* Building block: Harvick hopes to extend points lead before full stand-alone season begins * Leffler joins Braun Racing / Great Clips lineup; Foyt still in contention for Raybestos Rookie honors NEWS & NOTES Harvick's lead key as...
* Building block: Harvick hopes to extend points lead before full stand-alone season begins
* Leffler joins Braun Racing / Great Clips lineup; Foyt still in contention for Raybestos Rookie honors
NEWS & NOTES
Harvick's lead key as stand-alone portion of schedule approaches ... Although Saturday's race is a stand-alone event, it will be held during an off-week for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Eight fulltime NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers are on the Pepsi 400 entry list, including the seven who are attempting to run a full schedule in both the NASCAR Busch Series and in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. One of those drivers, Kevin Harvick, is the NASCAR Busch Series points leader as he has been for the last six weeks. He has built a 146-point lead over second-place Denny Hamlin, a key number considering six of the final seven stand-alone events (the Aug. 5 race at Indianapolis Raceway Park is held on the same weekend as the Brickyard 400) are not companion races with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Last year, it was the second Nashville race that effectively ended Carl Edwards' (No. 60 Henkel Ford) chance at the title when inclement weather forced a one-day postponement. Edwards had to skip the NASCAR Busch Series race for his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup duties at Pocono, where he won.
Point standings clustered heading to Nashville ... Kevin Harvick may have a comfortable lead at this stage of the season, but there are definite logjams throughout the top-15 positions in the driver standings. Denny Hamlin has a 53-point lead over third-place Clint Bowyer (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet); however, the cluster truly begins with J.J. Yeley's fourth-place ranking after he fell from second to fourth after last Saturday's race at Texas. Lurking behind him is Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford), who is 19 points behind. Biffle is not entered at Nashville this weekend. That bodes well for the likes of Kyle Busch (No. 5 Lowe's Chevrolet) and Johnny Sauter who are tied at 832 points each (Busch is higher in the standings in sixth place due to his win at Bristol.) Those positions are hardly secure as Paul Menard (No. 11 Menard's Chevrolet) is only 13 points behind Busch and Sauter in eighth place, his first foray into the top 10 this season. Menard can't get too comfortable, though, as Jason Leffler (No. 32 Great Clips Dodge), Jamie McMurray (No. 64 Top-Flite Golf Co. Dodge), Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Ameriquest Ford) and Jon Wood (No. 47 Clorox/American Red Cross Ford) are all within a 26-point window, respectively, in positions 9-13. Like Biffle, Kenseth and McMurray aren't entered at Nashville, opening the way for advancement by drivers ranked further back in the standings.
Jason Leffler joins Braun Racing driver lineup ... In a move to contend for the NASCAR Busch Series driver championship as well as compete for the series Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award, Great Clips Racing announced this week that Jason Leffler (No. 32 Braun Racing Dodge) has been added to its driver lineup, joining rookie A.J. Foyt IV. Foyt has participated in the first seven races in the No. 38 Great Clips Dodge for Akins Motorsports; Leffler in the season's first seven events with other sponsorship under the Braun banner. Starting this weekend at Nashville with Leffler behind the wheel, Great Clips will divide its sponsorship between Leffler and Foyt through the remainder of the 2006 season. Leffler -- ninth in the point standings -- will carry Great Clips at Nashville and other select races, while Foyt will continue in the series in a more limited capacity with an eye on more seat time in other series to gain experience. "By having one of our two drivers represent Great Clips on a weekly basis, we feel that we are giving our sponsor the best of both worlds," said Doug Stringer, co-owner of Braun Racing 38 LLC. "We see this as a step moving forward and making our program stronger," added Todd Braun, owner of Braun Racing.
IN THE LOOP: Inside Harvick's points lead ... NASCAR Busch Series points leader Kevin Harvick is enjoying the same success he had in 2001 when he captured the series championship. Consistency has been the key for Harvick this season, as he has yet to finish a race outside the top 10, with a season-best finish of second at Bristol.Coming off an eighth-place finish at Texas, Harvick leads two Loop Data statistical categories and ranks second in four others. Harvick currently leads all drivers in the Percentage of Laps Run on Lead Lap statistic, completing 1,257 of 1,257 possible laps. He also leads the field in Quality Passes, completing 289 passes of cars in the top 15. Another former champion is showing his strength in the numbers. Greg Biffle, who won the series championship in 2002, leads three Loop Data statistical categories: the Driver Rating category with a rating of 115.2, Average Running Position with an average running place of 5.531 and the Fastest Drivers Early in a Run category with an average rank of 2.400.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
There have been six first-time race winners in nine races at Nashville. ... Jason Keller (No. 1 Miccosukee Resort Dodge) and Ashton Lewis Jr. (No. 25 U.S. Marine Corps Ford) have started each of the nine previous races at Nashville. Keller is tied for the most top-10 finishes with two other drivers (four). Keller and Johnny Sauter are tied for first among drivers running at the finish at Nashville, seven times. ... Clint Bowyer leads all drivers with four top-five finishes. ... Kevin Harvick -- at the inaugural race at Nashville Superspeedway in 2001 -- and Reed Sorenson last April are active drivers who have won a Busch Pole at Nashville. Harvick's 2001 race was his only previous appearance at the track. ... Former Nashville winners entered include Bowyer (June 2005), Jason Leffler (June 2004) and Sorenson (April 2005) who registered their first NASCAR Busch Series wins at Nashville, along with David Green (No. 27 Kleenex Ford -- April 2003) and Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Yardman Ford -- April 2004).
