Busch Looks To Go Out With A Bang
Following the fourth open week of the season, it’s back to work for the drivers and teams in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, although the work at hand has the extra boost of being done at home. Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway — the first afternoon race for the series at the track since 2004 — is the first of two there this year. The Charlotte area is where the majority of the drivers and teams are based, making these truly the biggest “home” events of the season.
Brad Keselowski (#22 Discount Tire Dodge) is the standings leader, 11 points in front of reigning series champion Kyle Busch (#18 NOS Toyota). This is the last combination event before the traditional start of “stand-alone” season. Following the race at Charlotte, the next three will be the lone or main events at Nashville Superspeedway (June 5), Kentucky Speedway (June 12) and Road America (June 19).
Busch has announced he won’t defend his title, so Saturday’s race is the last for the 2010 wins leader (four) for a while. He comes off a win at Dover International Speedway, and has victories in three of the last four races at Charlotte. The lone interruption was Mike Bliss’ (#40 Key Motorsports Chevy) win in this race last year, which was rain-shortened.
Busch is on the verge of climbing more steps on the series record ladder. So it stands to reason he’ll go after this chance at a win with even more than his usual gusto since he’ll be out of the car for a few weeks.
What goals lie ahead? He’s 155 laps shy of passing Mark Martin (8,082) for the all-time series lead in laps led; he currently has 7,928. Busch also has 34 career wins, two behind Kevin Harvick (#33 Miracle Whip Chevy), who’s second on the all-time series wins list. He’s also 14 wins away from tying Martin’s standard of 48. Busch also is close to tying the record for most wins from the pole. He has eight, most recently two weeks ago at Dover. Martin holds the record with nine. Busch also has five wins at Charlotte, one shy of Martin’s series record of six.
One week from the start of stand-alone season, Harvick, a two-time series champion, hasn’t officially said that he won’t run full-time the remainder of the year. But now that he’s re-signed with Richard Childress Racing on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series side, one has to wonder if he’ll make a charge at history.
Harvick is third in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, 62 points behind Keselowski, and leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. If he makes a run at full-time double-duty, Harvick could become the first driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and a NASCAR Nationwide title in the same season. He’d also be the first three-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion — a possible third title accomplished while driving for his own KHI organization. The series hasn’t had an owner-driver champion since Joe Nemechek
(#87 NEMCO Chevy) in 1992.
But, those are all “what ifs” until Harvick makes his decision. He’s still looking for his first series win in 17 career starts at Charlotte. It’s one of six active tracks (discounting the first-ever race at Road America) where Harvick has yet to win.
Last Race For Current Car At Charlotte
The NASCAR Nationwide Series new car went through its final paces last week at Daytona International Speedway in a two-day test before its first points race on July 2, also at Daytona.
According to Series Director Joe Balash, there’s still some adjusting to do. But the car received positive reviews, especially for the muscle-car looks provided by some manufacturers. Three manufacturers will have new models — Ford will race the Mustang, Dodge will introduce the Challenger and Chevy brings the Impala.
Toyota will remain with its Camry, but its look is just as sporty as the others. The new car will compete in four points races this year before full integration next season: At Michigan
International Speedway on Aug. 14, at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 10 and at Charlotte on Oct.15, making this weekend’s race the last one there in the current NASCAR Nationwide car.
Will It Be Better For Bowyer At Charlotte?
The finished product doesn’t exactly match the blueprint so far when it comes to the “Clint Bowyer replacing John Wes Townley in the #21 Zaxby’s Chevy” project.
Here was the plan: Put Bowyer in car. Put car in Victory Lane. Spray champagne. Repeat.
Here’s what has happened: Bowyer has three DNFs in six races, two because of an accident and one in which he was parked by NASCAR after roughing up Denny Hamlin during a caution. He was put on NASCAR probation until June 16 for that incident.
The going has been tough for the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion. In his six starts, Bowyer has just one top-10 finish. Four finishes have been outside the top 20, two outside the top 30.
Overall, Bowyer has racked up some un-Bowyer-like numbers. He has a Driver Rating of 78.5, an Average Running Position of 20.7, 23 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 35.6%.
