* Series rookies making strides heading to Talladega
* Loop Data: Is a Truex--Harvick showdown in the works?
NEWS & NOTES
Harvick "rolls" into 'Bama ... NASCAR Busch Series points leader Kevin Harvick (No. 21 U.S. Coast Guard Chevrolet) hopes his strong start to the season can continue at Talladega, a track where he's experienced some struggles in limited series starts. The 2001 series champion is on a two-race winning streak, and also registered the second weekend sweep of his career last weekend in Phoenix after capturing the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event as well. The wins are the first of the consecutive variety in Harvick's NASCAR Busch Series career, and pushed his lead to 289 points over second-place Clint Bowyer (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet), his Richard Childress Racing teammate. The last driver to win three series races in a row was Ryan Newman last year. Despite posting top-10 numbers at Talladega in last season's race according to NASCAR's Loop Data Statistics -- Driver Rating (sixth -- 94.4), Average Running Position (first -- 9.408) and Closers (tied for sixth -- two positions improved over last 10% of race) -- Harvick hasn't fared well in three previous NASCAR Busch Series races there. Although his three starts have been inside the top 10, Harvick's finishes haven't matched. He was 16th in 2000, 40th in '01 and 18th last year.
Rookie class gaining confidence ... Members of the 2006 NASCAR Busch Series Raybestos Rookie class are showing steady improvement over the first third of the season, a key element as they approach Talladega. Burney Lamar (No. 77 Dollar General Chevrolet) has been ranked in the top 10 driver point standings for eight of the season's nine weeks; he's currently ninth. He finished second to open the year at Daytona International Speedway, the other restrictor-plate track on the schedule. Danny O'Quinn (No. 50 Stonebridge Life Ford -- 14th), Mark McFarland (No. 88 U.S. NAVY Chevrolet -- 16th) and Lamar (19th) finished inside the top 20 last week at Phoenix; five rookies are solidly ranked in the top 25 in driver points heading to Talladega. History also shows series rookies have held their own at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, where a rookie has posted a top-10 finish in each of the last six races -- Mike Borkowski (10th in 2000), Greg Biffle (sixth in '01), Casey Mears (fifth in '02), Coy Gibbs (10th in '03), Kyle Busch (fourth in '04) and Jon Wood (second in '05).
Former champion Grissom returns home ... The 2006 season is the 25th anniversary of the NASCAR Busch Series' association with series sponsor Anheuser-Busch, and a former champion returns to his home track for his second appearance of the season. Steve Grissom (No. 49 Xtreme Gel/Advil Ford), a Gadsden native who won the title in 1993, is entered in the Aaron's 312, his first opportunity to drive in the NASCAR Busch Series this year since finishing 21st at the season-opener at Daytona. He is one of only 11 drivers to have more than 300 career series starts (305); six of those have come at Talladega where last season, he started 43rd and posted a 16th-place finish, his best result of the year and his highest finish since 2004. In his championship season, Grissom was consistent, registering a series-high 11 top fives and 18 top-10 finishes to go along with two wins resulting in a 253-point spread over runner-up Ricky Craven. Grissom has 11 career series wins and four Busch Poles.
Crew chiefs Holly, Frazier also in familiar territory ... In addition to Grissom's homecoming, two of the NASCAR Busch Series' most successful crew chiefs are also coming home this weekend. Harold Holly, who oversees the No. 00 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet driven by Johnny Sauter, is from Pell City, Ala. Frazier, who calls the shots for the No. 64 Dodges of Rusty Wallace Inc. and drivers Jamie McMurray and Steve Wallace, joins Grissom as a native of Gadsden. Frazier has led RWI to its current fifth-place ranking in the NASCAR Busch Series owner standings, while Holly, who led Jeff Green to the 2000 title in perhaps the most dominant performance in series history -- Green won the championship by 616 points -- brings over 20 years of experience to Haas CNC Racing and Sauter, who after a slow start to the season has been in the top 10 of the driver standings this year for four out of the last five weeks. "Aside from racing, I always enjoy going home and seeing family and friends," Holly said. "That part of it is great but the bottom line is we need to be on our A-game so we can get Team Yellow back up in the points." Sauter, who is scheduled to make his 150th career series start, comes to Talladega 13th in points.
IN THE LOOP: Truex--Harvick battle at Talladega? ... Comparing Loop Data Statistics for the top drivers at Talladega last year and through the 2006 season-to-date, Saturday's race could be a showdown between two-time race winner Martin Truex Jr. and 2006 points leader Kevin Harvick. The former NASCAR Busch Series champions are at the top of the chart in many key categories. Last year Truex had the best Driver Rating (109.6) and was second to Harvick in Average Running Position (9.475) throughout the event. Truex led the field in Fastest Laps (eight) and was tied for third with 82 Laps in the Top 15. This year, Harvick leads the series in the Driver Rating (113.8), Percentage of Laps Run on Lead Lap (100% -- 1,688 of 1,688), Quality Passes (330) and Mile Leaders (384.44) categories. He's second in Average Running Position (7.863), and is in the top 10 in four other categories.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Martin Truex Jr.'s two wins at Talladega are the most among drivers entered in Saturday's field. ... David Green (No. 27 Kleenex Ford) has 11 starts at Talladega, fifth all-time. ... Three other Busch Pole winners join Paul Menard in the field -- Ken Schrader (No. 66 Yard-Man Ford), Johnny Sauter and Clint Bowyer; the poles were the first of their career for Sauter and Bowyer. ... Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Dodge) is tied for second with five top 10s at Talladega. Waltrip is also second in races led (seven) and laps led (114) after 10 races there.
