Driver Rating of 105.6, an Average Running Position of 9.0, 12 Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 91.0% and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus 34.
And those numbers should only improve.
Sorenson has a good history at Phoenix. He raced there last November to a third-place finish, with a Driver Rating of 113.5.
In his five career series races at the one-mile track, Sorenson has an average finish of 10.4, a Driver Rating of 100.5, 23 Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 89.1% and a Pass Differential of plus-49.
Sorenson has finished in the top 10 in each of the last four races at PIR, and in the top five in two of the last four.
Are You Really Sure, Kevin?
Kevin Harvick has stated that he’s not interested in competing full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year.
Wonder if he’s re-thinking that call? He won’t have to make his first true double-duty decision until June 5, when the NASCAR Nationwide Series is back at Nashville and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is at Pocono Raceway.
His win at Nashville was his 55th across each of NASCAR’s national series, tying him for 10th on the all-time list. In addition to his 36 NASCAR Nationwide wins (second all-time), he has 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup and eight NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories.
The Nashville win boosted his Kevin Harvick Inc. team total to three in the first five races of the season. Tony Stewart and the #4 team kicked off the year by capturing the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, which was followed by Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In addition to the organization’s NASCAR Nationwide success in 2010, KHI also has won two of the first four truck races with Harvick behind the wheel at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.
Now, he comes to Phoenix, a track where he’s had unprecedented success. Harvick became the first driver at PIR to win a race in all three of NASCAR’s elite series by registering his first truck win in 2002, followed by a sweep in 2006 of the NACAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events. Kyle Busch also has managed that feat at PIR. Harvick is one of only five drivers to win in all three of NASCAR’s top series at the same track, and is one of only 20 drivers to have at least one win in all three national series.
Scott’s Turnaround Also Brings Rookie Lead
Brian Scott’s (#11 BigSpot.com Toyota) solid finishes after the first two races of the year at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway — 19th and 10th, respectively — seemed far away after finishes of 31st and 29th in the next two events at Las Vegas and Bristol.
But patience and taking advantage of the his fellow Raybestos Rookies’ troubles have not only given Scott the rookie standings lead for the first time this year, but also have solidified his spot in the all-important top 30 in owner points after the first five races (17th).
While former rookie leader James Buescher (#1 Phoenix Racing Chevy), Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were either involved in accidents or had sub-par finishes last Saturday at Nashville, Scott finished 15th, his best effort since Feb. 20 at Auto Club. Scott (2009) and Buescher (2008-09) have
previously run at Phoenix in NASCAR Nationwide competition and both have average finishes of 15th. Braun has raced twice at PIR in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. This will be Stenhouse’s first national series race there.
Raybestos Rookie Standings
Driver Team Points
1. Brian Scott Braun 51
2. James Buescher Phoenix 51
3. Colin Braun RFR 47
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR 44
5. Parker Kligerman SPR 16
Following April 3 race at Nashville
NNS Etc.: Phoenix Edition
► Veteran Drivers Have Teams In First-Time Spots
They may be NASCAR veterans, but the positions in which Mike Wallace (#01 J-D Motorsports Chevy) and Scott Riggs (#09 RAB Racing Ford) have their teams is as exciting as their first national series start.
Wallace and J-DM continue their rise; he’s advanced to eighth in the driver standings, up one spot from last week and has Lori Davis ranked 10th in the owner standings, a jump of two positions.
After starting 37th last Saturday at Nashville, Wallace finished 17th, the fourth consecutive top-20 finish for the organization.
Meanwhile, Riggs has brought RAB back from a disappointing showing at Bristol two weeks ago when the team failed to qualify.
For the first time since the team’s inception, the car owned by Robby Benton is locked into the field. The #09 is currently 19th in the owner standings.
