Focus Factor: Keselowski Continues Steady Title March
Two years ago — his first full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series — a young up-and-coming driver named Brad Keselowski (#22 Discount Tire Dodge) pulled off a stunning upset at Bristol Motor Speedway in the August night race.
Running in a field that included 14 double-duty drivers and eight former Bristol winners, Keselowski, trying to make a name for himself in NASCAR’s national series, didn’t have the luxury of looking at the bigger picture as he does today. Then, he was a distant third in the points standings.
His win was the first for a seriesonly regular at Bristol since two-time series champion Martin Truex Jr., in the 2004 spring race, and the first for a “regular guy” in the summer event since Kevin Harvick in 2000.
But Friday night, against a field that started with the largest number of entries this season — 52 — Keselowski does have the big-picture view. Now a double-duty driver himself, he has a 347-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards (#60 Fastenal Ford), who will be making his 200th start in the series. Keselowski comes to Bristol off his fourth win of the season last Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, his home track. That win tied his career high, set last year.
Seeing the bigger picture may be best for Keselowski, especially at Bristol. Series champions have won the August race only four times, the last being Harvick in 2001. Others include two-time series champions
Jack Ingram (1982), Sam Ard (1983) and Larry Pearson (1987).
Penske Racing teammate Justin Allgaier (#12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) became the most recent series-only regular to win at Bristol when he did so in March. Keselowski won the pole for that event, and
Series Owner Championship Remains Close
Brad Keselowski’s win at Michigan – the second of four races for the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ new
car and the first victory for the Dodge Challenger – extended his lead in the driver standings. It also once
again tightened the battle for the owner championship.
Despite his hefty advantage in the driver category, Keselowski’s #22 Penske Racing team is second in the owner points to Joe Gibbs Racing’s #18 team, but has closed the gap to four points. Reigning series champion Kyle Busch (#18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) has driven in 19 of the season’s 23 races, while Brad Coleman has handled the other four.
Either the #18 (leader four times) or #22 (leader five times) team has been in first place over the last nine weeks. The largest margin between the two was 87 points following Road America when the #22 team had the advantage. The #18 team’s biggest lead in that span has been 34 points twice.
Busch is entered at Bristol where he has one win, the 2006 spring race. He’s one shy of tying the mark he shares with Sam Ard for most wins in a season (10).
Lil’ Gator Has The Chops For Bristol
The numbers suggest Justin Allgaier has regained the magic from earlier this season.
Allgaier opened the year with five consecutive top-10 finishes. One of those results was his first national series win – at Bristol, site of this Friday night’s race.
Then he dipped a bit, failing to crack the top 10 in six straight events.
But the momentum is back, despite an unfortunate run at Watkins Glen International two weeks ago. Allgaier has finished in the top 10 in three of the last four races, including a fourth-place run at Michigan last Saturday. In that event, he scored a Driver Rating of 104.2 and an Average Running Position of 8.6.
Next up, Bristol. Clearly, it’s a place with many happy memories for Allgaier.
It’s also a place of many solid statistics.
In his three-race Bristol career, two of which resulted in top-five finishes, Allgaier has a Driver Rating of 106.2, an Average Running Position of 14.3, 49 Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 70.8% and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-55.
In the only race Allgaier failed to finish in the top five – last year’s night race – he probably should have. The numbers he posted – two laps led and a Driver Rating of 96.3 – usually translate into a strong result. The culprit behind the disappointing 27th-place finish: a Lap 38 accident in Turn 3 that took him out of contention.
But it appears karma has paid Allgaier back.
In his victory last March, he led 29 laps and scored a Driver Rating of 119.6, an Average Running Position of 7.3 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 89.3%.
Is Annett Ready To Break The Top–10 Bubble?
As a semi-pro hockey defenseman, Michael Annett gave plenty of shots to onrushing forwards.
He probably had the favor returned a few times, too.
But getting back up and into the fray was part of his makeup then.
And it seems to be that way now in his current profession as driver of the # 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota.
