NASCAR Nationwide Series New Car Makes Historic Debut At Daytona
During the first on-track test for the new car at Richmond International Raceway in 2007, NASCAR Nationwide Series director Joe Balash was told he looked like a “proud papa.”
Now, his look can best be described as watching one of his kids graduate from college and preparing to head out on their own.
“We’re all anxiously anticipating a great first event,” Balash said of the historic official points race for the new car, Friday night at Daytona International Speedway. “We’ve had numerous tests on various-sized tracks. We’ve had a lot of great participation from the teams and manufacturers. That tells us the project is headed in the right direction.”
The debut also will show off some iconic models as Dodge brings its Challenger and Ford will showcase its Mustang. Chevrolet introduces a new model to the series with its Impala while Toyota’s standard Camry model has a sporty new look.“With our first race at Daytona, we’re starting with a track that the owners — the ‘shareholders’ of our series, if you will — selected,” Balash said.
“They gave us the direction of what four events to start with this year.”
The new car also will be on track later this season at Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 14), at Richmond (Sept. 10) and at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 15) before being fully integrated in 2011, starting at Daytona next February
“I don’t really know what to expect this weekend with the new car but I’m still excited about it,” said Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota).
“Going into this weekend, there’s not much you can do to be prepared but just make sure your car is put together right and go from there. Having that test day on Wednesday is really important and will allow us more time to adjust to these cars, and give us a better idea of what to expect on Friday night.”
“The Nationwide Series is a great series with competitive racing week in and week out,” added Leffler, a veteran of six full seasons in the series. “I think the transition to this new car is only going to make it that much better.”
Annett Adept At Climbing Ladder Of Improvement
For a young, up-and-coming driver, the goal is to show steady improvement with each race.
Michael Annett (No. 15 Germain.com Toyota) is a perfect example.
His NASCAR Nationwide Series career, his 2010 season, and his statistics at Daytona are an encouraging example of improvement.
Take his career, for instance. Last year at this juncture, the then-rookie Annett sat 15th in the series standings, 294 points outside the top 10.
Currently, though only one spot better in 14th, Annett is in a much better position to land in the top 10 by season’s end. He comes to Daytona 126 points behind 10th-place Trevor Bayne (No. 99 Out! Pet Care Toyota).
Or take Annett’s 2010 season. In the first nine races, he scored only two finishes within the top 15. But over the last seven, he’s done that four times.
Then there’s his step-by-step improvement at Daytona International Speedway. This will be Annett’s fourth race at Daytona, and there are signs that it will be his best.
His first Daytona race was a definite feeling out process. He finished 35th, and had a low Driver Rating of 52.8 and an Average Running Position of 31.1. Only three of his laps were spent running among the Top 15.
Those first-time jitters evaporated a bit in the second race. Though the finish – 35th – was exactly the same, Annett’s performance was much stronger. In that event, he had a Driver Rating of 72.0, an average Running Position of 26.8, and spent 30 Laps in the Top 15.
The pattern continued earlier this year in February. Everything looked like it was coming together in Year 2. In the season-opener at Daytona,
Annett finished 12th – his third-best result of the season. In that race, he had a Driver Rating of 85.4, an Average Running Position of 14.1 and spent 76 laps in the Top 15.
Annett has tasted victory at Daytona, having won in the ARCA Racing Series in 2008.
Everything Old Is New Again: Earnhardt Jr. Brings His Father’s No. 3 Back To Daytona
The debut of the new car will be heightened by a blast from the past as two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet made famous by his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., especially when the elder Earnhardt ran on the high banks of Daytona.
Earnhardt Sr. — who won the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race in 1982, also at Daytona — won a total of seven times at the 2.5-mile tri-oval in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. That stat still stands as the most among all drivers.
He also won 22 times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series in the No. 3 Wrangler Chevy, with eight of those victories coming at Daytona.
Earnhardt Jr. is second among all drivers with five NASCAR Nationwide Series victories at Daytona, including two in this race.
Earnhardt Jr. has one other NASCAR Nationwide Series start this year, in the season-opener at Daytona. Despite leading seven laps, he finished 29th following an accident on Lap 92.
Bayne Finds Top-10 Niche
It only took 31 races – not even a full season – to reach an important rite of passage in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
But for Trevor Bayne (No. 99 Out! Pet Care Toyota), and like most teenagers who can’t wait to make the next step into adulthood, it probably seemed like forever.
Bayne, 19, cracked the top 10 in the NASCAR Nationwide standings for the first time in his career after his best-ever fifth place finish last Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He’s the fourth teenager in the last three seasons to rank in the top 10 in points, following Joey Logano (No. 20 SportClips Toyota) and Bryan Clauson, both 18 in 2009 and 2008, respectively.
