NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes -- Indianapolis It's Hot, But Not Only Because It's Summer It's July in the Midwest, and that means hot and humid conditions are the norm. It's also the time of year for short-track racing at ...
NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes -- Indianapolis
It's Hot, But Not Only Because It's Summer
It's July in the Midwest, and that means hot and humid conditions are the norm. It's also the time of year for short-track racing at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
That combination always is combustible. This weekend, the burner will be turned up even higher.
The year-long feud between NASCAR Nationwide Series standings leader Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge) and second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 Fastenal Ford) is now at a fever pitch after last Saturday night at Gateway International Raceway, where the two drivers added to their rivalry.
Over the past few seasons, Edwards, the 2007 series champion, has become known as a second-half driver. In the last two years alone, he's racked up 11 of 14 wins following the halfway point of the year. One of those second-half victories was last year at ORP.
Edwards is 163 points behind Keselowski, the closest he's been to the leader in two months. He has a 102.6 Driver Rating in five career races at ORP.
Keselowski, meanwhile, has one top five and two top 10s with a Driver Rating of 93.0 in three ORP races. He was fourth last year.
And there's more fuel. Kyle Busch (No. 18 Fleet Locate Toyota), the reigning series champion, added this race to his partial schedule. He's won twice at ORP, most recently in 2008. He's been outstanding this year in series competition, winning seven of his 15 races, and now is second on the all-time series win list with 37. Mark Martin holds the record with 48.
Another hot button at ORP: Win this race, and there's a good chance you'll win the series championship.
Since 2001, Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) and Busch are the only ORP winners who also hadn't claimed the series title in the same year. Over that span, five drivers have won the Kroger 200 and series crown, while 11 times over the last 23 years, the ORP winner has won the championship.
Back To The Future For Bayne At ORP
One year ago at ORP, Trevor Bayne (No. 99 Out! Pet Care Toyota) made the seventh start of his series career. He also made the most of it, earning his first career pole in addition to his first laps led and the first top-10 finish (seventh).
Fast forward to Saturday at ORP, when he'll reach the 35th start of his short career, or what would equal a full season of NASCAR Nationwide Series competition.
In that time, Bayne, 19, has made considerable progress, especially during the middle stages of this year. He was 10th last month at Road America -- his first NASCAR national-series race on a road course -- and recorded his first top-five finish (fifth) the next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, also his track debut. He built on that momentum last Saturday at Gateway -- after finishing 27th there last year -- with his second career pole and first laps led of the season. He also worked crew chief Jerry Baxter's strategy like a veteran, setting himself up for a shot at a win late in the event. He ended up third, his career best finish.
Braun Makes The Most Of Second Chance
Here's the thing about "growing pains" in the NASCAR Nationwide Series: They don't last too long.
Because the competition is so tough, prolonged slumps are not tolerated for any lasting period of time. There are no long growing pains, because there's no time for long growing pains.
Colin Braun (No. 16 Con-way Ford) can speak to that.
After a successful two seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Braun earned a quick promotion to the NASCAR Nationwide Series to start the 2010 season.
The learning curve proved steep.
He finished outside the top 30 in six of his first eight races, which knocked his No. 16 Ford outside the top 30 in owner points. That meant he lost a guaranteed spot in each race's field, and had to qualify each week on speed.
Worse yet, he got the boot -- sort of. Owner Jack Roush replaced Braun for two races with veteran Matt Kenseth and another three with youngster Brian Ickler.
Clearly Braun got the step up, or step out message.
Over Braun's first eight starts, he had an average finish of 28.3, a Driver Rating of 66.2, an Average Running Position of 21.8 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 25.3%.
Over his last six, which include his first three top 10s of the season, here are his numbers: an average finish of 11.2, a Driver Rating of 88.7, an Average Running Position of 12.8 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 69.9%.
Now Braun heads to a track -- O'Reilly Raceway Park -- where he has excelled.
Braun has only raced once at ORP in the series, in 2008. In that event, he won the pole, finished second and posted tremendous statistics. He had a Driver Rating of 124.9, an Average Running Position of 2.1, 25 Fastest Laps Run and ran all 200 laps among the top 15.
He also had strong numbers there in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Last year, he finished fifth with a Driver Rating of 118.5.
Kyle Busch: An Indianapolis Triple Threat
The one-day shows at ORP on Friday and Saturday are precursors to Sunday's race on the big stage.
A few drivers will pull double-duty in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series events at ORP.
One driver, however, will make starts in those races as well as in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at The Brickyard.
For Kyle Busch, a triple-header isn't unusual. In fact, he's run three national series races in the same weekend twice this year, and 33 times in his career. He's competed in all three Indy events two times, resulting in two victories, both at ORP in NASCAR Nationwide races.
In addition to Busch, double-duty NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers who also will compete in the truck race this weekend are Aric Almirola (No. 88 GT Vodka Chevrolet), Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet), Shelby Howard (No. 70 InternationalTrucks.com Chevrolet), Johnny Sauter (No. 27 Baker Curb Racing Ford), Dennis Setzer (No. 92 KAutomotive Motorsports Dodge), David Starr (No. 05 Cash America Chevrolet) and JC Stout (No. 31 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet).
Substitute drivers, if needed, for those who are pulling double-duty from the Brickyard to ORP for NASCAR Nationwide Series practice and qualifying are Brad Coleman for Busch, Erik Darnell for Carl Edwards and Parker Kligerman for Brad Keselowski. Matt Crafton will handle his regular truck ride in addition to subbing for Paul Menard (No. 99 Richmond/ Menards Ford) as will James Buescher for Reed Sorenson (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota). Joe Nemechek (No. 87 hostgator.com Chevrolet) and Michael McDowell (No. 81 R.J. Finley & Co Dodge) do not have substitutes.
