St. Louis: Series round 19 preview

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes -- Madison, Ill. Turf War: Midwest Drivers Need "A" Game Against Keselowski Beginning Saturday night at Gateway International Raceway, the next three NASCAR Nationwide Series events will be run at tracks...

NASCAR Nationwide Series News And Notes -- Madison, Ill.

Turf War: Midwest Drivers Need "A" Game Against Keselowski

Beginning Saturday night at Gateway International Raceway, the next three NASCAR Nationwide Series events will be run at tracks that don't host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, however, does compete with the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Gateway and also at O'Reilly Raceway Park. That series will run on Friday at both events. The July 31 race at Iowa Speedway wraps up this trio of stand-alone races for the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Now past the halfway point in the season, Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge) remains the standings leader, a post he's manned following the last 11 races.

But a group of Midwest drivers racing hope they can put a dent in Keselowski's advantage.

Carl Edwards (No. 60 Aflac Ford) is second, 227 points back. That's the closest the Columbia, Mo., native has been to the leader since the series raced at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. At that point, he was fourth, 163 points behind Keselowski.

Edwards, the 2007 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, has been a second-half challenger the last two seasons. He was 192 points behind reigning series champion Kyle Busch at this stage last year, and 188 behind eventual champion Clint Bowyer in 2008. Last year, four of Edwards' five wins were collected in the second half. In 2008, he won six of his seven total races after Race No. 18.

Edwards is one of three drivers entered who has two wins at Gateway. He won in 2006 and '08. Twotime series champion Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Jimmy John's Chevrolet) joins Dale Earnhardt Jr., another two-time series champion, as the only drivers to win back-to-back races at the 1.25-mile track; Harvick did in 2000-01. Reed Sorenson (No. 32 Dollar General Toyota) also has multiple wins, in 2005 and '07.

Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), from Riverton, Ill., is the lone series-only regular with a win (Bristol Motor Speedway in March) and a pole (Nashville Superspeedway in June) so far this year. He's only raced once at Gateway, an 11th-place result last year. The 2009 Raybestos Rookie of the Year in also is fourth in the standings.

Steve Wallace (No. 66 5-Hour Energy Toyota), who also will compete in Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Series Truck race, is arguably in the midst of his best season. He's eighth in the standings with seven top-10 finishes after 18 races. His career high is nine top 10s last year. He's been as high as sixth in the standings so far this year and has spent 10 weeks inside the top 10. He's looking for his first top-10 finish at Gateway, however. In four races, his average finish is 27.2.

This always is a big weekend for the Wallaces. Steve's uncle, Kenny Wallace (No. 28 Chevrolet) will face Steve's other uncle, Mike Wallace (No. 01 J-D Motorsports Chevrolet) and Steve at Gateway. Although not a St. Louis native like his father, Rusty Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and his uncles, Steve, who was born in North Carolina, considers himself an "honorary native."

Kenny, the Nationwide Insurance "Driver of the Week" this week, will make the 472nd start of his career Saturday night, second all-time in series starts to Jason Keller (No. 35 Tri-Star Motorsports Chevrolet), who has 506. Mike will make his 366th career series start, which will be sixth on the all-time list.

In 11 starts at Gateway, Kenny has four top 10 finishes. Mike carries the best-finish banner for the family in series competition at the track. He was second in 2005, his best result in nine races there.

Things Are Looking Up For Leffler

Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) hoped for more when last February rolled around.

In 2009, he had just wrapped up the most statistically successful season of his career. His eight top fives matched a career high, and his 20 top 10s were a career high. He finished the year fourth in the standings, which was the secondhighest final points position of his career.

There was an abundance of optimism.

That hope washed away almost immediately after a 33rd-place finish at Daytona International Speedway. It didn't get much better from there. Over the first nine races, Leffler posted only one top-10 finish (ninth at Bristol).

Over those nine races, which put Leffler 15th in the points, he had an average finish of 21.7, an Average Running Position of 20.0 a Driver Rating of 77.3, eight Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 44.6%.

But Leffler's talent -- and luck -- finally went his way with race No. 10 at Darlington Raceway. He notched his first top-five finish of the season, starting a string of three consecutive top 10s.

Over the last nine races, everything seemed to come together. Leffler is back in the top 10 in points, and has scored five top 10s in the last nine races.

Over that most recent span, Leffler has an average finish of 13.0, a Driver Rating of 90.0, an Average Running Position of 14.1, 47 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 71.4%.

The trend of success should continue this weekend at Gateway. Leffler is strong there, with two top fives and three top 10s in seven starts.

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, a span of five Gateway races, Leffler has a Driver Rating of 93.0, an Average Running Position of 12.2, 36 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 71.7%.

Busch, JGR Draw Line In Owner Standings Sand

Just like its flagship driver, Joe Gibbs Racing is not going quietly into the NASCAR Nationwide Series night.

Although Kyle Busch won't be defending his driver championship -- or his win last year at Gateway -- his organization is aiming for its third consecutive owner title.

The No. 18 Toyota team re-claimed the series owner standings lead by nine points after last Friday's race at Chicagoland Speedway. Jodi Geschickter, listed as the owner of Brad Keselowski's No. 22 Dodge, had been leading that category since late April, following the race at Talladega Superspeedway.

The No. 22 team also had the lead after the March race at Phoenix International Raceway.

JGR claimed the top spot after the next event at Texas Motor Speedway, but the 22 team had been in control since.

Other leaders include DeLana Harvick, who led after the first race of the year at Daytona International Speedway, and Jack Roush, who led the owner standings after races 2-4 this season.

