After a two-week hiatus from the tracks, the Nationwide stars are eager to get back behind the wheel this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bleacher Report is On Your Side with this week's news and notes.
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski Look to Continue Solid Runs
Bristol is among Harvick's favorite tracks. The two-time series champion is tied for the all-time lead with four wins at the half-mile bullring. If he had his choice, the Nationwide Series would roll into Bristol more than twice a week.
Brad Keselowski is also happy to return to Bristol, the site of his last win this past August. Keselowski beat out 10 double-duty Cup regulars in the process of securing a win, and it was the first track win for a series-only regular since 2004.
Both drivers are hoping to continue their Bristol success this weekend.
Harvick—second in career wins in the series with 32—has not visited Victory Lane since Nov. 2007 at Texas Motor Speedway, and he has not won a race at Bristol since 2004. Each of those wins came for Richard Childress, but now Harvick is searching for his first win as an owner/driver.
In his last three starts, Harvick has driven a Keven Harvick Inc. car and has registered two top-10 finishes. In total, Harvick has three poles, 10 top-fives, and 13 top-10 finishes to go along with his four victories.
Keselowski's best single-track series stats have been put together at Bristol. He has hit the high-banked dome four times, winning once and collecting two top-fives and three top-10 finishes.
While the 2009 season has been frustrating for Keselowski, he has contended in each of the first three races for the win, only to have issues end his day early. A tire issue at Daytona and two accidents—neither of his doing—at Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas took out strong runs.
Keselowski sits 22nd in the points with two races to go before the season's owner standings are locked in on a weekly basis.
Young Owners Take to the Track at Bristol
Harvick is not the only owner/driver entered into the season-high 52-car field at Bristol. Four other drivers will strap themselves into their own car, while one—Marc Davis—has worn the title for three years already and is only 18 years old.
Davis will get behind the wheel of the No. 36 Howard University WHUR Toyota for Marc Davis Motorsports, and he is the youngest owner in Nationwide Series history.
Previously, the youngest owner/driver in the Cup Series was Bill Morton (17 years, two months, and 17 days), who competed in that capacity on Oct. 9, 1955, at Memphis-Arkansas Speedway.
Davis has been an owner since he was age 15. He has fielded Fastkids/FastTrucks, Limited Late Model and Bandolero teams.
This will Davis' fifth attempt at Bristol in his brief NASCAR Nationwide Series career, and if he qualifies, it would be his first start of the season and his first career start at Bristol.
The teen started fourth at Memphis Motorsports Park last year and finished 23rd—his best finish to date.
Other owner/drivers entered are: Joe Nemecheck (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet), the 1992 Series Champion Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Victory in Jesus Racing Chevrolet), and Mike Harmon (No. 84 Mike Harmon Racing Chevrolet).
Of the three, Shepherd is the only one guaranteed a starting spot, since he was in the top 30 in the points race last year.
March Madness Slam-Dunks Through Nationwide Series Garage
This is the week everyone takes countless hours to sweat it out over making a bracket for the NCAA Tournament, and Nationwide Series drivers are no different.
Erick McClure is a die-hard University of Virginia fan. Although the Cavaliers failed to make the tournament, McClure still has plenty to talk about when it comes to the bracket.
"I believe UNC will win it all because Ty Lawson is back," he said. "And whenever Tyler Hansbrough touches the ball, the refs are already calling a foul on someone. I prefer UNC not to win because most Virginia Tech football fans are bandwagon UNC fans. Since I love The University of Virginia, I can't like anyone that Virginia Tech likes. I am kidding, sort of."
McClure picked two No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four: Louisville and North Carolina. He added Memphis and Duke as his other two.
"The ACC is a tough conference, and they will prevail. Duke lives and dies with Gerald Henderson, and Louisville is solid but not as flashy as other teams. Memphis let me down last year by missing their free throws, so I'm not going with them," he said. "Either way, it's a wide-open field, and we'll see some great basketball."
Jason Kellers's spotter Kyle Chapman was captain of the 1998-99 Western Kentucky Hilltopper team. WKU is one of the favorites to upset a few teams this year, including its first opponent Illinois.
"My Final Four picks are Louisville, Memphis, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma with Louisville winning it all," Chapman said. "Of course, my heart will be pulling for my Hilltoppers. It's the best time of year for a college basketball junkie. I'll be checking my Sprint cell phone throughout the Bristol weekend to keep up with the latest scores."
Don't Count the Series-Only Regulars Out This Weekend
The Nationwide Series visits Bristol twice a year with many Sprint Cup drivers. The situation usually leads to several double-dipping drivers who are trying to take a win away from the smaller-league regulars.
Bristol, however, is one of the tracks where the "Young-Guns" actually hold their own fairly well against the "Big Boys."
As mentioned earlier, the last time the series visited Bristol series-only regular Keselowski won. Joining him in the top-10 were Cale Gale, David Stremme, Scott, and Steve Wallace—all series-only regulars at the time.
Two drivers in particular look towards the opportunity to take down the NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars at Bristol: Keselowski and Wimmer.
