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Nationwide and Truck Series go 'Short Tracking'

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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Carl Edwards holds up last year's Kroger 200 trophy
Since 1982 the NASCAR Nationwide Series has been racing at a 0.686 mile bullring oval in Clermont-Indiana that virtually stands in the shadows of the grandstands at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just down the highway. Now under the working name of the Lucas Oil Raceway, this annual short track classic has a tradition of generating some of the most exciting racing you'll ever want to see. Saturday night's 30th annual Kroger 200, benefiting the Riley Hospital For Children, is again expected to be its traditional sell out with literally millions more watching on live television.

Sadly, this outstanding racing tradition may be coming to an official end after the checkers falls on the Kroger 200 Saturday night. In a rather surprising announcement made earlier this month by NASCAR officials, it appears that this race will be joining it's NASCAR Sprint Cup counterparts at the mammoth Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year. Also on hand for that summer of 2012 weekend will be the Grand American Rolex Series, which is now owned by NASCAR, who will open the weekend with a race on the IMS road course.

Where that announcement leaves the Lucas Oil Raceway Park remains to be seen. It's seemingly apparent that the NASCAR Nationwide Series will not be returning to that track despite three decades of outstanding racing. The raceway's annual NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, who will be racing at the Lucas Oil Raceway Friday night, will also be making their final acclaim at the famed short track and is not expected to return next year.

This decision has sparked a tremendous amount of debate. Some believe that it's important for the Nationwide Series teams to race on the most internationally known speedway in the world. There's also the opinions that say three prominent series racing on the same track on the same weekend is going to generate a lot of attention, a lot of good racing and a lot of money. Still others believe this is a horrible decision that will ultimately cause more embarrassment than good. These opponents openly wonder why would NASCAR pull a race off of the Nationwide Series schedule that is so steeped in history and quality. I suppose we will have to wait until next summer to discover who's right.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

The Nationwide Series teams will be bringing an extra layer of drama to Saturday's Kroger 200 with a very tight, way too close to call, championship points battle. Reed Sorenson, and his Turner Motorsports Toyota, is currently the points leader going into Saturday but only holds a five point advantage over the Roush Fenway Racing Ford team led by driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Holding down third, only 14 points from the top, is Elliot Sadler last week's points leader. The misfortune of a broken gear, during a pit stop, dropped Sadler from first to third in the standings. However the driver of the Kevin Harvick Inc Chevrolet will be expected to be a hard charger Saturday night while seeking his first win of the season as well as a return to the top of the points standings.

Also of interest here are the overall lack of double dip drivers in this race. The double dippers are of course the Sprint Cup drivers, and their high dollar teams, who frequently enjoy a little extra racing on Nationwide Series Saturday. With the Cup team just down the highway, for Sunday's Brickyard 400, one would think that they would jump on some double dip fun available to them at the Lucas Oil Raceway.

Apparently not. There are only four them entered in the Kroger 200. That list is topped by Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski who have been very busy racing both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series full schedules this year. Joining them will be Michael McDowell who will be driving the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 Toyota normally occupied by Kyle Busch. That's right, for the second week in a row a Nationwide Series race will be ran Busch free despite the fact that he's the defending race winner from last year. Joining the double dip squad will be NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Austin Dillon who, for the second race in a row, will be driving Kevin Harvick Inc's #33 Chevrolet.

Yet another Kroger 200 storyline that will generate a lot of attention Saturday night will be the Nationwide Series debut of Travis Pastrana. His accomplishments in the action sports arena are well documented. He has 16 medals in the famed X games as well as multiple titles in supercross and motocross racing and equal success driving rally cars. His transition to NASCAR stock cars this year has included five appearances in the K&N Pro Series East and West, NASCAR's racing feeder system. His best finish came in January when he finished sixth in the Toyota All Star Shootout at the Irwindale Speedway near Los Angeles. His transition has been helped by his driver coach Matt Crafton a veteran of NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series.

Pastrana is well versed in handling busy schedules. That's a good thing because his schedule for this weekend is well beyond hectic. It starts on Thursday night when he will be at the annual X Games in Los Angeles to compete in the Best Trick Competition. Pastrana will once again attempt the 720 at the X Games. He will fly off of a ramp on his motorcycle and do two complete back flips. He's been trying to perfect this dangerous stunt for approximately four years now and he recently pointed out "if you miss any one of the steps any time you will be broken." Speaking of broken, this is the same trick that handed Pastrana multiple injuries during the X Games two years ago.

