St. Louis: Round 20 preview

*"Veteran" Cassill Returns To Site Of First Series Start *Rivalry Renewed Between Keselowski, Logano *In The Loop: Sorenson's Stats Say He's The One To Beat *Edwards Takes Unique Route To Saturday Night's Race Cassill's NASCAR "Growth Spurt" ...

*"Veteran" Cassill Returns To Site Of First Series Start
*Rivalry Renewed Between Keselowski, Logano
*In The Loop: Sorenson's Stats Say He's The One To Beat
*Edwards Takes Unique Route To Saturday Night's Race

Cassill's NASCAR "Growth Spurt" Started At Gateway

Rewind to last July when Landon Cassill (No. 5 National Guard Chevrolet) had just turned 18. With that birthday, he was eligible to step out as a test driver for Hendrick Motorsports' Car of Tomorrow program and into his first NASCAR Nationwide Series ride at Gateway International Raceway, located five hours from his hometown in Cedar Rapids, Ia.

He navigated his first race quite well, starting a surprising sixth but was caught up in an accident midway through and although he finished, was disappointed with the final outcome in front of family and friends.

But in the year since, Cassill's direction has pointed toward improvement -- and success.

He makes his series return this week following a one-race layoff that was proceeded by the longest consecutive race streak (five) of his career. In that span, Cassill, who turned 19 on July 7, posted two top-10 finishes and also registered his first career pole.

Now driving for the merged JR Motorsports-Hendrick team, Cassill has had the opportunity to learn from some of the best NASCAR has to offer.

His teammates include two-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin, the all-time series leader in wins and poles, two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and 1994 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion David Green who earlier served as Cassill's spotter.

Cassill knows he's grown as a driver over the last year and realizes there's room for more.

"I feel like I have a higher level of confidence then I did a year ago," he said. "I'll be better next year than I was this year, too."

Budding Rivals Keselowski, Logano Back On Track At Gateway

The second half of the NASCAR Nationwide Series stand-alone season traditionally kicks off at Gateway International Raceway.

And this year, so does a rivalry.

Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) is back after a three-race hiatus that saw the No. 20 bring home two wins in those three races.

Logano's first four series starts resulted in a win, two poles, two top--five and three top-10 finishes.

His entry into the series has coincided with one of the best spans of Brad Keselowski's (No. 88 U.S. NAVY Chevrolet) career.

During the four races where each driver has been on the track, their stats are almost identical.

Keselowski, 24, has one win, one pole, two top fives and four top-10s in those four races and has moved into second in the standings. He has the edge in Average Finishes (5.0 to 10.0) but Logano, 18, sports a 4.5 Average Starting Position to Keselowski's 5.3.

Gateway is a fairly even track for the two drivers to get back at it. It will be Logano's first series start there and Keselowski finished a disappointing 26th in his track debut at the 1.25-mile oval last year.

Plenty Of Local Talent Returns To Midwest Racing Hotbed

St. Louis natives Mike (No. 7 GEICO Toyota) and Kenny (No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet) Wallace will race at Gateway, their home track, along with nephew Steve (No. 66 Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches Chevrolet), who still has plenty of ties although born and raised in North Carolina.

Mike Wallace, eighth in the standings, has had the best result among the family at the track with a runner-up finish in 2006.

"Every year I get myself too worked up about this race," Kenny Wallace said. "There's nothing more in my racing career I want to do than win at Gateway."

In addition to the regional proximity for Landon Cassill, Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save-A-Lot Ford), the 2006 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and a winner at Gateway that year, is from Columbia, Mo. His Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray (No. 17 CitiFinancial Ford) is from Joplin, Mo., and will race at Gateway for only the second time, and the first since 2002.

McMurray will return to his home region following a trip this week to Los Angeles and an appearance on the 2008 ESPY Awards. His .005-second win over Kyle Busch last July at Daytona was nominated for "Best Finish."

Scenic Route: Edwards Bikes It From Hometown to Gateway

Carl Edwards doesn't handle down time well. So this open week on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule affords the always-active Edwards time to fit in activities he normally wouldn't.

Ahead of Saturday night's race at Gateway, he plans on riding his bike along the Katy Trail from his hometown in Columbia, Mo., to St. Louis, the headquarters for his car sponsor, Save-A-Lot.

Edwards is scheduled to finish off the estimated 190-mile, five-day trek at the Madison, Ill.-based track where he'll begin preparations for the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250.

He'll be joined by his trainer, his motor coach driver Tom Giacchi and a few hometown friends on the ride that, according to Edwards, "Is organic. It doesn't have an itinerary."

Most Popular Driver PullsOver 38,000 Votes In First Week

For the first time in its 27-year history, voting for the Most Popular Driver award in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has been turned over to the fans via online voting on NASCAR.com.

And the fans have responded.

In the initial week of voting, which began July 5 following the season's halfway point, 38,171 votes had been tabulated.

In previous years, the award had been determined by a ballot in NASCAR Insider Magazine, the official NASCAR Membership publication.

