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Stater Bros. 300 Preview: Danica Watch Part 2

by Dave Grayson
Friday, February 19, 2010

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In Fontana this weekend it will again be all Danica Patrick all the time
The elite teams from the NASCAR Nationwide Series are in California for Saturdays running of the Stater Brothers 300 at the Auto Club Speedway. Like their Sprint Cup counterparts, also in California this weekend, the diverse racing environment from last week's season opener at Daytona has Nationwide Series teams thinking that the official racing season will start in Fontana-California. By the time the Stater Brothers 300 concludes the teams will have a much clearer picture of what they need to do to improve their competitive levels for the remainder of the season.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

One of the unanswered questions from this race is who's going to leave the Auto Club Speedway Saturday night as the new series points leader? Tony Stewart sits on top of the standings at the moment by way of last Saturday's win at the season opener at Daytona. However, Stewart's double duty venture into the Nationwide Series was a one and done deal meaning he has no plans to compete in the series for the remainder of the year.

The logical successor is Carl Edwards driver of the #60 Copart/Roush Fenway Racing Ford who finished second at Daytona. However, his Nationwide Series story line also involves special circumstances. Edwards and his wife Kate have been waiting for the arrival of their first child since Tuesday. As of this writing the blessed event hasn't occurred yet and there's a good possibility that Edwards may be spending Saturday making a fast run to the airport to get home. Roush Fenway development driver Erik Darnell is on standby to cover Edwards' cars in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series

Third in the Nationwide Series succession is Kevin Harvick who will be driving in Saturday's race in his self owner #33 Rheems Tankless/Kevin Harvick Inc Chevrolet. Despite commentary before the new season started, Harvick has not fully committed to running a full time Nationwide Series quest for what could be his unprecedented third series title. But there is one important piece of business that Harvick will be looking to take care of this Saturday. The Auto Club Speedway is one of the tracks, on the Nationwide Series schedule, that he has never won at.

The one thing we do know for sure is the fact that the Nationwide Series will have a new champion by the end of the 2010 season. Reigning champion Kyle Busch will not be running the full schedule this year electing instead of only participate in approximately 20 races

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When it gets down to pre race favorites to win the Stater Brothers 300 you have to strongly consider Kyle Busch, team mate Joey Logano and their Joe Gibbs Racing, (JGR), Toyotas. JGR seems to have racing at the Auto Club Speedway figured out. The organization has won four consecutive Nationwide Series events there. That streak was launched back in February of 2008 by race winner Tony Stewart. Busch won the fall race of 2008 as well as the winter event in 2009 while Logano won the race this past October. Busch also has the distinction of winning both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series events, in February of last year, on the same day. By the way all four of these JGR wins came from either the first or second starting positions,

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It goes without saying that the Stater Brothers 300 will also feature another episode of "Danica Watch." Danica Patrick's official Nationwide Series debut last weekend at Daytona was disrupted when she found herself caught up in a ten car melee not of her making. But the result was a disappointing 35th place finish and a curtailment of that all important NASCAR seat time she needs the most right now. But even her harshest critics, who claimed she would not be able to handle the difficult transition from open wheel Indy cars to NASCAR, are having to back up and admit the lady has more that proven that she can handle her own inside of a stock car.

There's no question that her presence has impacted the television ratings numbers in a very big way. When she ran her first stock car race, in the ARCA Series at Daytona, the ratings for the SPEED Channel's live broadcast jumped 59 percent over the previous year. With all due respect to a long racing history, no one can remember the last time an ARCA event received that much attention. It was the same story for the ESPN2 network who presented the live broadcast of the Nationwide Series race at Daytona. Their ratings were 33 percent up and the event was listed as the best ratings for a Nationwide Series event ever presented on a cable channel. That's how powerful the Danica brand is.

Patrick arrived on the west coast early this week and was very busy promoting her brand on television talk shows hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, Bonnie Hunt, Chelsea Handler and Jimmy Kimmel as well as an appearance on the popular southern California radio talk show hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

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Rain could be a huge factor for the Stater Brothers 300 this Saturday. Light showers are in the forecast for the entire weekend mostly in the 10 to 20 percent range. But the forecast calls for a 55 percent chance of rain on Saturday morning and that could cancel qualifying for the Nationwide Series for the second race in a row.

It may also become a case of déjà vu for team owner Jack Roush who may find himself in a position of having to buy a starting berth for his Nationwide team for the second race in a row. Sprint Cup driver Paul Menard will be doing double duty this year in both the Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series. His Nationwide Series ride is the Roush owned #98 Ford with primary sponsorship coming from the driver's father, John Menard, and the family owned chain of home improvement stores.

Because it's a new team they have no owners points. That means they are outside of the Nationwide Series' top 30 owners points standings and must gain a starting berth in the race based on qualifying speed. Currently NASCAR is using 2009 owners points to determine their line ups until the fifth race of the season when the 2010 points will become effective.

Last Saturday in Daytona driver Menard drew the 69th qualifying position. It was clearly evident that the weather was going to cancel qualifying. With no 2009 owner's points it also meant that Menard and company were faced with packing up and going home. That's when Jack Roush did a little math and determined that if the five cars ahead of his car in the qualifying line withdrew from the race then they would get a starting berth. Roush successfully negotiated with those five team owners and they withdrew. The incentive to withdraw was based on Roush's offer of engineering assistance, equipment and his personal check.

Later that day Menard worked his way from the back of the 43 car starting field to a sixth place finish which paid approximately $57,000. It was never revealed how much money Roush paid to get these race withdrawals. The 43 position paid approximately $45,000. Multiply that figure times five teams and the speculation says that Roush may have paid out $225,000 to get his car into the Daytona race.

On Saturday morning the Nationwide Series teams outside of the top 30 in owner's points will line up at the back of the qualifying line. With a 55 percent chance of rain for the Fontana-California area we may again see Jack Roush standing under an umbrella while signing checks.

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How powerful is a "Twitter" message these days? Just ask Nationwide Series driver Kenny Wallace. On February 13th Wallace sent a "Twitter" that said "we have no sponsor for the Nationwide Series race in California. We'll put your name on the quarter panel for $7,200. That's four sets of tires. I will have to run used tires if we don't get sponsors."

Did Wallace's "Twitter" message work? You bet it did. Three days later Zimmzang, described as an innovative printing and advertising company, signed on to sponsor the team for the race at the Auto Club Speedway.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Stater Brothers 300 is 150 laps around the Auto Club Speedway's mammoth two mile, D shaped, oval.


The race has 49 entries. A whopping 20 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are outside of the Nationwide Series top 30 in owner's points and will have to earn a starting berth in the race based on qualifying. Again, that effort could be greatly hampered by the presence of rain in Fontana on Saturday morning. Additionally, there are 11 Sprint Cup drivers entered in this race who will be doing double duty during the California weekend.

The race will be broadcast live by ESPN2. The countdown show begins at 5 pm eastern time followed by the race at 530 pm et. ESPN2 will re air the Stater Brothers 300 on Sunday morning at 4am et.

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