Annett finished 10th in the standings last year, his Raybestos Rookie season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
This year, however, he’s been in the top 10 just once. He was 10th following his then-season best ninth-place result at Nashville Superspeedway in April.
It wasn't until a seventh-place finish last month at his home track, Iowa Speedway, that Annett broke out of a slump that saw his average finish dip to 19.3 over an 18-race span. He’d been as low at 17th in the standings following a career-worst 43rd-place at Talladega Superspeedway.
Still seeking consistency, Annett has shown plenty of resilience. He’s currently 11th in the standings, just four points behind Jason Leffler (#10 Fraternal Order of Eagles Toyota), who occupies 10th.
Annett has added incentive at Bristol, which is the home track of his sponsor. He ran well there last year, finishing eighth. He was 20th in the spring race.
Brian Scott (#11 AccuDoc Solutions Toyota), the current Raybestos Rookie standings leader, also is bearing down. He’s 32 points out of 10th.
Scott has been in his own funk since spending time in the top 10. He was eighth following
Talladega, but an average finish of 20.5 over the last 15 races now shows him in 12th. He was as far back as 15th after the June event at Kentucky Speedway.
Annett and Scott hope to rejoin a top-10 group that currently features five series-only regulars who have strong histories at Bristol.
Justin Allgaier is fourth and logged his first series win at Bristol. Steve Wallace (#66 5-Hour Energy Toyota) is seventh; he won his first series pole at Bristol in 2007. Knoxville, Tenn., native Trevor Bayne (#99 OUT! Pet Car Toyota) is eighth and made his series debut at Bristol in 2009. Wallace’s teammate Brendan Gaughan (#62 South Point Hotel & Casino Toyota) is ninth; he also captured his first series pole at Bristol, in 2009. And Leffler’s last pole was in 2007 … at Bristol.
Harvick Finally Stands Down At Bristol
Kevin Harvick, the all-time leader in series wins at Bristol with five, is sitting out Friday night in favor of Elliott Sadler, who will drive the #33 Rheem Chevy for KHI. Sadler has one series win at Bristol, in the 1998 Spring race.
Harvick — a two-time series champion and the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings leader who clinched his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last Sunday at Michigan — has appeared in at least one NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol since his Raybestos Rookie season in 2000. He had run in each of Bristol’s two events each year except 2008, when he competed only in the spring.
In 20 career races there, Harvick has 13 top fives, 16 top 10s and two poles to go along with his record five victories.
This is the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at a combination weekend Harvick has missed since last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sadler, meanwhile, will be busy at Bristol. In addition to racing Friday night, he’s entered for KHI in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Wednesday night. Then there’s his regular full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup ride with Richard Petty Motorsports Saturday night.
He’s one of three drivers who will pull triple duty, joining Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.
NNS Etc.: Bristol Edition
►Dale Jr. Is Nationwide “Driver Of Week”
It might be hard to top the last time Dale Earnhardt Jr. (#88 Realtree Outfitters Chevy) ran in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Last month, the two-time series champion made history in the most emotional way. He won the inaugural race for the series’ new car at Daytona International Speedway in the #3 Wrangler Chevy made famous by his father in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
However, father and son total only two series wins at Bristol in 22 combined starts. Dale Earnhardt Sr. (14 starts) won the spring race in 1988 while Earnhardt Jr. (eight starts) won the August race in 2004. Earnhardt Jr. will be driving his JR Motorsports-owned equipment Friday night; Brad Keselowski won this race in the #88 in 2008.
Earnhardt Jr. also is the Nationwide Insurance “Driver of the Week” this week. JR Motorsports owner and Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt, will be featured on a live chat on NASCARNationwideSeries.com Wednesday from noon-1 p.m. ET. Earnhardt is scheduled to appear on a live video chat on NASCARNationwideSeries.com on Aug. 31.
Chevy leads the series’ manufacturers in wins at Bristol with 29, and hopes to get back to its dominating form at the 0.533-mile track.
