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Nationwide Series Class of 2009

by Dave Grayson
Friday, February 13, 2009

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Kyle Busch celebrates one of his many wins in 2008
NASCAR's Nationwide Series kicks off its 35 race season with the running of the Camping World 300 this Saturday, February 14th. There are, at this time, 50 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. Thirty of the teams are locked into the race based on their owner's points from 2008. One more spot is locked in for Greg Biffle under the past champion's provisional although it's not likely Biffle will need to use it.
Tony Stewart is the defending race champion and will be in the race driving the #80 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. That appearance appears be just one of two times Stewart will be driving in the Nationwide Series. The race can be seen on ESPN2 beginning with the pre race show at 12 noon eastern time.
The dual championships, driver and owner's titles, could be quite interesting this year. For the first time in quite awhile a bonafide Nationwide Series only team actually has a very good chance of winning the points championships. There are quite a few of the Sprint Cup teams, now referred to as "insurance whackers”, who will only be running a limited schedule this year which can largely be attributed to economics. In fact, the only two drivers who plan to run both the full Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series schedules are Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. There's also the anticipated drama associated with the owner's championship. Over the past three years this title has come down to the final races and was a total split from the driver's points title. For example, last year Clint Bowyer won the drivers title driving #2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet but the #20 Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing won the owner's title.
With those thoughts in mind, here are some of the major players in the Nationwide Series class of 2009:
#09. JOHN WES TOWNLEY. FORD. RAB RACING.
This talented young driver will be moving from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to a full time schedule in the Nationwide Series for 2009. Last year's sponsor, Zaxby's, will be making the move with him. The team will be powered by Roush Yates engines. Townley is also the first of six driving vying for the Rookie Of The Year title.
#1. MIKE BLISS. CHEVROLET. JAMES FINCH/PHOENIX RACING.
The long time veteran could be a factor in the win column and the championship. Phoenix Racing is a Nationwide Series team that will be backed by engines from Rick Hendrick engines this year. Miccosukee Resort Gaming, one of the stronger sponsors in NASCAR racing, will be returning with the team this year.
#2. CLINT BOWYER-MARTIN TRUEX JR-SCOTT PRUETT. CHEVROLET. RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING.
This is the car that won the Nationwide Series championship last year. Bowyer is scheduled to race only a few events. The presence of Truex and Pruett, expected to drive in the road course events, are not confirmed. That's because of the one element that missing from this team: sponsorship. It doesn't seem to have any backers at that moment and how many races this car runs after Daytona remains to be seen.
#5.  MARK MARTIN-DALE EARNHARDT JR-LANDON CASSILL-JIMMIE JOHNSON-TONY STEWART-SCOTT WIMMER-MARTIN TRUEX JR. CHEVROLET. HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS.
Here is another Nationwide Series gang of "insurance whackers" that looks good in theory. However an insufficient sponsorship program may keep a Hendrick team from running the full schedule. Unilever is on board for 10 races. Delphi will sponsor one race at Las Vegas with Tony Stewart. Go Daddy is sponsoring two appearances by Dale Earnhardt Jr while Fastenal will pick up 14 races including two driven by Earnhardt. Truex and Wimmer are expected to drive the remainder of the events.     
#6. DAVID RAGAN-ERIC DARNELL. FORD. ROUSH FENWAY RACING.
David Ragan, who ran the full Cup and Nationwide schedules last year, will be on board for 20 events in 2009. Eric Darnell, who did so well for Roush Fenway in the truck series last year, elevates his status with the team this year by driving in 15 Nationwide Series races. The team has solid sponsorship from Discount Tire along with Northern Tool and Equipment. Darnell is also a candidate the rookie title despite the limited schedule.
#9.  CHASE MILLER-KASEY KAHNE-REED SORENSON. DODGE. RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS.
Here's another team that will be going from a full to a part time schedule due to sponsorship limitations. Auto Value/Bumper To Bumper, Motorola and Subway have picked up some of the race but a lot more sponsor money is going to be needed for the team to run the full season.
#10.  BRIAN VICKERS-DENNY HAMLIN-JUSTIN MARKS-DAVID REUTIMANN. TOYOTA. BRAUN RACING.
