Fontana II: Series round 30 preview

*True Grit: Stenhouse Jr. Turns Season Around, Takes Rookie Lead *As 2010 Winds Down, Danica's Season Just Getting Started *Leffler, Baxter Among Those Heading Home To California Patience Pays Off For Roush, Stenhouse Jr. Raise your hand if...

*True Grit: Stenhouse Jr. Turns Season Around, Takes Rookie Lead
*As 2010 Winds Down, Danica's Season Just Getting Started
*Leffler, Baxter Among Those Heading Home To California

Patience Pays Off For Roush, Stenhouse Jr.

Raise your hand if you thought Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 6 CitiFinancial Ford) would be leading the Raybestos Rookie standings with six races left in the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series season.

C'mon. Really?

You really thought Stenhouse -- he of the five Did Not Finishes (DNF) in the first 12 races, he who posted a Did Not Qualify (DNQ) for Race No. 13 at Nashville Superspeedway and he who was benched by team owner Jack Roush at Kentucky Speedway -- would not only lead the rookie rankings, but would be one of the hottest drivers in the series at this late stage of the year?

In perhaps the most stunning turnaround of the season, Stenhouse -- who celebrated his 23rd birthday last Saturday with a sixth-place finish at Kansas Speedway, the highest among series-only regulars -- has overtaken Brian Scott (No. 09 RAB Racing Ford) for the rookie lead by five points. It was 15 races ago, following a 26th-place finish at Road America, that Stenhouse faced his largest deficit in the rookie rankings. He trailed Scott by 35 points. He was predicted to finish second to his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Colin Braun (No. 16 Con-Way Ford) in a preseason media poll.

Since that race, Stenhouse has resurrected his season. His average finish in the subsequent 13 races is 13.4. He's registered three top 10s in his last four races, including a top-five finish at Richmond International Raceway. (Stenhouse didn't run at Watkins Glen, ceding to Roush Fenway Grand Am driver Billy Johnson).

He's got some work to do to keep that improvement intact at Auto Club Speedway, where he finished 39th in February after an accident ended his day.

"This sport is all about performance, and at the beginning of the season Jack was wondering about our performance and had the right to do so," -- Stenhouse said after Kansas. "And here lately, I feel like our performance has definitely turned around for the better.

"It's definitely a distraction, definitely worried about it," -- he said of the different Roush Fenway drivers throughout the season. "But I feel like if we keep going and having runs like we have been, I think it'll take care of itself." --

Stenhouse may have a "secret weapon" -- that's fueled his resurgence, which could bode well for him in 2011. The introduction of the NASCAR Nationwide Series new car in select races this year has been a huge positive for the Olive Branch, Miss., native. To him, the new car handles more like an ARCA car, his previous series before moving to NASCAR. In the three new-car races to date, he's finished of third at Daytona International Speedway and 13th at Michigan International Raceway in addition to fourth at Richmond. The final new-car race is Oct. 15 at Charlotte Motor Speedway before full introduction in 2011.

No More Double Duty: Danica's Focus Squarely On NASCAR

Her openwheel season over after a thrilling runnerup finish last Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick (No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) now turns her attention strictly to NASCAR.

Patrick, running a partial NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule this year for JR Motorsports her first in NASCAR national series competition has competed in seven races thus far in 2010. She's scheduled to enter the final six events of the season, starting with the series' second visit to Auto Club Speedway.

These six events will mark her longest stint of NASCAR races. She started the season with three consecutive races at Daytona, Auto Club and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Auto Club marks her first return event of the year. For the first time in her brief NASCAR career, familiarity will be on her side.

"It was a good end to the IndyCar season!," she Tweeted earlier this week. "Hopefully I can figure some of this NASCAR stuff out in the last 6 races!"

Patrick finished 31st in her first trip to Auto Club in February. Her best finish to date is 25th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Edwards May Win California Battle While Barely Hanging On In Championship War

In the land of Hollywood, a red carpet could be rolled out for Carl Edwards (No. 60 Copart/ Fastenal Ford), who, with six races to go, is desperately trying to close the point gap on standings leader Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge).

And like a good Hollywood movie, it looks to be an improbable task. But with Edwards' Loop Data stats at Auto Club Speedway, Keselowski's advantage could shrink.

Edwards has a significant performance advantage over Keselowski in three important Auto Club Loop Data categories: He's ranked fifth in Driver Rating at ACS with a rating of 110.0 while Keselowski is a distant 35th at 71.4.