Over a 10-year span, from 1995-2005, its cars won 19 of 21 races, including 16 in a row.
Chevy’s last win was in the 2009 spring race.
Speaking of Chevy, Mark Green (#49 FX Networks Chevy) will be making the 300th start of his series career at Bristol.
David Ragan took Ford to Victory Lane last year for the first time since 2007, and has seven wins overall at Bristol.
Dodge won last spring, its third win at Bristol and first since 2007.
Toyota has yet to win at Bristol in seven races.
►Stenhouse To Receive Big Welcome
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#6 CitiFinancial Ford) will be honored Wednesday in his hometown of Olive Branch, Miss., where "Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Day" will be celebrated.
He’ll be recognized by the city's mayor, and visit a local Ford dealership and Citifinancial branch.
Meanwhile, his teammate Brian Ickler returns to the #16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in his first NASCAR national series start at Bristol. This will be
Ickler’s fourth start in the #16, but his fifth overall for Roush Fenway Racing.
He shares the ride with Colin Braun. In his most recent turn behind the wheel, Ickler was ninth at Daytona in July.
►Raybestos Rookie Of The Year
Driver Team Points
1. Brian Scott Braun 194
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. RFR 176
Stenhouse was 13th at Michigan, and has
a 13.9 average finish since failing to qualify
at Kentucky. He was 25th in his track debut
at Bristol in March.
3. Colin Braun RFR 170
4. James Buescher N/A 97
►Up Next: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
The NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal is the series’ final road-course event of the season. It takes place next Sunday, Aug. 29.
ESPN2 will carry the broadcast at 2 PM ET.
Carl Edwards spoiled a dominating run by Marcos Ambrose last year, passing Ambrose on the final turn of the last lap to win. Ambrose is back this year, vowing to “Run this thing until I win it.” He’s led 124 of 199 total laps over the three races at Montreal but has yet to win.
Next Race: Food City 250
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533– mile, high-banked concrete oval)
The Date: Friday, August 20
The Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
The Distance: 250 laps/133.25 miles
TV: ESPN, 7:00 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio
2009 Winner: David Ragan
2009 Pole Winner: Brad Keselowski
Schedule prior to race day (times ET): Friday: Final Practice, 9 -11:50 a.m.; Qualifying, 4:10 p.m.
2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series Driver StandingsDriver Points
1 Brad Keselowski 3,704
2 Carl Edwards 3,357
3 Kyle Busch 3,201
4 Justin Allgaier 3,059
5 Kevin Harvick 2,908
6 Paul Menard 2,892
7 Steve Wallace 2,735
8 Trevor Bayne 2,571
9 Brendan Gaughan 2,487
10 Jason Leffler 2,450
Tire: Goodyear Eagle Speedway Radials
Number of Tires:
Nationwide: Left-side -- 575, Right-side -- 575
Tire Codes: Left-side -- D-4404; Right-side -- D-4408
Tire Circumference: Left-side -- 87.1 in.; Right-side -- 88.4 in.
Technical Inspection Inflation:
Left Front -- 26 psi; Left Rear -- 26 psi;
Right Front -- 42 psi; Right Rear -- 40 psi
Minimum Recommended Inflation:
Left Front -- 22 psi; Left Rear -- 20 psi;
Right Front -- 45 psi; Right Rear -- 42 psi
Notes: This is the first time NASCAR teams will be running either of these two Goodyear tire codes . . . this tire set-up came out of a tire test at Bristol on June 29-30 . . . drivers participating in that test were Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Ragan and Scott Speed . . . compared to what was run at Bristol in the spring, this right-side tire code (D-4404) features a construction and mold shape change to bring it into line with what is run at other NASCAR speedways . . . this left-side code (D-4408) features a mold shape change to achieve a more optimum stagger when teamed with this new right-side . . . Bristol is the only track at which teams are scheduled to run either of these two tire codes . . . unlike on most NASCAR ovals one mile or less in length, on which teams generally do not run inner liners, teams are required to run liners in their right-side tires only at Bristol . . . .air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.