On Friday he will be participating in the X Games' Freestyle Competition. Then it's off to the airport to catch a late night flight to Indianapolis. There he will have a full day at the Lucas Oil Raceway that begins with a rookie meeting, two Nationwide Series practice sessions, qualifying and of course the running of the Kroger 200. Then it's back to the airport for a return flight to Los Angeles, and the X Games, to compete in the Rally Cross Competition. On Monday morning he will fly to Salt Lake City-Utah to spend the week filming his "Nitro 3-D Circus" movie. Again, he's well versed in handling busy schedules. So is the ESPN Network who will covering all of Pastrana's activities including his back and forth commute.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Kroger 200, Benefiting the Riley Hospital For Children, is 200 laps/137.2 miles around the Lucas Oil Raceway's challenging .686 mile oval with its progressive banking.

The race has 44 entries vying for the 43 official starting berths. 14 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth because they are currently outside of the top 30 in the Nationwide Series owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race. The lone exception here is driver Jeff Green who can make the race via a past champion's provisional.

Weather could turn out to be more challenging than the race track. The Saturday forecast for the Clermont-Indiana area calls for a chance of scattered thunder storms with daytime highs at 87 degrees.

The Kroger 200, Benefiting the Riley Hospital For Children, will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network beginning at 7 pm eastern time.             

CAMPING WORLLD TRUCK SERIES

NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series will be racing on the one venue that made the series famous: a short track. Friday night's AAA Insurance 200 is the annual NASCAR style tail gate party hosted by the Lucas Oil Raceway At Indianapolis. The 0.686 mile oval has been the scene of tail gate bashing since the series’ inception back in 1995. It's a venue that this series was born to race on.

That's the good news. The bad news is: this apparently is going to be the last NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at this prestigious venue. An announcement earlier this month said that both the truck series and NASCAR's Nationwide Series, which will race it's final event at Lucas Oil Raceway Saturday night, will not be returning in the 2012 season. The Nationwide Series will move down the highway to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway to become part of the Sprint Cup's annual Brickyard 400 weekend. It's not exactly clear which track will get the truck series' date next year. It's a move that is not understood by many racing observers.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been enjoying a tremendous 2011 season filled with highly competitive racing. It has often been the class act of many of the NASCAR weekends all season long. Expect some high intensity racing this Friday night. The AAA Insurance 200, at the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis is going to be an event you don't want to miss.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

When you think of high performance levels at this track you automatically have to think of Ron Hornaday Jr. The truck series’ four time champion has accumulated some astounding numbers at this track. Hornaday will be making his 12th start there driving his Kevin Harvick Inc #33 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Pinnacle Foods, and their Vlasic Pickles, Peppers and Relish brand, along with Kroger Super Markets.

Hornaday is the defending race winner from last year, but the Lucas Oil Raceway stats don't start and end there. In his 12 starts he has a series high four wins along with eight top five, and eight top ten, finishes. He's also led 505 laps there. Since the 2005 season, when NASCAR's Loop Scoring system was created, Hornaday stats at this track includes an average starting position of fifth and an amazing average finish ratio of 1.83.

For the second week in a row, Hornaday's KHI team mate will be Elliot Sadler who will be making his first official series start at the Lucas Oil Raceway in the #2 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet. However, Sadler does have some experience at this raceway from three previous starts in the Nationwide Series. He will be on board Friday night to help with KHI's quest for the truck series' coveted Owner's Point Championship. The KHI #2 Chevrolet Truck, with DeLana Harvick listed as the owner, is currently second in those standings 31 points behind the Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

Also for the second race in a row, a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event will be Busch free. Kyle Busch will not be in his familiar, self owned, #18 Toyota Friday night. He has instead elected to once again place his development driver, Josh Richards, in the seat.

The one driver who will be bringing a great deal of momentum to the Lucas Oil Raceway Friday night will be Austin Dillon, last weekend's race winner at Nashville. Dillon is currently second in the series' championship standings and will be looking to eradicate the 18 point lead currently held by Johnny Sauter who is also expected to be very competitive Friday night.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Friday night's AAA Insurance 200 is 200 laps/137.2 miles around the Lucas Oil Raceway's very challenging .686 mile oval which is actually located in Clermont-Indiana just a few minutes down the highway from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The race has 37 official entries vying for the 36 truck field. 12 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they do not have a guaranteed start in the race because they are currently outside of the series' top 25 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to earn their starting berth.

The AAA Insurance 200 will be broadcast live by SPEED with the pre race show beginning at 7 pm eastern time.   

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