On Your Side: Nationwide Heads to Phoenix

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IApril 14, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09:  General view of cars racing as the sun sets at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 9, 2008 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

After an exciting stand-alone race at Nashville Superspeedway last Saturday, the Nationwide Series pairs back up with the Cup guys at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend.

Bleacher Report is On Your Side with news and notes for the upcoming Bashas' Supermarket 200 Friday night.


Clash of the titans

Four drivers enter this weekends race as clear favorites based on past performances at PIR (Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick).

While 43 drivers will take the green flag Friday night, those four have been the drivers to beat in recent trips to the desert.

Edwards enters the race with a 23 point lead over Busch, and is coming off a fifth-place finish this past weekend. Busch managed to close the gap slightly with a runner-up in Nashville.

Busch, however, is the defending winner of this weekend's race and also won the fall event in 2007 and—like Harvick—has won races in all three of NASCAR's national series at PIR.

Biffle has won at the track multiple times as well, visiting Victory Lane in 2001 and in the spring of 2005. Biffle's average finish is 8.5 in 10 starts, and he has led 430 laps at the track (more than a fifth of the laps in which he has completed).

Last November, Edwards won at the track, ending Busch's chances for a three-peat. He also won the spring race in 2005.

Edwards has run eight Nationwide Series races in the desert, and has posted six top-five and eight top-10 finishes. (Edwards has also never finished off the lead lap.)

Harvick may not be running for the Nationwide championship this season, but he visited Victory Lane in his last series appearance at Bristol Motor Speedway last month.

Harvick considered PIR a "home track," and the Bakersfield, CA native won the 2006 spring race and has only finished outside the top-five once in his last eight starts.

Harvick is one of only two drivers to win races in all three of NASCAR elite series at PIR and sweep race weekends.

In 2002, he won his first truck race at PIR, but also KHI's first win as a team. He's one of 19 drivers to accomplish this feat in NASCAR.

Combined, the four have seven wins, 24 top-vies, 31 top-finishes, and six poles in 38 Nationwide Series starts at one-mile track. (Not to mention the four have won six of the past eight races there.)


Michael McDowell returns home in different series

McDowell, a Glendale, AZ, native, returns to PIR in NASCAR's lower circuit this weekend.

Last year, McDowell entered the weekend driving in the Cup Series for Michael Waltrip Racing and finished 34th.

This year, McDowell enters the desert driving a JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota in the Nationwide Series only.

McDowell spends 2009 battling for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year, and admittedly struggled in NASCAR's premier series last year.

In the Nationwide Series, McDowell has had better luck and currently sits 13th in the points standings, following a 15th-place finish at Nashville last weekend, where he also led his first laps in series competition.

According to McDowell, the Nationwide Series is where the 24-year-old hoped to be last year, but the offer to jump from teh ARCA Re/Max Series to the Sprint Cup was impossible to pass up.

"My plan never was to go from the ARCA Re/Max Series to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series," he said. "Now I get back to where I should have been in the first place and I'll be (better) able to show my abilities."



While last year was a learning experience for sure, McDowell added that, "That [Spring Cup] experience definitely is going to help me this year."

Joey Logano bests Busch, "Dash 4 Cash" rolls over

This past weekend kicked of the Nationwide Series' "Dash 4 Cash," in which $25,000 would have been awarded to the race winner—if they had been a series regular.

When 18-year-old Logano passed his teammate with 10 laps to go, he picked Busch's pocket.

Busch would have been eligible to claim the first "Dash 4 Cash" bonus, as he is a full-time competitor in the series.

Logano, who had not won since last June at Kentucky Speedway, is a part-timer driver who is primarily focused on the Spring Cup Series.

Because Logano was not eligible, the bonus now rolls over to its second of four rounds on June 13 at Kentucky Speedway, where an eligible winner would now pocket $50,000.

Logano became the fifth different driver to win in the Series' first six races, and moved to sixth in the points standings despite only competing in five races this year.

Busch, who has yet to tame Nashville Superspeedway, had a career-best in seven starts at the track. He finished runner-up to his teammate.

