Off-week news, notes 2009-03-24

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Open Week Seems Like Old Times With The Future In Tow DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 24, 2009) - Kerry and Jeffrey Earnhardt have joined Rick Ware Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Kerry will...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Open Week

Seems Like Old Times With The Future In Tow

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 24, 2009) - Kerry and Jeffrey Earnhardt have joined Rick Ware Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Kerry will debut with the organization April 4 at Texas Motor Speedway in the No 31 Chevrolet. His son Jeffrey, 19, is scheduled to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut May 30 at Dover International Speedway.

Kerry, son of the legendary seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, has 70 career starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with three top fives and six top-10 finishes. He competed fulltime in the series in 2002, finishing 22nd in points. He last raced in the series in 2008.

Jeffery has experience in the NASCAR Camping World Series East where he was fifth in the standings as a rookie in 2007 and finished 15th last year. Both father and son will be paired with former NASCAR champion crew chief Paul Andrews until they do battle at Atlanta Motor Speedway this fall. At that juncture, Clyde McCloud will serve as crew chief for the younger Earnhardt.

Atlanta also will highlight three Earnhardts in series competition. Jeffrey's uncle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., a two-time series champion, also is slated to compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race there. Jeffrey will race a progressive schedule this year, running seven events from a 1-mile track to a 2-mile oval as he prepares for the 2010 season and a Raybestos Rookie of the Year campaign. The Earnhardts will be driving in events when Stanton Barrett will be competing in IRL races. The No. 31 will be the organization's primary car and the No. 41 Chevrolet will be the second car for races in which Barrett, Tim Andrews, Travis Kittleson, Tim Brown (seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified track champion) or Jeffrey compete.

New Faces In Top 10 Hoping To Create Stir

It may be status quo for drivers atop the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings, with Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scott's/Save-A-Lot Ford) leading for the second straight week and into the series' next race at Texas.

But for series-only regulars, the newest top 10 shows several drivers who haven't spent much time there in their careers, or who haven't been there in awhile.

Kenny Wallace (No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet) hasn't been in the top 10 since 2006. Currently, he's ninth. It's also the first time Jay Robinson Racing has had a driver crack the top 10 in its 10-year history.

Wallace is one of five series-only regulars in this week's top 10. The highest-ranking driver also is the highest-ranking rookie, Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Casino Chevrolet). He won his first career series pole at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday and is one of three rookies -- eighth-place Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) and 10th-place Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota -- in the top 10. This marks the first time since 2006 three rookies maintained that ranking simultaneously (Edwards, Reed Sorenson and Denny Hamlin). Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) is the other series-only regular in the top 10.

Open Weekend Comes Before Key Six-Race Stretch

For NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors, March has been similar to spring break. This weekend will be the third open week for the series this year, and all three have come during March. Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Bristol have been the two tracks that have hosted races this month. So competitors better enjoy this weekend; it will be the last free one for awhile.

April 4 at Texas will kick off a string of six consecutive race weekends for the series, the longest such string of the season thus far. And all upcoming races will be on different types of tracks. Following Texas, the last of three consecutive events, are races at the 1.33-mile concrete Nashville Superspeedway (April 11), the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway (April 17), the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway (April 25), the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway (May 1) and the 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway (May 8). The series' next break will come during the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race weekend.

The six-week stretch isn't the longest of 2009, however. Teams will compete for 17 consecutive weekends between May 23 -- Sept. 11.

After Texas, You're Either In Or You're Out

A lot will be determined at Texas in terms of who will have to qualify on time or will be locked into the NASCAR Nationwide Series 300 at Nashville the following week. In fact, a top-10 finish at Texas doesn't automatically guarantee a starting position at Nashville.

The O'Reilly 300 will be the last race in which teams finishing in the top 30 in the 2008 owner point standings will be guaranteed a starting spot. After Texas, the top 30 in the 2009 owner points will be guaranteed starters.

Currently, teams occupying positions 25-30 are separated by only 24 points, and 32-37 are separated by 44 points. That's 12 positions separated by 64 points. Fulltime teams on the bubble, or those on the outside looking in, include, in order of position:

Drivers in peril: Brandon Whitt (No. 61 Specialty Racing Ford), Danny O'Quinn Jr. (No. 01 JD Motorsports Chevrolet), DJ Kennington (No. 81 Northern Provincial Pipeline Dodge), Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Victory In Jesus Chevrolet), Michael Annett (No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers/Hype Energy Drink Toyota) and the duo of Robert Richardson Jr./Ken Butler III (No. 23 R3 Motorsports Chevrolet) are 30 through 25 in reverse order, respectively.

On their heels: Scott Wimmer (No. 40 Key Motorsports Chevrolet), 31st; Kenny Hendrick (No. 42 Smith-Ganassi Dodge), 32nd and Brian Keselowski (No. 26 K-Automotive Chevrolet), 34th, all are within 36 points of 30th.

In The Loop: Could Harvick's Bristol Victory Spell Championship Run?

The moment Kevin Harvick's own No. 33 KHI Chevrolet crossed the finish line ahead of everyone else at Bristol, one immediate question arose -- Will he decide to run for a NASCAR Nationwide Series championship?

Harvick admitted the thought crept into his mind, but quickly dismissed it during post-race interviews.

