Does Busch’s Bubble Burst At Talladega?
So much for having time to catch your breath.
After two days of rain delays that postponed the race at Texas Motor Speedway until last Monday, the NASCAR Nationwide Series is on a short week heading to the longest oval track on its schedule — Talladega Superspeedway — for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312. There will have been a progression of distances over the last three races, from the short-track at Phoenix
International Raceway to the intermediate venue of Texas and now on to 2.66-mile Talladega – which will be the final race at a restrictor-plate track for the current car before the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ new car debuts on July 2 at Daytona International Speedway.
Despite the different tracks and 801 miles of racing on Monday, nothing has seemed to phase reigning series champion Kyle Busch (#18 Z-Line Designs Toyota).
His last two weeks have been extraordinary. After winning at Phoenix where he came from 10th to first over the last seven laps, he also won at Texas. His victory Monday matched the series record of five consecutive wins at the same track, set by Dale Earnhardt (Daytona) and Jack Ingram (South Boston). He also registered his fourth straight perfect Driver Rating (150.0) in series races at Texas.
Busch also claimed the standings lead for the first time since officially being crowned champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November. He’s 20 points in front of second-place Brad Keselowski (#22 Discount Tire Dodge), and his first-place standing is the best among his ranking in each of NASCAR’s national series. He’s sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and 10th in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points. Two-time series champion Kevin Harvick (#33 Rheem Chevy) also is ranked in all three; third in the NASCAR Nationwide standings and fourth in NASCAR Sprint Cup and trucks.
But that hot streak could change for Busch coming to ‘Dega. Although he does have wins at Talladega in NASCAR Sprint Cup (2008) and in the trucks (2009), he’s yet to go to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In six career races, his average NNS finish is 18.7; he was 10th last year.
Allgaier Continues To Carry Series-Only Regular Flag
Despite his second consecutive finish outside the top 10 with an 11th-place result at Texas, Justin Allgaier (#12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) was able to jump one spot in the points standings to fourth. He’s been the highest-ranked series-only regular in the standings over the first seven races.
His gain was Carl Edwards’ (#60 FASTENAL Ford) loss. The 2007 series champion fell from second to fifth, 106 points behind leader Kyle Busch, after dropping a gear late in the race at Texas and surrendering a certain top-five finish in the process. His 30th-place finish snapped a string of 18 top 10s dating back to last year. He also hasn’t been this low in the standings since he was third following the August race at Auto Club Speedway in 2008. Another concern: He’s got an average finish of 19.4 at Talladega.
Then there’s Scott Lagasse Jr. (#43 Autism Society of America Ford), who steadily has shown improvement, especially in the time since his father, Scott Lagasse Sr., has taken over as his crew chief. He moved up one position to eighth in the standings following Texas and returns to the track on which he produced his career-best finish in series competition — eighth — at this race last year.
And Brendan Gaughan (#62 South Point Hotel & Casino Toyota) is back in the top-10 mix. Gaughan has battled his way back from 31st, after Daytona, to as far back as 24th, following Bristol, to his current position. Gaughan is the seventh different driver to occupy 10th in the first seven races.
Lagasse and Gaughan are far from comfortable, however. Only 51 points separate Lagasse in eighth from Tony Raines (#34 Long John Silver’s Chevy) in 17th. Raines finished fourth at Talladega last year, his best series result since 2005.
Talladega Turnaround In Store For Leffler?
The 2010 season has not started so swimmingly for Jason Leffler (#38 Great Clips Toyota).
There have been flashes of promise, but other times, uncharacteristic disappointments.
Leffler has notched only one top-10 finish, a ninth at Bristol. He also has two finishes outside the top 30 – a 33rd at Daytona and a 39th at Nashville Superspeedway.
But there are reasons for optimism, despite his 11th-place points position, his worst after seven races since 2007 (he was 18th).
Oddly, one of those reasons is his points position. Though 11th, Leffler is still fourth among NASCAR Nationwide Series-only regulars. Best among them is Justin Allgaier in fourth. Second is Scott Lagasse Jr. in ninth, who is only 15 points ahead of Leffler.
