Series off-week notes 2010-03-09

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Open Week Said, Roush Fenway, Head Up March 24 Test At Road America It might be tough for the race fans in Elkhart Lake, Wis., to imagine right now, but June -- and the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes - Open Week

Said, Roush Fenway, Head Up March 24 Test At Road America

It might be tough for the race fans in Elkhart Lake, Wis., to imagine right now, but June -- and the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America -- isn't that far off.

And in two weeks, a car on the track will make that event seem even closer.

Similar to the one-car/one-team tests at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal prior to the series' first races there in 2005 and 2007, respectively, NASCAR will conduct a test at Road America on Wednesday, March 24 to gather data to share among teams that will compete there this summer.

Road America replaces the former event at the Milwaukee Mile on the 2010 schedule.

NA S C A R has turned to Roush Fenway Racing and crew chief Mike Kelly to conduct the test while road-course ace Boris Said will be the driver. Said has 20 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts to his credit and 14 of those have come on road courses. He's collected two poles and six top-five finishes in those races. His best result was a second-place finish in the 2006 event in Mexico City from the pole.

He's run in each of the three races in Mexico City and Montreal, however, he won't compete in the June 19 event at Road America. That factor is a must for the test driver. Jeff Burton and Richard Childress Racing handled the Mexico City test while RCR and Terry Labonte were on point for the test in Montreal. Neither driver participated in the inaugural races at those tracks.

"Boris and RFR will provide plenty of data from Road America that we'll share with the teams so they can prepare their setups accordingly without being on the track," said Joe Balash, the director of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. "Their data will give the teams a starting point when they come in for a full day of practice the day before the official start of on-track activity.

"This is a demanding road course with multiple elevation changes and a number of hard-braking areas that will create some exciting passing and challenging side-by-side racing. It's a long course -- 4.048 miles -- with 14 turns that offer great vantage points all around for the fans. We're excited to have the opportunity to race there."

The test will be run in two sessions, from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. CT. (times subject to change). During the lunch break from noon-1 p.m., members of NASCAR's competition department along with Said will be available to the media.

This will be the first of two tests for the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year. Teams will test May 18-19 at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the first race featuring the series' new car on July 2, also at Daytona.

Despite Difficult Starts, Plenty Of Optimism Surrounds Rookie Crop

This might not have been the start NASCAR Nationwide Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brian Scott or Colin Braun had envisioned.

Stenhouse has posted three consecutive tough finishes to open the season, and now is stuck at 36th in the standings. Braun hasn't finished much better. He's in 26th. Scott's been the best of the three, currently 17th.

But their rankings fail to tell the entire story.

And therein lies a reason for optimism.

Statistically, all three drivers have performed better than their finishes would suggest.

Stenhouse, for example, is ranked 22nd in season-to-date Driver Rating with a 60.7, a difference of 14 spots compared to his points position -- the largest difference in the series.

Scott and Braun are tied for second in regards to Driver Rating-to-points position difference. Scott is 10th in Driver Rating with an 85.8, a difference of seven spots compared to his points position. Braun is ranked 19th in Driver Rating with a 65.8, also a difference of seven.

After a shaky start at Daytona International Speedway where he posted a Driver Rating of just 59.7, Scott has rebounded -- big time. At Auto Club Speedway, he finished 10th with a Driver Rating of 112.9, an Average Running Position of 4.8, 14 Fastest Laps Run and ran all but one of the Laps in the Top 15. He also had a strong Las Vegas run, with a Driver Rating of 84.9 and an Average Running Position of 15.4 -- but a finish of 31st.

Stenhouse's best race was the season opener at Daytona. There, he had a Driver Rating of 75.1 and an Average Running Position of 22.4, only to finish 36th. He also had a strong Average Running Position of 21.6 at Las Vegas, yet finished 30th.

Braun's best start was his last one in Vegas. He scored a Driver Rating of 75.0, an Average Running Position of 16.1 and had a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 57%. Yet he suffered a finish of 28th.

No Glitz, No Glitter, Just Joy For McClure's Oscar-Winning Family

Being in the driver's seat is nothing new to Eric McClure. But last Sunday night, he was more than willing to take a back seat to another family member in another competition -- the Oscars.

McClure's first cousin, Scott McClure Cooper, wrote and directed the film "Crazy Heart," which received three Oscar nominations prior to the March 7 Academy Award extravaganza.

The film won two Oscars -- Jeff Bridges won for Best Actor while the film's score, "The Weary Kind," won for Best Original Song.

"I'm really proud of Scott and his accomplishment for the movie Crazy Heart," McClure said. "It's a big honor to write and direct a film that earned Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Actor.

"Scott was also recognized last Friday night when he accepted a Spirit Award for Best Debut Film. Our entire family is very proud of him.

