NASCAR Bristol Nationwide Preview
NASCAR's Nationwide Series will spend Friday evening taking on the always challenging Bristol Motor Speedway for the running of the Food City 500. That is, of course, unless that process is disrupted by another one of mother nature's mood swings. The Friday afternoon weather forecast for the greater Bristol-Tennessee area calls for thunder storms so don't be too surprised if we end up watching this race on Saturday.
THERE'S WAY TOO MANY NAMES ON THIS GUEST LIST.
The ongoing discussions about the presence of Sprint Cup drivers and teams entering Nationwide Series events has sparked Monday morning water cooler conversations for several years now. The procedure of allowing these guests, often referred to as "Insurance Whackers" (can someone please come up with a better name?), to participate in these races seems to present two diverse arguments. First off it's an affront to the original intended spirit of the series. But on the other side of the issue the presence of the Cup teams seems to bolster the all important numbers for these races.
At first the presence of these Cup teams seemed to be about gathering data. That was because there were many similarities between the race cars running in both series. Of course that all changed when NASCAR introduced their Sprint Cup Car Of Tomorrow. But there was still some data to be gathered from a Nationwide Series race that many Cup crew chiefs deemed valuable. This was especially true in the areas of fuel mileage, tire wear and track characteristics under racing conditions. The fact that Nationwide Series race are often tag teamed with the Sprint Cup events during a NASCAR weekend made it convenient for a team to enter both events.
We all know that the original intent for the creation of the Nationwide Series, nearly three decades ago, was to establish a middle tier of stock car racing that provided drivers the experience they needed on the larger speedways. At the time there were a lot of drivers making that leap of faith from late model rides at Saturday local tracks to the Cup level. Some of them made than transition rather easily. But many others experienced growing pains and often caused on track incidents. NASCAR established that second tier system for both driver development and safety reasons. The system was very similar to the minor league farm system used by Major League Baseball.
Over the years we have heard the argument that says the presence of the Cup teams in a Nationwide Series race is essentially pulling the money, championship points and potential sponsor exposure right out of the pockets of the teams who compete in the series on a full time basis. But the other side of this argument is a strong statement about the numbers the Cup teams generate for a Nationwide Series race. If you ask any NASCAR track owner/race promoter if they want "insurance whackers" participating in their Nationwide events nearly everyone of them will give you a resounding "hell yes, those guys sell tickets and park butts in what would have been empty seats." Anyone connected with any of the television networks who broadcast Nationwide Series races will also be the first to tell you that the presence of the Cup teams helps to bolster the all important ratings numbers which in turn determines their semi annual ad rates.
A long term driver development program versus the all important bottom line numbers. What we have here is an argument that may never reach a conclusion. It seems to be along the lines of that old Miller Lite television commercial: "taste great-less filling."
TIME TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE BRISTOL NATIONWIDE SERIES GUEST LIST.
There are 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup names entered in Friday's Food City 250. The first is an obvious exception to the "insurance whacker" rule. Kyle Busch, and Joe Gibbs Racing, have been running both series on a full time basis this year and are the current Nationwide points leader and likely 2009 champion.
Despite the fact that both series are racing at the same track this weekend, the name Joey Logano is noticeably absent from the Nationwide Series entry list. Gibbs Racing has opted to put their young development driver Brad Coleman in the seat of their #20 Toyota for the Bristol race. Now that's an example of the original, true, intent of the series.
The Roush Fenway Racing Ford stable will also be well represented in this race with three teams. The first team is another notable exception to the "insurance whacker" rule. Carl Edwards is also running both series full time and is currently second in the Nationwide Series championship standings. Edwards will be looking for a good run Friday to hopefully eradicate some of the 339 points deficit between him and Busch.
Other Roush Fenway entries in the Food City 250 includes Matt Kenseth and David Ragan. Yates Racing, considered to be by many a Roush Fenway annex, will represented by Paul Menard.
