*Roger That: No. 20 Crew Chief Rolls With The Changes *Keller Returns To Top 10 For First Time Since 2006 *In The Loop: Can Clauson Keep Up With The Veterans? *Leffler's Car A Top-Three Starter Over Last Five At DIS No Stewart? No Problem For ...
*Roger That: No. 20 Crew Chief Rolls With The Changes
*Keller Returns To Top 10 For First Time Since 2006
*In The Loop: Can Clauson Keep Up With The Veterans?
*Leffler's Car A Top-Three Starter Over Last Five At DIS
No Stewart? No Problem For Rogers, No. 20 Team At Daytona
Change is good. Just ask Dave Rogers.
The crew chief for the No. 20 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing has undergone a plethora of changes since taking command of the car in 2006.
But in the climate of up-and-coming talent and double-duty drivers, Rogers has managed to combine the mixture into a major recipe for success.
Following 18 races this year, Rogers has led four different drivers to eight wins and five poles in the No. 20 -- both series highs. Tony Stewart has five of those wins, including last Saturday's victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway which happened to be the home track for Marshfield, Vt. native Rogers.
Stewart's not entered in Friday night's race at Daytona International Speedway but Rogers' second-winningest driver, Denny Hamlin, is.
Rogers moved to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2006 following a stint in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2005. He worked with Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota), who has also since returned to Nationwide competition.
In his new position, Rogers led Hamlin in the then-No. 20 Chevrolet to Hamlin's first series wins (two) and poles (six). The six poles led the series.
Last year, he got his first taste of multiple drivers, crewing the cars of five drivers and producing four wins (three by Hamlin, one by Aric Almirola although Hamlin finished that race) and a series-best seven poles.
This year, Rogers was charged with a new manufacturer (Toyota) and two more new drivers -- Kyle Busch (No. 18 Farm Bureau Insurance Toyota), who has one win in the No. 20, and Joey Logano. The 18-year-old has a win and two poles in his first four races with Rogers and JGR.
Familiar Feeling: Keller Back In Top 10 After Two-Year Hiatus
For the first time in three years, Jason Keller (No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet) is back in a familiar place.
Following an 11th-place finish at New Hampshire -- just missing his third top 10 in a row -- the series' all-time starts leader finds himself in the top 10 in the standings.
Keller's currently in 10th, a climb that seemed improbable after placing 35th at Daytona last February.
But Keller and the crew that was specifically built around him as a driver kept pushing to the point where the 38-year-old now stands for the first time since March 2006 when he was ninth.
But he was released after eight races by Phoenix Racing and spent the next year-plus competing on a limited basis for CJM and two other teams.
"It's a great feeling to know how far our program has come this season," he said. "All the hard work and long hours are finally starting to show in our performance."
Some "Replacement:" Dale Earnhardt Jr. For Improving Cassill At Daytona
June was quite a month for Landon Cassill.
The 18-year-old captured his first career pole last Saturday at New Hampshire joining Colin Braun (No. 16 Citifinancial Ford), 19, and Joey Logano, (two poles) 18, as teenage pole winners this year.
Cassill also registered his best NASCAR national series finish when he was third at the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at The Milwaukee Mile while pulling double duty.
He was ninth at Nashville, his best NASCAR Nationwide Series finish, and followed that up with an 11th-place result at Kentucky Speedway.
Cassill won't be racing at Daytona but his "replacement" should continue the march of solid results.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the two time series champion, will drive the No. 5 Delphi Chevrolet Friday night while Cassill will watch and learn.
Earnhardt has five series wins at Daytona including two in this event, the last in 2006. This will be his seventh race this season and he's looking for his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory since he won at Michigan International Speedway in 2006.
"Older" Clauson Back For Second Go-Round On Tri-Oval
Last February, Bryan Clauson (No. 40 Fastenal Dodge) served notice with a sixth-place finish in his first start at Daytona.
The result for the 18-year-old was the best among series-only regulars.
After the Daytona race, Clauson's next three outings resulted in DNFs due to accidents. But in seven of his last eight races (his lone DNF due to handling), he's shown marked improvement.
He fashioned his career-best finish (fifth) at Kentucky the day before his 19th birthday and holds the lead in the Raybestos Rookie standings over teammate Dario Franchitti.
Braun Returns To Site Of "Big" Win
Colin Braun's first series start at Daytona should conjure up good memories.
In 2006, at age 17, Braun won the Rolex Grand Am race at the track, at the time becoming the event's youngest winner. He also teamed up with Brad Coleman (No. 27 Kleenex Ford) the year before to set a world record for youngest team in the Rolex 24 (top-10 finish, seventh in GT class).
"It's definitely a special place for me since winning there," he said.
In The Loop: Clauson Deals With Veteran Contenders At Daytona
A feeling-out process usually exists during a driver's first trip to Daytona International Speedway. The hearty mix of history, degree of difficulty, speed and competition usually leave a Daytona rookie mired in the back of the pack, left to take everything in.
