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Homestead: Series round 35 preview

Homestead: Series round 35 preview
Nov 17, 2010, 6:37 AM

* Homestead Once Again Hosts Season Ending Decisions * Patrick, Hornish Jr. Square Off For First Time Since 2007 * Last Call For NNS Current Car Before 2011 New Car Rollout For JGR, Penske, It's Not Polite To Share This wait is over: Brad ...

 * Homestead Once Again Hosts Season Ending Decisions 
* Patrick, Hornish Jr. Square Off For First Time Since 2007
* Last Call For NNS Current Car Before 2011 New Car Rollout

For JGR, Penske, It's Not Polite To Share

This wait is over: Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge) will officially be awarded his 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series driver title Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But the final dramatic chapter in the overall championship story is still a work in progress.

The outcome of the owner championship will have to wait until the last page of this season-long novel. Keselowski made sure of that after his hard-charge last Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway.

The deficit between Keselowski's No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge sponsored by Discount Tire, and Kyle Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, carrying the colors of Z-Line Designs, is 41 points in series owner standings. The lead was 81 points entering Phoenix, but Keselowski's third-place finish coupled with Busch's 16th-place result after he a cut tire in the final 56 laps trimmed the lead in half.

Busch, the 2009 series champion, is trying to split the title for the fourth time in series history (2003, '07 and '08.) He's also hoping to give JGR a tie for most consecutive series owner titles -- three -- set by Bill Baumgardner from 1995-97.

Conversely, Keselowski is trying to overcome the largest owner standings deficit in order to unify the title. Richard Childress Racing's No. 2 was 28 points behind JGR's No. 20 in 2008 entering the season's final event. But the No. 20 held on to win by 12 points.

In Busch's favor is that he's the defending race winner and has a better average finish at Homestead-Miami than Keselowski: 11.8 to 14.5.

Oddly enough, in Keselowski's corner may be that his rival, Carl Edwards (No. 60 Copart Ford), is on his usual late-season hot streak. Edwards won his second consecutive race last week at Phoenix. His two straight victories in turn snapped a two-race winning streak by Keselowski. Busch hasn't won since Oct. 9 at Auto Club Speedway, tying the longest span -- three races -- he's gone without a victory in races in which he's run.

In a quietly dominating season, Keselowski could add to his accolades. Should he record a top-five finish at Homestead, he'd break the season record of 25 held by Busch and 2000 series champion Jeff Green (No. 36 Tri-Star Motorsports Chevrolet). Keselowski can also build on his series-record streak of 101 races where he's running at the finish.

In The Loop: Stenhouse Jr., Scott Ride Rookie Season Wave

A scant eight points separate leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 6 CitiFinancial Ford) and Brian Scott (No. 09 Shore Lodge Toyota) in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.

It's fitting that the two are so close in this race-within-a-race. Their tumultuous seasons are fairly similar as well.

Take Stenhouse, for instance. He was very close to losing his ride earlier this season. In fact, owner Jack Roush replaced him for the race at Kentucky Speedway in June, one week after Stenhouse failed to qualify at Nashville Superspeedway. Stenhouse rebounded, though, and now has a chance at the rookie title.

Scott navigated a similarly bumpy season in 2010. When Turner Motorsports recently acquired Braun Racing, Scott essentially became a free agent. He jumped rides, and has run in the No. 09 for RAB Racing since early October.

Give credit to the two youngsters. It's hard enough adjusting to the rigors of a 35-race schedule; let alone doing so with so many obstacles.

Scott, who held the Raybestos Rookie lead earlier this season, has struggled of late. He has failed to finish in the top 10 since Gateway International Raceway in mid-July. Over that span of 15 races, Scott has an average finish of 22.7, a Driver Rating of 69.8 and an Average Running Position of 21.5.

Stenhouse has fared much better recently, finishing in the top 10 in four of the last nine races. Over the span, Stenhouse has an average finish of 13.0, a Driver Rating of 87.4 and an Average Running Position of 13.8.

Here's the season-long statistical tale of the tape of the two drivers:

Top 5s: Stenhouse leads Scott, two to one.

Top 10s: Stenhouse leads, seven to five.

Driver Rating: Stenhouse leads, 75.3 to 72.5.

Average Finish: Stenhouse leads, 19.9 to 21.1.

Average Running Position: Stenhouse leads, 18.5 to 20.3.

Laps in the Top 15 percentage: Stenhouse leads, 49.1% to 36.7%.

Series History Of Late-Season Drama Continues At HMS

The upcoming face-offs for the owner title and the Raybestos Rookie of the Year are still in question as the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads into its final weekend of the season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the rookie standings leader by six points over Brian Scott. Stenhouse, who at one point this year was benched by Jack Roush due to inconsistent performance, is aiming to become the fifth Roush Fenway Racing driver to win the award in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

"I can't believe this is the last race of the year," Stenhouse said. "I have learned so much and look forward to ending the year with another solid run. The car that we are taking is one of the best we have so we should be fast right off the truck.

"I have never raced at Homestead before but Mike (Kelley) has a lot of experience and success there so I will lean on him. I also plan on talking to Carl (Edwards) about the line around there and I look forward to what he says. The Raybestos Rookie of the Year title … (is) our main focus right now."

Since 2005, every season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway except one has had at least one major title or award implication attached to it.

In 2005, Martin Truex Jr. had to stave off Clint Bowyer's challenge before claiming his second consecutive series championship. Truex led Bowyer by 64 points entering Homestead.

In 2006, the closest-ever Rookie of the Year battle in series history came down to the final race. Danny O'Quinn Jr. (No. 90 D'Hondt-Humphrey Motorsports) won the award by one point over John Andretti.