Riggs also will pull double-duty at Phoenix, driving the #90 Keyed-Up Motorsports Chevy in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. It will be his first attempt to qualify for a premier series race since he finished 38th last May at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
► Up-And-Comers Meet In Phoenix
Trevor Bayne (#99 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) and his Diamond-Waltrip Racing team will host Michael Flores, who last month was selected to the U.S. Junior Olympic Shooting team. The honor is a particularly prestigious one, as Flores is one of only nine young men from across the country to be selected.
Flores is close to D-WR majority owner Gary Bechtel, who wanted to have Bayne, 19, and Flores, 15, meet one another and interact as up-and-coming athletes in their respective sports.
The two will get an opportunity to learn about the other’s skill. On Thursday, Bayne will give Flores hot laps around PIR (scheduled for 12:30 p.m. MT) and Flores will give Bayne shooting lessons at a local range at 2:00 p.m. MT.
►Desert Road Warriors
Following Friday night’s race, Trevor Bayne and John Wes Townley (#21 Zaxby’s Chevy)
will be among drivers who will stay in the Phoenix area and participate in a two-day course at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. The course will help prepare the drivers for the upcoming road courses on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule. Michael McDowell will be on hand to help instruct Bayne.
The time seems perfect for Ford to jump back into contention in the Manufacturers’ standings. Currently in fourth, Ford comes to Phoenix as the all-time leader in wins with nine, including the last three.
Chevy, the current standings leader, is second with four wins at PIR, but none since a season sweep in 2007. Third-place Dodge has one victory and Toyota, in second, is seeking its first win.
► Up Next: Texas Motor Speedway
Unlike a “gimme” putt in golf, drivers certainly don’t concede victories. However heading to Texas Motor Speedway next Saturday for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN2) — who will challenge Kyle Busch?
Busch has won the last four NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Texas and is aiming to tie a series record for the most consecutive wins at one track. Two-time series champion Jack Ingram won five consecutive races at South Boston while Dale Earnhardt won five straight at Daytona.
The last driver to win at Texas not named Busch was Kevin Harvick in 2007. That was his third consecutive fall race win there.
In between Busch’s first pole at Texas in 2004 and his most recent for this race last year, there had been eight different pole winners. The starting lineup for the 2008 spring race was set by the rule book.
Next Race: Bashas’ Supermarkets 200
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval)
The Date: Friday, April 9
The Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 miles / 200 laps
TV: ESPN, 9 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Listen locally on KGME-AM 910)
2009 Winner: Greg Biffle
2009 Polesitter: Carl Edwards
Schedule prior to race day (times MT): Friday, April 9–Practice, 8-10 a.m.; Qualifying, 2:10 p.m.
NASCAR Nationwide Series -- Race No. 6 – Bashas' Supermarkets 200 Phoenix International Raceway (1.0-mile oval) – Avondale, Ariz.
Fast Facts for April 9, 2010
Tire: Goodyear Eagle Intermediate Radials
Number of Tires: Nationwide: Left-side -- 575, Right-side -- 575
Tire Codes: Left-side -- D-4238; Right-side -- D-4240
Tire Circumference: Left-side -- 87.3 in.; Right-side -- 88.6 in.
Technical Inspection Inflation: Left Front -- 20 psi; Left Rear -- 20 psi; Right Front -- 30 psi; Right Rear -- 30 psi
Minimum Recommended Inflation: Left Front -- 12 psi; Left Rear -- 12 psi; Right Front -- 30 psi; Right Rear -- 27 psi
Notes: Teams in both NASCAR series in action at Phoenix this weekend will run the same tire codes . . . this is the same combination of
left- and right-side tires that teams in these two series ran at Phoenix last season . . . this is also the same tire set-up that Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams ran at Richmond in 2009 and will run again in 2010 . . . teams in these series ran this left-side tire code (D-4238) with a slightly different right-side code at New Hampshire last season . . . Nationwide teams also ran this left-side code at Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Memphis in 2009 . . . as on most NASCAR ovals one mile or less in length, teams will not run inner liners in their tires at Phoenix.