The third Braun team features of a trio of "insurance whackers" along with a development driver. Seymour Paint, Future Electronics, Haas Avocados and ABF Freight will share the hood of the car with Beringer sponsor four events with David Reutimann behind the wheel.  , 
#11.SCOTT LAGASSE JR. TOYOTA. CJM RACING.
This second generation driver is another candidate for the series' rookie title. CJM Racing switches their manufacturer brand to Toyota this year and has a very valuable technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. America's Incredible Pizza Company is on board as the primary sponsor.
#12. JUSTIN ALLGAIER. DODGE. PENSKE SOUTH RACING.
This ARCA REMAX Series standout is also a candidate for this year's rookie candidate and will definitely be a driver to watch in 2009. He has outstanding support from team owner Roger Penske and full sponsorship backing from Verizon.
#15. MICHAEL ANNETT. TOYOTA. GERMAIN RACING.
Annett is also proof that time spent in the ARCA REMAX Series is a major positive. He takes over the ride formerly driven by Mike Wallace last year which means he gets to use the owner's points from last year when the car ran the #7. The team has full sponsorship from Hype Energy Drink and Pilot Travel Centers. Arnett is also a serious candidate for the Nationwide Series rookie title.
#16. GREG BIFFLE-MATT KENSETH-COLIN BRAUN-RICKY STENHOUSE JR. FORD. ROUSH FENWAY RACING.
This quartet of drivers in this top notch ride could held Roush Fenway win the owner's title this year. Biffle will drive the car in 15 events, Kenseth will drive 12, Rookie candidate Stenhouse will be in the car for seven races and development driver Braun will debut in one race. Long time Roush Fenway sponsors Citi Financial and 3m will share the sponsor role.
#17. MATT KENSETH-JAMIE MC MURRAY. FORD. ROUSH FENWAY RACING.
Here's another Cup inspired team that is going from full time to extreme part time in 2009. Matt Kenseth is scheduled to only drive one Nationwide Series race this year with Kraft as the sponsor. An extreme need for additional sponsors will determine how many time we see McMurray in the car.
#18. KYLE BUSCH. TOYOTA. JOE GIBBS RACING.
Here's the man to be watching all season long. Busch plans on running the entire schedule and has his sights on winning both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup championships. Z Line is sponsoring that effort full time.
#20. JOEY LAGANO-DENNY HAMLIN-BRAD COLEMAN. TOYOTA. JOE GIBBS RACING.
Joe Gibbs Racing is planning another assault on the Nationwide Series Owner's Championship this year with their famed #20 Toyota Camry. Despite being busy with his freshman season in the Sprint Cup Series, Joey Logano will be driving the car in 24 races this year with team mate Denny Hamlin behind the wheel for a handful of events. Rookie Brad Coleman will drive the car during the time when the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series are not at the same tracks often referred to as stand alone events.
#21. AUSTIN DILLON. CHEVROLET. RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING.
Richard Childress' racing grandson was hoping to make a full assault on the Nationwide Series this year but it appears sponsorship is going to be a major obstacle. The team plans to run seven races in the #21 and Dillon could pick up a couple of extra events in the Childress #2 ride.
#27. JASON KELLER. FORD. BAKER CURB RACING.
The iron man of the series returns to the Baker Curb operation with full sponsorship from Kleenex and power plants fabricated by famed engine builder Ernie Elliot.   
#29. STEPHEN LEICHT-JEFF BURTON-CLINT BOWYER. CHEVROLET. RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING.
Here's another "insurance whacker" team that put on a strong effort last year. Team owner Richard Childress will be chasing the Nationwide Series Owner Championship with the trio of Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Stephen Leicht behind the wheel. This is a huge opportunity for Leicht, a driver who deserves a good ride to display his talent. Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express returns with the team as sponsors.
#32.  BRIAN VICKERS-BURNEY LAMAR. TOYOTA. BRAUN RACING.
Braun Racing had a terrific 2008 that was primarily bolstered by the part time performance of Kyle Busch. This year the team will put Cup driver Brian Vickers behind the wheel of their Toyota for 17 races. West coast talent Burney Lamar will drive the car in the remainder of the events. Dollar General Stores returns to sponsor the full season.
#33. KEVIN HARVICK-CALE GALE-RYAN NEWMAN. CHEVROLET. KEVIN HARVICK INC.