Edwards tops Keselowski in Average Running Position at Auto Club, ranking sixth (7.536), while Keselowski is 40th (20.733). Edwards also has a higher percentage of Laps in the Top 15 than Keselowski at 88.3%. Keselowski has completed only 46.9% of his Top 15 laps completed at ACS.

While Edwards does his best to reel in Keselowski, two young drivers with future championship aspirations continue to get their footing in the series. Trevor Bayne (No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford) and James Buescher (No. 11 BigSpot.com Toyota) both have good chances to post solid finishes at Auto Club Speedway.

Buescher leads Bayne in three NASCAR Pre-race Loop Data categories: Driver Rating (88.7), Average Running Position (11.553) and percentage of Laps Run in the Top 15 (94.7%).

Bayne made his first start last week for Roush Fenway Racing and can lean on his previous success at Auto Club, where he finished 11th in February. His pre-race Loop Data shows that he's right with Buescher in those same categories: Driver Rating (84.3), Average Running Position (13.299) and Percentage of Laps in the Top 15 (77.0%).

Havick Seeks Elusive Win At Home Track; JGR Won't Make It Easy

For all of his previous success at Auto Club Speedway, Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet) has to wonder what it will take to get a win at his home track.

The Bakersfield, Calif., native has won at 18 of 25 active NASCAR Nationwide Series tracks . He's tied with 2007 series champion Carl Edwards for the all-time lead in top fives at Auto Club (eight) and holds the record with 12 top10 finishes there.

Thirteen different drivers have wins in 19 races at Auto Club, but Harvick isn't one of them.

Last fall, Harvick finished fourth. In February, he was 38th due to engine failure. That result is his worst finish this year, and incredibly, his worst since he was 41st at Chicago in 2004.

In fact, the two-time series champion has finished 30th or worse only 12 times in his series career, and just five times since 2004.

But for Harvick and the field a win Saturday might be even more daunting considering the recent record of Joe Gibbs Racing at Auto Club.

JGR has won the last five races at ACS, including the 2009 fall event by Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota), who also won last week at Kansas.

Logano's teammate, reigning series champion Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota), has won the last two February races in addition to this race in 2008. While also attempting to add to his series record of 11 wins in a single season, Busch is charging toward another owner title for his No. 18 team.

The No. 18 (also aided by co-driver Brad Coleman) leads the No. 22 Penske Racing team by 134 points. JGR could become only the second organization to win three consecutive owner titles. Busch also could be a part of three national series championships battles all on the owner side in the same season.

His Kyle Busch Motorsports NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team trails leader Germain Racing by 39 points in the owner standings in that series.

In the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Busch's No. 18 JGR team is seventh in the driver and owner standings. His team is 80 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team in both categories.

Sky's The Limit For Braun

Pardon the pun, but Colin Braun finally has taken his passion for flying off the back seat.

After earning his pilot's license in 2007, Braun's racing career had derailed his opportunities to fly.

But due to his shared schedule in the No. 16 Roush Racing Ford, there's been a bit more time for Braun to get back in the air.

Over the last two weeks, Braun has flown a fourseat Cessna 172 aircraft nearly a dozen times. With an instructor present, he plans to fly round trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., Wednesday.

"Getting back up in the air is something I've been wanting to do for a while now," Braun said. "I finally decided to make time and I've gone up almost every morning for a bit the past two weeks.

"I have to take what's called a 'cross country' trip which is something farther than a local flight and I decided to head to Myrtle Beach. I've never been there so figured I'd go and see it."

He'll get out of the pilot's seat and back into the driver's seat this week at Auto Club Speedway, where he'll compete in his first consecutive stretch of races since August when he ran at Michigan and Watkins Glen.

The race at Auto Club also will be his second with new crew chief Chad Norris and the Roush Fenway Racing R&D crew with the No. 16 team. In their first race together last Saturday at Kansas, Braun finished 23rd. Norris and crew will remain with Braun this weekend.

This will be Braun's second career series start at Auto Club. He made his series track debut in February and finished 18th. He also has two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts there with an average finish of 14.5.

This weekend also will mark the 50th series start at Auto Club for Roush Fenway Racing. Team owner Jack Roush has six wins there, which leads all owners, plus 19 top fives, 30 top 10s, two Coors Light poles and has 724 laps led.