But the idea's intriguing, especially when you look at his statistics after four races. Aside from sitting second in the standings behind Carl Edwards, Harvick ranks in the top three in every key Loop Data category.

Harvick has an Average Running Position of 7.4 (third-best), a Driver Rating of 113.5 (third), 58 Fastest Laps Run (third), the third-best average Green Flag Speed rank, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 85.9 (second) and 194 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), which is third-most.

Harvick's success is not a huge surprise. But rookie Brendan Gaughan's is.

Gaughan made the jump to the NASCAR Nationwide Series after a successful NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career. So far, the transition has been smooth.

Gaughan sits in fourth place, best of any NASCAR Nationwide-only driver. He has a Driver Rating of 87.9, an Average Running Position of 15.3, 11 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 61.2.

Still, Gaughan isn't running away with the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. In fact, he's not even leading those standings. That honor belongs to Penske Racing's Justin Allgaier. He's well inside the top 10, sitting in a surprising eighth after his first career top-five finish last Saturday at Bristol.

Through the first four races, Allgaier has a Driver Rating of 89.1, an Average Running Position of 13.7, 25 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 84.2. All those stats are better than Gaughan's.

Keselowski Looks to Rebound

Four different drivers have won poles and another four have won races through four events in 2009. However, one of those names has not been Keselowski.

In fact, Brad Keselowski (No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) is 15th in the standings after ranking 11th at this time last year. He's been involved in four incidents in 2009 -- many not of his doing -- and those have put a damper on his title run. Keselowski was a preseason championship favorite.

But there's no need to fret, at least not yet. Keselowski jumped five positions between races five and six in 2008, and by season's halfway point was second. There is no indicator he won't accomplish the feat again. Keselowski was seventh at Texas last November.

Parrott Still Mentoring Young Drivers

Brad Parrott has had a long history of helping up-and-coming drivers in NASCAR. He assisted a young Carl Edwards early in his career, and also worked with Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Bryan Clauson, who contested for the 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors.

Now, Parrott is working with John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby's Ford), a 19-year-old driver from Watkinsville, Ga., who debuted in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition last season. Townley is one of several drivers on the verge of getting his team into the top 30 in owner points.

Parrott was hired on to be the crew chief for RAB Racing following the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and so far, he and Townley have a best finish of 16th together at Bristol. Parrott has 18 victories in NASCAR Nationwide competition.

NNS Etc.

Keeping Busy This Week: They may not be competeing in NASCAR Nationwide Series action this weekend, but two rookies are going to be keeping busy.

Scott Lagasse Jr. and crew chief Paul Wolfe will head to Panama City, Fla., to relax and come up with a game plan for the remainder of 2009. Lagasse is 10th in the point standings.

Another rookie, John Wes Townley, will be competing in a Late Model race at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Adel, Ga. The race will be 100 laps around the half-mile track.

Busch Looking to Keep Momentum Going: Since the first weekend of points-paying competition in NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Lines Design Toyota) has won at least one race. If that trend continues this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Texas could also bode well. Busch won both NASCAR Nationwide races at Texas last year. He also won the O'Reilly 300 in 2006.

Peyton Sellers Making Nationwide Debut: Peyton Sellers (No. 77 SFP Chevrolet), who won the NASCAR Whelen All-American National championship in 2005 to become the series' youngest-ever champion, will make his NASCAR Nationwide debut at Texas, the first of 10 scheduled races.

Sellers, 25, is part-owner of a newly formed team, Cardinal Motorsports. His brother, H.C. Sellers, will be the team's crew chief.

Bowyer Out, Burton In: Jeff Burton will return to the cockpit of the No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet at Texas, replacing 2008 series champion Clint Bowyer. Burton has never won at Texas in NASCAR Nationwide competition, but owns two NASCAR Sprint Cup victories, including the inaugural race there in 1997.

Bowyer, on the other hand, will be a guest on NBC's The Biggest Loser: Couples, between 9 - 11 p.m. ET Tuesday, March 24.

Start First Doesn't Mean Finish First: Just because a driver starts first doesn't mean he will finish there. In fact, no driver in 16 NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Texas Motor Speedway has won the race from the pole. Twice the winner has come from a second-place start.

Chevrolet Atop Standings

With Kevin Harvick's victory at Bristol, Chevrolet broke a three-way with Ford and Toyota to lead the manufacturer standings heading into the O'Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Up Next: Texas Motor Speedway

Texas Motor Speedway hosts the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the first of two events at the 1.5-mile track located in Ft. Worth.

ESPN2 will carry the O'Reilly 300 live on April 4 beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET with the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show. Race coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET.

Kyle Busch swept both races at Texas last year but he'll have to fend off the challenge of Kevin Harvick, who will not only have come off his first win of the season in the previous race at Bristol, but is the all-time winner in series races at Texas (four). In fact, prior to his Bristol win last week, Harvick's last series victory was at Texas in the fall race in 2007.

Fast Facts

Next Race: O'Reilly 300
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

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

The Distance: 200 laps / 300 miles

TV: ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / PRN

2008 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Polesitter: Kevin Harvick (via final 2008 owner points; qualifying rained out)

Event Schedule (all times CT):
Thursday -- Practice 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Final Practice 1-2:00 p.m.; Qualifying 6:05 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , JD Motorsports