* Second half of 2003 season begins under the lights at Daytona July 4 * Green, Riggs current protagonists in points battle * Resurgent veterans, stellar rookies, great finishes highlight season's first half DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 1, 2003) --...
* Second half of 2003 season begins under the lights at Daytona July 4
* Green, Riggs current protagonists in points battle
* Resurgent veterans, stellar rookies, great finishes highlight season's first half
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 1, 2003) -- How appropriate that the second half of the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series season begins under the lights July 4 at Daytona International Speedway. The national holiday traditionally celebrated by thunderous fireworks at dusk can also describe the NASCAR Busch Series season to date -- and most certainly will define the second half.
Friday night's Winn-Dixie 250 presented by PepsiCo will feature the continuation of some of the most exciting highlights in the 21-year history of the NASCAR Busch Series. Take, for example:
A championship race that shows veteran David Green with a slim 45-point lead over Scott Riggs, one of the preseason favorites to contend for the NASCAR Busch Series title. And that's just for first and second. Third through sixth is separated by only 49 points;
Jason Keller, who earlier this year became the first NASCAR Busch Series driver to reach the $7 million plateau in winnings, also registered his 300th career start;
A tremendous Raybestos Rookie class has been bolstered by the addition of David Stremme, who, after only eight career NASCAR Busch Series starts, is just 56 points behind leader Coy Gibbs, a starter in all 17 races in 2003.
Here's a look at some of the key moments from the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series season as well as what to watch for in the second half:
* Points race plot thickens ... David Green (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac) took the first half NASCAR Busch Series points lead, but his advantage is precarious at best as Scott Riggs (No. 10 Nestle Nesquik Ford) stands only 45 points behind Green entering Daytona. Green, the 1994 NASCAR Busch Series champion, gave Brewco Motorsports its first-ever No. 1 ranking when he took the lead from Todd Bodine (No. 92 Monster.com Chevrolet) following his second- place finish to Riggs May 10 at St. Louis. Since then, the lead has changed hands three times between Green, Bodine and Riggs. Green has held the lead following the last two races. The trio shouldn't just worry about a three-way race, however. Only 49 points separates the third-standing Bodine from Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 2 AC Delco Chevrolet), Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertsons Ford) and Brian Vickers (No. 5 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet), who are in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.
* TV Timeout ... Through the first half of the season, the NASCAR Busch Series was the second highest rated motorsports series on both network and cable television, behind only the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. NASCAR Busch Series ratings were up 4% over the 2002 first half, while the season-opening Koolerz 300 was the highest rated, most-watched NASCAR Busch Series race in broadcast history, earning a 4.0 rating while over 4 million viewers tuned in. Also, the key 18-34 male demographic increased 21% over last season at the halfway point (239,000 vs. 198,000), equivalent to approximately 40,000 additional male 18-34 viewers per race. (Figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research).
* Exclusive 300 start club can grow Friday ... Mike McLaughlin (No. 34 Les Care Kitchens Chevrolet) will attempt to qualify for his 300th NASCAR Busch Series race Friday night, a mark reached by only six other drivers. Tommy Houston (417 starts) is the all-time series leader, followed by Elton Sawyer (392), Dale Jarrett (324), Randy LaJoie (307) and Jason Keller (305). Keller joined the group when he started his 300th on May 18 at Nazareth. Todd Bodine is the next closest to 300, entering Daytona with 297 career series starts. Keller reached another milestone in the first half of the season when he became the first driver in NASCAR Busch Series history to surpass $7 million in winnings following his 14th-place finish at Nashville on June 7.
* Veteran drivers a factor ... Drivers such as David Green, Ron Hornaday, Mike Bliss and Stacy Compton are enjoying a career resurgence in 2003, and hope to continue the trend as the second half of the season gets underway. Green, 45, who was out of a ride last season, now finds himself atop the NASCAR Busch Series leaderboard and has a win at Nashville April 12 to go along with three second-place finishes. Hornaday, who celebrated his 45th birthday June 20, will make his 100th career NASCAR Busch Series start Friday night and is currently fourth in the points. He also won his third career NASCAR Busch Series race -- and his first since the 2000 season -- at Nazareth. Bliss (No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet) has had a bit of hard luck in the first half (four DNFs plus running out of gas as the runaway leader on the last lap at St. Louis), yet is ninth in the point rankings and has been in the Top 10 for 14 of 17 weeks, including the last 13 weeks in succession. The 38-year-old Bliss -- last year's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion -- had run only seven NASCAR Busch Series career races prior to this season with just one top 10. Compton (No. 59 Kingsford/Johnsonville Chevrolet) enters Daytona 13th in the points, but earned his first career NASCAR Busch Series pole at Kentucky, a feat that gave the 36-year-old at least one Bud Pole in each of NASCAR's national series.
* Raybestos Rookies led by Stremme ... Coy Gibbs (No. 18 MBNA Chevrolet) was the favorite for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year honor at the start of the season. However, momentum shifted toward David Stremme since he burst on to the scene with a seventh-place finish in his first NASCAR Busch Series race April 12 at Nashville. Stremme, who will split his schedule with NASCAR Winston Cup Series regular Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Miccosukee Resort Dodge) has run eight races in his short NASCAR Busch Series career, but boasts five top-10 finishes and two other 14th-place efforts. Stremme will lose some ground to Gibbs, who is entered at Daytona Friday night, but was just 56 points behind Gibbs following his third-place finish at Milwaukee. Stremme, scheduled for 18 races this season, is closing in on second-place Chad Blount and third-place Regan Smith (No. 22 Bost Motorsports Chevrolet) standing 13 and 12 points behind each, respectively. Stremme has been the top Raybestos Rookie finisher in seven of his eight races.
* More youth being served ... The Raybestos Rookie group notwithstanding, there are other young drivers in the NASCAR Busch Series who have forced themselves into the championship race in the first half of the season and will be factors before the last race at Homestead-Miami Nov. 15. Six drivers who are ranked between sixth and 12th in the NASCAR Busch Series point standings entering Daytona -- Brian Vickers, 19 (sixth), Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 25
U.S. Marine Corps Ford), 25 (seventh), Johnny Sauter, 25 (No. 21 PayDay Chevrolet) (eighth), Scott Wimmer, 27 (No. 23 YJ Stinger/Stacker2 Chevrolet) (10th), Shane Hmiel, 23 (No. 48 Goulds Pumps Chevrolet) (11th) and Kasey Kahne, 23 (No. 38 Great Clips Ford) (12th) -- average just over 23 years of age and have one win, 14 top fives and 44 top 10s between them through the first half of the season.
* Great finishes highlight first half ... Who would have thought that instant classic NASCAR Winston Cup finish between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington would be followed the next day by a finish just as exciting between Todd Bodine and Jamie McMurray? The two were side-by-side coming to the checkered flag when both cars touched, with Bodine hitting the line first and McMurray finishing second -- sideways -- just .309 second behind. David Green collected his first win of the year with a last-lap pass of Johnny Sauter on the backstretch at Nashville April 12; Sauter nearly caught Green but finished .282 second back. Scott Riggs got an unexpected -- but exciting -- win at St. Louis when he passed Mike Bliss on the last lap. Bliss had been the car to beat but ran out of gas heading for the finish. And Bobby Hamilton Jr. overcame a penalty for a loose lug nut and made his move on Jason Keller on Lap 197 to win at Kentucky.