With the summer approaching, the heat is definitely on in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as the Insurance Agents head to Nashville Superspeedway for this Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 300.
Often a harbinger of a race, Nashville Superspeedway has produced some of the wildest action on the track. That was quite evident in April's Nashville 300, where Joey Logano took the lead from teammate Kyle Busch with 10 laps remaining to win the spring event.
Though this is perceived as a "stand-alone" event where most of the Cup drivers, aka the "Insurance Frauds," are opting to stay around in Pocono while the full-time, double dippers are going to make the flight down to Nashville for some classic, night-time speedway action.
Measuring over a mile and a third, Nashville Superspeedway offers the fans at the track and at home an entertaining mix between lead changes and well, the crashes.
Cautions run aplenty at this facility, as demonstrated in the race in April and last June, with 10 interruptions running for an average of 40.5 laps.
Surefire Claims to Victory Lane
Although this has been the house of Carl Edwards, who has three victories at the Tennessee facility, it has lately been a race won by mostly the upcoming stars of NASCAR.
Save for Scott Wimmer's well-deserved April victory last year, Brad Keselowski's victory last June and Logano's triumph two months ago may serve notice that another young star may be seeing some guitar strumming after 300 miles...and some victory lane celebration.
Edwards and Busch are the two names from the Cup ranks who will most likely give the "Insurance Agent" a run for their money. But don't concede the race immediately to those "Frauds."
Provided that we don't see Steve Wallace falling prey to his antics on the track, he may give the frontrunners a good showing at least, as proof of his ninth place finish in April.
Running a relatively respectable campaign in 2009 in 12th place in the championship standings, Wallace could be poised to stage either an upset in Victory Lane or an upset attitude in the garage area.
Keselowski looks poised to grab his second win at Nashville, with finishes of fourth, first and third in his previous three starts.
Possibly auditioning for a Cup ride in the process, a great showing in Nashville could give some potential owners watching the tube from Pocono more reason to hire this Hendrick/Jr. Motorsports hotshoe.
Wimmer piloted the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to a victory and 7th place result in the two races in 2008.
Whether it was car or driver, the Wisconsin native did not back up his strong finishes of a season ago in the April race, finishing 28th in the No. 40 Chevrolet owned by Curtis Key.
The man who inherited the No. 29 car, aka Stephen Leicht, finished decently in the Nashville 300 in 11th place.
If Leicht finds some of that magic which garnered him, to date, his only career victory in the N'wide Series at Kentucky, a track relatively similar to the Music City's facility, we may see the familiar Holiday Inn colors returning to Victory Lane.
Lastly, Jason Leffler, who is the "true" points leader for the "Insurance Agents," sits third in points, 153 markers behind points leader Busch.
While he may not be the first name to come to mind at Nashville, he finished sixth in April and has been knocking on the door for a victory all season long.
While the moneymakers may choose Edwards, Busch, and Keselowski, it's quite honestly a wide-open race at this point. My personal pick would be Edwards, but I would not be surprised to see someone like Leicht pull off a miracle on Saturday night.
And oh by the way...
Nashville marks the traditional "Indie June" month festival for the Nationwide Series, as the three stops on this particular touring series are stand-alone events from their Cup cousins competing in Pocono, Michigan, and Infineon.
Following this Saturday night's race at Nashville, the "cash" will be flowing its way to Kentucky for another night-time classic, followed by some midwest hospitality in Milwaukee.
While this may sway away most of the drivers pulling off double-duty, the challenge does entice some of the young guns of the Cup ranks to make cross-country trips to the tracks of both series.
Championships are certainly not won in June, but the difference between "genuine" versus "fraud" material is truly defined in this first month of summer racing action.
The Race: Federated Auto Parts 300
The Place: Nashville Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, June 6
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 225 laps
TV: ESPN2, 7:00 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski
2008 Polesitter: Joey Logano
Event Schedule (all times CT):
Friday—Practice 5-6:15 p.m.; Final Practice 6:45-8 p.m. Saturday—Qualifying 1:35 p.m.
If you're keeping tabs with the rookie standings, it's become quite a dandy with Brandan Gaughan and Justin Allgaier tied for the freshman lead with 124 points, followed by Michael McDowell with 113 markers, Scott Lagasse, Jr. in fourth with 108 points and a distant Michael Annet who has 89 points.
The manufacturer's battle has also been quite exciting, with Toyota leading the charge with 77 points, followed by Chevrolet with 75 and Ford with 74. Dodge sits a distant fourth with 38 points.
Top 10 in Points
1 Kyle Busch 1,836
2 Carl Edwards 1,796
3 Jason Leffler 1,683
4 Joey Logano 1,670
5 Brad Keselowski 1,663
6 Jason Keller 1,434
7 Brendan Gaughan 1,364
8 David Ragan 1,358
9 Mike Bliss 1,355
10 Justin Allgaier 1,344
Coming Up Next...
Following Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 300 at Nashville, the N'widers go to Kentucky for another night showing for the Meijer 300 presented by Ritz.
Joey Logano won last year's race at Kentucky, which kickstarted the Logano-mania and possibly propelled him to his Cup ride in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota.
The race, which made David Gilliland's stock rise temporarily in 2006 and made Leicht a household name in the Nationwide ranks, seems to be the race of upsets. Could it be another case of the surprise winner?
As they say, the race is on.
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