"Hats off to Joey, because he had the best car today," Busch said on Saturday.


Rookie drivers remain competitive

With six races down, the Rookie of the Year competitors in the Nationwide Series remain competitive each weekend.

Scott Lagasse Jr. led the pack of rookies this past weekend, as three freshman drivers finished in the top 10.

The 2009 rookie class appears the be the strongest since 2005 when three rookies (Edwards, Reed Sorenson, and Denny Hamlin) finished the season third, fourth, and fifth respectively in the standings.

Lagasse collected his second top 10 finish this year, and currently ranks ninth in the standings. Justin Allgaier ranks seventh, while Brendan Gaughan maintained his top-10 position and sits eighth.

Collecting the rookie of the race honors at Nashville was a first for Lagasse.

Allgaier currently leads the Raybestos standings by five points over Gaughan. Lagasse is third, a single point behind Gaughan, while McDowell is fourth.

Only eight points cover the top four drivers heading into this weekends event. Last year at the PIR spring race, only one rookie finished in the top 20—Dario Franchitti in 11th.

Biffle is the only Raybestos rookie to win a the Desert Mile, winning the fall event in 2001.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie Standings

Rk / Driver                   Team         Points
1   Justin Allgaier           Penske        63
2   Brendan Gaughan     RWR            58
3   Scott Lagasse Jr.      CJM             57
4   Michael McDowell     JTG-D           55
5   Michael Annett          Germain       47
6   John West Townley   RAB             43 
7   Ken Butler III             R3               19
8   Peyton Sellers          CM               7
9   Marc Davis               MDM             6
10 Erik Darnell*             RFR               0
*First race not until Richmond 5/1

Nationwide Tidbits

Split decisions: three different times, a different driver and owner have won their respective championships in the Nationwide Series.

  • 2003: Brian Vickers, No. 5 (driver) | RCR No. 21 (owner)
  • 2007: Edwards No. 60 (driver) | RCR No. 29 (owner)
  • 2008: Bowyer No. 2 (driver) | JGR No. 20 (owner)


Extra lap

  • On the move: Brad Keselowski left Daytona in a points hole following a 22nd-place finish. Two consecutive third- place finishes have moved him to fifth place in the standings.
  • Roush Fenway Racing's next victory will be No. 100 in the Nationwide Series.
  • Austin Dillon is set to make his third career series start. Dillion, 19, finished fourth in last October's race at Memphis Motorsports Park.
  • Camping World Truck Series regular Brian Scott will compete in Phoenix following his 25th-place debut at Nashville. He's teamed with Jason Leffler and Phoenix Copper World Classic winner Burney Lamar at Braun Racing.
  • Darryl Harr, a NASCAR Camping World Series West and Canadian Tire Series veteran from Canada, hopes to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut this weekend at PIR.



The Race: Bashas’ Supermarkets 200
The Place: Phoenix Int’l Raceway
The Date: Friday, Apr. 17
The Time: 9:30 PM
The Distance: 200 miles / 200 laps
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch

Event Schedule (all times MST)
: Thursday - Final Practice 8-10 AM; Qualifying 2:30 PM



Rk  Driver                 Points
1    Carl Edwards         959
2    Kyle Busch            936
3    David Ragan           799
4    Jason Leffler           762
5    Brad Keselowski     733
6    Joey Lagano           728
7    Justin Allgaier          676
8    Brendan Gaughan    676
9    Scott Lagasse Jr.    672
10  Jason Keller            667


2009 Manufacturers’ Championship Standings

Chevrolet     40
Toyota         40
Ford            33
Dodge         19
*Following Race 6 of 35 Nashville Superspeedway


Up Next: Talladega Superspeedway

The NASCAR Nationwide Series makes its only stop of the season at Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron’s 312 on Apr. 25.

Tony Stewart is the defending winner of the race. Stewart’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota snapped a five-race domination of Victory Lane by Chevrolet.

Stewart became just the second driver to win the race from the Coors Light Pole.


Join the NASCAR Nationwide Series Community here on Bleacher Report for all your news regarding NASCAR's No. 2 Series.