NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - California Home Is Where Redemption Is For Leffler Going back home usually is something to look forward to. In Jason Leffler's (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) case, even though the season is but one race...
NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes - California
Home Is Where Redemption Is For Leffler
Going back home usually is something to look forward to.
In Jason Leffler's (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) case, even though the season is but one race old, he's not just looking forward to heading home to California. Actually, this trip to familiar surroundings couldn't come at a better time.
The Long Beach native is one of the series-only regulars predicted to be a major player in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship this year. His season-opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway began well enough -- he started fourth.
But it got rough after that. He was penalized five laps for aggressive driving after triggering an incident on Lap 72 that took out Steve Wallace (No. 66 US Feidelis Chevrolet) and Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota). Leffler finished 33rd, his worst result in 11 series races there.
But home -- Auto Club Speedway -- beckons and with it, perhaps a better outcome for the 33-year-old to help rid him of his Daytona blues.
The track hasn't been one where Leffler has had consistently good outings, but he did put together one of his better races at ACS one year ago when he finished 11th. That was his best finish since 2005 when he was seventh, his top series finish at the track. He also won the pole for this race in 2004.
Couple those positives with the opportunity to make stops at his favorite fast food joint -- In 'N Out Burger -- and maybe the black cloud is starting to dissipate.
"For obvious reasons we're looking to put last week behind us," he said. "The real season starts at California because your performance there will be a pretty good indicator of where you stand in comparison with everyone else and what areas you need to work on for the first part of the season.
"There'd be nothing better than to win there," he said. "It's a place that we've never run well at but we're always striving to. I've got a lot of family and friends out there. I think we're going to have all that in our favor this year."
Keller Eyes Repeat Of Daytona Breakthrough At Auto Club
Jason Keller (No. 27 Cottonelle Ford) isn't much of a talker. His quiet demeanor has been a direct contrast to his solid NASCAR Nationwide Series career.
The series' "Iron Man" is the all-time leader in starts with 458 heading to Auto Club Speedway. He's posted 10 wins and 11 poles, and is third all-time in top fives and 11th in career top 10s.
But it's his latest top-10 finish that has opened a few eyes.
Keller was ninth at Daytona last Saturday, his best finish in the season-opener since 2004 when he was also ninth.
With much of the pre-season talk surrounding the championship chances of Brad Keselowski (No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet), Mike Bliss (No. 1 Miccosukee Resort Chevrolet) and Jason Leffler, it was Keller who was the lone series-only regular in the top 10 at Daytona.
In 2006, Keller was on the cusp of tying two-time series champion Jack Ingram's mark of eight consecutive seasons finishing in the top 10 in the standings. But after eight races with Phoenix Racing, he was released and his opportunity to match that impressive streak was over.
It took two years but Keller finally resurfaced in the series full-time, having run 28 races for CJM Racing last year before finishing the season with Baker Curb Racing, his current organization. He was 12th in the 2008 driver standings, falling 118 points shy of 10th place.
He's had an average finish of 15.4 at ACS with one top five and four top-10 finishes and was 14th in this race last year driving for CJM. He hasn't been in the top 10 there since a sixth-place finish in the 2005 fall race, but it had been nearly as long in between his top-10 finishes at Daytona as well.
Collecting First KHI Win At ACS Would Make For "Happy" Homecoming
Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet), a two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, is second on the all-time win list with 32.
Each of those victories came with Richard Childress Racing. However, none have come at Auto Club Speedway, one of only seven active tracks on the NASCAR Nationwide circuit where the Bakersfield, Calif., native hasn't won.
Harvick is in his second season exclusively driving his own Kevin Harvick Inc. equipment. He'll be making his 42nd start as a team owner/driver. Securing his first win in his own equipment at this track certainly would be a career highlight.
Five of his 12 career series starts at ACS have been in his own cars. He's registered one top-five and four top-10 finishes in those races, including a third-place finish in this race last year.
He's never finished below 11th in his own car at the California track.
Harvick had a good start to his season last week at Daytona where he won the pole, his second in his own car. He finished 11th in the season-opener.
Harvick's team has three wins -- two by Tony Stewart and one by 1991 series champion Bobby Labonte.
His 2009 edition could be the best yet with a driver lineup consisting of himself, Ryan Newman, Ron Hornaday Jr. -- who won the 2007 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title for KHI -- Stewart (for one race) and young Cale Gale, who won his first series pole last year in a KHI car.
KHI is one of at least seven teams that will seriously contend for the series owner championship. In 2003, Harvick, along with Johnny Sauter, combined to give RCR the owner title, the first shared championship in series history. Brian Vickers (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) won the driver title that year.
Is The End Near? Biffle On 75-Race Winless Streak; Last Victory Came At Auto Club Speedway
The good news is Greg Biffle (No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford) is the leader in wins at Auto Club Speedway (three) among the 47 drivers entered for Saturday's race.
The bad news? His 2006 victory at the track was the most recent for the 2002 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion. He's gone 75 races without a win, the longest drought of his series career.
ACS is one of Biffle's best tracks. In 10 starts, he's accumulated five top-fives and seven top- 10 finishes.
His Roush Fenway team is also strong there, leading NASCAR Nationwide teams with six wins. But a Roush Fenway car hasn't been to Victory Lane at ACS since Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth (who leads all series drivers with four wins at the track) won this race in 2007.
Mark Martin and Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford) swept the events at Auto Club Speedway for Roush Fenway in 2005.