Keselowski has finished in the top-10 in the last three Bristol races, and he has solid statistics at the short-track. In his four starts, he has a driver rating of 90.8, an average running position of 16.6, 46 fastest laps run, a pass differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-54, and a laps in the top 15 percentage of 57.5.
Wimmer has also done well at the bullring, finishing in the top-10 in three of his last four starts. In his last five Bristol races, Wimmer has a driver rating of 93.7, an average running position of 12.0, 21 fastest laps run, and a laps in the top 15 percentage of 72.9.
If you pick a driver based on stats, however, Harvick and Clint Bowyer would be the two double-dippers to beat.
Bowyer has a driver rating of 107.3 and an average running position of 8.4 at Bristol.
Harvick has the top driver rating in the series at Bristol at 107.4.
Home Sweet Tennessee: Natives of The Volunteer State
A third 18-year-old driver will attempt to race at Bristol. Tennessee native Trevor Bayne, age 18, looks to join Davis and Joey Logano in this weekend's action.
Bayne will debut at home—hailing from Knoxville—and is one of many Volunteer State drivers or natives from nearby cities in Southwest Virginia entered into the race.
Bayne was a rookie in the NASCAR Camping World East Series last year and finished fourth in the standings with one win at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway.
Bayne also finished second in the Toyota All-Star Showdown in January.
Other notable homecomings this weekend include:
- Bobby Hamilton Jr. (Nashville)—No. 24 co-owner
- John Reese (Mt. Juliet)—No. 27 car chief
- Jeff White (Nashville)—No. 27 engineer
- Butch Waugh (Smyrna)—No. 27 rear tire carrier
- Danny O’Quinn Jr. (Coeburn, Virginia)—No. 0 driver
- Brad Teague (Johnson City)—driver
- Eric McClure (Abingdon, Virginia)—No. 24 driver
- Casey Atwood (Antioch)—No. 05 driver
Cool Down Lap
- Bristol Notables: Seven former series champions are among the entries at Bristol; there are also 11 former winners entered including reigning series champion Clint Bowyer, whose lone 2008 victory came in last year’s rain-shortened event in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Scott Wimmer (No. 40 StopRepairBills.com Chevrolet) drove the No. 29 last year and was the pole sitter for the race, which was rained out.
- Speaking of Wimmer, JR Motorsports announced he will be part of its star-studded five-driver, 21-race lineup in the No. 5 Chevrolet. Wimmer is scheduled for five races; the other events will be shared among team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr, Mark Martin [the series’ all-time leader in wins (30) and poles (48)], Ryan Newman, and Tony Stewart.
- Paul Menard (No. 98 Richmond/Menard’s Ford) returns to the NASCAR Nationwide competition for the first time since 2007. He has not run at Bristol since 2006, his last full season in the series.
- Will the trend continue? The start of the season has been one of balanced competition. There have been three different driver standings leaders currently headed by Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford), three different owner standings leaders (Edward’s No. 60 is the current leader), three different race winners, and three different pole winners.
- AIPC “Incredible Hero” At Bristol: America’s Incredible Pizza Co. and CJM Racing will continue its “Incredible Heroes” program this weekend at Bristol.
The back story: In December 2007, then 18-year-old Lindsay Witherspoon noticed a vehicle submerged underwater in Fort Patrick Henry Lake in Kingsport, Tennessee.
A trained lifeguard, she jumped into the freezing water and pulled the woman inside to safety. The car had veered into the lake, leaving the driver trapped behind the wheel of her vehicle.
Witherspoon was subsequently awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal. She and her mother, Kim, will be guests of CJM Racing on Saturday.
2009 Manufacturer's Championship Standings
The Bill France Performance Cup Standings Leader, Chevrolet, has the most wins at Bristol (28) including a sweep of both 2008 races. Ford has six wins while Dodge has two wins.
Up Next: Open Week No. 3
The third open week of the month greets NASCAR Nationwide Series teams next week.
It will be the final open week for the series until the week of May 11—NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Weekend.
Teams next meet at Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly 300 on Apr. 4 and begin a string of six straight race weekends, the longest stretch of the season thus far.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings
Rk / Driver Team Points
1. Brendan Gaughan RWR 37
2. Michael McDowell JTG-D 32
3. Justin Allgaier Penske 28
4. Scott Lagasse Jr. CJM 16
5. Michael Annett Germain 22
6. John West Townley RAB 20
7. Ken Butler III R3 14
8. Marc Davis MDM 0
9. Erik Darnell* RFR 0
*First race not until Richmond 5/1
The Race: Scotts Turf Builder 300
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 21
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 laps / 159.9 miles
TV: ABC, 2 p.m.
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / PRN
Track Size: .533-mile banked oval
2008 Polesitter: Scott Wimmer (via final 2007 points; qualifying rained out)
Event Schedule: Friday-Practice 1:40-3:15 p.m.; Final Practice 4:45-5:45 p.m.; Saturday-Qualifying 9:40 a.m.
Rk Driver Points
1. Carl Edwards 515
2. Brian Vickers 467
3. Greg Biffle 416
4. Brendan Gaughan 407
5. Kyle Busch 406
6. David Ragan 387
7. Kevin Harvick 386
8. Jason Leffler 354
9. Jason Keller 343
10. Michael McDowell 326
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