Phoenix II: Round 34 preview

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Phoenix *Perfect Fit: Bowyer In His Comfort Zone At Phoenix *Cassill, Clauson Clash In Final Rookie Showdown *Keselowski Shines For Series-Only Regulars *NNS Champions Week Media Activities Nov. 20-21 In...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Phoenix

*Perfect Fit: Bowyer In His Comfort Zone At Phoenix
*Cassill, Clauson Clash In Final Rookie Showdown
*Keselowski Shines For Series-Only Regulars
*NNS Champions Week Media Activities Nov. 20-21 In Orlando

Phoenix Right Place, Right Time For Standings Leader Bowyer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2008) - With two races left in the season, Clint Bowyer (No. 2 BB&T Chevrolet) is in a pretty good place.

Actually, he's in three pretty good places.

He's leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship standings by 91 points over reigning series champion Carl Edwards (No. 60 World Financial Group Ford).

Edwards has been on a mad charge over the last six races with two wins and six top fives to slice a 207-point deficit to its current 91 in that span.

Despite the comeback effort of his rival, Bowyer's been in Edwards' situation -- understanding the psychology of being the "hunter."

In 2005, Bowyer was 120 points behind Martin Truex Jr. with five races to go and moved to within 64 points of first place after the race at Phoenix International Raceway.

And being at Phoenix is another good place for Bowyer. In seven career races at the 1-mile track -- one of his favorites -- he's got a win, a pole (this race last year), four top fives and five top 10s.

He could clinch his first national series title at Phoenix if he leaves with a 196-point advantage over Edwards.

But Edwards is doing all he can to interrupt Bowyer's serenity. In addition to his hard charge, he nearly equals Bowyer's results at Phoenix.

Also over a seven-race series career, Edwards has a win, a pole, five top fives and seven top 10s. He finished second in this race last year; Bowyer was eighth.

Another run like that would take this wild west dust-up to Homestead-Miami Speedway next week for next week's final resolution.

"We've got nothing to lose," Edwards said after his runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday.

"We can just go out, be aggressive, take chances and I can race as hard as I want and it's cool. I've been part of championship efforts back racing in dirt cars and stuff, and it's wild. I just hope that we can get this thing close enough to make it that much fun at Homestead."

Wild West Shootout For Rookies Cassill, Clauson At Phoenix

Landon Cassill (No. 5 National Guard Chevrolet) and Bryan Clauson (No. 40 Fastenal Dodge) will have to put their friendship on hold this weekend at Phoenix.

The 19-year-olds are deadlocked at the top of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings. And to add more drama to the closest competition for the award in two seasons, this is Cassill's last series race of the year. Clauson will get one last chance at Homestead. They've run against each other nine times this year with Cassill having the advantage with an average finish of 17.0 to Clauson's 24.3 in those races.

According to NASCAR's Loop Data stats, Cassill has 1,741 Laps in the Top 15, almost half (49.9%) of his total laps completed in 2008.

Clauson, meanwhile, has 478 Laps in the Top 15 or 13.1% of his total laps this year.

Advantage Cassill.

One last plus for Cassill despite Clauson's entry at Homestead is his familiarity with Phoenix.

Cassill competed in this race last year, finishing 34th. He improved dramatically in April, moving up to 17th. This will be Clauson's first series race at PIR.

In The Loop: Busch, Harvick Could Add 'Tri-Sweep' To Loop Data Lingo

Saturday's race will be Leg Two of a triple-duty weekend for Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

What's more, either driver could very well pull off the unprecedented 'tri-sweep.' In fact, Busch was only one race short of the deed during last season's Phoenix weekend. He won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide races before finishing eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

Whether or not they do pull off the sweep, both drivers should run up front during the NASCAR Nationwide race.

Busch has won the last two series races at Phoenix. In five races there since 2005, he has a Driver Rating of 115.5, an Average Running Position of 9.3, 104 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 78.1%. He also comes off a Texas win in which he scored his third perfect Driver Rating (150.0) of the season.

Harvick has run all seven Phoenix races since 2005. During that span, he has a Driver Rating of 113.6, an Average Running Position of 6.6, 76 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 92.3%.

Carl Edwards likely will do his best to spoil the sweep. He will be driving with a sense of urgency, trying to stay in title contention. His statistics are slightly better than front-running Clint Bowyer.

Edwards has a Driver Rating of 115.1, an Average Running Position of 6.6, 114 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 90.0.

Comparatively, Bowyer has a Driver Rating of 111.6, an Average Running Position of 7.8, 146 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 86.6%.

Keselowski's Grit Can Earn Top Series-Only Regular Finish Since 2005

His championship aspirations could face elimination at Phoenix, but there will be quite a struggle before Brad Keselowski (No. 88 U.S. NAVY Chevrolet) surrenders. He's still mathematically alive in the title hunt, but the third-place driver faces an uphill battle with a 293-point deficit.

There's nothing new about Keselowski being the underdog.

After being out of a job over a year ago, he's blossomed as the lead driver for JR Motorsports, claiming his first career wins and pole this year. And last week at Texas, he made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut. He fired the first challenge salvo at Clint Bowyer's lead throughout the summer, climbing as high as second and to within 122 points at one stage.

The only thing that's slowed Keselowski's title hopes is the great late-season run by Carl Edwards. Yet he marches on and is targeted for the best finish by a series-only regular in his first full season since Bowyer finished second in 2005.

