*Break Time: It's The Fifth Open Week Of Year For NASCAR Nationwide Series *Ups And Downs: Rookies Stenhouse Jr., Scott At Different Ends Of Spectrum *RWR Changes: Larry Carter In As GM: Brad Parrott Replaced As No. 62 Crew Chief Open Week A...
*Break Time: It's The Fifth Open Week Of Year For NASCAR Nationwide Series
*Ups And Downs: Rookies Stenhouse Jr., Scott At Different Ends Of Spectrum
*RWR Changes: Larry Carter In As GM: Brad Parrott Replaced As No. 62 Crew Chief
Open Week A Short Cooling-Off Period For Exciting Season
After a 16-week stretch through the hottest part of the summer, an open week is about the only way to cool off what has been an explosive NASCAR Nationwide Series season.
Races in that span included the first three events for the new car at Daytona International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and last Friday night at Richmond Inter-national Raceway. The inaugural race at Road America, the fourth at a new venue in the last six years, was included in that streak as was the fourth consecutive international trek to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Mont-real. Double-duty drivers also had to employ back-and-forth travel to four of six stand-alone races during that time. So now that there's a moment to catch your breath, the scene can be set for the final eight races of the year, starting next Saturday at Dover International Speedway.
Brad Keselowski looks to have the driver championship in hand in only his second full season in the series. He's built a 373-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards, whose trademark the last two seasons has been making up points in bunches to push the leader down the stretch. However, it would be an epic accomplishment now for the 2007 series champion. Larry Pearson overcame a 320-point deficit to win the title in 1986, the largest margin in series history with eight races to go.
Keselowski's gotten to this point with gusto, tying his career high in wins (four), setting his career best in poles (five, which also leads the se-ries) and has finished out of the top 10 only five times. He's managed to create some controversy in the process, refusing to back down and creating rivalries with former series champions, especially Edwards. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, among others, also have had their moments with Keselowski.
Speaking of Busch, although not running to defend his series title, he's on the brink of yet another series record, needing one win to set the new mark for wins in a single season (11). Busch and his No. 18 Toyota team also are attempting to tie the series standard of three consecutive owner titles for Joe Gibbs Racing. The team won with the No. 20 Toyota in 2008. Busch unified the driver and owner championship last year in the No. 18. Heading to Dover next week, the No. 18 leads the owner standings over Keselowski's No. 22 Penske Racing team by 51 points.
Series-only regulars are continuing to hold their own in the latter stages of the season. Half of the top 10 drivers in the standings are 'regular guys,' led by Justin Allgaier in fourth. Trevor Bayne, 19, continues to impress. He collected his eighth top-10 finish -- including five top fives -- in his last 13 races by tying his ca-reer-best result of third at Richmond. Also included in that span for Bayne were three consecutive poles, which tied the series record. He's seventh in the standings.
Danica Patrick has two more races to complete her full IndyCar season (Sept. 19 in Japan and Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway), then will concentrate solely on her NASCAR development. She'll run at Dover before her longest continuous stretch of NASCAR races at Auto Club Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Gateway International Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix and Homestead. She has run six series races thus far.
And don't look now, but the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race is, well, a race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is within three points of leader Brian Scott, who has led the standings since Race No. 6 at Phoenix Interna-tional Raceway. Since the July race at Daytona, Stenhouse has collected four of his five top-10 finishes.
In The Loop: Stenhouse Jr. Closes "The Gap"
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s turning point is clearly defined.
There was a two - race stretch where Stenhouse failed to accu-mulate any stats -- because he wasn't racing. He suffered the first Did Not Qualify (DNQ) of his career at Nashville Super-speedway in June, which in part led owner Jack Roush to sit him out the next week at Kentucky Speedway.
It was the wakeup call Stenhouse needed.
Over the first 12 races, Stenhouse scored just one top-10 finish. His stats over that span: an average finish of 28.6, a Driver Rating of 62.8, an Average Running Position of 23.4 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 26.9%.
Since then, his performance has skyrock-eted. After that DNQ and subsequent benching (also a span of 12 starts), Stenhouse has four top 10s, an average finish of 14.3, a Driver Rating of 82.1, an Average Running Position of 16.1 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 58.4%.
He's also crept back into the Raybestos Rookie picture, and at only three points behind leader Brian Scott, has made up 32 points since the race at Road America. At that juncture, he was a season-high 35 points behind Scott. The future only looks brighter for Sten-house. The main reason: His quick adaptation to the NASCAR Nationwide Series new car that is slated to run fulltime in 2011.
In the three new car events thus far -- at Daytona, Michigan and Richmond -- Stenhouse has scored two top-five finishes, and has an average finish of 6.7, a Driver Rating of 94.9, an Average Running Position of 11.6 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 81.3%.
Among drivers who raced in every new car race, Stenhouse ranked fourth in average finish, and had the top average finish of series-only regulars. His average finish ranked behind only points leader Brad Keselowski (2.3) and past series champions Kevin Harvick (5.3) and Kyle Busch (6.3).
"The new Ford Mustang is awesome to drive," said Stenhouse. "I feel like you can drive the new car a little harder than the (current) car which suits my driving style.
"Our new Mustang has a longer wheelbase which is something I am more used to because of my ARCA experience. I can also drive the new car a little more sideways which is perfect for how I like my car to be set up."