JGR won its first owner championship with the No. 20 Toyota in 2008. Clint Bowyer claimed the driver crown that year. Last year, Busch and JGR unified the titles for the first time since 2006. The first shared title in series history was in 2003.

Gibbs' No. 20 car is in third place in the owner standings, 100 points behind the No. 18.

Brad Coleman (No. 18 Safeway Driving Centers Toyota) takes the baton from Busch this weekend at Gateway and has done his part to keep the No. 18 team in contention. He has an average finish of 8.3 in his three races this year.

Despite this weekend's event being his fourth missed race of the season, Busch already has produced seven wins, including last week at Chicagoland. He's currently scheduled to run 29 races this year, recently adding next week's event at O'Reilly Raceway Park where he's also the defending winner.

In 188 career NASCAR Nationwide starts, Busch has 37 wins and now is second on the alltime list, chasing Mark Martin (48 wins in 231 starts). Kevin Harvick, who's third, has 36 victories in 251 starts.

Busch's seven wins are tied with two-time series champions Sam Ard and Jack Ingram, who each had seven wins after 18 races in 1984.

Busch had four wins after 18 races in 2008, when he tied Ard's series record of 10 wins in one season. Busch ran 30 races that year.

Move Over Martin: Another Truex Looks To Make His Name

Stand-alone races are opportunities for younger drivers to showcase their skills. A pair of 18-year-olds get their shots this weekend at Gateway: Matt DiBenedetto returns to the No. 20 Pizza Ranch Toyota while Alex Kennedy will drive the No. 23 MediaMaster Chevrolet.

Both drivers last raced in the June 19 Bucyrus 200 at Road America, which was Kennedy's series debut.

Now, make way for Ryan Truex (No. 00 APA Toyota).

He's the younger brother of two-time series champion Martin Truex Jr., who won at Gateway from the pole in his track debut in 2004.

But Ryan comes with solid credentials of his own, including a NASCAR championship. He's the defending NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion and currently leads that series after six races this season.

"(They're) pretty big shoes to fill," Ryan said, comparing himself to his brother. "I don't expect to go out and set the world on fire. I'm just going to get my feet wet and just try to get as much experience as I can.

"I'm not going to think I can run top 10 or top five or anything like that. It's a tough series. It took (Martin) a lot of starts to figure it out. I put more pressure on myself just to run as good as him because of the last name and everything.

"Three years ago I (was) racing a Legend car at Wall (N.J.) Stadium and now I'm here. It's hard to believe how fast it's come, but I'm excited, (and) ready to make the most of my opportunity."

NNS Etc.: Gateway Edition

Time For Tour de Edwards

For the third consecutive year, Carl Edwards is busy during this NASCAR Sprint Cup open weekend, opting to run in the NASCAR Nationwide race at his home track at Gateway.

He's also using the week as an opportunity to get some more road work in -- on a bicycle.

Edwards and a group of friends will make their annual cycling trek from his hometown of Columbia, Mo., to the track. The ride started Wednesday morning and ends Friday. It will cover over 200 miles.

Truckin' Double-Duty Style

In addition to Steve Wallace, three other drivers will pull double-duty in the NASCAR Camping World Truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Gateway.

Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Johnny Sauter (No. 36 Long John Silver's Chevrolet) also will compete in the truck event Friday night before making the switch to the NASCAR Nationwide race the following evening.

Wallace will be making his series track debut in a truck. Harvick hasn't raced at Gateway in a truck since 1999; Keselowski since 2005. Sauter made his truck track debut last year, finishing second after starting third.

?Up Next: O'Reilly Raceway Park

O'Reilly Raceway Park is one of the series' most exciting short-track races of the season.

The Kroger 200 -- with Kroger as the series' longesttenured race sponsor now in its 29th year -- is next on Saturday, July 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN will have the broadcast.

Last year, Carl Edwards won, while Trevor Bayne (No. 99 Out! Pet Care Toyota) captured his first career pole.

Tough Task For New Dad McClure

It's been a difficult last couple of weeks for Eric McClure (No. 24 Hefty Odor Block Ford) on the track.

Off the track, though, it's a different story.

For the third consecutive week, McClure will have to qualify on time. Prior to the July 1 race at Daytona International Speedway, he'd been in the top 30 in owner points. That race marked the first time he had to qualify on time since November, 2007.

But early last Sunday morning, the rough patches evaporated, at least for a while. Just after 3 a.m., he and his wife, Miranda, welcomed their third daughter, Mirabella Rileigh McClure.

The steady rise of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 6 CitiFinancial Ford) and Jason Keller, drivers who had been outside the top 30 but are now among the automatic qualifiers, have pushed McClure to in-on-time status. His Team Rensi Motorsports organization is 32nd in owner points heading to Gateway.

McClure did make the races at Daytona and Chicagoland.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250
The Place: Gateway International Raceway (1.25-mile oval)

The Date: Saturday, July 17
The Time: 8 p.m. ET

The Distance: 250 miles / 200 laps

TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (Local-KFNS-FM 100.7)

2009 Winner: Kyle Busch
2009 Pole Winner: Brad Keselowski

Schedule prior to race day (times CT):
Saturday: Practice, 9 a.m.-10:15 a.m.; Final Practice, 10:45 a.m.-12 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:35 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Rusty Wallace , Jason Keller , Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Mike Wallace , Trevor Bayne , Johnny Sauter , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Brad Coleman , Clint Bowyer , Jack Roush , Eric McClure , Brad Keselowski , Reed Sorenson , Justin Allgaier , Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , DeLana Harvick , Alex Kennedy , Steve Wallace , Ryan Truex , Matt DiBenedetto , John Long , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing