BUSCH: Off-week news of note 2005-09-27

* Menard anxious to get to Kansas, site of first NASCAR Busch Pole * Bowyer closes gap on Truex Jr. in championship race; only 26 points out * Championship battle is fifth-best at this stage in series history DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 27,...

* Menard anxious to get to Kansas, site of first NASCAR Busch Pole

* Bowyer closes gap on Truex Jr. in championship race; only 26 points out

* Championship battle is fifth-best at this stage in series history

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 27, 2005) -- As the NASCAR Busch Series takes the week off before returning to action at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 8, most of the buzz around the series has been about Emporia, Kan., native Clint Bowyer's (No. 2 AC Delco Chevrolet) championship battle with defending series titlist Martin Truex Jr. (No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet).

However, there's another Midwest driver who's looking forward to returning to Kansas, also -- Wisconsin native Paul Menard (No. 11 Menards/Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet).

"We're all excited about going back to Kansas," said Menard, who finished eighth at the track in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2003. "We got our first big milestone there last year by winning the Busch Pole and this year, we hope we can finish the job by bringing home our first win."

Menard and Bowyer have actually raced against each other before their rise to the NASCAR Busch Series. Both drivers are graduates of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series and raced in 2003 at Gateway International Raceway. Menard finished fifth, while Bowyer was 17th.

To those outside of Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI), Menard's 12 top 10s in his last 14 races may have come as a shock. But not to him.

"The success we've had since Kentucky (a fifth-place finish that started his ascent into the top 10 in points) in June is not at all surprising to anyone who's part of or close to the Menards team at DEI," said Menard, who's currently seventh in points. "From crew chief Dan Stillman and the traveling crew to all the people at the shop, it's something we knew we were capable of all along. It's a very talented and hard-working group and it was only a matter of time before things fell together like they did."

So can Menard get his first win this season?

"The NASCAR Busch Series is so competitive right now that aside from a little racing luck, there's little or no margin for error on any given weekend if you are going to come home a winner," he said. "I know we can do it.

"When will it happen? Your guess is as good as mine."

If Menard wins this year, he'll join fellow drivers Carl Edwards (No. 60 Charter Communications Ford), Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Discount Tire Co. Dodge), Tony Stewart and Bowyer as drivers who picked up their first NASCAR Busch Series career win in 2005.


Bowyer closes championship gap on Truex Jr. ... Five races ago, defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. seemed destined for his second-consecutive title. He was 204 points ahead of his nearest competitor, Clint Bowyer. But finishes of 15th at California and 27th at Richmond -- coupled with a 25-point penalty -- lowered his lead to 69 points. An off-week on the series schedule came at the right time for Truex and his team to regroup, and next up was Dover, the track Truex considers his home venue on the series. A native of Mayetta, N.J., Truex had won two straight at the "Monster Mile," and was running a solid second with less than 10 laps to go, but had to pit due to a cut tire. Bowyer took advantage, capturing the runner-up spot while Truex was relegated to 12th. Now just 26 points behind Truex with six races left, another off-week gives both teams the opportunity to prepare for what is shaping up to be a "home-and-home series." Bowyer's hometown of Emporia is only 90 miles from Kansas Speedway.

This pursuit among closest in series history ... With six races remaining, this is the fifth-closest points contest in NASCAR Busch Series history. Bobby Labonte held a one-point lead over Kenny Wallace (No. 22 AutoZone Ford) at this stage in 1991, then went on to win the title. Next was an eight point advantage enjoyed by Todd Bodine over Joe Nemechek in 1992, while Tommy Ellis also had an eight point lead over Mike Alexander at this juncture in 1988. Nemechek and Ellis were the eventual champions in those seasons. Tommy Houston led Ellis by 15 points in 1989 with Houston winning the title. And in 2003, David Green (No. 27 Kleenex Ford) had a 21-point advantage over Scott Riggs with six races left. Brian Vickers, 46 points back in third at the time, won the season championship over Green in the final race of the year at Homestead.

"Twentysomethings" at home in top 10 ... Six drivers, all in their 20s, have claimed the majority of the positions in the NASCAR Busch Series top 10. Between them, they have 11 wins, 45 top fives and 84 top-10 finishes. Four of the top five -- Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin (No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet) -- are either 25 or 26 years old, the lone exception -- Reed Sorenson, who's 19. Menard and David Stremme (No. 14 U.S. Navy Dodge) are 25 and 28, respectively. Not to be overlooked, however, are three veteran series stalwarts who are solidly entrenched in the top 10 -- David Green, Jason Keller (No. 35 McDonalds Ford) and Kenny Wallace -- round out the list.