Is A "Monster" Turnaround In Scott's Future?
As a young driver in his rookie season, Brian Scott still is mature enough to realize there will be plenty of ups and downs during a 35 -race schedule. But the downs are starting to pile up. And with races now at a premium, Scott knows he's got to pick up the pace or a couple of 2010 goals could elude him.
Scott, 22, has plenty of upside. He's led the Raybestos Rookie standings since Phoenix. He's also been ranked in the top 10 in the stand-ings three times, with a high of eighth after placing 10th at Talladega Superspeedway in April. He's currently 13th, 291 points out of 10th.
But since his best two-race stretch of the year in July when he posted consecutive top-10 finishes at Chicagoland Speedway and O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis -- including his career-best of third at Chicago -- it's been a struggle.
Not only has Scott's average finish dipped to 28.0 over his last eight races, his grip on the rookie lead is loosening, too.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is within three points of Scott in the race for that award, the closest anyone has been to Scott since Race No. 7 at Texas when James Buescher also was within three points.
"We need to get this gorilla off our backs," Scott said after a 40th-place finish at Richmond due to an accident also involving Clint Bowyer.
"We show speed everywhere. We are a good race team. We have good people, good cars, good sponsors. These little things keep happening to ruin our day and it's frustrating. "We went through a period of time in the middle of the season like this and we turned it around. Hopefully we can take the weekend off, regroup, and turn this slump around too. I'm really looking forward to Dover," he said.
As well he should. In his first series race at the "Monster Mile," Scott finished ninth, at the time his best result of the year. And he captured his first national series victory in 2009 with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Dover.
NNS Etc.: Open Week Edition
Emotional Return For Davis
Next Saturday's race at Dover will be a bittersweet return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Marc Davis.
Davis, 20, will make his first series start since the pass-ing of his father, Harry, earlier this year. He'll drive for R3 Motorsports. The father-son combination worked to compete on the NASCAR national series level with their own team after Marc Davis' time in NASCAR's "Drive 4 Diversity" program and a stint with the Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series organization.
Davis took over the family-owned team after his father's death and now is the youngest owner in NASCAR's national series, heading Marc Davis Motorsports.
"It feels great to be able to put all my energy and enthusiasm back into what I know best -- my driving career and racing in the Nationwide Series," Davis said. "This is what my dad and I worked for; to achieve my dream of having a successful and competitive NASCAR career. It's not only what he would have wanted, it's a mes-sage to kids everywhere. If you work hard, never give up and keep focused on your goals, no obstacle can stand in your way."
Davis has nine top fives and 16 top 10s in 31 races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West since 2007. He's made nine NASCAR Nationwide Series starts and three in the NAS-CAR Camping World Truck Series over the last two seasons. Four of those national series races were in his or his family's equipment.
Carter In, Parrott Out At RWR
Rusty Wallace Racing announced this week that former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief Larry Carter has been named as the team's general manager, and will oversee the two-car NASCAR Nationwide Series operation. RWR also announced that Brad Parrott, who had served as crew chief for the No. 62 Toyota of Brendan Gaughan, has been re-leased. An interim crew chief will be named within the next week and a full-time crew chief will be named for the start of the 2011 season.
Carter served as crew chief for Wallace's No. 2 team at Penske Racing from 2004-05. In that role, Carter led Wallace to his 55th -- and final -- career victory, as well as to a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in Wallace's final season as a driver.
After Wallace retired as a driver, Carter continued in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as crew chief for Jamie McMurray at Roush Fen-way Racing in 2007-08 before serving in the same role for Paul Menard at Yates Racing last season. Both of the team's drivers are in the top 10 in the standings. Steve Wallace is eighth while Gaughan is 10th.
Pressley Nationwide "Driver Of Week"
Although in the midst of an open week, Coleman Pressley has some series business to attend to. He's serving as the Nationwide Insurance "Driver of the Week."
The first-year initiative by series sponsor Nationwide Insurance is a program designed to increase driver awareness, with emphasis on series-only regulars.
Pressley is the subject of a feature on NASCARNationwideSeries.com, and will be on a live web chat on that site at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 15. Pressley most recently raced last Friday night at Richmond, where he finished 25th for R3 Motorsports.
Up Next: Dover's "Monster Mile"
Following this fifth open week of the sea-son, the NASCAR Nationwide Series returns next Saturday, Sept. 25 at Dover Interna-tional Speedway for the Dover 200. The race will be broad-cast on ESPN2 starting at 3 p.m. ET. A couple of series champions were high-lighted last year in this event at the "Monster Mile." Clint Bowyer, the 2008 champion, is the defending winner while reigning series champion Kyle Busch captured the pole. Busch also won at Dover in this year's spring race.
In fact, nine former series champions have won the last 18 races at Dover, including multiple wins by Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr. and Busch during that span.
Next Race: Dover 200
The Place: Dover International Speedway (1 Mile Banked Concrete)
The Date: Saturday, September 25
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200 laps / 200 miles
TV: ESPN2, 3:00 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio
2009 Winner: Clint Bowyer
2009 Polesitter: Kyle Busch
Schedule prior to race day (times ET):
Friday: Final Practice, 1:05 --3 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 10:05 a.m.