Chicagoland: Series round 18 preview

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes -- Chicago Mid-Way On The Midway: Series Reaches Halfway Point The NASCAR Nationwide Series season hits the halfway mark Friday night at Chicagoland Speedway. If the first half was any indication, ...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes -- Chicago

Mid-Way On The Midway: Series Reaches Halfway Point

The NASCAR Nationwide Series season hits the halfway mark Friday night at Chicagoland Speedway. If the first half was any indication, the second, starting in the Second City, should provide more excitement:

Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge) is in his third full season in the series, and his first as a full-time double-duty driver. He leads the driver standings by 277 points over second-place Carl Edwards (No. 60 FASTENAL Ford). Keselowski and his Penske Racing teammate, Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) also have led a resurgence for Dodge. The manufacturer has four wins at the halfway point; it had no wins over the last two years and four total victories in 2007.

The new car made its race debut at Daytona International Speedway last Friday night. Two new models were introduced -- the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang -- while Chevrolet's Impala and Toyota's Camry presented much sportier looks. Chevy won the race with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s emotional victory in the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet, a car made famous by his father in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, while Dodge and Keselowski won the Coors Light pole. The new car will race three more times during the second half -- at Michigan International Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) is charging toward becoming the series' all-time wins leader. The reigning series champion isn't defending his title but remains the driver to beat in each race he enters. He leads the series with six wins in 14 starts. He's fourth in the standings despite missing three races. Two weeks ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he set the series mark for most laps led (currently 8,117). With 36 career wins, he's second all-time, trailing leader Mark Martin (48) by 12 wins.

Danica Patrick (No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) continues her learning curve in NASCAR. After her first four races, she's shown improvement. Two weeks ago at New Hampshire, the shortest track she's driven on in a stock car, she finished 30th -- her best result thus far -- after getting caught in an accident. The native of Roscoe, Ill., has a 'home' race at Chicagoland, Race No. 5 of her 13-race schedule this year.

The series ran at Road America, the fourth time in six years it has debuted on a new track. The 4.048- mile road course is the longest among NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, and the event was a thriller at the scenic venue. Edwards posted not only his first win of the year and his first since last year at Phoenix International Raceway, but the first for Ford this season in either the NASCAR Sprint Cup or NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Jason Keller (No. 35 Tri-Star Motorsports Chevrolet) became the first series driver to reach 500 career starts when he did so at Dover International Speedway. Keller comes to Chicago with 505 career starts. Kenny Wallace (No. 28 Anderson's Maple Syrup Chevrolet), with 470 starts, is second to Keller and may be the only other driver in series history who will reach the coveted 500-start mark.

"X" Marks The Spot: Defending Winner Logano The Driver To Watch At Chicagoland

Joey Logano's (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) youth and relative inexperience have worked as a cloaking device of sorts.

He has largely flown under the NASCAR Nationwide Series radar when it comes to the phrase, "Whenever driver X runs in the series, he's a threat to win."

"Driver X" usually comes in the form of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet) or Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- all former series champions. Logano usually is one of the favorites, but rarely is the favorite.

He should be.

His statistics when he pulls double duty are unbelievable: in 12 starts, he has seven top fives and 11 top 10s. He has led at least one lap in all but two races.

His Loop Data statistics are otherworldly: a Driver Rating of 121.0, an Average Running Position of 4.7, 267 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus -53 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 97.2%. His lowest single-race Driver Rating is 100.3, in a 14th-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway, the only event where he failed to score a top 10.

All that should continue this week, in another talent-laden field. The steep competition didn't bother him last year at Chicagoland, where he dominated in a victory. In that event, Logano led 96 of the 200 laps, with a Driver Rating of 146.9, an Average Running Position of 2.0 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 99.5 (he ran 199 of 200 laps among the top 15).

But the wins leader at Chicago is Harvick, and as usual, he must be considered a favorite.

Along with two victories there (2005, '07), Harvick has a Driver Rating of 108.9, an Average Running Position of 7.6, 39 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential of plus-41 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 84.4%.

Reunited: Stenhouse Jr. Joins Teammate Braun Back In Top 30

Before the start of the season, Colin Braun (No. 16 Con-Way Ford) was chosen by the media to finish fifth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings. He also was selected to win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award.

The media also thought highly of his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 6 CitiFinancial Ford), who was tabbed to finish second in the rookie balloting to Braun.

But after the fifth race of the year, in April at Nashville Superspeedway, neither Braun nor Stenhouse were anywhere near those predictions. Their season had taken a quick turn for the worse.

Both drivers were automatic qualifiers as their cars were in the Top 30 in 2009 owner points, which carried that qualification status over to the first five races of the 2010 season.

But after Nashville, the troubles began. Both youngsters were outside the Top 30, forcing them to qualify on time. Five DNFs (Did Not Finish) results in his first eight races were enough for owner Jack Roush to sit Braun for two events so he could watch and learn from teammate Matt Kenseth. In May, the organization signed Brian Ickler, who now is sharing the No. 16 with Braun.

After Stenhouse failed to qualify at Nashville in June, and following five DNFs in his first twelve races, Roush also sat him down. Ickler replaced Stenhouse for the race at Kentucky Speedway.

