BUSCH: Charlotte II: Round 31 preview

*Bittersweet: Keller Aims For All-Time Starts Mark Held By His Idol Tommy Houston *Chance To Be Champ: Edwards Can Clinch Driver Title Friday *JGR No. 20 Team Now In Owner Championship Mix *In The Loop: Friday Night "Leichts" At LMS? "Iron Man"...

*Bittersweet: Keller Aims For All-Time Starts Mark Held By His Idol Tommy Houston
*Chance To Be Champ: Edwards Can Clinch Driver Title Friday
*JGR No. 20 Team Now In Owner Championship Mix
*In The Loop: Friday Night "Leichts" At LMS?

"Iron Man" Indeed: Keller Can Break Houston's Series Starts Mark Friday

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 9, 2007) -- Jason Keller (No. 11 Sweet Baby Ray's Chevrolet) knew this day would come.

He's been looking forward to becoming the NASCAR Busch Series' all-time leader in starts, a feat he can accomplish Friday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway when it's expected the 37-year-old native of Greenville, S.C., will make the 418th start in a career that has spanned 17 seasons.

But his newest record -- he also is the only driver to surpass $11 million in winnings -- comes with a bit of melancholy.

Keller must qualify on time in order to break the mark held by Tommy Houston, who last raced in the series in 1996. Houston had 417 starts, 24 wins, 18 poles, settimg the series standard with 123 top fives and 198 top 10s -- marks that still stand.

And that's where the bittersweet taste comes in: Houston is one of Keller's idols.

"It's definitely an honor to be part of the Busch Series as long as I have been," Keller said. "And to have Tommy there (at LMS) ... when I first came into the series, I raced against Tommy a lot.

"I've definitely respected what he did for the series, and now that it's grown so much, it's really because of people like him and some of the guys that originally started.

"So I'm very honored and very proud and hope that we have a good night on Friday."

Edwards Can Clinch Driver Title; Three Teams Now Vie For Owner Crown

Let the 2007 NASCAR Busch Series championship scenarios begin.

Driver standings leader Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Wiinterguard Ford) has his first opportunity Friday night to reach the main goal he set for the 2007 season.

If Edwards -- who has led the standings since the third race of the season at Mexico City -- leaves Charlotte with a lead of 781 or more points, he will have clinched the title.

He currently leads second-place David Reutimann (No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) by 696 points.

Reigning series champion Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Dollar General Chevrolet) -- who clinched the 2006 championship at this event last year -- is in third place, 818 points behind Edwards.

And don't look now, but there are three teams in the running for the NASCAR Busch Series owner championship.

The No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet of Richard Childress Racing -- shared this year by Jeff Burton (who will drive the car at LMS) and Scott WImmer (in the No. 21 AutoZone Chevy for RCR this week) -- leads the owner standings by 54 points over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 60 Ford.

But the No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet of Joe Gibbs Racing is in third place, only 76 points behind the No. 29. Denny Hamlin will be behind the wheel of the No. 20 Friday night at LMS.

In The Loop: Leicht Could Shine In Charlotte; Hamlin Hopes To Leave LMS Woes Behind

If the remainder of the season is an open audition for Stephen Leicht, Lowe's Motor Speedway might be the perfect place to take center stage.

Leicht, currently with Robert Yates Racing, will look for a new employer at season's end. And in two races at LMS, Leicht has impressed. Standing out among a field peppered with double-duty drivers, Leicht has finished 14th and 10th while collecting impressive statistics in the process.

At LMS, Leicht has a Driver Rating of 82.6 (16th-best), an Average Running Position of 13.8 (11th-best) and has spent 67.7% of the total laps run in the top 15 (seventh-best).

Another storyline sure to take shape this week is the three-way battle for the owner championship.

The No. 29 Chevrolet, the No. 60 Ford, and the No. 20 Chevrolet are separated by 76 points. Previously, it was a two-team race between the No. 60 and the No. 29. Now the combo of Denny Hamlin (18 starts), Aric Almirola (10 starts), Travis Kittleson (one start) and Tony Stewart (one start) have joined the fray.

Friday night, Edwards, Burton and Hamlin will be in their respective rides.

While Edwards and Burton have solid statistics at LMS, Hamlin has struggled there. In five starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has only one top 10 and an average finish of 24.2. Hamlin's Driver Rating at LMS is a 25th-best 75.6 and his Average Running Position is 17.3 (18th-best).

With a win there last season, Edwards has an LMS Driver Rating of 97.2, an Average Running Position of 12.9 and 67 Fastest Laps Run.

Burton, who finished fourth at LMS in May, has a Driver Rating of 100.4 and an Average Running Position of 14.5 in his three races at LMS since 2005.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Jeff Burton , Tony Stewart , Jason Keller , Kevin Harvick , David Reutimann , Carl Edwards , Robert Yates , Denny Hamlin , Aric Almirola , Stephen Leicht , Travis Kittleson
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Roush Fenway Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing , Yates Racing