Series off-week news 2010-03-23

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Open Week On Point This final open week of March is providing the NASCAR Nationwide Series with a first -- one of its 3,400 -pound cars on the track at Road America's 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Open Week

On Point

This final open week of March is providing the NASCAR Nationwide Series with a first -- one of its 3,400 -pound cars on the track at Road America's 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

The track's inaugural series race will be on June 19. In preparation, a one-day test will be conducted Wednesday, with compiled data to be shared with series teams before they come to the track this summer.

Boris Said, a NASCAR veteran who says he's competed at Road America more than 20 times in various series including Trans-Am and sports cars among others, will be the test driver. Roush Fenway Racing, led by Mike Kelly and Matt Puccia, will provide the crew and equipment.

"My job will be to find the right gear ratio and come up with a decent start point for the teams," Said said. "Road America offers the most passing opportunities of any of the road courses on our NASCAR schedules. It's wide and really technical on breaking. The fans will get a great show (in June)."

The test will be run in two sessions, from 9 a.m. -- 12 p.m. CT and if needed, an afternoon session from 1 -- 4 p.m. An at-track press conference featuring Said, NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash and NASCAR's Director of Competition R&D, Brett Bodine, will be held during the lunch break.

Independent Surge Continues: J-DM's Mike Wallace In Top 10

What's different about this picture? To see what's changed, looked closely at what really hasn't:

Carl Edwards is leading the standings. Check.

Edwards (2007) heads a group of five former NASCAR Nationwide Series champions in the current top- 10 rankings -- Kyle Busch (fourth in the standings, reigning series champion); Kevin Harvick (fifth, 2001, '06); Greg Biffle (sixth, 2002) and Brian Vickers (10th, 2003). Check.

Brad Keselowski continues his dogged pursuit of Edwards, and is in second place, just 26 points behind. Paul Menard, one of three full-time double-duty drivers in the series this season, is continuing his climb up the standings ladder. He's currently seventh. Check and double-check.

Justin Allgaier (third) won his first career race at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday and along with Steve Wallace (eighth) leads the series-only regular charge in the rankings.

Wait. Check that.

Allgaier, Steve Wallace and Steve's uncle, Mike Wallace, are the "regular guys" in the top 10 following Bristol. And it's Mike who is the difference-maker in many ways.

Never before has J-D Motorsports had a driver ranked in the top 10 in the series standings. Following his 17th-place result at Bristol, Mike became that driver, moving into ninth. He's also pushed team owner Lori Morgan into 12th in the owner standings after the first four races of the year.

Wallace has achieved the organization's breakthrough despite registering a DNF to start the season at Daytona International Speedway. In the three races since, he's posted an average finish of 13.3, including his best finish to date, 11th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Mike collected the 350th start of his 20-year series career last month at Las Vegas. He's run only five full-time seasons in the series, finishing in the top 10 once -- eighth in 2008. He's collected four wins but oddly enough, doesn't have a pole on his series resume.

What he does have, however, is another first for an independent team this year. Following the race at Vegas, Scott Riggs, driving for RAB Racing, became the first driver in that organization's history to hold a top-10 position in the points. Building on that opportunity took a hit last week at Bristol though when Riggs failed to qualify. He's now 22nd in the standings. But the team likes its chances at Nashville Superspeedway in two weeks. In four career races there, Riggs has two wins.

Menard Surprises With Quick Starts To His Double-Duty Season

Few, if anyone, predicted Paul Menard's breakout season.

Menard sits seventh in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings and ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points.

Running a full schedule in both series, the double-duty driver is clearly making the most of his ample opportunities.

Over the first four NASCAR Nationwide Series races, Menard has a Driver Rating of 86.2, an Average Running Position of 13.8, two Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 63.7%.

Three of his four races have hovered around a top-10 finish. Only at Auto Club Speedway, where he finished 19th, has Menard failed to crack the top 15. His best finish was sixth, at Daytona.

But Menard's best race, statistically speaking, was at Las Vegas, where he finished eighth. In that event he scored a Driver Rating of 94.7 and had an Average Running Position of 12.6.

And in two weeks, an interesting test awaits Menard -- Nashville Superspeedway.

Menard has six career starts at Nashville, but none since 2006. The two starts there in '06 were his only two top-10 finishes there. He finished ninth in the April event and had a fifth-place result in the June race.

Since Loop Data's inception in 2005 -- a span of four Nashville races for Menard -- he has a Driver Rating of 86.4, an Average Running Position of 13.7, six Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 64.3% and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus -28.

Also considered a surprise: Steve Wallace. Currently sitting eighth in the driver rankings. Despite having his five-race streak of top-10 finishes vanquished last week at Bristol after he was involved in an accident with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Wallace still is enjoying the best standings position after four races of his career. Last season, he was 17th at this stage. Two years ago, he was mired in 23rd.

The statistics definitely tell his story. Wallace has a Driver Rating of 82.0, an Average Running Position of 17.7, six Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 52.3%.

Long Gaughan: Hoyas, Kansas Ruin Driver Brackets; But Duke Still Alive As Howard's Pick

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is heading into the "Sweet 16" round, and a few NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers still have some Final Four picks alive despite last weekend's bucketful of first-round upsets.

Arguably the hardest -- and toughest -- hits among some of the drivers who are following the tournament (other than those who picked Kansas to win it all) was taken by Brendan Gaughan.

The Georgetown grad and former Hoya guard found double trouble on his bracket sheet. He had his alma mater versus Syracuse in one semifinal and predicted the G-Men would meet Kentucky in the title game.

