Daytona: Round one preview

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Daytona More Than Ready: 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Season Finally Here Ant-sy (adj): restless, fidgety. Also impatient, eager. You think? The 2009 testing ban at non-NASCAR-sanctioned tracks turned the...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - Daytona

More Than Ready: 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Season Finally Here

Ant-sy (adj): restless, fidgety. Also impatient, eager.

You think?

The 2009 testing ban at non-NASCAR-sanctioned tracks turned the NASCAR Nationwide Series off-season into one of at-shop preparation instead of gauging on-track performance.

Now, drivers and teams are finally set to lay down their first laps of 2009 at Daytona International Speedway this week for the season-opening Camping World 300 on Valentine's Day afternoon. But just because everyone's giddy to be back at the track, doesn't mean there won't be any love lost between the competitors when it comes time to race.

Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford) is a favorite to win his second series championship and can also become the first to win a NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in the same season.

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) also is planning to pull full-time double-duty. Busch has accomplished everything in the NASCAR Nationwide Series except win a championship. The 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year tied the record for most wins in a season last year with 10 despite running in 30 of 35 races.

A particularly strong group of veteran series-only regulars will mount challenges to Edwards and Busch, particularly Brad Keselowski (No. 88 Chevrolet), Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota), Mike Bliss (No. 1 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet) and Jason Keller (No. 27 Kroger-Scott Products Ford).

Steve Wallace (No. 66 US Fidelis Chevrolet) should build on his 12th-place finish in the 2008 standings; he also has Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet) -- who moves from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series -- as his teammate giving Rusty Wallace Racing a nice 1-2 punch.

2009 Owner Championship Should Equal Driver Title Drama

The NASCAR Nationwide Series has recently become a dual championship series -- one where the driver and owner titles are shared by different teams.

Over the last two seasons and three times overall, the championships have been split. The first occurrence came in 2003 when Brian Vickers won the driver title with Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing took the owner crown with Kevin Harvick and Johnny Sauter sharing the No. 21 Chevrolet.

In 2007, Carl Edwards won the driver title, but RCR, with the duo of Jeff Burton and Scott Wimmer, claimed the second such owner championship in the No. 29 Chevrolet.

Last year, Clint Bowyer won the driver championship while the No. 20 Toyota won the owner title, the first NASCAR Nationwide championship for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Not only does that scenario linger as the 2009 season gets underway, but the hunt is shaping up to be the most competitive ever for the owner crown. It's a given the driver and team that wins the championship hopes to "unify" the title. Edwards is still smarting from losing the driver title to RCR two years ago. Busch is a threat to bring the two championships together for the first time since Harvick / RCR in 2006.

The reigning champion is back with Joey Logano, Brad Coleman and Denny Hamlin sharing driving duties; Logano starts the season in the No. 20 GameStop Toyota. The No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet has Burton, Bowyer and young Stephen Leicht at the controls this year; Bowyer gets the honors at Daytona.

The No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford will be in the mix with David Ragan -- who gets the Daytona start in the No. 6 Discount Tire entry -- sharing with Erik Darnell. Vickers and Burney Lamar will double up in the No. 32 Dollar General Toyota for Braun Racing.

The dark horse team to watch is the No. 33 KHI Chevrolet crew. Harvick has a strong stable of drivers including himself, Ryan Newman, Ron Hornaday Jr., Cale Gale and Tony Stewart (for one race).

Majority Of 2009 Raybestos Rookie Class On Display At Daytona

Seven drivers are vying for the 21st annual Raybestos Rookie of the Year award in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Six will be on display for the first time in series competition in 2009 at Daytona.

The group averages 24.6 years of age and has collectively made 33 starts in the series since Brendan Gaughan made his first and only series start in 2001.

Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota), with 14 starts over three seasons, is the on-track veteran of the group. Lagasse, 28, is a native of nearby St. Augustine, Fla., and will make his Daytona debut in series competition.

Ditto for the series track debuts by Lagasse's fellow rookies Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), 22; Michael Annett (No. 15 Pilot Travel Centers Toyota), 22; Gaughan, 33; Michael McDowell (No. 47 Toms's Toyota), 24 and John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby's Ford), 19.

Townley got the go-ahead to compete in the Camping World 300 following his career-best fourth-place finish in last Saturday's ARCA race at Daytona. Travis Kvapil was originally announced to drive that entry.

Annett won at Daytona in the ARCA race last year while Allgaier finished second.