But there are a couple of reasons for optimism.
One reason was his last race at Dover. His finish (25th) wasn’t up to par, but that had more to do with the dust-up with Hamlin. The finish was nowhere near indicative of the performance. At Dover, Bowyer had a Driver Rating of 105.4, an Average Running Position of 4.2, 13 Fastest Laps Run and 198 of his 205 laps were among the top 15.
The second reason is Charlotte Motor Speedway, the site of this weekend’s event. Bowyer has been strong there, especially lately. He has finished in the top 10 in each of the last five races.
Since 2006 (Bowyer missed the two series races at Charlotte last season), he has a Charlotte average finish of 5.6, a Driver Rating of 100.8, an Average Running Position of 9.3, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 93.1% and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-28.
Roush Fenway Racing Keeps Door Open For Young Talent
He made his unofficial team debut with Roush Fenway Racing last week at the NASCAR Nationwide Series new car test at Daytona.
This week, Brian Ickler (#16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford) will make his official team debut when he races Saturday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Brian (will) participate in the #16 program along with Colin Braun who, as scheduled, will continue to
drive the #16 car with Con-way Freight and 3M in 14 more races this year,” said team owner Jack Roush.
“We are in the fortunate position to have races available in the Nationwide Series, and we intend to use these races to continue our traditional commitment to the development of young drivers, such as Colin, Ricky (Stenhouse Jr., # 6 CitiFinancial Ford) and Brian.”
Roush also said that Ickler, 24, already has had success in NASCAR. The native of San Diego, Calif., has three previous starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, two last year for Braun Racing at Iowa Speedway and Memphis Motorsports Park, and his 2008 series debut for Robby Gordon Motorsports at Phoenix International Raceway. This will be Ickler’s NASCAR national series debut at Charlotte.
Ickler has driven in two races this year for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He was a career-best third at Martinsville Speedway, followed by a fourth-place finish at Kansas Speedway.
In his short but promising truck career, Ickler owns four top fives, five top 10s, and two Keystone Light pole awards in 13 starts.
Ickler also gained experience — and success — in the K&N Pro Series East and West, winning a combined seven races in 43 starts.
Roush said his NASCAR Nationwide program will consider adding more young talent if the situation presents itself.
“We are keeping our options open for the future and are looking for the right fit for Roush-Fenway Racing,” he said.
Steady Stand-In: Sorenson Now Full-Time For Braun
For Reed Sorenson (#32 Dollar General Toyota), last week’s news that his Braun Racing teammate, Brian Vickers, would be forced to sit out the remainder of the season due to a medical issue was bittersweet.
Vickers, the 2003 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, was having another superb year in his partial schedule with Braun. Through the first five of his 10 scheduled events in 2010, Vickers had two top fives and five top 10s.
Coupled with Sorenson’s good start — three top fives and five top 10s in seven races — the duo has the #32 team sitting fifth in the owner points.
With Vickers out, Sorenson has been charged with taking on his teammate’s remaining five-race load, bringing Sorenson’s season total to 30, nearly a full-time schedule.
“I’m excited to be in the Dollar General Toyota this (weekend), but I certainly wish it was under different circumstances and not because Brian couldn’t be,” Sorenson said.
“He’s been a big part of this team for a few years now and I know the entire Dollar General team will miss him. Brian is a great friend, teammate and race car driver. He means a lot to our sport with what he does both on and off the race track.
“I know I speak for most drivers and crew members throughout the garage when I say we hope to see him back at the race track doing what he loves to do very soon.”
Sorenson last ran full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series from 2005-06, before moving on to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
He comes to Charlotte 20th in the driver standings, 228 points out of 10th. His best championship finish was fourth in his Raybestos Rookie season in 2005; and he was 10th in 2006.
In seven series starts at Charlotte, Sorenson has one top-five finish. He hasn’t raced in this event since 2007, when he finished 42nd due to an accident.
Sorenson does have a win at Charlotte. He captured the inaugural American Speed Association (ASA) race at the track in 2004.
NNS Etc.: Charlotte Edition
►Biffle Hopes Win Is Within Reach
Saturday’s race will be the final chance for 2002 series champion Greg Biffle to put the #27 Red Man Moist Snuff Ford in Victory Lane.
