A Leader Amongst Us ... But Whom?
Expect the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings to be shaken up this week as the series heads west to Phoenix International Raceway. There have been 18 series races run at PIR with 11 different winners and 12 different pole winners.
With current points leader Landon Cassill not schedule to run at Phoenix, a number of series regulars are in line to swipe his throne. Reed Sorenson - Second in the standings; has made seven starts at Phoenix posting three top fives and five top 10s, including a fifth last fall. Jason Leffler - Third in standings; has made 13 starts at Phoenix, posting two top fives and four top 10s and two poles. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Fourth in the standings; has made two starts at Phoenix posting two top 10s.
A couple of highly touted drivers who look to rebound from a rough Daytona: Elliott Sadler -- Finished 38th at Daytona. The media pre-season poll championship favorite has made four starts at Phoenix, posting a runner-up finish in 2005. Brian Scott - 23rd in the standings, he has made three starts at Phoenix, finishing in the top 20 all three times, including an 11th last fall.
Home Sweet Home For Danica?
Danica Patrick heads home to Phoenix this week, coming off arguably her best race since joining NASCAR last season.
She started 2011 qualifying fourth at Daytona, then became the first woman in NASCAR national series history to lead a lap at Daytona International Speedway. She wrapped up the weekend with a career-best 14th-place finish and a career-high Driver Rating of 89.9. Her previous best series finish was 19th in last year's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
This weekend Patrick is looking to continue her momentum in front of her hometown fans. It will be Patrick's second visit to Phoenix International Raceway, but her first in the spring event. Last season, she started 28th at Phoenix and finished 32nd. Her Average Running Position that event was 26.7. Patrick is scheduled to run the first four events of the season before returning to IndyCar.
Ladder Day Saints
Daytona 500 champion, and current NASCAR Nationwide Series star, Trevor Bayne is one of many drivers who have worked their way up the ladder system of NASCAR to get a shot on the national stage.
Bayne's first NASCAR win came in his sixth NASCAR K&N Pro Series, East start on July 12, 2008. He ran the full season in the series for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Bayne recorded six top fives, eight top 10s and a pole, finishing fourth in points.
"That's crazy how fast it has all happened," Bayne said. "It's been a flash, going straight from the East to Nationwide Series to here. It was a perfect stepping stone order. It's an awesome way to go."
This week at Phoenix another product of NASCAR's ladder system will make his debut -- Timmy Hill. A day after his 18th birthday (Feb. 25), Hill will run at Phoenix.
Last season, Hill made his debut for Rick Ware Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (one race) and West (two races) along with seven ARCA starts. Another notable talent currently learning in a NASCAR developmental series: X-Games star Travis Pastrana. Pastrana will run the K&N Pro Series, West race at Phoenix, another tune-up prior to his scheduled NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis in July.
This weekend at Phoenix will be the first event of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season that all four Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders are entered and will be attempting to qualify on Friday, Feb. 25. This year's rookie contender class includes: Jennifer Jo Cobb, Ryan Truex, Timmy Hill and Blake Koch. ... This will be the first visit to Phoenix for the new NASCAR Nationwide car, as well as the first race on a one-mile track. The car has previously run at Daytona (2.5-miles), Michigan (two-mile), Richmond (.75-mile) and Charlotte (1.5-mile).
The Race: Bashas' Supermarkets 200
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway
The Date: Saturday, Feb. 26
The Time: 5:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN2, 5 p.m. (ET)
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)