"I personally know what it's like to chase and live a dream and we hope the success he has had with this film will bring him more success in the future."

The movie's third nominee was Maggie Gyllenhall, who was up for Best Supporting Actress. That award went to Mo'Nique for her role in "Precious."

"Fanning Up:" Riggs, Shepherd Get Sponsorship From Fans For Upcoming Races

The fans are what make NASCAR, and in the case of two NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers, it's the fans who are making their opportunity to race come to fruition.

Morgan Shepherd and Scott Riggs are being supported by their fans for their races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway, respectively.

At Daytona, nearly 50 individuals, companies and churches participated in the "Fans for Faith" program in support of the No. 89 Dodge.

"We had a lot of fans say that they wished we would do it every race," Shepherd said. "We aren't going to do that, but we will pick some special races from time to time where fans can get their name on the car."

Riggs' program includes four different sponsorship packages for fans, depending on their level of sponsorship. Riggs will personally sign a photo from the race at Nashville for each fan who gets involved. And depending on the level of sponsorship, fans also can have their names on the No. 09 Ford, receive tickets to the race, secure pit and garage passes, take part in a meet- and-greet with Riggs or spend the race sitting on the team's pit box.

"After being out of the seat for six months, to have fans come out this strong is both humbling and overwhelming," said Riggs, who's 10th in the standings, the best ranking ever for a driver in his RAB Racing organization.

"I always knew I had very loyal, supportive fans but I never knew they cared so much and would go this far to help me and this team."

NNS Etc: Open Week Edition

Winning Is A Gonzales Family Recipe

Steven Gonzales works with the R3 Motorsports organization and also is the son of Sammy Gonzales, who works on the No. 1 Chevrolet that won the 2010 Daytona 500 with driver Jamie McMurray.

The younger Gonzales, 26, also is a winner, having recently captured a motocross championship in the Carolina Winter Series that races at various tracks.

He won championship honors in the Plus 25 AM Class driving a 450cc bike and took third in the MX Lites B Class on a 250 cc bike.

During the week, Gonzales is a mechanic for R3 Motorsports and handles the interior on their No. 23 Chevrolet. On race day, he's the team's rear tire carrier.

Rough Start Righted For Bayne

The 2010 season, his first as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, has righted itself for Trevor Bayne. After the first three races, Bayne, 19, has made the biggest leap in the standings -- from 41st after Daytona to 24th after Auto Club Speedway to his current 13thplace ranking after Las Vegas. His sixth-place finish at LVMS was a career-best and also made him the highest- finishing series-only regular in that race.

Over his first 18 series starts, he's been able to find a good feel for qualifying. Bayne has a 10.9 average starting position and has qualified outside the top 12 only four times. That includes starting 17th at Daytona as the field was set via the rule book since qualifying was rained out.

Bayne is looking forward to the next race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Knoxville, Tenn., native considers BMS his home track, and it was the site last March of his first series start when he started 26th and finished 23rd.

Braun Mixes Work With Play

Colin Braun will have a busy off week, taking advantage of the time for a little fun before heading back to work.

This week, Braun, who's third in the Raybestos Rookie standings, will travel to Orlando to spend two days at Walt Disney World with his younger brother, Travis. When he returns, Braun will do some testing before heading to Ann Arbor, Mich., to attend the President's Award Reception at Con-way Freight, his team sponsor, on Friday.

Up Next: Bristol Motor Speedway

Following two consecutive open weeks on the schedule, the NASCAR Nationwide Series gets back to racing on Saturday, March 20 at Bristol.

The Scotts Turf Builder 300 will be the first of four series network broadcasts on ABC.

Kevin Harvick, the two-time series champion who also won the last time out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, captured his first win in his own KHI equipment at this event last year. The victory, his fifth overall at Bristol, made him the winningest series driver at the .533-mile track, breaking a tie with Morgan Shepherd, who now is second with four wins there.

Brendan Gaughan captured his first career series pole one year ago at Bristol.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Scotts Turf Builder 300
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, March 20
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300 laps / 159.9 miles

TV: ABC, 2 p.m. ET

2009 Winner: Kevin Harvick
2009 Polesitter: Brendan Gaughan

Event Schedule (all times ET):
Friday--Practice, 1:40-3:15 p.m.; Final Practice--4:45-5:45 p.m..;
Saturday--Qualifying, 9:40 a.m.

-source: nascar

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Drivers Jeff Burton , Terry Labonte , Boris Said , Kevin Harvick , Colin Braun , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Trevor Bayne , Gilles Villeneuve , Brendan Gaughan , Morgan Shepherd , Eric McClure , Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , Brian Scott , Mike Kelly
Teams Roush Fenway Racing