Just under a third into this year's NASCAR Nationwide Series racing season and already, it's looked like another one of those campaigns when the Cup guys steal the limelight from the regular runners.
One of the biggest and most oft-asked questions in stock car racing is if the Cup drivers have a right to compete in the Nationwide Series.
Perceived as the No. 2 series of the three prestigious touring series for NASCAR, it previously featured an array of upcoming talent from feeder series clashing against some of the best Cup drivers in the circuit.
However, that has changed in the past few years, with the likes of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Clint Bowyer basking in the success of besting their peers for the trophies in Victory Lane
Surefire Claims to Victory Lane
This weekend, it'll be more of the same at Lowe's Motor Speedway for Saturday's Carquest Auto Parts 300.
Once dubbed by this generation's dean of motorsports, Ken Squier, as the "Prelude to the 600," the 300-miler often produces some of Memorial Day weekend's most exciting action on the asphalt.
Busch made the Concord, NC-based track into his personal playground, sweeping both races for the Joe Gibbs Racing contingency. Always a stout contender in the Cup and Nationwide cars, it may be another runaway show for the 24-year old Vegas native.
Bowyer knows a thing or two about getting around this racetrack. With finishes of sixth and fourth last year, he may be Chevrolet's best chance to return to the winner's circle in the Nationwide side of NASCAR.
Edwards placed 13th and fifth last season at LMS as one of the leading Ford drivers at the famed 49-year old racing facility.
Winless in '09, but just 39 markers back from the points lead, Saturday's race may be the perfect opportunity for a "double-win" with a trip to Victory Lane and first place in the championship standings.
Why these three drivers and not say, a Nationwide regular? Of the 20 chances (the total number of slots comprising the top-10 in each Nationwide race at Lowe's) that a regular had to crack the top-10, only Kelly Bires and Mike Wallace led the charge for the "true insurance agents."
That's not to say that an upset is not in the cards for the 300-miler. In the October 2006 race, "The Buckeye Bullet," aka Dave Blaney, dueled against Matt Kenseth in a who-blinks-first to the last corners for the race victory.
In a race that has been reflected as bizarre with the high attrition count and demolition derby action that made the inaugural Texas Cup event of 1997 look tame, the unexpected happened.
Kenseth, in attempt to defend his lead position, got loose in Turn Three and lost control of his No. 17 Ford. Blaney, showing some of his racing prowess, held on to the throttle and went on to score his first and only NASCAR triumph in his career.
And oh by the way...
Just because the Carquest Auto Parts 300 is not exactly in the same vein of awe like the Coca-Cola World 600 or the Indianapolis 500, the race itself has been conducive to competitive, side-by-side action and a showcase of today's stars versus tomorrow's winners.
Some guy named Jeff Gordon swept the races at Lowe's in 1992, driving Bill Davis' No. 1 Baby Ruth Ford for two of his three victories in that season's memorable championship hunt.
The race has also served as a barometer in terms of how competitive or how dull the action will be in the 600. Sure, the All-Star Race is often a shootout and hotly-contested event where there are virtually no limits.
But in the 300, it is a "conservative" short-distance race. We will learn which pit strategies are advantageous, which will result in certain failure and some that are simply indescribable.
While he may not be a contender for the win, keep an eye on Stanton Barrett. A regular in the Indycar series, the stunt actor looks to make his mark on Memorial Day racing weekend of 2009 with a successful appearance in the 300.
The Race: Carquest Auto Parts 300
The Place: Lowe's Motor Speedway
The Date: May 23, 2009
The Time: 7:30 PM, EDT
The Distance: 200 laps/300 miles
TV: ESPN2 (Prerace at 7 PM, EDT)
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio/PRN
2008 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Pole Sitter: Brian Vickers
Event Schedule (All Times EDT): Saturday : Qualifying: 3:45 PM
Keeping tabs with the Rookie-of-the-Year points standings, Justin Allgaier leads the freshman class of 2009 with 102 points, followed by Brendan Gaughan with 95 points, a two-way tie for third place with Michael McDowell and Scott Lagasse, Jr. at 94 points, and Michael Annett with 75 points in a distant fifth spot.
1) Kyle Busch 1539
2) Carl Edwards 1502
3) Jason Leffler 1386
4) Joey Logano 1340
5) Brad Keselowski 1331
6) Jason Keller 1181
7) David Ragan 1139
8) Scott Lagasse Jr. 1095
9) Justin Allgaier 1089
10) Steve Wallace 1088
After a grueling 300-miler at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the Nationwide agents head to Dover, Delware at the "Monster Mile" for the Heluva Good! 200.
Outside pole-sitter Denny Hamlin dominated the spring race at Dover International Speedway, leading 131 of 200 circuits. Hamlin bested pole-sitter Edwards by 1.072 seconds.
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