Michigan: Series round 23 preview

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes -- Michigan International Speedway Second Time Around For NASCAR Nationwide Series New Car The NASCAR Nationwide Series new car is back for more of its limited four-race engagement, this time at Michigan...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes -- Michigan International Speedway

Second Time Around For NASCAR Nationwide Series New Car

The NASCAR Nationwide Series new car is back for more of its limited four-race engagement, this time at Michigan International Speedway.

It's the second race for the new car, featuring a different track distance and layout than its debut at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. It may not have the storybook outcome of the historic July 2 race -- an emotional win by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet -- but it does have the same air of excitement aimed at the new models for Dodge (Challenger), Ford (Mustang) and the sportier looks of Chevrolet (Impala) and Toyota (Camry). Also, this will be the first day race for the new car. The inaugural race was at night.

"Now that we're at our second race, we're looking to make sure we standardize our processes and procedures," said series director Joe Balash.

"We want teams to be familiar with our level of expectation for them. As we move forward after Michigan, we hope to stop talking about the newness of it and get into the fabric of what we are."

Teams will have an extended practice at MIS Thursday from 9 a.m.--noon and 1--4 p.m. There will be a press conference after the morning session in the Infield Media Center featuring Balash and NASCAR Director of Competition, R&D, Brett Bodine. Michigan's own Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge), the series standings leader and defending race winner, and Trevor Bayne (No. 99 OUT! Pet Care Toyota), also will be available.

Danica Patrick (No. 7 Hot Wheels/ GoDaddy.com Chevrolet), who's making her new car debut and returning to the series for the first time since July 9 at Chicagoland Speedway, will follow at 12:30 p.m. At 4:15 p.m., under the Turn 1 grandstand pavilion, Balash will be joined by Colin Braun (No. 16 Con-way Freight Ford) for a new car "Tech Talk." An autograph session featuring series drivers will take place from 4:30-5:15 p.m. The first 250 fans who receive wristbands (available beginning at 9 a.m.) can participate in the autograph session. Both events are free.

The new car will race twice more this year, Sept. 10 at Richmond International Raceway and Oct. 15 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, before being introduced fulltime in 2011.

Growth Spurt: Steve Wallace Finding Consistency

After some growing pains, Steve Wallace's (No. 66 5-Hour Energy Toyota) career is clearly on the ascent.

The rise was a bumpy one. After all, life can't be easy when you're the son of a legend.

In 2007, his first full year, Wallace finished 19th in the standings. Not bad, but how he did led to some questions. Eight of those races resulted in Did Not Finishes (DNFs), six because of an accident.

In 2008, things improved. He had five DNFs, and finished 14th in the series standings. Last year was his best so far. He finished seventh in the rankings with nine top 10s.

But this year, Wallace has stalked the top 10 on a regular basis and is in the midst of a career year. Sitting seventh in the standings, he already has a career-high 11 top 10s, with 13 races remaining.

The momentum is at its highest peak yet.

Over his last four races, all top-10 finishes, only one driver has scored more points -- standings leader Brad Keselowski. Over the last four events, Keselowski has scored 598 points. In that same span, Wallace has 577 -- besting the likes of Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne and Paul Menard (No. 98 Richmond/Menards Ford).

Wallace's stats are likewise stout over that span: an average finish of 7.5, a Driver Rating of 98.0, an Average Running Position of 9.3 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 90.2.

Now the big question: Can this momentum carry into Michigan, a track that has given Wallace trouble in the past?

Wallace has struggled at Michigan, to say the least. In four starts there, he has an average finish of 28.5, a Driver Rating of 48.7, an Average Running Position of 30.4 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 13.5.

But there is reason for optimism. Last season, Wallace enjoyed his best Michigan race yet. He finished 15th, with a Driver Rating of 82.0 an Average Running Position of 15.6.

"Coach" Benson Brings Championship Feel To Young Driver

Only three drivers have won NASCAR national series titles in more than one series. The first two may come to mind quickly: Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle.

Labonte won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2000 as a follow-up to his 1991 NASCAR Nationwide Series crown. Biffle won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2000 before capturing the NASCAR Nationwide title in 2003.

Johnny Benson, however, accomplished the feat as quietly as he has gone about his successful NASCAR career.

A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., Benson joined the exclusive club following his 2008 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title. He won the 1995 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship before going on to a fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career from 1996-2003. When he won his first truck race in 2006, he became the 17th in an elite group of 21 drivers who have won at least once in each of NASCAR's three national series.

Benson has driven in five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races this year -- all top- 10 finishes. But he now has another title attached to his resume: driving coach.

For the last three weeks, Benson, 47, has been tutoring Trevor Bayne, 19, one of the up-andcoming young talents in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Since Benson began instructing prior to the July 24 race at O'Reilly Raceway Park, Bayne has two poles and two topfive finishes. Those results came on the heels of another pole and career-best third-place finish at Gateway International Raceway.

"I'm really impressed with his willingness to listen to what you want him to do," Benson said. "He'll go out on the race track and try anything that I want him to. I think that really says a lot about him as a person. A lot of young kids don't like to take advice. He's been receptive to what I tell him.

