Nashville II: Series round 13 preview

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes -- Nashville Opportunity Knocks With Busch, Harvick Out Of Contention Kyle Busch, the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, trails Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge) by one scant point in...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes -- Nashville

Opportunity Knocks With Busch, Harvick Out Of Contention

Kyle Busch, the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, trails Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge) by one scant point in the standings after the duo finished first and second, respectively, last Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But that's a battle that will have to be waged in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since Busch announced he won't be defending his title. Ditto for Kevin Harvick, who's ranked third, 94 points out of first. The two-time series champion officially announced last week at Charlotte that he won't be running the full NASCAR Nationwide Series season.

"I am really going to miss racing Kyle (Busch) because we bring out the best in each other and sometimes the worst," said Keselowski. "And that's part of what I love about this sport."

So who will answer the call to catch Keselowski as the series enters its stand-alone phase, starting Saturday night at Nashville Superspeedway?

Carl Edwards (No. 60 COPART Ford), the 2007 series champion, is fourth in the standings and could start making some headway against Keselowski. Known as "Concrete Carl," Edwards won three straight on Nashville's concrete surface from 2006-07 and five of his 25 career wins are on concrete. But Keselowski captured his first series victory at Nashville in 2009; three of his eight career wins are on that surface.

Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) is fifth in the standings and can close the gap on his Penske Racing teammate this weekend. Allgaier has done nothing but improve with every start at Nashville, posting his best finish in three career series starts there earlier this season (fourth).

Tennessee Native Spotlight: Trevor Bayne and Willie Allen

While the Nashville area has been on the rebound the past several weeks after the disastrous flooding, two drivers with Tennessee ties, Trevor Bayne (No. 99 OUT! Pet Care Toyota) and Willie Allen (No. 05 31W Insulation Chevrolet) are looking forward to racing at home.

Bayne is a Knoxville native and this week is extra special because it marks his oneyear anniversary with Diamond-Waltrip Racing. Last week, Bayne secured a full-time sponsorship for the remainder of the season, a major accomplishment for a 19-year-old developmental driver.

Bayne has 24 series starts and already has one pole (O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis), two top-10 and 11 top-15 finishes. He's currently 13th in the standings, and is only 14 points behind 10th-place Tony Raines (No. 34 Long John Silver's Chevrolet).

Allen hails from Bon Aqua, Tenn., which is just over 30 miles from Nashville. Unlike Bayne, Allen will have to qualify on time in order to race this weekend in front of his family and friends at Nashville Superspeedway.

Allen has made seven starts this season with a best finish of 15th at Bristol Motor Speedway. He's best known for his time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where he was named 2007 Raybestos Rookie of the Year.

Racing is the best remedy for Allen, 29, who has had a rough path to travel this year. The day before the race at Richmond International Raceway, he lost his father to Lou Gehrig's disease. He and his family -- that also now includes 16-month-old daughter Sadie, also were affected by the severe storms and flooding that hit the Nashville area.

"With everything that has happened in the past month, I can't put into words what a great feeling it would be to win at Nashville," said Allen. "My dad put in a lot of hard work over the years to help me with my racing career. He's the reason I get to do what I love and it would mean the world to me to win this race for him. It's the team's home track also, so we are all really fired up about the race this weekend."

Allen has three starts at Nashville posting his best finish (27th) in 2008.

Subbing For Harvick, Bliss An Immediate Favorite

When it comes to NACAR Nationwide Series events, Nashville is the land of opportunity.

The list of winners at Nashville is filled with first-timers, up-and-comers, and surprises: Greg Biffle in 2001, current Braun Racing teammates Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) in 2004 and Reed Sorenson (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) in 2005, Clint Bowyer in 2005 and Scott Wimmer (No. 27 Baker Curb Racing Ford) and Brad Keselowski in 2008.

Mike Bliss hopes to add his name to that list. Though a past winner in the series, a Bliss victory would certainly count as a surprise.

It's an absolute possibility.

Bliss hops into the No. 33 Charter Chevrolet this weekend, subbing for owner-driver Kevin Harvick. This could get interesting.