In The Loop: Strength In Numbers At California For Joe Gibbs Racing's Logano, Busch
It's a safe bet that Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) has an awful taste in his mouth right now.
The highs of becoming the youngest driver ever to start the Daytona 500 were soon matched -- and surpassed -- by the lows of an accident and last-place finish in that same race.
In other words: This weekend can't come soon enough for Logano.
Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race is his first shot to redeem himself since the tough Daytona 500. If the race is anything like his first trip to Fontana, he'll forget all about his Daytona troubles.
Last season, he finished sixth in a field full of double-duty drivers. Logano, who started third in that August race, had a Driver Rating of 104.9, an Average Running Position of 6.8, 37 Green Flag Passes and ran all but one lap among the top 15.
Logano's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate might pose his biggest threat. Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) will once again pull triple duty, running in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend.
Busch enjoyed the same workload last weekend at Daytona, and had arguably the best car or truck in each race. He finished second in the NASCAR Camping World Truck race, fourth in the NASCAR Nationwide race and may have had the best car in the Daytona 500 field before an accident dropped him to 41st.
Busch won the last series race at Auto Club Speedway, and has finished in the top five in the last four races in Fontana.
Since Loop Data's inception in 2005, Busch has a Driver Rating of 114.9, an Average Running Position of 7.7, 236 Green Flag Passes, 123 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 81.1 at ACS.
Chevy Aims To Re-Stake Manufacturer Title Claim
Chevrolet took the early lead in the 2009 Bill France Performance Cup standings following Tony Stewart's win at Daytona.
Toyota won its first NASCAR Nationwide Series manufacturer's title last year but Chevy is the all-time leader with 342 wins and 13 championships since the inception of the award in 1982.
Toyota's victory last year broke a five-year Chevrolet winning streak.
Ford has two manufacturer titles, in 1995 and 2002. Dodge is seeking its first crown.
Ford is the leading manufacturer at Auto Club Speedway with eight wins in series competition, but Toyota has swept the last two races. Each manufacturer has at least one win at ACS since the fall race in 2006.
In The Garage -- California Natives: Six drivers entered in Saturday's race are natives of California, led by Jason Leffler and Kevin Harvick. The others are Stanton Barrett (No. 31 Interush.net Chevrolet), Bishop; John Borneman III (No. 22 Trail Motorsports Ford), Ramona; Kenny Hendrick (No. 42 Smith-Ganassi Dodge), Chino and Brandon Whitt (No. 61 Specialty Racing Ford), El Cajon.
Crew members from California include Jerry Baxter, crew chief for the No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota of Michael Waltrip, from Sacramento; Mikey Drake, front tire carrier from Spring Valley and Daniel Mondragon, front tire changer from Monterey, both with the No. 32 Toyota; Scott Myers, shock specialst for the No. 11 Toyota from Medestow; Mark Reno, crew chief for Mike Bliss from Monterey and Brett Sumpter, mechanic/rear tire carrier for the No. 09 Zaxby's Ford from El Cajon.
Fathers-In-Waiting: Although he's not racing this weekend, Burney Lamar, a native of West Sacramento, will be on hand at ACS to keep up with Braun Racing teammate Brian Vickers.
But Lamar's stay in his home state could be cut short. His wife, model Niki Taylor, is due to give birth to the couple's first child together, Ciel, on March 5. But the baby is giving indications that she may come a bit earlier. Taylor also is the mother of twin teenage boys.
Lamar will have his bags packed and rental car ready this weekend and next at Las Vegas if the call comes to rush home to Nashville, Tenn.
Meanwhile Dan Deeringhoff, crew chief for the No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet and also the defending driver champion crew chief, is home in North Carolina this weekend to be with his wife Sandy awaiting the birth of their first child. Pat Smith will be on the No. 29 pit box at ACS.
McClure Mixes Mentoring, Racing: Eric McClure (No. 24 Hefty Ford) will be at the K1 Speed Indoor Go-Kart Racing Experience in Ontario, Calif., on Friday at 7:15 p.m. (PT). He'll be joined by fellow NASCAR driver Boris Said. Their appearance will be featured on a future episode of the PBS "Ambassadors" TV series, a West Coast program which highllights opportunities for local high school students to learn about life experiences while having fun in the process.
Up Next: Sam's Town 300 At Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The final leg of a two-race West Coast swing ends at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the Sam's Town 300 on Saturday, Feb. 28.
The race will be broadcast on ESPN2 beginning at 4 p.m. ET.
Thrilling finishes have been the norm in the Sam's Town 300 over the last few years.
Mark Martin won last year, his third victory at the 1.5-mile track, which tied him with Jeff Burton (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) for most wins there.
With four laps to go and on fresh tires, Martin tapped Carl Edwards. Edwards' resulting spin collected Martin's JR Motorsports teammate Brad Keselowski, who was challenging Edwards for the lead. They spun out of contention, and Martin held off Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer on the green-white-checkered restart for the win.
Two years ago, Burton and Kyle Busch were side-by-side heading toward the finish before their duel resulted in Burton keeping control to cross first while Busch spun across the line for second.
And in 2006, Kasey Kahne managed to escape from Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick on a green-white-checkered restart after a caution on Lap 198 of the 200-lap event.
The Race: Stater Bros. 300
The Place: Auto Club Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Feb. 21
The Time: 7:45 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 150 laps
Track Size: 2-mile oval
TV: ESPN 2, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Winner: Tony Stewart
2008 Pole: None (weather)
Friday-Practice 9:45-11:50 a.m.; Final Practice 5:45-6:45 p.m.