Sadly for Gaughan, Georgetown was upset by Ohio University in the first round. So his heart was broken along with one of his three choices for the Final Four. He does, however, have three final weekend selections left heading into this weekend: Duke, Kentucky and Syracuse.

"Looking at the brackets, Kentucky has the easiest trip to the Final Four I can remember seeing in recent history," he said.

Shelby Howard's Final Four might be a winner. His national champion choice is still in the running -- he picked Duke. Although he also lost Kansas among his Final Four selections, he's also got Syracuse and West Virginia moving on as well.

"Duke will win it because (they have) the best coach in college basketball (in Mike Krzyzewski)," he emphatically declared. An interesting observation from a native of basketball-crazed Indiana.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost Kansas as his choice for the champion, but still has three teams left in his Final Four: Duke, Kentucky and Kansas State. He also still has Kentucky left in the title game.

Kelly Bires saw two of his Final Four picks fall by the wayside; Kansas and his home-state Wisconsin Badgers. To make matters worse, he chose Wisconsin to win it all. He's still got rooting interests, though, with Ohio State and Kentucky remaining in his Final Four.

"It was really hard to pick against the No. 1 seeded teams," Bires said. "But as a Wisconsin kid, I had to go with my Badgers to win it all."

Steve Wallace didn't fall under his RWI teammate's Georgetown spell, but he did see two of his Final Four hopefuls and his champion pick go down to defeat last weekend.

Wallace had Kansas and Villanova among his Final Four choices with Kansas winning it all. He's still got Kentucky and Syracuse left in his Final Four bracket, however.

And it was a good thing Justin Allgaier won his first series race last week at Bristol because he's not going see his national champion choice have it's "shining moment" this year.

Allgaier also picked Kansas to win the crown, although he does still have Duke, Syracuse and Kentucky left among his Final Four selections.

NNS Etc.: Open Week Edition

Bayne Tries Boarding

Before competing in the second consecutive race in his home state of Tennessee, Knoxville's Trevor Bayne will take a few days this week to run on a surface quite a bit different from asphalt or concrete.

He's heading to Jackson Hole, Wyo., to hit the slopes for some late-season snowboarding.

Some time away from the track might be welcome for Bayne, 19, who had a rough outing last Saturday at Bristol. He finished 30th after getting caught in a couple of incidents. He hopes a trip to Nashville Superspeedway will provide a rebound opportunity. Last year, in his series debut at the track in the June race, Bayne started second but finished 28th due to an accident.

Same Results, Different Setting For Lagasse Jr.

Despite being with a different team in a different city, Scott Lagasse Jr.'s 2010 season has followed a similar path to that of 2009.

Last year, Lagasse, who was running for Charlotte-based CJM Racing, was caught up in an early wreck and left the season-opener at Daytona 41st in the standings.

But three races later following Bristol, after averaging finishes of 9.3, he'd fought his way to 10th.

Fast forward to 2010, where Lagasse is with Baker Curb Racing, which is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. Last month at Daytona, he was the victim of another accident and left his home track 32nd in the points.

But once again, he's managed to rebound and is primed for a return to the top 10. After last Saturday's race at Bristol, he's quietly moved up to 13th, averaging a 15th-place finish in the last three races.

"Unfortunately, just like last year, we dug ourselves into a hole at Daytona and have had to work hard to get to back in the top 15," he said. "This team is continuing to improve each week, but we won't be satisfied until we are consistently running in the top 10 and competing for wins."

Studying Hard: Other Drivers Also Involved

In Tests This Week Boris Said and Roush Fenway Racing aren't the only driver and team using this open week to test.

Bristol race winner Justin Allgaier is at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week participating in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series two-day test there where the new spoiler is featured.

Eric McClure traveled across the country to Infineon Raceway to take part in a two-day roadcourse school where he'll be coached by ace and part-time NASCAR road-course driver Chris Cook. McClure's crew chief, Chris Wright, joined his driver for instruction.

This is the second school McClure has attended to prepare for the series' three roadcourse events at Road America, Watkins Glen International at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

John Wes Townley will be at Talladega Superspeedway where he'll test with the ARCA RE/MAX Series. He'll enter the April 23 ARCA event at Talladega as a warm-up for the April 24 NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron's 312.

Up Next: Nashville Superspeedway

Following this final open week of the month, the NASCAR Nationwide Series resumes racing at Nashville Superspeedway for a first-time doubleheader weekend with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The NASCAR Nationwide Series races on Saturday, April 3; ESPN will air the broadcast beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Following next week's race, the top 30 in the owner standings will revert to the 2010 rankings. For the first five races this year, those in the top 30 in 2009 owner points were locked in to each race.

Joey Logano is the defending race winner at Nashville while Carl Edwards won the pole one year ago. Edwards also is the all-time leader in wins there (three) and also has elevated his car owner, Jack Roush, to the top of that statistical leaderboard (four).

Fast Facts

Next Race: Nashville 300
The Place: Nashville Superspeedway (1.333-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, April 3
The Time: 4 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300 miles/ 225 laps

TV: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio. Listen locally on WRQQ-FM 97.1.

2009 Winner: Joey Logano
2009 Polesitter: Carl Edwards

Schedule prior to race day (times CT):
Friday, April 2--Practice, 2:30-3:55 p.m. and 5:30-6:30 p.m.;
Saturday, April 3--Qualifying, 11:05 a.m.

-source: nascar

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