Another reason: Momentum. Slowly, Leffler is marching up the standings after his poor start at Daytona. In the past three starts, he’s moved from 15th, after Nashville, to 14th, after Phoenix, to his current standing.
At Texas, Leffler had one of his best races of the season. In a 12th-place run, he scored a Driver Rating of 86.1, an Average Running Position of 13.8, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 72.5%, a season-high three Fastest Laps Run and four Laps Led.
A third reason: Talladega Superspeedway. Leffler runs well at the 2.66-mile Alabama track, especially recently. In his last two races there – 2008 and 2009 – Leffler has posted two top 10s. In a fourth-place run in 2008, Leffler posted a Driver Rating of 113.3. In a sixth-place finish last season, he had a Driver Rating of 112.1.
Over the last two races, Leffler has strong average numbers: an average finish of 5.0, a Driver Rating of 112.7, an Average Running Position of 7.4, five Fastest Laps Run, seven Laps Led and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 95.8%.
“Iron Man” Keller Keeps Milestone 500th Start In Sight
So far, 2010 has been one big rollercoaster ride for Jason Keller (#35 Tri-Star Motorsports Chevy).
Entering the season, the series’ all-time starts leader was primed to become the first NASCAR Nationwide Series driver to reach another milestone: 500 starts.
He entered the year with 492 starts, and had things gone according to plan, the celebration of that magic number would have been secured this weekend at Talladega.
But since Keller’s deal with Tri-Star Racing came together just before the start of the season, the new team was outside the top 30 in 2009 owner points, forcing him to qualify for the first five races on time.
He was unable to do so at Daytona and again at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But despite that disappointment, there was a silver lining.
Those first two misses gave him the chance to get #500 at Darlington Raceway, which is the home track for the Greenville, S.C., native.
But as fate would have it, he posted a DNQ last week at Texas.
However, Talladega could still bring a turnaround for Keller. Although his average finish is 21.0, he’s collected two top-10 results in his last three races there, including seventh last year.
He’s also the most recent winner among drivers on the entry list for the event, having won in 2002.
Keller is seeking career start #497.
Déjà Vu Mixes With Double-Duty For Some Drivers At ‘Dega
This weekend at Talladega will be like old home week for a number of drivers.
Chrissy Wallace (#0 J-D Motorsports Chevy) hopes to repeat in her return to Talladega.
Last October, in her NASCAR Camping World Truck Series track debut, the daughter of series regular Mike Wallace (#01 Choctaw Casino & Resort Chevy) finished 13th in the first-ever father-daughter race in NASCAR national series history. Mike finished 28th.
They’ll both be running for J-D Motorsports this weekend.
Chrissy and Mike also were entered at Daytona in the 2010 season opener, but Chrissy’s day ended quickly following a Lap 1 accident.
Steve Arpin, 26, the ARCA Racing Series standings leader, will make his NASCAR national series debut this weekend in the #7 JR Motorsports Chevy.
The native of Fort Frances, Ontario, has two wins in the first four ARCA races this year. Last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that Arpin would drive the #7 at Talladega and Richmond International Raceway. Landon Cassill, originally scheduled for those events, will pick up the May event at Dover International Speedway.
Another ARCA regular, Patrick Sheltra, who’s currently third in that series’ standings, will make his NNS season and track debut at Talladega with RAB Racing in the # 09 Ford.
Sheltra and Arpin also are entered in Friday’s ARCA event at Talladega along with NASCAR Nationwide Series regular James Buescher (#1 Phoenix Racing Chevy). Buescher is second by two points to Brian Scott (#11 Braun Racing Toyota) in the NASCAR Nationwide Raybestos Rookie standings.
Additionally, John Wes Townley, who recently has given way to 2008 NASCAR Nationwide champion Clint Bowyer in the # 21 Zaxby’s Chevy, also is entered in the ARCA race. And veteran Bobby Gerhart will compete in the ARCA event before attempting to qualify for the NASCAR Nationwide race in the #75 Lucas Oil Chevy.