This team may read like a double dose of "insurance whackers" but it a legitimate Nationwide Series team from Kevin Harvick Inc. Harvick and development driver Cale Gale will split the driving duties for 29 races while Newman will be in the car for the remaining six events. This team also has one of the most extensive sponsor programs in the series with backing from Vlasic, Armour Canned Meats, Hungry Man Frozen Dinners, Jimmy Johns, VFW, Road Loans Dot Com and Rheem.
#38. JASON LEFLER. TOYOTA. BRAUN RACING.
The second team from Braun Racing has series veteran Jason Leffler returning as the driver along with long time primary sponsors Great Clips and Comcast. The big change is the addition of new crew chief Scott Zipadelli. This second generation "Zippy" could turn out to be exactly what this team needs.
#47. KELLY BIRES-MICHAEL MC DOWELL. TOYOTA. JTG/DAUGHERTY RACING.
McDowell reportedly has sponsorship to run at least 16 races but there has been no formal announcement regarding exactly who that sponsor is. How many teams we will see Bires in the car depends on additional sponsors.
#60  CARL EDWARDS. FORD. ROUSH FENWAY RACING.
Here's the other driver that will garner a huge amount of attention this year. Like Kyle Busch, Edwards is going after both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup championships. There will be a slight period of adjustment with new crew chief Dan Stillman but that shouldn't be a problem. Save-A-Lot Stores and Scott Miracle Gro will share the primary sponsor duties.
#62.  BRENDAN GAUGHAN. CHEVROLET. RUSTY WALLACE INC.
He may be listed as a Nationwide Series' Rookie Of The Year contender but this veteran is no rookie. Following a lengthy, and successful, stint in the Camping World Truck Series, Gaughan step up to the Nationwide Series by joining Rusty Wallace's racing stable. With him comes his long time, family owned, primary sponsor the Las Vegas based South Point Hotel and Spa.   
#66.  STEVE WALLACE. CHEVROLET. RUSTY WALLACE INC.
The second of the RWI cars has Steve Wallace returning to his father's team in what many think could be the break out year for the young driver. Aggressive on track mistakes from the past appears to be smoothed over. USfidelis and 5 Hour Energy Drink will share the primary sponsor roles.
#88. BRAD KESELOWSKI. CHEVROLET. JR MOTORSPORTS
Dale Earnhardt Jr's protégé returns for his sophomore season in the Nationwide Series. If there is a Nationwide regular who can upset the onslaught of the "insurance whackers" for the series championship this is the guy. The other good news here is the fact that his crew chief. and a major racing mentor, Tony Eury Sr will return to the top of the pit box. The team was sponsored by the U.S. Navy last year but they elected not to return. For awhile it appeared that the team was going to have trouble finding a replacement sponsor. You know the economy is bad when Dale Jr has trouble lining up backers. However in recent weeks the crisis was resolved with the announcement that Delphi, Go Daddy Dot Com and Unilever was signed to help pay the bills.
#89.  MORGAN SHEPHERD. CHEVROLET. FAITH MOTORSPORTS.
This ageless wonder makes this list because he's a true inspiration to us all. Now in the back half of his sixties, Shepherd shows no signs of slowing down and plans to run the full Nationwide Series schedule while, at the same time, sharing his strong principals of faith. Five R Trucks and Trailers is sponsoring the team for the Daytona race. Racing With Jesus Ministries will also be on the hood of the car while additional sponsorship is being sought. In between Nationwide Series commitments at the track don't be too surprised if you see Shepherd roller skating down pit road to help him stay in shape.
#98. PAUL MENARD. FORD. YATES RACING.
This Nationwide Series effort is reported to be in conjunction with Roush Fenway Racing and has scheduled 16 races with Menards and Rheem Water Heaters on the hood. 
#99 MICHAEL WALTRIP-SCOTT SPEED. TOYOTA. MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING.
Michael Waltrip is the next on the list of "insurance whackers" looking to find his way into a Nationwide Series victory lane. His sponsorship package this year includes Aarons Rent Stores and Best Western Inns. Scott Speed will run a limited scheduled in the car backed by Red Bull. However this sponsor combination only covers 26 races and the team has said they will not run any events unsponsored.

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