Howard Gets Double-Dose Of A Hoosier Homecoming
It's well-documented that Indiana native Tony Stewart has an obsession with winning at the Brickyard.
The same can be said for Indiana natives -- or "near natives" -- at the "small track" at ORP.
So it doesn't possess the glitz and glitter of the "big track," but winning at home at ORP carries the same special feeling.
Shelby Howard hopes his time is coming. The native of Greenwood, Ind., has been racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series since 2003. Last year, he joined Warsaw, Ind.-based ML Motorsports. The natural fit for driver and team resulted in a career-high 17 races for Howard, along with his best finish, 12th at Memphis Motorsports Park.
"I've raced (at ORP) a lot since I was young and really love that style of race track," said Howard, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on Sunday. "I first raced there when I was 13 years old and loved it from that point on."
He's running another partial schedule for the team this year. The organization is looking to fulltime status, perhaps as soon as next season.
He's competed in four series races at ORP, and his 19th-place result last year -- his first with MLM -- was his best finish.
Howard gets a double-dose of home cooking this weekend. He'll be in Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, too, in the No. 2 Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Inc. He's run once in a truck at ORP, in 2008 for Duke Thorson. He finished fifth in that event.
"KHI has the best equipment you can get into and I hope we can capitalize on it," he said.
Howard has some company at home this weekend. Tony Raines (No. 34 Long John Silvers Chevrolet), is from LaPorte, Ind. He's been ranked in the top 10 in driver points twice this season, and finished 10th last Saturday at Gateway. In five career races at ORP, he's got two top 10s.
Jason Leffler, although from California, might as well be declared an honorary Hoosier. His USAC prowess at ORP has reached almost legendary status, and he made his first NASCAR Nationwide start there in 1999. His last win? In 2007 -- at ORP.
NNS Etc.: O'Reilly Raceway Park Edition
Menard Doubles Down
When Roush Fenway Racing announced that Paul Menard would return fulltime to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year for his first true double-duty season, he looked forward to the opportunity.
It's easy to see why.
Menard was a full-time driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series from 2005-06 before graduating to NASCAR Sprint Cup. He currently competes for Richard Petty Motorsports in the premier series.
Through 19 NASCAR Nationwide races this season, Menard has nine top-10 finishes. That's the same number he had in the past two years combined in 27 starts.
Menard also has two top fives this year; he had two total the previous two seasons.
He could build on those stats this weekend at ORP where he has three top 10s in four starts.
Shepherd Still Tops At ORP
It's been 10 years since Jason Keller (No. 35 Tri-Star Motorsports Chevrolet) won his second race at O'Reilly Raceway Park. At the time, he was only the third multiple winner at the .686-mile track.
Since Keller's second win, two other drivers -- 2009 series champion Kyle Busch and two-time champion Kevin Harvick -- also have won twice at ORP.
Busch is the only driver in this year's field who has a chance to catch the all-time wins leader, Morgan Shepherd (No. 21 Victory In Jesus Racing Chevrolet).
Shepherd had three wins at ORP, including the first Kroger 200, in 1982. He won again in 1984 and also in 1988. His first win also was the second of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career. And his 1988 triumph was his last among 15 NASCAR Nationwide wins. His national series career spans over 40 years.
"Everyone has a track that favors them," said Shepherd, still going strong at age 68. "ORP and Atlanta are my tracks.
"It's an honor any time you are a recordholder of anything in racing but for a 'three-peat' win, it shows it's not by chance. I have to say, my ORP record is one of the highlights of my NNS career."
McClure Is "Driver Of The Week"
Eric McClure (No. 24 Hefty Odor Block Ford) is the Nationwide Insurance "Driver of The Week" at O'Reilly Raceway Park.
The first-year initiative by series sponsor Nationwide Insurance is a program designed to increase driver awareness, with emphasis on series-only regulars.
McClure will participate in a live web chat with fans on Wednesday, July 14 at 12 p.m. ET on NASCARnationwideseries.com.
McClure, who became a father for the third time -- all girls -- two weeks ago, has three previous starts at ORP with a best finish of 23rd (2009). He's close to getting his Team Rensi Motorsports team back in the top 30 in owner points (currently 31st). McClure is three-for-three while qualifying on time this season and has to make it four-for-four to race at ORP.
Up Next: Iowa Speedway
The third of four Nationwide Insurance "Dash 4 Cash" races gives some extra incentive for drivers next week at Iowa Speedway. Saturday, July 31 is the date for the U.S. Cellular 250 presented by Northland Oil and John Deere. Last year's inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race was run during the daylight hours; Race No. 2 will be under the lights with a 7 p.m. ET start time for the pre-race show on ESPN.
Brad Keselowski won last year after an exciting late-race duel with Kyle Busch. Both drivers will be back this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 6 CitiFinancial Ford) won the first pole of his series career last year at Iowa.
Next Race: Kroger 200 benefitting Riley
Hospital for Children
The Place: O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis (0.686-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, July 24
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 laps/137.2 miles
TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Local-WNDE-AM 1260)
2009 Winner: Carl Edwards
2009 Pole Winner: Trevor Bayne
Schedule prior to race day (times ET):
Saturday: Practice, 10 a.m.-11:15 a.m.; Final Practice, 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m.; Qualifying, 5:10 p.m.