But just as Roush predicted a couple of weeks ago, their fortunes have begun to turn. Braun's 10thplace finish at Dover International Speedway got the No. 16 back into the Top 30, where he and Ickler have kept it since that time. Currently, the No. 16 -- with Braun behind the wheel Friday at Chicagoland -- is a season-best 18th in owner points. His average finish in his last four races is 10.8.

And for the first time since he was an automatic qualifier after the spring event at Nashville, Stenhouse won't have to worry about making the race. On the heels of his career-best third-place finish last Friday at Daytona, Stenhouse (plus the one race from Ickler) is 30th in the standings, marking the first time this season that he and Braun have been in the Top 30 without the aid of last year's owner standings.

Windy City Welcome Mat Out For Allgaier, Patrick

Danica Patrick will get plenty of attention this week as she returns once again to NASCAR after a one-race layoff. But racing won't be the only reason she'll be in the spotlight.

Patrick, a native of Roscoe, Ill., also is racing in her home state.

And she's not the only driver that has a home game this weekend. Chicagoland also is a home race for Justin Allgaier, who's from Riverton.

Roscoe is just over 100 miles from Joliet, while Riverton is 160 miles from the track.

Patrick comes home with the goal of improving her finish each race. Allgaier, meanwhile, has his sights set on challenging Carl Edwards for second place in the driver standings. He's third, 193 points behind the second-place Edwards.

Earlier this year at Bristol, Allgaier won his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Last year, he completed his first full season in the series in sixth place in the standings, and earned the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award.

NNS Etc.: Chicagoland Edition

Online voting is underway for the 2010 Most Popular Driver of the Year Award in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Last year, Brad Keselowski was voted by the fans as the series' Most Popular Driver, his second consecutive award.

The link to the Most Popular Driver ballot will be hosted on NASCARnationwideseries. com.

Again this year, fans also may write in their favorite driver if he/she is not among the nominees for a specific series. Fans can send an email to fanfeedback@nascar.com and submit their write-in vote.

Fans may vote or submit a write-in candidate once per day. Voting runs until Nov. 13.

Fans also may vote for the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series by visiting www.nascar.com. Voting for all regional touring series will be available on www.nascarhometracks.com.

Results will be announced at the combined awards banquet for the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Monday, Nov. 22 at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.

Manufacturers' Standings

With the four different manufacturers occupying the top five spots in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings, it stands to reason that Friday night's race at Chicagoland is just as wide open.

Although Chevrolet has the most wins there with four, each manufacturer has won at least once at Chicago. Toyota has won the last two events.

Brad Keselowski (Dodge) is the standings leader, followed by Carl Edwards (Ford) and Justin Allgaier (Dodge). Kyle Busch is fourth in a Toyota, while two-time series champion Kevin Harvick is fifth.

Sorenson Nationwide 'Driver of Week'

Reed Sorenson (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) is the Nationwide Insurance "Driver of The Week" at Chicagoland.

The program is a first-year initiative by series sponsor Nationwide Insurance to inc rease dr i ver awareness, with emphasis on seriesonly regulars.

Sorenson will participate on a live web chat with fans on Wednesday, July 7 at 12 p.m. ET on NASCARnationwideseries. com. He'll also make some appearances on behalf of the series sponsor at the track this week.

Sorenson was originally scheduled to compete in 25 races this year, sharing the No. 32 car with 2003 series champion Brian Vickers. But Vickers' season in both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is over due to a medical issue. Sorenson picked up the remaining five NASCAR Nationwide events on Vickers' 10- race schedule and two weeks ago, was announced as the substitute driver in Vickers' No. 83 Red Bull Toyota in NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Sorenson is 15th in the points standings, 194 points out of 10th, despite missing five races this year. He has three top fives and nine top 10s in 12 races, and has two top 10s in three series races at Chicago.

Raybestos Rookie Standings

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a double-dose of momentum going right now. Not only is he finally back in the Top 30 in owner points, but he's giving rookie-standings leader Brian Scott (No. 11 Braun Racing Toyota) a challenge.

Stenhouse is within 17 points of first, the closest he's been since he trailed the leader by 14 points after the May race at Charlotte.

Up Next: Gateway Raceway

Round 2 of stand-alone season begins next Saturday, July 17 at Gateway International Raceway with the running of the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250. ESPN2 will carry the race broadcast starting at 7:30 PM ET.

It's an open weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, so expect a visit from a few extra double-duty drivers, like two-time winner Kevin Harvick. Missouri native Carl Edwards also has two wins there, as does Reed Sorenson.

Although not a NASCAR Nationwide- NASCAR Sprint Cup combination event, it is a double-header weekend as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series holds its one-day show at Gateway on Friday, July 16.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Dollar General 300 powered by Coca-Cola
The Place: Chicagoland Speedway (1.5 Mile Paved)

The Date: Friday, July 9
The Time: 8 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300 miles / 200 laps

TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Local-WUSN -- FM 99.5, WSPY-FM 107.1)

2009 Winner: Joey Logano
2009 Pole Winner: Carl Edwards

Schedule prior to race day (times CT):

Friday: Practice, 8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m.; Final Practice, 10 a.m.-11:20 a.m.; Qualifying,3:05 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Jason Keller , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Colin Braun , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Jack Roush , Brad Keselowski , Reed Sorenson , Justin Allgaier , Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , Joey Logano , Brian Scott , Brian Ickler , Danica Patrick , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske , Roush Fenway Racing