Harvick took the ride to Victory Lane the last time the series visited Nashville, earlier this season in April. Bliss does have past success at Nashville, and the stats suggest he'll be a definite threat this weekend.

Bliss has two top-10 finishes in the last three races (both in 2009) there. In three of the last four, he scored a Driver Rating of at least 101.6.

In those finishes, Bliss was in the No. 1 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, a car in which he won at Charlotte last season. In other words, Bliss knows how to win in established equipment.

In his last eight Nashville races (since the inception of Loop Data in 2005), Bliss has a Driver Rating of 87.9, an Average Running Position of 14.4, 35 Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-10 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 66.6%.

In last April's Nashville race, Bliss struggled, finishing 27th with a Driver Rating of 51.9 in the No. 40 Key Motorsports Chevrolet.

He was fourth in this race last year, scoring a Driver Rating of 112.1, his best rating at Nashville.

Bliss is coming off his second-best finish of the season, a 12th-place run at Charlotte. In the event, Bliss scored a Driver Rating of 75.4.

Series Assists With Flood Relief

This weekend, NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers and teams will be working along with Nashville Superspeedway and many others to bring attention to the thousands of Nashville-area residents who were victims of the recent devastating floods.

Friday, June 4 from 1-3 p.m., the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage will play host to a sale from the "Cupcake Collection," a favorite local bakery.

On Saturday, June 5 from 1-2 p.m. at the Nationwide Insurance display in the Expo Area located outside Gate 3, more than 20 drivers and NASCAR artist Sam Bass will hold an autograph session. A limited number of wristbands are available for the session and will be distributed in that location beginning at 11 a.m. until they're gone. Fans are asked to bring a monetary donation or a canned food item to participate in the session. Also on Saturday in that same location, from 1-4 p.m., a silent auction featuring NASCAR memorabilia will take place.

Event proceeds will benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.

Stand-Alones Give Replacements Opportunity To Shine

As the NASCAR Nationwide Series rolls into Nashville this weekend, it marks the first leg of its summer stand-alone season. The opportunity to compete in a field minus double-digit double-duty drivers presents an opportunity for series-only regulars to shine.

At Nashville, five such drivers have that chance in some very solid equipment.

Mike Bliss leads the contingent of drivers as he takes the wheel for Kevin Harvick Inc. In 12 previous series starts at Nashville, Bliss has three top-five and six top-10 finishes.

"I'm excited to run for Kevin and DeLana (Harvick) and KHI," said Bliss. "The places we are going to run are places that I like and have won at in the past. It also just happens to be where they (KHI) won their last race so it (would) be kind of disappointing if we finish second."

Joe Gibbs Racing will give two young development drivers, Matt DiBenedetto (No. 20 Muscle Milk Toyota) and Brad Coleman (No. 18 SafeWay Driving Centers Toyota), a chance to get some seat time and help keep the No. 18 and 20 teams in the hunt for the owners' championship. The No 18 team is currently one point behind owner standings leader Jodi Geschickter and the No. 22 team.

DiBenedetto has only one other series start: at Memphis Motorsports Park last October where he started fourth and finished 14th.

Coleman has five series starts at Nashville, posting his best finish (10th) there in 2009.

Coleman Pressley (No. 88 Whiskey River Chevrolet) driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and JR Motorsports, has made eight starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with a career- best finish of 15th at Darlington Raceway earlier this season. This will be his first start at Nashville.

Meanwhile, Kyle Busch Motorsports has helped two of its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers advance to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. KBM is designed to give up-andcoming drivers a chance to advance through the ladder system of NASCAR's top-three national series. Brian Ickler (No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford) recently left for Roush Fenway Racing and now Tayler Malsam (No. 10 Braun Racing Toyota) has accepted a ride with Braun Racing.

"We're looking forward to adding Tayler to our No. 10 Toyota starting at Nashville," said Todd Braun. "Kyle has done a great job of giving talented young drivers a chance to race and also advance up through the NASCAR system. We think Tayler has shown a lot of potential and we appreciate Kyle allowing us to give him a shot to move up to the Nationwide Series."