"I think the way he takes things and how quick he learns from his mistakes is going to be a huge positive for him now and in the future."

Bayne had a historic run broken last week. His three consecutive poles matched a record set by four other drivers -- one being his team coowner Michael Waltrip. His string of four straight top-five finishes also was snapped with a 29th last Saturday at Watkins Glen International.

"He has so much knowledge of the sport," Bayne said. "I've been calling him 'Bill Nye the Science Guy' because he thinks about things you wouldn't normally think about as a driver. I think he is going to be a great driving coach and teach me a lot about this sport."

With Benson as his guide, Bayne may be ready to start another streak at Michigan. He started second at MIS last year before an accident three laps from the finish relegated him to 30th.

Keselowski Comes Home On Top Of The Standings

It's been quite a year for Brad Keselowski.

Since winning at his home track last year, the 26-year-old Rochester Hills, Mich., native has graduated to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, changing teams in the process (from JR Motorsports to Penske Racing).

He's also become the driver to beat in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship race.

Keselowski tied his career-best road-course finish, fourth, at Watkins Glen last week. That result boosted his standings lead over secondplace Carl Edwards to 327 points.

Keselowski is on a career-best pace this season with three wins, 16 top fives and 18 top 10s in 23 races. He also has four Coors Light poles. He won consecutive races this year at Talladega and Richmond, and captured consecutive poles at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Daytona in the first new car race last month.

As usual, the Michigan race will be a family affair. His older brother, Brian (No. 26 KAutomotive Motorsports Dodge), is entered and their father, Bob, is listed as the owner of Brian's team.

Four drivers have won two races at Michigan, but no one has won back-to-back races there.

NNS Etc.: Michigan Edition

Busch: Nine Wins And Counting

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) comes to Michigan batting .500 this season. He also comes in on the verge of another series record.

With his fifth-place finish last Saturday at Watkins Glen, the reigning series champion's wins-to-starts average hit exactly 50% -- nine wins in 18 starts.

He's one victory away from matching the series record for most wins in a single season, a mark he already shares with two-time series champion Sam Ard. Busch tied Ard's record of 10 in 2008. With 39 career series wins, he's nine shy of Mark Martin's standard of 48.

"I can't wait to win 11 (this year) and hopefully more after that," he said following his most recent win two weeks ago at Iowa Speedway.

Busch has one win at Michigan, the last of his five wins as a Raybestos Rookie in 2004. He finished third last year.

Braun Nationwide "Driver Of Week"

To say it's a big weekend for Roush Fenway Racing is an understatement. The organization will bring four teams to Michigan, the "home" track for owner Jack Roush, Ford and Con-way Freight, the sponsor for Colin Braun's No. 16 Mustang.

Braun will make his NASCAR Nationwide Series track debut Saturday. The last time he raced at MIS, he came away with his first national series win. In June, 2009, he outdueled Kyle Busch, claiming the 50th NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory for Roush.

Braun also is the Nationwide Series "Driver of the Week," a first-year program by series sponsor Nationwide Insurance designed to increase driver awareness, with emphasis on series- only regulars.

Roush's NASCAR Nationwide teams have won four times at MIS, the most of any owner. His last win was in 2008, when Carl Edwards (No. 60 Valvoline Ford) won from the pole.

Numbers Game Meets Sibling Rivalry

The Wallace brothers bring a bit more to the term "sibling rivalry" this weekend at Michigan.

Mike Wallace (No. 01 J-D Motorsports Chevrolet) and Kenny Wallace (No. 28 Federated Auto Parts/FX Chevrolet) each have the exact same number of driver points after 23 races -- 2,004.

Mike, in 18th, is one place higher in the rankings than Kenny. They both have a best finish of 11th this season (Mike at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Kenny at Talladega Superspeedway), but Mike has the next best result, 12th at Auto Club Speedway.

Kenny was 22nd at Michigan last year. Mike finished 34th.

Up Next: Bristol Motor Speedway

The annual late-summer Friday-night beating and banging at Bristol is on deck for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The Food City 250 is set for 8 p.m. ET on Aug. 20. ESPN has the broadcast starting at 7:30 p.m.

David Ragan won last year's race after Brad Keselowski captured the pole. Keselowski's current Penske Racing teammate, Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) was the winner this past March. Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet) is the all-time winner at Bristol with five victories; his last win was in the 2009 spring race.

Fast Facts

The Place: Michigan International Speedway (2 Mile Banked Asphalt)
The Date: Saturday, August 14

The Time: 2:00 p.m. ET
The Distance: 250 miles/125 laps

TV: ESPN, 1:00 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Local-WVFN-AM 730)

2009 Winner: Brad Keselowski
2009 Pole Winner: Brian Vickers

Schedule prior to race day (times ET):
Thursday: Practice, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.; Friday: Final Practice, 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.;
Saturday: Qualifying, 10:10 a.m.

-source: nascar

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Brett Bodine , Bobby Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , Mike Wallace , Johnny Benson , Colin Braun , Trevor Bayne , Brian Vickers , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Jack Roush , Brad Keselowski , David Ragan , Justin Allgaier , Steve Wallace , Danica Patrick , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske , Roush Fenway Racing , JR Motorsports