Two wins have just eluded Biffle this year, both by less than a half-second. He was .052 seconds behind Kyle Busch at Auto Club Speedway and .261 seconds behind Brad Keselowski at Richmond.
Scott Wimmer will take over the #27 at the stand-alone races at Nashville and Kentucky, which are the final two Red Man Moist Snuff-sponsored events.
Biffle has two wins and two Coors Light poles in 16 series starts at Charlotte.
► Bayne Is Nationwide “Driver Of Week”
Trevor Bayne (#99 Diamond-Waltrip Toyota) will serve as Nationwide Insurance's “Driver of the Week” for the events at Charlotte.
He also will do a live web chat on Wednesday, May 26 at noon ET on www.NASCARnationwideseries.com.
He’ll also make a personal appearance at the Nationwide Insurance display located in Charlotte Motor Speedway's fan interactive area on Saturday, May 29 at 11:50 a.m.
He’s making his series debut at CMS.
Consecutive wins by Toyota have pushed it to the biggest lead — 12 points — over second place this season in the manufacturers’ standings.
Chevy is the NASCAR Nationwide wins leader at Charlotte Motor Speedway with 16, and also is the defending winner of this race.
Although Toyota has won three of the last four races at Charlotte, each manufacturer has won at least once there since this event in 2006.
►Annett, Pilot, Team For St. Jude’s
This weekend, Michael Annett’s #15 Toyota will feature the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital logo on the hood and rear quarter panels to raise awareness of St. Jude’s mission to find cures for childhood cancers, plus assist children and families affected by the disease.
Annett’s sponsor, Pilot Travel Centers, has a long-standing relationship with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Sharing its passion for supporting the organization was instrumental in making this weekend’s venture between the two and Annett’s Germain Racing team a reality.
The headquarters for Pilot and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are located in Tennessee, but the two organizations serve communities throughout the entire country.
Annett will make his third series start at Charlotte. His best finish is 13th last fall.
► Raybestos Rookie Standings
Driver Team Points
1. Brian Scott Braun 116
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR 103
3. James Buescher* N/A 97
4. Colin Braun RFR 85
5. Parker Kligerman SPR 25
*Buescher was released from Phoenix Racing following Dover.
►Up Next: Nashville Superspeedway
“Stand-alone” season traditionally begins with Nashville. The first of two races there was in April and its second, on Saturday, June 5, kicks off the summer stand-alone lineup. There are nine stand-alones in 2010.
The Federated Auto Parts 300 will be broadcast on ESPN2 beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Kyle Busch won last year’s event from the Coors Light pole.
Next Race: TECH-NET AUTO SERVICE 300 powered by CARQUEST
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, May 29
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles/200 laps
TV: ABC, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio
2009 Winner: Mike Bliss
2009 Pole Winner: Carl Edwards
Schedule prior to race day (times ET): Thursday, May 27–Practice, 2-3:20 p.m.; 5:10-6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 29–Qualifying, 9:35 a.m.
Nationwide Series -- Race #12 -- Tech-Net Auto Service 300
Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile oval) – Concord, N.C.
Fast Facts for May 21-30, 2010
Tire: Goodyear Eagle Speedway Radials
Number of Tires: Left-side -- 575, Right-side -- 575
Tire Codes: Left-side -- D-4390; Right-side -- D-4234
Tire Circumference: Left-side -- 87.3 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 -- 30 psi; Left Rear -- 30 psi;
Right Front -- 54 psi; Right Rear -- 50 psi
Notes: Teams in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will run the same tire codes during Charlotte Speed Weeks . . . teams in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will run the same right-side tire code with a different left-side code at Charlotte . . . for the Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars, this is the first time they have run this left-side code (D-4390), but they have run this right-side code (D-4234) several times in the past . . . Cup and Nationwide teams have run this right-side with a different left-side at Las Vegas and Charlotte in 2009, and Las Vegas and Darlington in 2010 . . . compared to what was run at Charlotte last year, this new left-side features a minor construction change to help give the cars more grip . . . as on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run inner liners in all four tire positions at Charlotte . . . air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.