Braun Racing is a full time Nationwide Series racing organization but more and more of late have been using the services of Sprint Cup drivers. This is due to wanting to bolster their standings in the series' owner's points race as well as helping Toyota win the manufacturer's title. David Reutimann will be driving Braun's primary car, the #32 Toyota, in Friday's race. Braun's #10 Toyota will be occupied by Kasey Kahne. This seat assignment is from a recent five event Nationwide Series alliance between Braun and Richard Petty Motorsports who are supplying the drivers. It's been rumored that RPM, a Dodge team in the Sprint Cup Series, is sending their drivers to a Nationwide Toyota team in preparation for a possible manufacturers switch in 2010.
By the way RPM Cup driver Reed Sorenson will be in the #1 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing. This move follows the recent team decision to release their regular Nationwide Series driver Mike Bliss.
Another interesting Cup driver entered in the Nationwide Series race is Ryan Newman who will be driving the #5 Chevrolet for the Dale Earnhardt Jr owned JR Motorsports. Newman is in an iron man mode while at Bristol. He drove in Wednesday afternoon's NASCAR Whelen Modified Series event as well as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Wednesday night. The Friday and Saturday night races will complete his Bristol quad run.
Richard Childress Racing will only field one car in the Bristol Nationwide Series race. Clint Bowyer will be driving their #29 Chevrolet Friday night. RCR team mate Kevin Harvick is also in this race but will be driving his self owned Kevin Harvick Inc Chevrolet.
But the really interesting "insurance whacker" entry involves Cup driver David Gilliland driving a Dodge entered by team owner Chip Ganassi. The rumors are flying regarding Ganassi's very recent interest in a return to racing in the Nationwide Series. One would think that his plate would be filled with Sprint Cup team issues with his partner Teresa Earnhardt and their Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing operation. First off, they still need to name a suitable replacement driver for the soon to be departed Martin Truex Jr. There are also sponsorship issues to be considered. At the beginning of this year EGR was a planned four car team that quickly slid to only two cars due to a lack of sponsorship.
So, why the sudden Ganassi interest in the Nationwide Series? The garage rumor mill says it might have something to do with Indy Racing League super star Danica Patrick. With her current contract expiring at the end of this year, she is without question, the highest profile free agent in all of motorsports. There's been plenty of evidence that says she has investigated a potential jump to NASCAR and has visited several of the series' team headquarters. But it's been reported that she's acutely aware that this leap is not an easy one. She's also well aware of what happened to her former IRL team mate Dario Franchitti and his failure to make the IRL to NASCAR transition.
The rumor mill states that Patrick will remain in the IRL but will sign with Ganassi's ultra successful operation in that series. During that tenure she will slowly gravitate towards a move to NASCAR. It's well known that the number of races in an IRL season isn't even close to the schedule of any of NASCAR's three national touring series. That means Patrick would have plenty of time to test the NASCAR waters in some Nationwide Series events. That would also explain Ganassi's renewed interest in Nationwide Series racing.
Bear in mind that all of this is a "silly season" rumor at the moment but it's certainly one of the better ones that we've heard lately. If the rumor becomes reality then it will be regarded as one of the smartest team owner moves in 2009.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN.
Friday night's Food City 250 is 250 laps/132.5 miles around the Bristol Motor Speedway's rugged concrete circle.
The race has 51 posted entries vying for the 43 starting berths.
21 of those entries are on the "go or go home" list meaning they are outside of the series' top 30 in owner's points and do not have a guaranteed starting berth for the race. They must race their way into the field based on their qualifying speeds. This will not be easy. With the aforementioned 12 Sprint Cup drivers entered in the race combined with a weather forecast that could rain out qualifying, this could turn into a very frustrating weekend for the 21 "go or go home" teams.
The defending race winner is Brad Keselowski who is red hot, and third in the championship standings, so far this year. Keselowski is coming off a stunning Nationwide Series win at Michigan last week and has a lot of momentum on his side.
The Raybestos Rookie Of The Year standings has young Justin Allgaier, from Penske Racing, in the lead with a 17 point advantage over Brendan Gaughan from Rusty Wallace Racing.
The series' manufacturer's championship standings shows Toyota in the lead with 161 points followed by Chevrolet-142, Ford-131 and Dodge-72.
The Food City 250 will be broadcast live by ESPN beginning at 730 pm eastern time.
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