NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes -- Road America Road America: Longest Track in NASCAR The last in a stretch of three consecutive stand-alone races also is the first of three road-course races on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule this...
NASCAR Nationwide Series News & Notes -- Road America
Road America: Longest Track in NASCAR
The last in a stretch of three consecutive stand-alone races also is the first of three road-course races on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule this summer.
And for the fourth time in the last six years, the series debuts at a new track. The latest addition is Elkhart Lake's Road America, a 4.048-mile, 14-turn course nestled in the Wisconsin countryside.
Saturday's Bucyrus 200 presented by Menards replaces the Milwaukee Mile on the schedule. And this event keeps alive the series' opportunity to continue to race in front of Wisconsin's staunch racing fan base, now for the 17th consecutive year.
A Badger State favorite, Paul Menard (No. 98 Mastercraft/Menards Ford) -- one of three drivers pulling fulltime double-duty -- may be able to use some "home cooking" to his advantage.
The native of Eau Claire hasn't just raced in a stock car at Road America before, he's won. In 2001, he captured a victory in the former NASCAR Re/Max Challenge Series. That was the second time NASCAR had visited Road America, having debuted at the-then one-year-old track in 1956. Tim Flock won in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Menard comes home sixth in the point standings in his first fulltime season in the series since 2006, when he finished sixth in the final rankings.
There will be a full day of practice on Thursday at Road America before the first official practice takes place on Friday. That, according to Menard, makes his familiarity with the road course more perception than reality. "By the second practice, I'm sure everyone will be up to speed because the drivers are so good in the Nationwide Series," he said.
Two unique competition aspects are specific to the NASCAR Nationwide Series when it races at road courses. Teams will utilize road-course qualifying, where drivers go out in timed groups as opposed to a maximum of two individual qualifying laps. And, the NASCAR Nationwide Series brings Goodyear rain tires and will race in inclement weather as it has done at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal the last two years.
The last time the series ran three road courses in the same year was 2007, when it competed at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, at Watkins Glen International and in Montreal.
No Fear: Stock-Car Drivers Fare Well On Road Courses
NASCAR drivers are most familiar -- and quite comfortable -- with making left turns on ovals. But don't underestimate their road-course skills.
Although Marcos Ambrose -- a veteran of road-course racing before his full-time entry into NASCAR in 2006 -- has won at Watkins Glen the last two seasons, "ringers" haven't dominated the NASCAR Nationwide Series' road-course events in recent years.
Since the series returned to running on road courses at least twice per season since 2005, only "aces" Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya in 2007 at Mexico City and Ron Fellows (No. 88 AER Manufacturing Chevrolet) in Montreal in 2008, have victories. Otherwise, career stock-car drivers have been very adept at left and right turns.
Two-time series champion Martin Truex Jr. won the inaugural race at Mexico City in 2005, followed by Denny Hamlin in 2006. Kevin Harvick, a two-time series champion, won the inaugural race in Montreal in 2007 while the NASCAR Nationwide champion that season, Carl Edwards (No. 60 FASTENAL Ford), won at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last year. Ryan Newman (2005), Kurt Busch (2006) and Harvick (2007) each won at The Glen before Ambrose's consecutive victories over the last two seasons.
In addition to Paul Menard, there are series-only regulars entered at Road America who have previously raced at the track in different series.
Road America An Unknown; But Numbers Favor JRM Drivers, Edwards On Road Courses
The 2010 season has been one of flux for JR Motorsports.
There have been ups -- consecutive third-place runs by Jamie McMurray in the No. 88 Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway and Dover International Speedway.
And there have been downs -- overall the team's average finish is 18.9 and its Driver Rating is 76.4
Of course, there have been mega-stars like Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. competing for the organization. But there also have been relatively unknown drivers who aim to become future stars, like Steve Arpin, Josh Wise and Coleman Pressley.
In all, nine different drivers have run at least one race this year in one of the two JR Motorsports entries (the Nos. 7 and 88).
After this weekend, that number will jump to 11, as two drivers will run for JR Motorsports for the first time in 2010. J.R. Fitzpatrick will be in the No. 7; Ron Fellows will pilot the No. 88.
Both are excellent representatives, if last year's road course statistics are any indication.
In the two road course races last season -- in Montreal and Watkins Glen -- Fitzpatrick and Fellows both ranked in the top 10 in Driver Rating. Fitzpatrick had a Driver Rating of 81.6, which was seventh best in the road-course races. Fellows had an 80.8, which was eighth-best.