Most Popular Driver online voting on NASCAR.com is also available for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Voting for the NASCAR Camping World Series East and West, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Southern Modified Tour, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and NASCAR Mexico Series is available via nascarhometracks.com.

Balloting for each series ends on different dates in September and October.

In The Loop: Sorenson Has The Hot Hand At Gateway

Though Reed Sorenson's (No. 40 Fastenal Dodge) gaudy Gateway statistics suggest that he's the runaway favorite this weekend, nothing is a given.

But things look good for the 22-year-old.

Sorenson owns some of the series' top stats at Gateway. Since 2005, he has a series-best Driver Rating of 133.0 and series-high numbers in Fastest Laps Run (101) and Laps in the Top 15 (593/98.8%). He also boasts an Average Running Position of 4.1, which is best among those who've run each of the past three races.

But, plenty of other drivers have stout numbers there as well.

For instance, Scott Wimmer (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) should run up front for most -- if not all -- of the night. Wimmer is without a Gateway win, but has finished in the top 10 in each of his last three races there -- including a runner-up finish last season after capturing the pole, which was the first of his series career.

Over the last two races, Wimmer has a Driver Rating of 120.3, an Average Running Position of 4.8, 46 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 96.8%.

Carl Edwards, the 2006 Gateway winner, should also contend for the win. Over the past three races (all of which were top-10 finishes), Edwards has a Driver Rating of 119.5, an Average Running Position of 5.2, 69 Fastest Laps Run and has completed 92.8% of the Laps in the Top 15.

One key "dark horse" in this race could be David Stremme (No. 64 Atreus Homes & Communities Dodge). He hasn't run at Gateway since 2005 but in that event, he competed for the win -- though his finish would suggest otherwise.

In 2005 at Gateway, Stremme finished 22nd but led 54 laps, had a Driver Rating of 115.6 an Average Running Position of 4.0, 34 Fastest Laps Run and all but nine of his 200 laps were in the top 15. But a flat tire while running second on Lap 193 ended his shot for a win.

The Director's Take: Gateway's Unique Shape Will Challenge Teams

"This stand-alone event, coupled with a weekend off for NASCAR Sprint Cup and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing earlier Saturday, gives our series regulars the national spotlight," said Joe Balash, NASCAR Nationwide Series director.

And that spotlight will shine directly on one of the most unique tracks in the series. "Gateway is an egg-shaped oval that's very individual in its design," he said. "It's a driver's track that will leave some crew chiefs scratching their heads trying to figure out where to make the car better yet not take away from the car on other parts of the track.

"It will definitely be a battle of compromise and balance -- to find the right combination to make the car fast at both ends of the track and manage the many differences it presents."

Gateway International Raceway

Most Wins: 2, Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Kevin Harvick; Reed Sorenson Most Poles: 2, Martin Truex Jr.

NNS Etc.

NASCAR Technical Director Steve Peterson, 58, was found deceased Tuesday at his home from what appears to be natural causes.

Steve began his NASCAR career in January 1995 and led many of NASCAR's safety initiatives including development and installation of SAFER Barriers, management and approval of head and neck restraints and improved seat belts, and coordination of the safety features in NASCAR's new car.

"Steve's accomplishments to increase driver safety will continue to be a benefit to every NASCAR driver that gets behind the wheel for generations to come," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Steve's family and friends; he will certainly be missed throughout the NASCAR community."

Steve worked closely with many recognized national and international motorsports organizations and was the recipient of the 2006 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Motorsports Achievement Award. SAE presents this award to the individual that has shown outstanding leadership or contribution to motorsports over an extended period of time.

A graduate of Western Michigan University, Peterson had more than 25 years of experience in the automotive engineering industry. He lived in Concord, N.C.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

Bill France Performance Cup Standings

Chevrolet won the first five races held at Gateway but over the last six years, has only one win.

During that span, the track has welcomed each manufacturer to Victory Lane except Toyota. But with its strong performance through the first half of the season, that stat could change this weekend.

Ford has three wins at Gateway since 2002 while Dodge has two in the last three years.

Up Next: Kroger 200 @ O'Reilly Raceway Park

The NASCAR Nationwide Series returns to short-track night racing Saturday, July 26 at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

The Kroger 200 will follow the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event Friday night.

Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Victory in Jesus Dodge), still active in the series at age 66, owns the most wins at ORP (three). Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) is the defending race winner. His victory was the first ever for Toyota in series competition.

FAST FACTS

The Race: Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250
The Place: Gateway International Raceway

The Date: Saturday, July 19
The Time: 9:30 p.m. ET

Track Size: 1.25-mile oval
The Distance: 200 laps / 250 miles

TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET

2007 Winner: Reed Sorenson
2007 Pole: Scott Wimmer

Schedule:
Friday--Practice, 6-7:15 p.m.; Final Practice, 7:45-9 p.m.
Saturday--Qualifying, 4:05 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Mike Wallace , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , David Green , Scott Wimmer , Martin Truex Jr. , Morgan Shepherd , Carl Edwards , Landon Cassill , David Stremme , Reed Sorenson , Joey Logano , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , JR Motorsports