Paul Menard made his first series start at Nashville in June 2002, finishing 12th after starting 43rd. ... Dodge moved to within four points of Chevrolet in the Bill France Performance Cup standings following Kurt Busch's (No. 39 Penske Truck Leasing Dodge) first career NASCAR Busch Series win at Texas. Chevrolet continues to lead with four wins and 48 points; Dodge is second, now with two wins and 44 points and Ford is third with one victory and 41 points. Chevrolet leads with four wins at Nashville, including three of the last four races. ... Mark Green, who normally drives the No. 4 GEICO Dodge, will sport sponsorship from the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators this weekend at Nashville. "I've always been a hockey fan so I'm keyed up about the race in Nashville," Green said. ... Erin Crocker (No. 98 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) is scheduled to make her fifth NASCAR Busch Series start -- her first of 2006 -- at Nashville after also running in the ARCA event. Crocker, who is competing fulltime in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this year, will make a guest appearance at the Grand Ole Opry Friday night at 8 p.m. "I have been a country music fan my whole life," she said. "The opportunity to go to the Grand Ole Opry and to possibly meet some country music stars is neat for me. I have never really had any musical talent so it's something that is really exciting for me to do and be a part of." ... Burney Lamar (No. 77 Dollar General Chevrolet), Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Outdoor Channel Chevrolet) and KHI team owners Kevin and DeLana Harvick will make an appearance at team sponsor Dollar General headquarters in Goodlettsville, Tenn., just outside of Nashville prior to the race. Lamar leads the series Raybestos Rookie standings. ... Steve Wallace (No. 64 Jackson Roscoe Foundation Dodge) is also scheduled to pull ARCA/NASCAR Busch Series double-duty at Nashville.
"It was my very first race at a big track, at least what I called a big track at the time, and that track pretty much allowed me to be seen by Richard Childress. I was running in a guy's ARCA car from Kansas City and just immediately took a liking to the place. I have led a lot of laps there and got my first win in the NASCAR Busch Series there. When you have those kind of stats, it makes it easy to say that Nashville is one of my favorites." -- Clint Bowyer
"The Nashville Superspeedway has some special meaning to me. Last year, as we were trying to get things going, I was able to score my first top-five starting position, then my first career top-10 finish. Last year when they were deciding if I should get a start in a [NASCAR NEXTEL Series] cup car, they sent me to Nashville to test. It was my performance in that test that gave them the confidence to run a Cup race last year, ultimately leading to my full-time ride this year." -- Denny Hamlin.
"The homework Mike Kelley (crew chief) and the guys did for the Texas race will really be evident at Nashville. I'm excited to go there this weekend and show how good this team really is." -- Todd Kluever (No. 06 3M Ford). FROM THE NASCAR BUSCH SERIES "25 SEASONS RUNNING" ARCHIVES The state of Tennessee has produced several winners since the inception of the NASCAR Busch Series in 1982.
There were no winners from Tennessee during the inaugural season, however, Darrell Waltrip won the first event of 1983, the Goody's 300 at Daytona. Although actually from Owensboro, Ky., Waltrip has always listed Franklin, Tenn. as his hometown. Waltrip leads all drivers from the Volunteer State with 13 series wins.
Nashville's Bobby Hamilton Jr. became the most recent Tennessee native to win a series event with his 2003 victory at Phoenix International Raceway. His father Bobby Sr. also has a NASCAR Busch Series win. Other series winners who hail from Tennessee include Sterling Marlin -- whose son Steadman is scheduled to drive the No. 95 Sadler Bros. Truck Dodge this weekend -- Casey Atwood, Mike Alexander, L.D. Ottinger, Jeff Purvis and Brad Teague.
NASCAR BUSCH SERIES "25 SEASONS RUNNING" QUOTEABLES
"Without a doubt, I think hands-down it's by far the toughest year in the series. When I first came to the series, there were few select teams. I always used to say there were 20 teams that could win in a given week. Now I actually believe there are 30 to 35 teams that can win week-in and week-out." -- Johnny Sauter Note: A NASCAR Busch Series "25 Seasons Running" Media Kit CD is available at-track each race weekend and also on-line at nascarmedia.com. A CD can also be obtained by contacting NASCAR PR.
ON DECK: PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
The drivers and teams of the NASCAR Busch Series make their way west once again next week for the Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway for a night race on Friday beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET (FX). The series has traveled out west or internationally (Mexico City) for five of the first seven races in 2006. Greg Biffle won last year's event after Kasey Kahne -- one of eight different Busch Pole winners at Phoenix -- captured the top starting position. Biffle is the only NASCAR Busch Series driver to have multiple wins at Phoenix -- he also won the 2001 event when only one race was contested per season.