He's also taking a lesson from his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and expanding into team ownership with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team. Friday at Phoenix, he'll attempt to qualify his own truck in the Lucas Oil 150. His truck has competed in three other events this year with driver Robb Brent.

In 2007, the last time Keselowski raced in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck, he nearly won at Memphis Motorsports Park. His performance caught the eye of Earnhardt, who signed Keselowski to finish out the season in the No. 88 Chevrolet.

Kyle Reaches, Then Reaches Out, To Sam Ard

Kyle Busch's (No. 32 Beringer Toyota) win at Texas last week was a historic one, tying him with NASCAR Nationwide Series great Sam Ard for most wins in a season -- 10 set in 1983.

Following his victory, Busch was gracious in his acknowledgment of Ard's status as a series pioneer. He also pledged to donate $100,000 to assist the series' first two-time champion and his wife Jo with their medical and financial straits. Ard suffers from Alzheimer's disease while his wife is losing her eyesight.

He's also donating his firesuit from the Texas victory to the Sam Ard Fund, an online auction to benefit the Ards. The NASCAR Foundation and Motor Racing Outreach are partnering on the effort. Log on to www.NASCAR.Com/foundation to learn more.

Despite running for Braun Racing this week (he has one win in the No. 32 Toyota against nine in either the No. 18 or No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas), Phoenix would seem to be the track where Busch can make the record his own. He's going for three consecutive wins at Phoenix -- he is the defending winner of this event and also won there in April.

He's entered in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event Friday night -- also the defending race winner in that series.

If Busch fails to break Ard's record at Phoenix, he's also entered in the season finale at Homestead.

The Director's Take: A Difference At Every Turn

"Phoenix is one of the most uniquely-shaped tracks on our schedule and its one where the drivers will really race the track," said Joe Balash, NASCAR Nationwide Series director.

"Turns 1 and 2 are banked 11 degrees; Turns 3 and 4 are 9 degrees. Those two degrees make a lot of difference when you add that the Turn 1-2 end of the track has a much tighter apex. That forces the drivers to adjust to the 'dogleg' on the backstretch, which is over 370 feet longer that the front."

Series veteran Jason Keller (No. 27 Cottonelle Ford) agreed with Balash. "Phoenix has short-track characteristics," he said. "It is fast, short and intense. You really have to be on top of your game to race here.

"The track is pretty flat with very little banking. It's one of the few flatter tracks left on the circuit. There will be a lot of beating and banging with the cars; it'll be like old-time racing out there."

NNS Etc.

Triple Threat, Take 2

Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) will join Kyle Busch in all three NASCAR races at Phoenix this weekend.

He'll run in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event for Richard Childress Racing and will compete in his own KHI equipment in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series races.

Harvick, a two-time NASCAR Nationwide champion, has five combined wins at the track in each of NASCAR's national series. He's won two NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Craftsman Truck races and once in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

New Territory

Brian Ickler (No. 55 Robby Gordon Motorsports Dodge) and Patrick Sheltra (No. 4 JVC Chevrolet) will venture into new series territory at Phoenix.

Ickler, 23, who posted three wins and finished 10th in the NASCAR Camping World Series East this season, will drive for Robby Gordon.

The San Diego, Calif., native is in familiar surroundings as he ran in the NASCAR Camping World Series West in 2007, finishing fourth in the standings.

Sheltra, 22, finished sixth in the ARCA/REMAX rankings this year. His team formed an alliance with Jay Robinson Racing to assist in his transition to NASCAR. He'll also run for Robinson in the No. 4 at Homestead.

Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) will do the reverse. He'll compete in the USAC race Thursday night at PIR. Leffler is ninth in the standings, 51 points behind eighth place Mike Wallace (No. 7 GEICO Toyota).

2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Champions Week

The annual NASCAR Nationwide Series Champions Week media activities are set for Thursday, Nov. 21-Friday, Nov. 22 in Orlando, Fla., prior to the 2008 series Awards Banquet.

Up Next: Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

The Ford 300 wraps up the 35th and final race of the season Friday, Nov. 15 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

ESPN2 will have live coverage beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

The inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series championship -- for both driver and owner -- could come down to this race barring major problems for the second-place drivers in both categories at Phoenix.

Should Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards bring their driver championship battle to Homestead-Miami, it would be the 14th time in the 27-year history of the series that the driver title came down to the final race and the first time since 2005 when Bowyer was 64 points behind eventual champion Martin Truex Jr.

Jeff Burton won last year, putting an exclamation point on the 2007 owner championship for Richard Childress Racing. The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has the upper hand in this year's title quest with a 51-point lead over the No. 2 RCR Chevrolet heading to Phoenix.

Burton's win was his second at the track; Joe Nemechek leads all drivers with three.

David Ragan (No. 6 Discount Tire Ford) won the pole last year.

FAST FACTS

The Race: Hefty Odor Block 200
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway

The Date: Saturday, Nov. 8
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

The Distance: 200 miles / 200 laps
Track Size: 1-mile oval

TV: ESPN 2, 4 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN

2007 Winner: Kyle Busch
2007 Pole: Clint Bowyer

Schedule:
Friday--Practice 9:30-11:50 a.m.; Final Practice 1:35-2:20 p.m.
Saturday--Qualifying, 10:05 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing , Robby Gordon Motorsports , JR Motorsports