Kevin Harvick's back-to-back wins have stretched Chevrolet's lead in the Bill France Performance Cup standings to 12 points over second-place Dodge. Chevrolet -- the manufacturer leader in NASCAR Busch Series wins at Talladega with 10 -- has six victories this season and totals 66 points in the standings. Dodge, seeking its first series win at Talladega, has two wins and 54 points, while Ford, with three series wins at Talladega, has one win and 51 points this year. Harvick is the first driver to record multiple wins in the NASCAR Busch Series this year. ... Randy Armstrong, the front tire changer for Mark Green's No. 4 GEICO Chevrolet, is from Mobile, Ala. ... Speaking of Green, who secured his best finish (15th) of the season last year at Talladega, his 17-year-old son, Tyler, has four wins this year in Legends Pro Division competition. ... Mark McFarland's No. 88 Chevrolet will feature the Dale Earnhardt Legacy logo on the decklid this weekend in honor of the 10-time Talladega Superspeedway winner. His JR Motorsports team is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series is scheduled to begin its 2006 season Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway, and Steve Wallace will be in the field. Wallace -- the youngest son of 1989 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Rusty Wallace -- is entered in the race while teammate Jamie McMurray (No. 64 Top Flite Dodge) competes at Talladega. ... Six-year-old Benee Calderon of Buena Park, Calif., won a nationwide "Color your Way" to Talladega Sweepstakes and will be at the track to watch Michael Waltrip run in the paint scheme designed by the youngster.
"It's a lot easier to lose the points than it is to gain the points. This NASCAR Busch Series is tough and there will be somebody who will make a run at me sooner or later." -- Kevin Harvick.
"I have never been to Talladega before so you better believe that for the next three days I am going to be racing the Talladega track on my X-Box and trying to learn as much as I can." -- Stephen Leicht (No. 90 CitiFinancial Ford).
"You hear about drivers who dread restrictor plate racing, but I absolutely love it. I'm excited to go to Talladega and try to get some redemption from earlier this year. I thought we had a really good car at Daytona and just never got to show it. Getting the penalty near the end of the race and then involved in the last lap wreck, I just left feeling empty." -- Denny Hamlin (No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet).
FROM THE NASCAR BUSCH SERIES "25 SEASONS RUNNING" ARCHIVES
Ken Schrader has always been known as one of the busiest drivers in all of auto racing, winning in all forms of motorsports competition. And he shows no sign of slowing down. One of Schrader's wins came in the 1994 NASCAR Busch Series race held at Talladega Superspeedway.
Schrader came from 17th starting position in his self-owned Chevrolet, staying near the front of the field for most of the race. He took the lead from Sterling Marlin with two laps to go and held off a charge by Terry Labonte to win by .008 second -- one of the series' closest margins of victory.
The win was no easy matter. It was a hard-fought victory in an event that saw a record 30 lead changes among 14 drivers. Schrader's winning speed of 167.473 mph still ranks as the second-fastest average speed in the history of the event, which was slowed by caution periods only twice for 10 laps.
NASCAR BUSCH SERIES "25 SEASONS RUNNING" QUOTEABLES
"The competition was great, the people were great. That's what made the NASCAR Busch Series good for me." -- Tommy Ellis, 1998 NASCAR Busch Series champion.
Note: A NASCAR Busch Series "25 Seasons Running" Media Kit CD is available at-track each race weekend and also on-line at nascarmedia.com. A CD can also be obtained by contacting NASCAR PR.
ON DECK: RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
Richmond International Raceway is the next stop for the NASCAR Busch Series on May 5, where the Circuit City 250 will be held under the lights. Mark Martin, the series all-time leader in wins (47) also has the most wins at Richmond (five), while Kenny Wallace (No. 22 AutoZone Ford) is third all-time with three victories. Michael Waltrip has captured five Busch Poles, tied for first with 1998 series champion and Richmond native Tommy Ellis. Virginia native Jeff Burton is scheduled to make his 250th series start at his "home" track. Richmond is one of seven tracks to have hosted NASCAR Busch Series races since the series' inception in 1982.
What: Aaron's 312 (Race No. 10 of 35 in the NASCAR Busch Series).
Where: Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Ala.
When: 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 29.
Track Layout: 2.66-mile tri-oval.
Race Length: 311.22 miles/117 laps.
Posted Awards: $1,317,243.
TV: FOX, 3:10 p.m., ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2005 Winner: Martin Truex Jr.
2005 Polesitter: Paul Menard.
2006 NASCAR Busch Series Top 10: 1. Kevin Harvick 1,469. 2. Clint Bowyer 1,180. 3. Denny Hamlin 1,174. 4. J.J. Yeley 1,158. 5. Carl Edwards 1,128. 6. Paul Menard 1,074. 7. Jon Wood 1,037. 8. Kyle Busch 1,032. 9. Burney Lamar 1,007. 10. Greg Biffle 999.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Thur., April 27 -- Practice, 2:45 - 3:45 p.m.; "Rookie Practice," 4:15 - 4:45 p.m.; Final Practice 4:45 -5:45 p.m. Fri., April 28 -- Qualifying 4:05 p.m. (Impound).