RFR has four other drivers entered at Auto Club: newly acquired Trevor Bayne (No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford), Edwards, Paul Menard (No. 98 Richmond/Menards Ford) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

NNS Etc.: Auto Club Edition

A Trifecta For Toyota

For the third consecutive season, Toyota is the Bill France Performance Cup champion, symbolizing the top manufacturer in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Since Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) won its first series race at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis in 2007, Toyota has won 51 races, one unified driver and owner championship and one other outright owner title.

Toyota is on the verge of its second straight owner championship. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team enters Saturday's race with a 134point lead over the No. 22 Penske Racing team.

Chevrolet remains comfortably in second place in the manufacturers' standings, while Dodge and Ford are separated by one point in the battle for third. Ford has the most wins at Auto Club Speedway, with eight.

Long Trip Welcome For Leffler, Baxter

A couple of NASCAR Nationwide Series veterans are among West Coast natives returning home this weekend.

Jason Leffler spent a couple of days in Las Vegas this week before heading to his home state. Leffler, from Long Beach, Calif., plans to hit his favorite fast food joint before a possible stop in Redondo Beach to visit family and friends.

However, a trip home hasn't translated to good results at Auto Club. In 13 series starts at the 2mile oval, he has two top10 finishes. His best result was a seventh-place in 2005. He does have one pole, dating back to 2004.

This year, Leffler has nine top10 finishes and is currently eighth in the driver standings. He's seeking his fourth consecutive top10 ranking in the final standings.

Meanwhile, Jerry Baxter, crew chief this weekend for two-time series champion Martin Truex Jr. (No. 99 Out! Pet Care Toyota), also is homeward bound. The native of San Diego, Calif., actually began his racing career driving late models throughout the state from 197679. His opponents included the likes of Ernie Irvan, Rusty Wallace and Dick Trickle.

Baxter joined Michael Waltrip Racing in 2000 and became crew chief of the No. 99 NASCAR Nationwide Series entry in 2006. He called David Reutimann's first series victory in 2007 at Memphis Motorsports Park and also has led the team to six poles, including three this year with former DWR driver Trevor Bayne.

Baxter will be charged with helping develop another young driver, Truex's brother Ryan, who recently won his second consecutive NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title. Ryan Truex, 18, is slated to drive the No. 99 in four of the five remaining races after Auto Club.

Logano Nationwide "Driver Of Week"

Defending Auto Club Speedway winner Joey Logano is the Nationwide Insurance "Driver of the Week."

The first-year program is an initiative by series sponsor Nationwide Insurance designed to increase driver awareness.

Logano will be featured on a live NASCARNationwideSeries.com audio chat at noon ET on Wednesday, Oct. 6, during a break from a test session in Rockingham, N.C.

Up Next: Charlotte Motor Speedway

The fourth of four races this year for the NASCAR Nationwide Series new car will be under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 15.

ESPN2 will carry the race live beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Kyle Busch is the defending winner. He also won there in May, and has won four of the last five Charlotte races. Only Mike Bliss' (No. 40 Key Motorsports Chevrolet) rain-shortened victory in the May 2009 race interrupted that streak.

Busch's spring win equaled the track record of six, originally set by Mark Martin.

Carl Edwards has won the last three poles at Charlotte, and is tied with Matt Kenseth for the all-time series lead with four.

Charlotte's 1.5mile track also is the fourth different distance at which the new car will be featured this year. It's raced at Daytona (2.5 miles), Michigan (2 miles) and Richmond (.75mile).

The new car is targeted for full integration beginning in 2011.Raybestos Rookie Standings

Fast Facts

Next Race: CampingWorld.com 300
The Place: Auto Club Speedway (2mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, October 9
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300 miles / 150 laps

TV: ESPN2, 4:00 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (LocalKFRGFM 95.1, KVFGFM 103.1, KXFGFM 92.9)

2009 Winner: Joey Logano
2009 Polesitter: Joey Logano

Schedule prior to race day (times PT):
Friday: Practice, 11-11:50 p.m.; Final Practice, 1:40-3 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 8:35 a.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ernie Irvan , Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Colin Braun , Jimmie Johnson , Trevor Bayne , Mike Bliss , Martin Truex Jr. , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Brad Coleman , Jack Roush , Billy Johnson , Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , Joey Logano , Brian Scott , James Buescher , Ryan Truex , Danica Patrick , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske , Germain Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , Michael Waltrip Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing , JR Motorsports , Kyle Busch Motorsports