Only McDowell, who started this race one year ago, has series experience on the historic superspeedway Lagasse started last year's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race here while Gaughan also has raced at Daytona in the trucks and also during his one season in NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Erik Darnell is the seventh member of the 2009 Raybestos Rookie class but isn't scheduled to make his season debut until the April event at Richmond International Raceway.

Nine former NASCAR Nationwide Raybestos Rookie winners are entered at Daytona: David Ragan (2007); Danny O'Quinn Jr. (No. 0 Chevrolet -- 2006); Carl Edwards (2005); Kyle Busch (2004); Greg Biffle (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford -- 2001); Kevin Harvick (2000); Tony Raines (No. 34 Long John Silver's Chevrolet -- 1999); Joe Nemechek (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet -- 1990) and Kenny Wallace (No. 28 U.S. Border Patrol Chevrolet -- 1989).

Logano Also Carries Rookie Stripe At Daytona; Shepherd Can Set Standard As Oldest Starter

Joey Logano may not be in the running for 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors, but the 18-year-old will still carry a rookie stripe when he makes his Daytona points race debut in NASCAR national series competition Saturday in the Camping World 300.

Logano, running a partial NASCAR Nationwide schedule in addition to his full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup ride, didn't compete at either of Daytona's two races or Talladega Superspeedway last year among his first 19 NASCAR Nationwide races.

Logano will have the most seat time of this year's series first-timers at Daytona, though. In addition to finishing second in last Saturday's ARCA event, Logano also started the Budweiser Shootout later that night. He will also have participated in the Gatorade Duels on Thursday.

Logano, who will be the youngest driver to start a Daytona 500, will be the eighth-youngest to start a season-opener at Daytona in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Logano's rank among young drivers at Daytona is at the opposite end of the age spectrum where Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Lagina Plumbing Chevrolet) stands.

With a start at Daytona, Shepherd, 67, would be the oldest driver to start a season-opener at the track. The 2009 season also is Shepherd's 42nd consecutive year as a driver in NASCAR-sanctioned races.

"Formers" Come To the Forefront For Camping World 300

Two former NASCAR Nationwide champions make their full-time returns to the series in 2009.

David Green (No. 07 SK Motorsports Toyota), the 1994 champion and Lakeland, Fla., native Joe Nemechek, who won the title in 1992, are prepared to turn their first laps in the series at Daytona since 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Green will drive for the new SK Motorsports organization while Nemechek returns in his own NEMCO Motorsports equipment.

Both drivers have had success at Daytona -- Nemechek won this race in 1998. He also is the all-time leader in series poles at the track with five; four have come in this event, the last in 2005.

Green won the pole for this race in 1991; it was the first of his series career.

Green's brother Jeff (No. 05 31W Insulation-Tobacco Free Florida Chevrolet), won the series title in 2000; he brings the total of former series champions entered in the event to nine drivers representing 11 titles.

Five former winners of the season-opening race at Daytona are also entered, led by defending race winner Tony Stewart (No. 80 Chevrolet).

Additionally, four former Daytona 500 winners are entered in the Camping World 300 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 5 Hellman's Chevrolet); Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet); Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) and Derrike Cope (No. 41 MetalJeans-Fw1Wax Chevrolet. Harvick swept both races in 2007; Earnhardt did so in 2004.

The Director's Take: Back To Racing At Daytona

Enough of the "honey-do" list.

Joe Balash, like the teams in the NASCAR Nationwide garage he patrols as series director, is ready to get back to racing.

"The off-season was great, I got a lot done around the house," said Balash, now in his fifth year. "But now we get back to it at Daytona."

Some of Balash's off-season was spent continuing preparation for the introduction of the new car in the series, targeted for 2010. "We went to the wind tunnel again in late January and the results were positive," he said. "We're still planning on having the new car in our series a year from now but could potentially hold until a future date. If our teams feel they're prepared to move forward as their business models dictate, we'll do that. If not, we'll re-assess our timetable.

"We also haven't been to all track types yet to test. A superspeedway would be in our future at the appropriate time. We need that test before we would launch a car at Daytona."

Balash also noted two competition changes for the NASCAR Nationwide Series for 2009.

"Like the Truck Series, excluding Daytona and Talladega, teams can't compete in more than three consecutive races without using an engine that has been used in a previous race. Teams can't go four races in a row using a new motor. It has to be a motor that's been sealed by NASCAR.

"Teams can adjust when they want to run their fresh engines. Any time a team runs a sealed motor, NASCAR will re-set the count. Seals will be supplied, installed and removed by NASCAR."

Balash also said a steel anti-intrusion plate is a mandatory 2009 addition to the left side of the roll cage.