Gerhart (2001) is a former ARCA winner at Talladega, as are NASCAR Nationwide regulars Mike Wallace (1995); Paul Menard (#98 Tide/Menards Ford) in 2003; Michael Annett (#15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota) in 2007 and Justin Allgaier in 2008.
NNS Etc.: Talladega Edition
►Duo Has Special Starts At ‘Dega
Eric McClure (#24 Hefty/Food City Ford) remembers his first NASCAR race at Talladega. It was in 2004, when he made his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut. He finished on the lead lap, in 26th place. This weekend McClure will recognize another milestone at Talladega. His sponsor, Hefty, will make its 100th start with his NASCAR Nationwide team. McClure secured the sponsorship in 2006 and Hefty made its debut as a premier sponsor at Talladega in 2006, also with McClure in NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Robert Richardson Jr. (#23 R3 Motorsports Chevy) also made his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut at Talladega. It was last year, and Richardson surprised many by finishing 18th in his first premier series race. He collected his career-best finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last year at Talladega as well — 16th. He’ll try to better those results this weekend as he’s again pulling double duty at ‘Dega.
► Allgaier Challenges Fans To Race
A little extra racing before heading to Talladega can’t hurt. But what if you get beat in the process? Justin Allgaier is hoping that won’t happen. But if it does, he probably won’t be too disappointed. The 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year will be at the NASCAR Speedpark in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Wednesday, April 21 at 11:30 a.m., where he’ll challenge fans and media to a go-kart race. Allgaier will be available for interviews following the event. Media may contact Jake Harris, PR Director at Darlington at jmharris@ darlingtonraceway.com for further information.
Raybestos Rookie Standings
Driver Team Points
1. Brian Scott Braun 71
2. James Buescher Phoenix 69
3. Colin Braun RFR 66
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR 65
5. Parker Kligerman SPR 16
A Raybestos Rookie has scored a top 10 in each race at Talladega since 2000.
Consecutive wins by Toyota have created some space in between it and second-place Chevy in the Manufacturers’ Standings.
Although Chevy is the top winner at Talladega with seven victories, Ford is the defending winner, while Toyota snapped Chevy’s five-race winning streak in 2008. Dodge is still looking for its first Talladega win.
► Scheming in Talladega
Alexander Kovach, 7, is the grand-prize winner for the Aaron’s “2010 Color Your Way To Talladega” contest. By creating the design that will adorn Trevor Bayne’s #99 Aaron’s Dream Machine
Toyota, the young native of Wilson, N.C., and three guests were rewarded with a trip to this weekend’s race.
Donnie Neunberger’s #52 IHOP Chevy also will have a special scheme. The International House of Pancakes will honor the West Virginia miners who lost their lives during the recent mining tragedy. West Virginia IHOP stores owner Bob Sharp and his employees have been supporting the rescue teams by providing them with food during these difficult times.
► Up Next: Richmond
One of the long-standing tracks on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, Richmond International Raceway, is the next destination for the series.
The BUBBA burger 250 is Friday, April 30. ESPN2 has the broadcast beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
Kyle Busch is the defending winner; Matt Kenseth claimed the pole last year.
Next Race: Aaron’s 312
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval)
The Date: Saturday, April 24
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Distance: 311.22 miles / 117 laps
TV: ABC, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Locally on WTDR-FM, 92.7)
2009 Winner: David Ragan
2009 Polesitter: Ryan Newman
Schedule prior to race day (times CT): Thursday, April 22–Practice, 3-3:45 p.m.; Final Practice, 4-4:50 p.m.; Friday, April 23–Qualifying, 10:30 a.m.
Tire: Goodyear Eagle Superspeedway Radials
Number of Tires:
Nationwide: Left-side -- 575, Right-side -- 575
Left-side -- D-4138; Right-side -- D-4224
Left-side -- 87.9 in.; Right-side -- 88.3 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 -- 50 psi; Right Rear -- 50 psi
Notes: Teams in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will run the same combination of left- and right-side tires at Talladega this weekend . . . this is the same tire set-up that teams in these two series ran at Talladega last season . . . this is the only track at which either of these two tire codes will be run 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 Talladega . . . air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.