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NASCAR soap opera "As The Wheel Turns"

by Dave Grayson
Friday, November 20, 2009

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The NASCAR Nationwide Series will close their 2009 season Saturday with the running of the Ford 300 at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Who's going to be the new series champion is a no brainer. However, one of the more interesting issues pending resolution is who's going to finish fifth in the final championship standings based on a very important reason. It's also going to be interesting to see if we get treated to another episode of the NASCAR soap opera "As The Wheel Turns" starring two drivers who simply can't get along with each other.

PRE RACE NOTES OF INTEREST

Kyle Busch buried his competitors in the Nationwide Series this year
Whether you're his biggest fan or cringe at the very mention of his name, we all have to admit that Kyle Busch's performance this year in the Nationwide Series has been nothing short of amazing. All Busch has to do Saturday is start his engine, complete the first lap of the race and the 2009 championship belongs to him and Joe Gibbs Racing. In fact, if Busch decided he wanted the day off he could literally start and park and still take the title.

He has eight wins this year and has led a series high 2,625 laps. His series driver's rating is an astounding 126.2. He also recently set a record for second place finishes with 11. But with his strong passion for winning he probably doesn't want to talk about record high runner up finishes.

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So, what's the big deal with finishing fifth in the Nationwide Series final standings? In terms of public relations and business administrations it's actually huge. The annual awards banquet, set for this Monday in Miami, will for the first time combine the Nationwide Series with their counterparts from the Camping World Truck Series. Only the top five drivers from each series will get stage time.

This event will be video taped for a national television broadcast. It's a golden opportunity for a driver to thank his team sponsors, as well as hopefully entice new sponsors to consider the team, all in a nationally covered format.

Going into Saturday's Ford 300 Mike Bliss holds down the coveted fifth spot in the standings and that alone is quite a remarkable story. Bliss will be behind the wheel of the #1 Miccosukee Indian Gaming Chevrolet owned by James Finch. This is the same team that released the driver back on August 1st citing performance levels. This action came despite the fact that Bliss had delivered the team a win and was in the top ten in points at that time. In a period of two weeks, from mid July to the first of August, Finch actually fired, rehired and then fired this driver again..

Mike Bliss
Bliss was understandably anxious to keep his name in the top ten in points for the remainder of this season while hoping to line up a quality ride for 2010. During the course of 13 races, following his release by Finch, Bliss drove for five different teams and managed to elevate himself to fifth in the points. It's a sheer note of irony that Bliss will finish the season in the same car that he started with. Or is it possible that James Finch finally figured out what everyone has been saying over the past 13 weeks: someone should be signing this driver to a long term contract.

However Bliss is going to have to drive hard Saturday to keep that fifth place in the points. Series rookie Justin Allgaier, in his Penske Racing Dodge, is only 14 points away from fifth and will be charging hard Saturday to get that stage time during Monday's banquet.

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That's not the only close battle Allgaier will be involved in during the Ford 300. He currently leads the Raybestos Rookie Of The Year standings which also involves stage time at the awards banquet. But it's a very slim eight point lead over season rival Brendan Gaughan. This also will be a battle to watch this Saturday.

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Then there's the matter of the aforementioned soap opera "As The Wheel Turns" starring Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. It's very well known by all, including NASCAR officials, that these two young driving talents really doesn't have warm regards for each other. They proved it last week with a racing is rubbing deal during the Phoenix race. They were tied at the time, with one hitting the other one time each, when Keselowski decided he wasn't quite finished. He hit Hamlin hard and spun him out directly in front of traffic. Fortunately the traffic behind them saw it coming and went into diversion mode. It was a miracle that there wasn't a huge multi car crash.

After the race Hamlin swore vengeance and reminded us all that he will also be driving in the Homestead Miami race. He also noted that he wasn't the only one that was angry at Keselowski's on track tactics and said "there's a lot of guys who feel like they owe him one and may be planning to cash in their chips next Saturday. I'm going to make sure I'm first in line at the pay window."

What happened during the Phoenix race was not an isolated incident between these two drivers. In fact there's been three cases of on track anger during the course of the last ten weeks. NASCAR has spoken to both drivers in an effort to calm the situation. This is especially true of Keselowski who was invited to NASCAR's Oval Office last Sunday morning prior to his participation in the Sprint Cup race. Keselowski reportedly was given a lecture on the difference between aggressive and destructive driving.

But you can bet NASCAR will be watching these two drivers Saturday especially if they get too close to each other.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Saturday's race is 200 laps around the Homestead Miami Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.

The defending race champion is Carl Edwards.

The Ford 300 has 53 pre race entries vying for the 43 starting positions. A whopping 23 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are outside of the top 30 in owner's points and will have to earn a starting berth based on their qualifying speeds.

That could be a problem. The weather forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and showers which could cancel qualifying.

The Ford 300 will be aired at 4 pm eastern time by ESPN2 who will re broadcast the race Sunday morning at 4am eastern.

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