In 2008, Bowyer hung on for dear life to win his first series driver championship over Edwards. Edwards had climbed to within 56 points of Bowyer by Homestead after being down by 207 with eight races to go. Edwards won the race, but Bowyer won the title by 21 points over Edwards.

In 2009, Kyle Busch -- who had had a commanding lead in the standings all year -- still had to start the final race in order to officially claim his first NASCAR national series title at Homestead, once again over the hard-charging Edwards.

Hornish Jr., Patrick Meet Again

It'll seem like old times at Homestead for Danica Patrick (No. 7 Chevrolet) and Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 26 Alliance Dodge).

The current (Patrick) and former (Hornish) open-wheel stars will meet for the first time in NASCAR competition when they compete in the Ford 300 on Saturday.

It also will be the first on-track meeting two since the IndyCar season-finale in 2007. The last time they raced together at Homestead, Hornish finished third, Patrick was 14th in 2007.

Hornish had an incredible open-wheel record at HMS. In seven races, he had three wins, six top fives, seven top 10s and two poles. His last open-wheel race there was in 2007 when he finished second. Hornish has two previous NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at Homestead. He was 43rd in 2006 due to an accident after 20 laps and finished 38th in 2007.

Patrick, meanwhile, will be making her series track debut at HMS. She hopes for an encore of her most recent race there, where she finished second to close out the 2010 IndyCar season on Oct. 2. In five previous open-wheel starts at HMS, Patrick has one top five and two top 10s.

This is the last of 13 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts in 2010 for Patrick, who will compete in at least that many series events for JR Motorsports in 2011. This will be Hornish's first NASCAR Nationwide Series race since 2008 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Out With The Old, In With The New

Saturday's season finale at Homestead-Miami also will be the last race for the current car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In 2011, the new car will be integrated fulltime, starting with the Feb. 19 season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

The new car received rave reviews in its four rollout races earlier this year. Two new models have been introduced -- the Dodge Challenger and the Ford Mustang -- while the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Camry have sportier new looks. The new car is designed to enhance safety and the already-close competition the series is known for, and look more like those fans can purchase straight off the showroom floor.

Two-time series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the historic first new car race at Daytona on July 2 in an Impala. Brad Keselowski put the Challenger in Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway and again at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the last race for the new car before its full introduction. In between, another two-time series champion, Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet) won in his own KHI equipment at Richmond International Raceway.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.: Homestead-Miami Edition

* Opposite Ends Of The Spectrum

As his 22nd consecutive season in NASCAR national series competition comes to a close, Kenny Wallace (No. 28 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet) will make the 488th start of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career on Saturday, including his 11th at Homestead-Miami.

Wallace also has 344 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts to his credit in addition to 11 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts. His overall career NASCAR national series total: 843 starts, nine wins, 13 poles, 72 top fives and 190 top 10s.

His final 2010 start puts him one step closer to a NASCAR Nationwide Series milestone that, arguably, he could be the last driver to attain. Once he starts at Homestead, Wallace will be 12 shy of 500. Only Jason Keller (No. 35 Tri-Star Motorsports Chevrolet), with 518, has reached the 500-start plateau.

David Green (No. 49 Jay Robinson Racing Chevrolet), the 1994 series champion who this weekend is a teammate of Wallace, will reach for his 397th career series start. Only Keller, Kenny Wallace and Tommy Houston (417) have more starts than Green. Wallace's brother, Mike (No. 01 JD Motorsports Chevrolet) also is climbing the charts. His start at Homestead will be his 382nd in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He's approaching Green and Elton Sawyer (392), who's fifth all-time.

Trevor Bayne (No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford) has a long way to go to reach such lofty numbers, but he's out to set a modest milestone of his own. He'll attempt to make his 50th career NASCAR Nationwide Series start -- and his series track debut -- Saturday. Bayne, currently seventh in the driver standings, also has made one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. He successfully qualified and competed in the legendary No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers three weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway. He finished 17th.

* On The Bubble For A Top 30 Spot

The closest battle for a slot in the top 30 in owner points is for the all-important 30th position. The top 30 in 2010 owner points will automatically qualify for the first five races of the 2011 season. Currently, the No. 70 ML Motorsports Chevrolet owns the slot, with a 65-point advantage over the No. 81 Dodge of MacDonald Motorsports. Shelby Howard will drive the No. 70 while Michael McDowell will be behind the wheel of the No. 81 to try and make up the deficit. Howard made his series track debut at HMS last season and started off well -- 12th -- but finished 33rd. McDowell didn't fare much better in his only series start at Homestead. He finished 32nd in 2007.

* Manufacturers' Championship

Chevrolet's seven wins are the most at Homestead-Miami. Ford is second with five while Dodge and Toyota have one each. Toyota's win last year was its first at Homestead and also was the first time a series champion -- Kyle Busch -- simultaneously clinched the title and won the race.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Ford 300

The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway(1.5-mile oval)
The Date: Saturday, November 20

The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 300 miles / 200 laps

TV: ESPN2, 4:00 p.m. ET

2009 Winner: Kyle Busch
2009 Polesitter: Carl Edwards

Schedule prior to race day (times ET):
Friday: Practice, 1:10-2:30 p.m. and 6:35-7:25 p.m.;
Saturday: Qualifying, 11:35 a.m.

-source: nascar

2010 Standings

DriverPoints1Brad Keselowski*(*driver champion)5,4742Carl Edwards5,0443Kyle Busch4,7394Justin Allgaier4,5445Paul Menard4,3296Kevin Harvick4,2147Joey Logano3,8878Trevor Bayne3,8869Steve Wallace3,82210Jason Leffler3,807

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