Malsam has 34 career starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with one top five and 10 top 10s.

NNS Etc.: Nashville Edition

Substitutes For Double-Duty Drivers

This week, three drivers will be pulling double- duty in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in addition to running at the NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Nashville. Due to travel, the drivers will use substitutes for practice.

Carl Edwards will have Erik Darnell behind the wheel of the No. 60 Ford. Darnell has one start at Nashville (2009). He started 27th and finished ninth.

Brad Keselowski will have Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Parker Kligerman as a sub in the No. 22 Dodge. Kligerman has five series starts with his best start (pole) and finish (16th) at Kansas Speedway last season.

Colin Braun, another rookie, will sit in for Paul Menard (No. 98 Certain Teed Windows/ Menards Ford) when needed this weekend. Braun has had a rough start to his season and is now sharing his usual No. 16 ride. Braun has two series starts at Nashville, posting his best finish (15th) in 2008.

Familiar Faces In New Places

Scott Wimmer had been helping out JR Motorsports earlier this season driving, one of a number of drivers shaking down the No. 7 Chevrolet in Danica Patrick's absence.

But this weekend, he's in a different situation, and looks to continue the success that 2002 series champion Greg Biffle has shown in the No. 27 Baker Curb Racing Ford. Biffle, who made 10 starts for the organization, was outstanding, registering three top fives and seven top 10s.

Wimmer is more than a capable substitute. In 12 starts at Nashville, the versatile veteran has one win (2008), four top fives and nine top 10s.

Sean Caisse (No. 09 RAB Racing Chevrolet) returns to the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the first time since 2009, when the Pelham, N.H., native raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Caisse, 24, has three career series starts, and two of those have come at Nashville. He ran in this race in 2009, driving the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He made his series debut in 2006 for Kevin Harvick Inc.

The 2005 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year finished second in the East Series standings in 2006 and was the runner-up to current NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano in 2007. He secured the pole at Nashville in an East race in 2007.

Jarit Johnson also makes his return to the series. He'll be driving the No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet Chevrolet for 1991 series champion Joe Nemechek. Johnson, the brother of four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, has three previous career NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, the most recent last year at Kansas. He'll be making his track debut at Nashville.

Manufacturers' Standings

While Chevrolet is the NASCAR Nationwide wins leader at Nashville Superspeedway with seven, Toyota has won the last two events.

Brad Keselowski's second-place finish at Charlotte helped Dodge close the gap between second and third in the Manufacturers' Standings to two points.

Up Next: Kentucky Speedway

The next stop for the NASCAR Nationwide Series is Kentucky Speedway for the Meijer 300 on Saturday, June 12.

Last season, polesitter Joey Logano followed teammate Kyle Busch for much of the event but took the lead with nine laps to go and won. He became the first driver to win consecutive series races at the 1.5-mile track. The Meijer 300 will be broadcast on ESPN beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Federated Auto Parts 300
The Place: Nashville Superspeedway (1.333-mile D-shaped concrete oval)

The Date: Saturday, June 5
The Time: 8 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300 miles/225 laps

TV: ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Listen locally on WRQQ-FM.)

2009 Winner: Joey Logano
2009 Pole Winner: Carl Edwards

Schedule prior to race day (times ET):
Friday: Practice, 5-6:15 p.m.; 6:45-8 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 4:05 p.m.

-source: nascar

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Drivers Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Colin Braun , Trevor Bayne , Scott Wimmer , Mike Bliss , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Brad Coleman , Clint Bowyer , Brad Keselowski , Justin Allgaier , Willie Allen , Erik Darnell , Joey Logano , Sean Caisse , Tayler Malsam , Brian Ickler , Jarit Johnson , John Long , Coleman Pressley , Danica Patrick , Kyle Busch
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Team Penske , Roush Fenway Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing , JR Motorsports , Kyle Busch Motorsports , Phoenix Racing