In his career, Fellows has four road course victories in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (three at Watkins Glen and one at Montreal). Fitzpatrick's best road-course finish was 18th at Watkins Glen last season.
Among those competing in this weekend's race at Road America, Carl Edwards owns the top road-course statistics from 2009. In the two race, Edwards had a Driver Rating of 126.7, 28 Laps Led, eight Fastest Laps Run and a Driver Rating of 7.3.
Fellow Roush Fenway Racing driver Paul Menard likewise was strong at the two roadcourse events last season. He had a Driver Rating of 89.5 and an Average Running Position of 14.0.
Been There, Done That: Numerous Drivers, Crew Members Have Experience At Road America
Although he's one of a handful of drivers who's raced a stock car at Road America, Paul Menard isn't the only one familiar with the course.
Below are drivers who have plenty of laps -- and even some wins -- at Road America:
Tony Ave (No. 35 Tri-Star Motorsports Chevrolet): Turned a record-breaking 2:05.981 (115.675 mph) in Trans-Am competition in 2009.
Colin Braun (No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford): Star Mazda Series (2004).
Brad Coleman (No. 18 SafeWay Driving Centers Toyota): Competed in Star Mazda Series at 16 years old; finished 11th.
Ron Fellows: Five races in Trans-Am with one win; five races in American Le Mans Series with one win and a pole; one win in GT1 class.
Tim George Jr. (No. 21 Zaxby's Chevrolet): One win, three podium finishes in Skip Barber Racing Series.
Victor Gonzalez Jr. (No. 05 31-W Insulation Chevrolet): Drove his first U.S. race at Road America; also several races there in SCCA and Skip Barber Pro Series. Tested various cars, driven numerous laps as an instructor for Skip Barber Racing School.
Patrick Long (No. 90 D'Hondt-Humphrey Motorsports Chevrolet): Won 2006 American Le Mans Series in GT2 class.
Michael McDowell (No. 81 MOBILEShop. com Dodge): Two Star Mazda Series wins (2003-04); pole in 2003.
Jacques Villeneuve (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota): Won in CART IndyCar World Series in 1994-95. Started second in 1994, won pole in 1995. Led a combined 61 laps in both races.
And some current series team members have been involved with wins at Road America:
Robert Brandt, rear tire carrier for Eric McClure's No. 24 Hefty Ford team, was part of two victories at Road America working as an engine tuner in Trans Am.
Joey Dennewitz, PR representative for Brian Scott (No. 11 BigSpot.com Toyota), won 2000 WKA Supernationals at Road America in a SuperStock Kart.
Gary Grossenbacher, engineer for Owen Kelly's No. 27 Baker Curb Racing Ford, worked with Holbert Racing from 1986-89. During that span, team won two IMSA titles and 18 races, including victories at Road America.
And although they haven't been to Road America before, the car chiefs for JR Motorsports' two entries are Wisconsin natives -- Jon Hanson (No. 88) is from Madison, while Brandon Benesch (No. 7) is from Cumberland.
Foreign Exchange: International Stars Join NASCAR Ranks At Road America
A touch of international flair will accompany the NASCAR Nationwide Series' first trip to scenic Elkhart Lake, Wis., this weekend. Four countries and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico will be represented by the 43 drivers entered in Saturday's first-ever series race at Road America.
Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula 1 champion and winner of the 1995 Indianapolis 500; Ron Fellows, who has won four times on NASCAR Nationwide Series road courses, most recently in 2008 in Montreal and his JR Motorsports teammate J.R. Fitzpatrick (No. 7 Schick Chevrolet), represent Canada. Villeneuve and Fellows each have won at Road America in other series (see note above). All three drivers have entered only road-course events in their NASCAR Nationwide careers.
Mexico's Carlos Contreras (No. 56 McNelly Motorsports Toyota) returns to the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the first time since 2007. Fellow countryman Antonio Perez (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet) also is entered. Five of Contreras' 16 series starts have come on road courses, while each of Perez' five career NASCAR Nationwide starts have been "roadies."
Owen Kelly (No. 27 Baker Curb Racing Ford), by way of Australia, makes his NASCAR national series debut at Road America.
Like fellow Tasmanian Marcos Ambrose, Kelly, 33, has a similar background in karting, Formula Ford and V8 Supercars. He's the third on the all-time wins list (13) in the Fujitsu Series, the second-tier series for V8 Supercars, just as the NASCAR Nationwide Series is to NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Victor Gonzalez Jr., the first Puerto Rican to run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (Montreal, 2009), made his racing debut in the United States at Road America.