In The Loop: Valentine's Day Race Could Be Sweet For Keselowski

Brad Keselowski finished third in the final 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, an improbable ending and a stellar full-time debut.

He had shown signs of promise in running 27 of 35 races in 2007, racking up five top 10s. But Keselowski, who turns 25 Thursday, burst out last season with two wins, 11 top fives and 20 top 10s while running all 35 races.

Now he has to prove that last year was no fluke -- while running for the series championship.

That task starts now at Daytona. Keselowski finished 16th and fifth in his first two career Daytona races, and posted solid statistics in the process.

At Daytona, Keselowski has a Driver Rating of 94.6, an Average Running Position of 10.5, 199 Green Flag Passes, five Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 72.4%.

But this is Daytona, and his competition is tough. A number of double-duty drivers will attempt to thwart a Keselowski visit to Victory Lane. Most notably, last year's winner, Tony Stewart.

Stewart has three series victories at Daytona, and in his six races there since the inception of Loop Data, he has a Driver Rating of 109.1, an Average Running Position of 10.4, 20 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 71.7%.

As usual, Dale Earnhardt Jr. should be a factor at Daytona. Statistically, he's clearly the fastest there. He has 54 Fastest Laps Run at Daytona since 2005, more than any other driver in the series. He also has a Driver Rating of 107.8 and an Average Running Position of 9.4.

In his 15 series races at Daytona, Earnhardt has five wins, eight top fives and nine top 10s.

Kyle Busch will run triple duty at Daytona. No driver has won a NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck race in the same weekend. Busch has a shot at doing so. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he has a solid 102.2 Driver Rating at Daytona.

NNS Etc.

Name Game: The drivers of the No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet have created an interesting challenge. Whoever wins the most races or has the best average finish after the July race at Daytona will have his name shown above the driver's side door for the rest of the season, no matter who's driving.

"I'm really hoping to win because I know I'd hear it from (Jeff) Burton and (Stephen) Leicht every time I stepped foot into the car about seeing their name," said Clint Bowyer. "It's an incentive for each of us to do our best each time we're in the car."

Series Connected to Daytona 500 Front Row: The NASCAR Nationwide Series will literally be front and center for the Daytona 500. Pole winner Martin Truex Jr. made his jump to NASCAR Sprint Cup following consecutive NASCAR Nationwide championships in 2004-05. Outside polesitter Mark Martin is the all-time series leader in wins (48) and poles (30).

"Incredible Hero" Hits Daytona: America's Incredible Pizza Co., sponsor of Scott Lagasse Jr.'s No. 11 Toyota, launches its "Incredible Heroes" campaign Saturday at Daytona.

The season-long program recognizes people who have done "incredible" acts in the venue cities where the NASCAR Nationwide Series races. Daytona Beach resident Adam Clatterbuck is the inaugural honoree. Last summer, he donated one of his kidneys to his brother-in-law. He and his wife will be guests of CJM Racing.

Keller "Faces" Daytona: Jason Keller, will carry a special paint scheme for his series-leading 458th start upcoming at Daytona. His primary sponsor, Kimberly-Clark, will help retail partner Kroger recognize employees who have provided exceptional service by featuring numerous photos of those employees on the car.

Up Next -- Stater Bros. 300: The NASCAR Nationwide Series is the second event of the unique doubleheader race day with the Camping World Truck Series next Saturday, Feb. 21, at Auto Club Speedway beginning at 7:45 p.m. ET.

Fast Facts

The Race: Camping World 300
The Place: Daytona International Speedway

The Date: Saturday, Feb. 14
The Time: 1:15 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300 miles / 120 laps
Track Size: 2.5-mile tri-oval

TV: ESPN 2, noon ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN

2008 Winner: Tony Stewart
2008 Pole: Tony Stewart

Event Schedule:
Wednesday-Practice 3-4:50 p.m.;
Thursday-Final Practice 9:30-10:50 a.m.;
Friday-Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.

-credit: dis

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Derrike Cope , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Jason Keller , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Tony Raines , David Green , Michael McDowell , Johnny Sauter , Scott Wimmer , Brendan Gaughan , Martin Truex Jr. , Morgan Shepherd , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Scott Lagasse Jr. , Brad Coleman , Clint Bowyer , Burney Lamar , Brad Keselowski , David Ragan , Stephen Leicht , Erik Darnell , Danny O'Quinn , Cale Gale , Joey Logano , Michael Annett , John Wes Townley , Steve Wallace , John Long , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Travis Kvapil
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , NEMCO Motorsports