Additionally, James Buescher, also 19, was in the top 10 earlier this year.
Bayne is the 12th different driver in 16 races this season to occupy the 10th position.
“It’s cool to work our way back into the top 10 after the season we have had so far,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. We started the season off with a 41st-place finish at Daytona and just have struggled since. However, over the past couple of weeks, we’ve started to hit our stride and grab some solid finishes. We had a good car in Kentucky and finished 11th, stayed on the race track at Road America and finished 10th. We also had a really fast race car in New Hampshire and finished fifth. It’s like
we are finally starting to get the finishes we deserve. When we can have solid weeks like this, it gives us something to build off of.”
NNS Etc.: Daytona Edition
► Schrader Returns To NNS
Kenny Schrader will make his debut with RAB Racing in the No. 09 Ford in Friday night’s Subway Jalapeno 250 Powered by Coca-Cola.
A fan favorite, Schrader, 55, has led 519 laps in 57 combined starts at Daytona in NASCAR’s three national series. His Daytona stat line among the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NACAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at DIS: 19 top fives, 58 top 10s and six poles.
Schrader has 940 starts in NASCAR’s top three series, including 115 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He last ran in the series in 2006, which also was his most recent NNS race at Daytona. In 10 NASCAR Nationwide starts at Daytona, Schrader has two top fives, four top 10s and two poles.
► Wallace Nationwide ‘Driver of Week’
Steve Wallace (No. 6 5-Hour Energy Toyota) is the Nationwide Insurance “Driver of The Week” at Daytona.
The program is a first-year initiative by series sponsor Nationwide Insurance to increase awareness about the drivers in the series, with special emphasis on series-only regulars.
Wallace, who currently ranks eighth in the points standings and had three consecutive top-10 finishes before placing 11th last week at New Hampshire, will participate on a live web chat with fans on Wednesday, June 30 at 12 p.m. ET on NASCARnationwideseries.com.
He’ll also make some appearances for the series sponsor at the track during the week.
Follow Wallace on Twitter: @SteveWallace66.
► ESPYs To Have NNS Flair
The NASCAR Nationwide Series will be well-represented at the ESPYs, ESPN’s 18th annual awards show where winners in various categories are voted upon by fans.
Reigning series champion and this year’s wins leader, with six — Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Toyota) — has been nominated in the “Best Driver” category.
Danica Patrick, who has competed in four NASCAR Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports this year and will drive in 10 more before the season is over, will serve as a presenter for the second consecutive year.
In addition to Busch’s nomination, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has been nominated in the “Best Male Athlete” category, while Johnson, and four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. join Busch as nominees in the “Best Driver” category.
The ESPYs will be televised from the Nokia Theater at L.A. LIVE on ESPN on Wednesday, July 14 beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
► Manufacturers’ Standings
Dodge is making its strongest showing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Manufacturers’ standings at this point in the season for the first time since entering the series in 2002. Its four wins after 16 races are already tied for third among the manufacturers’ season bests. Yet Daytona is a track where Dodge has yet to make its mark, having been held without a win in 19 previous attempts.
Chevrolet is the all-time series leader in wins at Daytona with 25; Tony Stewart added to that lead with his victory in February. Ford and Toyota have won twice at Daytona.
► Raybestos Rookie Standings
Driver Team Points
1. Brian Scott Braun 167
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR 133
3. Colin Braun RFR 119
4. James Buescher N/A 97
5. Parker Kligerman SPR 26
►Up Next: Chicagoland Speedway
The July 9 Dollar General 300 powered by Coca-Cola at Chicagoland Speedway, Race No. 18 on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, marks the halfway point in the 35-race season.
It’s the second of consecutive Friday night races for the series. ESPN will carry the broadcast
beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Joey Logano is the defending winner. Carl Edwards (No. 60 COPART Ford) last year’s Coors Light pole, his second at the track.
Next Race: Subway Jalapeno 250 Powered by Coca-Cola
The Place: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval)
The Date: Friday, July 2
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Distance: 250 miles / 100 laps
TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Local-WNDB-AM 1150, WKRO-FM 93.1)
2009 Winner: Denny Hamlin
2009 Pole Winner: Bryan Clauson
Schedule prior to race day (times ET): Wednesday: Practice, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday: Practice, 2 p.m.-3:50 p.m.; Final Practice, 5:30 p.m.-6:25 p.m.; Friday: Qualifying, 1:05 p.m.
2010 Point Standings
1 Brad Keselowski 2,641
2 Carl Edwards 2,394
3 Justin Allgaier 2,201
4 Kyle Busch 2,140
5 Kevin Harvick 2,003
6 Paul Menard 1,998
7 Brendan Gaughan 1,819
8 Steve Wallace 1,804
9 Joey Logano 1,758
10 Trevor Bayne 1,721