He'll have some additional support this weekend as his father, Victor Sr., will travel to
Wisconsin to watch his son compete. "I'm so happy that my father will be there," Gonzalez said. "He hasn't seen me race since 1999, and I'm really excited to have him there.
"He's my best friend and I'd love to give him a Father's Day present he'll never forget."
NNS Etc.: Road America Edition
Drivers Debut Along With Series In addition to the NASCAR Nationwide Series making its debut at Road America, five drivers are looking to make their series debuts.
Robb Brent (No. 09 RAB Racing Ford) is a fulltime driver for Justin Allgaier's (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) Allgaier Motorsports team in ARCA. He took over for Allgiaer, the 2008 ARCA champion, when he moved to the NASCAR Nationwide Series last year. Brent, 23, is an accomplished road-course racer and also was an accomplished student at Northwood (Mich.) University graduating Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Automotive Marketing/Business Management.
Tim George Jr., 29, is morphing from experienced road-course racer to stock-car driver. He's been running fulltime in ARCA the last two years for Richard Childress Racing and also has made several asphalt late model starts. He made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut last year.
Alex Kennedy (No. 23 HelpTruckers.com Chevrolet), 18, is the youngest driver in the field.
Within the last 30 days, the native of Aztec, N.M., graduated from Aztec High School and into the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Kennedy has raced Legends and NASCAR K&N Series cars in addition to ARCA. He's won road course races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Infineon in Legends cars and has held state, national and regional titles in Legends cars.
Patrick Long, 28, has competed in 10 races encompassing the NASCAR K&N Series East and West and ARCA over the last two years. Owen Kelly rounds out the list of drivers making their debuts.
Brad Coleman's search for sponsorship for his NASCAR Nationwide Series races yielded an unexpected dual opportunity.
When visiting his hometown of Houston, Texas, last year he stopped by SafeWay Driving Centers, where he had received his driver's license at age 16.
A visit with the company founder about the prospect of SafeWay sponsoring one of its most famed graduates ultimately compelled Coleman, 22, to purchase the 37-year-old chain of driving schools, which trains more than 5,000 students a year in the greater Houston area.
Coleman is now enjoying success on the racetrack in addition to having a second career as a small business owner.
The approach has already paid dividends. Taking over the No. 18 Toyota of reigning series champion Kyle Busch during stand-alone season, Coleman finished at Nashville and was 13th at Kentucky.
Coleman's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt DiBenedetto (No. 20 Pizza Ranch Toyota), is the Nationwide Insurance "Driver of the Week" this week. Both are aiming for a milestone win for JGR -- its next NASCAR Nationwide victory will be its 50th.
Dueling Double-Duty Road Courses
For the first time since 2000, the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will race at different road courses on the same weekend. Ten years ago, NASCAR Sprint Cup was at Infineon while the NASCAR Nationwide Series was at Watkins Glen.
That long-distance difference could help bring the field back to standings leader Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge), one of three fulltime double-duty drivers making the trek from Infineon to Elkhart Lake.
Carl Edwards is second in the standings, 272 points behind Keselowski. But he'll be doing the same daunting double. Ditto for Edwards' teammate, Paul Menard, sixth in the points.
The trio will be at Road America on Thursday for the day-long practice session, but none is expected to return until race day on Saturday.
Substitutes will carry extra importance due to the travel schedules of the double-duty drivers. Previous races on this weekend at the Milwaukee Mile were held at night, allowing for a little more travel time. The Bucyrus 200 is set to start at 2:30 p.m. CT.
Erik Darnell will sub for Edwards, Michel Jourdain Jr. will stand by for Menard and Parker Kligerman is at the ready for Keselowski.
Up Next: New Hampshire
Danica Patrick makes her return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series next Saturday, June 26, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The New England 200 will be broadcast on ESPN beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Kyle Busch won last year, making him the 23rd different series winner at the track.
Next Race: BUCYRUS 200 presented by Menards
The Place: Road America (4.048-mile road course)
The Date: Saturday, June 19
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 202.4 miles / 50 laps
TV: ESPN2, 3:00 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Listen locally on WCUB-AM 980)
Schedule prior to race day (times CT):
Thursday: Practice, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.; 1:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Friday: Final Practice, 4-5:30 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 9:35 a.m.