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Phoenix II: Series round 34 preview

Phoenix II: Series round 34 preview
Nov 10, 2010, 9:48 PM

* Driver Title In Hand, Keselowski Takes Aim At Busch, Unification * Harvick Dominates Loop Data At Phoenix * Allgaier On Hot Streak Just As He Finds New Home Will Edwards Lend A Helping Hand To Keselowski? Who would have thought Carl Edwards ...

* Driver Title In Hand, Keselowski Takes Aim At Busch, Unification
* Harvick Dominates Loop Data At Phoenix
* Allgaier On Hot Streak Just As He Finds New Home

Will Edwards Lend A Helping Hand To Keselowski?

Who would have thought Carl Edwards (No. 60 Copart Ford) may end up helping his rival, Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge)?

That very well could be the case as the season comes down to its final two races. And the "assist" could begin to play out at Phoenix International Raceway.

Keselowski clinched the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series driver championship last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway. He also finished third. His chief rival, Edwards, won. Sandwiched in between was 2009 series champion Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota), who finished second.

The driver ring may now officially be ready for Keselowski's finger, but there's still an elephant in the room at Penske Racing. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team, led by Busch, is closer to splitting the championship. The No. 18 team leads the owner standings by 81 points over the No. 22.

Adding to that deficit is that Busch has won three of the last six races at Phoenix, including in April. That victory broke a three-race Phoenix winning streak for Roush Fenway Racing. Two of those wins were by Edwards, the 2007 series champion, and one was by Greg Biffle, who won the series title in 2002.

This is where Edwards re-enters the picture and becomes a major threat to the No. 18's title run.

Edwards is hot, coming off the win at Texas. He's the defending winner of this race and has the best Driver Rating at Phoenix (120.4) among drivers with more than one start. He also has an average finish of 6.5. Both of those stats usurp Busch (114.4/9.6). Of course, Keselowski must do his job, and do it better than he has in the past at the 1-mile track where his Driver Rating is 93.3 and his average finish is 13.9. Edwards has 11 starts at PIR, Busch 10 and Keselowski seven.

A shared 2010 title would mark the fourth time in series history that the championship has been divided, and the first time since 2008. JGR is seeking its third consecutive owner title, which would tie the series record held by Bill Baumgardner from 1995-97. Those championships all were unified.

An 81-point advantage with two races to go would be the largest deficit overcome in a series owner points battle. In 2007, Richard Childress Racing's No. 2 Chevrolet was 54 points down to JGR's No. 20 Toyota with two races remaining. The No. 2 got to within 28 points after Phoenix and missed catching the No. 20 by 12 points after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

There's No Place Like Home For Patrick

Thus far, almost every one of her 11 NASCAR Nationwide Series races has been a new experience for Danica Patrick (No. 7 Chevrolet) as she works to navigate the nuances between open-wheel and stock-car racing.

Among those races, only one -- last month at Auto Club Speedway -- was a "repeat performance" at a track where Patrick had already run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year. Her second series race was at Auto Club in February.

This weekend, however, she may finally have a true familiar feeling during her short time in NASCAR. The Illinois-native-turned-Phoenix-resident gets to race in her own backyard, at a track where she's already run. In 2005, the second race of her rookie open-wheel season, Patrick started 18th and finished 15th at PIR.

Although caught up in an accident last Saturday at Texas, Patrick finished 22nd and was running at the finish. Of her previous 11 starts, Patrick has been called out due to accidents twice, in her first race at Daytona International Speedway and last month at Auto Club. Otherwise, she's been running at the finish and has posted her three best results of the year in her last three races -- 21st at Charlotte Motor Speedway and 22nd at Gateway International Raceway before her 22nd-place result at Texas.

Patrick is the Nationwide Insurance "Driver of the Week," and will conduct a live chat on on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. ET.

In The Loop: Phoenix A Desert Playground For Harvick

More ink has been used for Kevin Harvick's (No. 33 Rheem Solar Water Heaters Chevrolet) name in the Phoenix International Raceway history books perhaps more than any other driver -- especially in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

He has more starts there than anybody, with 16.

He has more top fives there than anybody, with 12.

He has more top 10s there than anybody, with 13.

Harvick is money at Phoenix, a track at which he has a long history. He has run every NASCAR Nationwide race there, except for the very first one in 1999.

Aside from a couple of hiccups at the start of his career, Harvick rarely finishes outside the top five. He has finished inside the top five in six consecutive races, and 10 of the last 11 (his only finish outside the top five in the last 11 was a ninth in April 2007).

Over that span of 11 events, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 116.3, an Average Running Position of 5.5, 148 Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 94.7% and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-137.

His history of success combined with his strength in the series this season suggests that he'll have yet another good run on Saturday.

Though not running a full schedule, Harvick has finished in the top 10 in each of his last 10 starts since the end of July (he skipped the races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and Gateway over that span). During the streak, which included a victory at Richmond International Raceway, Harvick has racked up impressive stats: an average finish of 5.0, a Driver Rating of 119.6, an Average Running Position of 5.6, 251 Fastest Laps Run, 373 Laps Led and a Pass Differential of plus-69.

Allgaier Tops Charts For Young Driver Upswing In 2011

Despite a tumultuous last two months that have had him wondering what team or series he might end up with -- or if he'd even have a job driving in NASCAR next year -- Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizion Wireless Dodge) has put together the best streak of his young career.