Newman strikes for four straight wins ... With his win at Dover, Ryan Newman (No. 39 alltel Dodge) equaled the NASCAR Busch Series record for consecutive wins in a season (four) set by two-time series champion Sam Ard in 1983. Ard set the record for consecutive races while Newman, who didn't run at California or Richmond, matched the accomplishment in consecutive starts. Newman can aim for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s mark for wins in consecutive starts (five). Earnhardt Jr. set the current record over a span of three seasons, winning the fall race at Richmond in 2002, the Daytona races and Talladega in 2003 and the season-opener at Daytona in 2004. Newman could equal that record this season at Charlotte, the site of his next scheduled series start.


Martin Truex Jr., J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Vigoro/Home Depot Chevrolet) and Johnny Sauter (No. 1 Yellow Transportation Dodge) are entered in this weekend's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Talladega. ... Ryan Newman's win at Dover puts Dodge only one victory -- and 15 points -- behind second-place Ford in the Bill France Performance Cup standings. Dodge now has eight wins; Ford has nine victories and 180 points. Chevrolet leads with 12 wins and 196 points. ... Clint Bowyer will run a special paint scheme at Kansas; the No. 2 Chevrolet will carry the gray, orange and black colors of race sponsor Timberland PRO. ... NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rookie Todd Kluever will run in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2006 for Roush Racing. ... Brent Sherman (No. 10 Hickory Farms Ford) will be sporting a special Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation paint scheme at Charlotte in October. Sherman's sponsor, Serta, made a donation to the foundation and is currently featuring the limited edition "Perfect Pink Sleeper."... In addition to Bowyer testing at Kansas, several other drivers are using the off-week to test at upcoming tracks -- Kenny Wallace also at Kansas, Kerry Earnhardt and Carl Edwards at Memphis and Sherman, Kertus Davis (No. 0 RACEGirl Chevrolet), Kevin Hamlin (No. 4 GEICO Dodge), Brandon Miller (No. 21 Reese's Chevrolet), Ashton Lewis, Jason Keller and Jon Wood (No. 47 Clorox/Wisk Ford) at Charlotte. ... The Third Quarter NMPA/Pocono Spirit Award honors the racing community for banding together in its response to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Edwards donated his winnings from California to Katrina relief, while many others in the NASCAR Busch Series made monetary donations as well as making trips to the region to donate goods and services. "This award also goes to the people of the Gulf Coast," said NMPA president Bob Moore. "Their determined spirit to rebuild their lives provides an inspiration to all of us." Lee Smith, mother of driver Regan Smith (No. 58 Samson Stone Dodge), traveled to Gulfport, Miss., following the Dover 200 as a volunteer for Project HALO, the animal rescue effort taking place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her son celebrated his 22nd birthday on Sept. 23, by qualifiying seventh at Dover, his second top-10 start this season.


Next Race: United Way 300 presented by Yellow Transportation and Sprint Nextel (Race No. 30 of 35 in the NASCAR Busch Series).

Where: Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kan.

When: 2:10 p.m. ET, Saturday, Oct. 8.

Track Layout: 1.5-mile paved.
Race Length: 300 miles/200 laps.

Posted Awards: $1,436,086.

TV: NBC, 2:00 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.

2004 Winner: Joe Nemechek.
2004 Polesitter: Paul Menard.

NASCAR Busch Series Top 10: 1. Martin Truex Jr. 4,063. 2. Clint Bowyer 4,037. 3. Reed Sorenson 3,805. 4. Carl Edwards 3,733. 5. Denny Hamlin 3,496. 6. Kenny Wallace 3,483. 7. Paul Menard 3,330. 8. David Stremme 3,194. 9. David Green 3,193. 10. Jason Keller 3,147.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Fri., Oct. 7: Practice -- 9 -- 10 a.m.; 10:30 -- 11:50 a.m. Qualifying -- 4:05 p.m. Cars impounded after qualifying.


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Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Todd Bodine , Jason Keller , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Ryan Newman , Jon Wood , David Green , Scott Riggs , Kerry Earnhardt , Brent Sherman , J.J. Yeley , Martin Truex Jr. , Brian Vickers , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Regan Smith , Brandon Miller , David Stremme , Kertus Davis , Clint Bowyer , Ashton Lewis , Denny Hamlin , Reed Sorenson , Todd Kluever , Kevin Hamlin