BUSCH: Daytona II: Round 18 preview

* Fireworks are fitting for start of second half of NASCAR Busch Series season DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 28, 2005) -- The July 4th holiday weekend traditionally brings with it the start of the second half of the NASCAR Busch Series...

* Fireworks are fitting for start of second half of NASCAR Busch Series season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 28, 2005) -- The July 4th holiday weekend traditionally brings with it the start of the second half of the NASCAR Busch Series season.

The fireworks that will follow Friday night's Winn-Dixie 250 at Daytona presented by PepsiCo fittingly describe the first half of the year. The next 18 races leading up to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway should carry their own explosive displays of competition.

The first part of the 2005 season lived up to its billing from the start at Daytona when Tony Stewart used his own version of the "pass in the grass" to secure his first-ever NASCAR Busch Series win. From there, 11 other drivers went on to post victories in the next 16 races. The margin of victory in eight of those was under one second; four of the eight were .05 of a second or closer.

The championship points race has gone from what was shaping up to be a foregone conclusion to one that may come down to the final race of the season. Carl Edwards (No. 60 Charter Communications Ford) sported a season-high 180-point lead over second-place Clint Bowyer (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet) following his second win of the season at Richmond, but recent events have turned that advantage into a 79-point deficit for Edwards, who arrives at Daytona in fourth place.

Following Richmond, Edwards' finishes of 35th and 31st, respectively, coupled with a missed race at Nashville due to inclement weather, have allowed defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. (No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) to gain momentum -- and points. Truex is ranked first in the standings, having roared back to erase a 318-point deficit over six races.

Truex (2,320 points) is the fourth driver to lead the standings this season, holding a slim seven-point advantage over Raybestos rookie Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Discount Tire Co. Dodge). Bowyer lurks just 49 points out of the lead. Then there's Edwards, who vowed not to allow the missed race at Nashville to interrupt his charge to become the first rookie to win the NASCAR Busch Series title.

The championship race is as close as it has been at any point this season. Only two drivers ranked in the Top 10 -- Truex and ninth-place Jason Keller (No. 35 McDonald's Ford) were in the group one year ago. The point spread between first and tenth is closer than this time last year, and the battle for the title is on pace to be one of the top two championship finishes since 1995.

Truex's lead over fifth-place Kenny Wallace (No. 22 Stacker 2 Ford) is 187 points; only the 100-point separation between first-place David Green (No. 27 Kleenex Ford) and fifth-place Keller at this stage of the 2003 season was tighter through the last decade.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jason Keller , Kenny Wallace , David Green , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Reed Sorenson