The stretch also coincides with the news that he's found a new home for 2011.

His 13th-place finish at Texas snapped a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes, tying his career best set at the start of this season.

Allgaier's new fulltime deal with Turner Motorsports is just one announcement that adds to an already-anticipated 2011 season for the series, highlighted by the full rollout of the new car.

Last weekend, Turner announced its driver line-up for 2011: Allgiaer, Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota), Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota), James Buescher (No. 11 Great Clips Toyota), Ricky Carmichael (No. 10 Monster Energy Toyota) and Brad Sweet. The team switches to Chevrolets next year and will field three full-time entries each in both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Two-time series champion Kevin Harvick and his wife, DeLana, co-owners of Kevin Harvick Inc., will add a third NASCAR Nationwide Series team next year.

They'll bring back the iconic No. 2 car with driver Elliott Sadler, who ran two full NASCAR Nationwide Series seasons before graduating to NASCAR Sprint Cup.

And Joe Gibbs Racing announced the addition of Brian Scott to its 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series roster. Scott, 22, is currently second in the Raybestos Rookie standings to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 6 Blackwell Angus Beef Ford) and will finish out the 2010 season driving the No. 09 Toyota for RAB Racing.

NNS Etc.: Phoenix Edition

* Logano Sports .500 Top-Five Average

Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) likes Phoenix. But in April, he left with a bad taste in his mouth.

Leading with 10 laps to go, he made contact on pit road with teammate Kyle Busch. The ensuing damage resulted in Logano falling from first to an eventual 10th-place finish.

Revenge notwithstanding, Logano seems a solid bet to have a shot at the win on Saturday by virtue of his astounding top-five finish percentage in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

With his fourth-place run at Texas, Logano now has 32 career top-five finishes in 64 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts. That's a 50 percent top-five average.

Logano may be passing some of his top-five prowess along. Coleman Pressley (No. 23 R3 Motorsports Chevrolet) returns to the series at Phoenix for his fifth start with R3. He's preparing for his series track debut and to get ready, he and his buddy Logano have been racing against each other on their respective simulators. Pressley has logged more than 1,200-simulator circuits at PIR.

* Spot In Top 20 On Line For Owners

The owner championship isn't the only standings battle being waged in the late stages of the season.

Owners who finish in the top 20 are eligible for post-season point-fund awards. Entering Phoenix, 89 points separate positions 19-23.

Todd Braun's No. 10 and Harry Scott Jr.'s No. 11 cars are in a deadlock with 3,286 points in positions 19-20, respectively. The No. 10 has more top-five finishes thus ranks one slot higher than the No. 11. Richard Childress Racing's No. 21 is just 35 points behind in 21st.

While the top six in the driver standings look to be settled, those ranked 7-10 are still vying for better results. Only 77 points separate seventh-place Trevor Bayne (No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford) from 10th-place Steve Wallace (No. 66 5-Hour Energy Toyota). Jason Leffler is eighth, 22 points behind Bayne and Joey Logano is ninth, 48 points out of seventh.

* Young Leffler Watched, Learned At PIR

Growing up in Long Beach, Calif., within regional proximity of Arizona, Jason Leffler considered Phoenix one of his favorite tracks.

As a youngster, he traveled to Phoenix and watched all types of racing there, including his long-time favorite, the "Copper World Classic." He also won twice at PIR in USAC competition.

Leffler certainly learned a thing or two from his days as a young fan and his time at USAC. Now, as a NASCAR Nationwide Series veteran, he has two Coors Light poles (2000, '06), four top-10 finishes including two runner-up results, and has completed 99.3 percent of all laps in 12 starts at the 1-mile track.

* Kenny Wallace In For 2011 Rolex 24

NASCAR Nationwide Series veteran Kenny Wallace (No. 28 Prairie Auto Credit Chevrolet) has announced his intentions to compete in the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 29-30.

He'll join Rolex 24 veterans Ron Yarab, Daniel Graeff and Pierre Bourque in TRG's Racing4Research Porsche GT3 in the event.

Wallace is expected to be joined by many stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and other racing series. Stanton Barrett, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Kevin O'Connell, who all have NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, also have announced they'll run in the event in the Fuel Doctor Porsche GT3 for Rick Ware Racing.

For Earnhardt, his sports car debut will come 10 years after his grandfather, Dale Earnhardt and uncle Dale Earnhardt Jr., co-drove to a fourth-place finish in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Up Next: Homestead-Miami Speedway

The final race of the season, the Ford 300, will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, Nov. 20. ESPN2 will carry the broadcast beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Brad Keselowski officially will be crowned as the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series driver champion following the race. The question is: Will he unify the championship, or will Kyle Busch persevere and carry his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team to the owner title?

If last year is any indication, Busch could be in line to do just that. He's the defending winner. Carl Edwards was the polesitter last year.

Fast Facts

Next Race: WYPALL* 200 Powered by Kimberly-Clark Professional
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, November 13
The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

The Distance: 200 miles / 200 laps

TV: ESPN2, 4:00 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Local-KGME-AM 910)

2009 Winner: Carl Edwards
2009 Polesitter: Denny Hamlin

Schedule prior to race day (times MT):
Friday: Practice, 10-11:50 a.m. and 1:40-2:20 p.m.;
Saturday: Qualifying, 10:05 a.m.

-source: nascar

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