Not Bryan Clauson.
In his first trip to Daytona in February, Clauson started and finished in the sixth position, a surprising -- and impressive -- result for a driver who was then-racing in his sixth NASCAR Nationwide Series event.
During his run, Clauson notched a Driver Rating of 91.0, an Average Running Position of 13.0, three Fastest Laps Run and had a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 80 percent.
If Clauson wants a repeat of that success, he'll have to contend with a number of double-duty drivers who have some hefty statistics at Daytona.
The two most proficient double-duty drivers are Kevin Harvick (No. 33 VFW Chevrolet) and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Harvick's stats at Daytona are startling. He has one win there (February, 2007), and 10 top-five finishes in 12 career series starts.
Over the last seven races, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 106.4, an Average Running Position of 10.3, 26 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 76.3 percent.
Earnhardt has five career series victories at Daytona, and finished third there this past February.
Since 2005 at Daytona, Earnhardt has a Driver Rating of 105.7, an Average Running Position of 10.2, a series-high 50 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 75.2 percent.
One other driver to watch is standings leader Clint Bowyer (No. 2 BB&T Chevrolet). Bowyer, who leads second-place David Reutimann (No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) by 182 points despite winning only one race, could bump the victory total to two after this weekend. In his seven-race Daytona career, Bowyer has a Driver Rating of 104.5, an Average Running Position of 8.3 and a series-best Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 85.6 percent.
The Director's Take: Fireworks For 300 Miles In Store At Daytona
The race at Daytona International Speedway may be 300 miles in length, but the drivers will be only inches apart during that time.
"That's one of the reasons Daytona is so special," said Joe Balash, NASCAR Nationwide Series director, of the July 4 night race.
"With 15-20 cars nose-to-tail all night long, the key to success will be who has the perfect body configuration to take advantage of the draft and drive their way to the front.
"This race is less about the driver because you're not getting on the gas, getting on the brake and trying to drive around people," he said. "It's more about the car that will allow the driver to stay on the throttle all the way around the track to stay in the draft."
"The driver really comes into play late in the race when he has to make the choice -- when to pull out of the draft and who to work with when it comes down to the final laps."
The race is also the final restrictor-plate event of the season for the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Daytona International Speedway
Most Wins: Dale Earnhardt, 7
Most Poles: Joe Nemechek, 5
Quick Fact: Nemechek won four of his poles in succession from 2001-03.
As the second half of the season begins, Clint Bowyer continues to lead the series standings but things could be heating up -- and soon.
David Reutimann picked up a few points but more importantly, one place, as he moved into second after New Hampshire. And reigning champion Carl Edwards (No. 60 Save-A-Lot Ford) may be making his move as well.
Edwards is five points behind Reutimann and is back in third place for the first time in three races. And his 187-point deficit to Bowyer is the closest he's been to first since he was 144 points out following May's race at Dover International Speedway.
Jason Leffler has proven to be a strong qualifier at Daytona where he's started inside the top three over his last five races there. He won the pole for this race last year and also captured the pole at the 2.5-mile tri-oval when running in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2003.
Leffler will drive the car he's competed with in his last five restrictor-plate events. Included in that group is last April's race at Talladega where he finished fourth, his career-best at a restrictor-plate track. He's never qualified outside the top three driving this car.
Will the second time at Daytona be a charm for Mark Green (No. 70 Foretravel Chevrolet)? In February, Green ran into tough luck and was forced to go to a backup car due to an accident in practice. Then after a solid 12th-place qualifying effort, he was relegated to 41st after an accident on Lap 55.
The team returns to Daytona armed with confidence following a fifth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in its last restrictor-plate race in April -- the best finish for ML Motorsports in its NASCAR history and also tying Green's best career effort.
Bill France Performance Cup Standings
At New Hampshire, Toyota's win broke up a three-race string where different manufactures went to Victory Lane. Toyota, Chevrolet and Ford, respectively, had each visited the winner's circle in the three races prior to last week's event.
Toyota won the season-opener at Daytona this year but it's Chevrolet that has been strongest there having won 22 races, including six consecutive before Toyota's February win.
Up Next: Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway
A historic event awaits the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Chicagoland Friday, July 11 when the race will be under the lights at the 1.5-mile track for the first time in its history.
Kevin Harvick won last year's race while Denny Hamlin took the pole. Harvick is the only two-time winner; Ryan Newman has won two poles.
The track has produced four first-time series winners -- Jimmie Johnson (2001); Johnny Sauter (2002); Justin Labonte (2004) and Casey Mears (2006).
The Race: Winn-Dixie 250 Powered by Coca-Cola
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Friday, July 4
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 laps / 300 miles
Track Size: 2.5-mile tri-oval
TV: ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET
2007 Winner: Kyle Busch
2007 Pole: Jason Leffler
Thursday--Practice, 2:30-3:50 p.m.; Final Practice, 5:30-6:25 p.m.
Friday--Qualifying, 1:05 p.m.