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NASCAR Nationwide Series Notebook Friday

by Dave Grayson
Friday, February 20, 2009

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The NASCAR Nationwide Series travels to the "left coast" this week for Saturday's Stater Brothers 300 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana-California. Here's the breakdown for Saturday's race:

  • The Stater Brothers 300 will be 150 laps around the Auto Club Speedway's two mile, D shaped, oval. The race will be aired on television by ESPN2 beginning at 7 pm eastern.
  • There are 46 entries in the race all vying for 43 starting berths and that means the qualifying session is going to be loaded with drama. There are 15 teams on the go or go home list who need to make the race on speed. 
  • Tony Stewart is the defending race champion and literally spanked the competition last year. The good news for the competition in 2009 is the fact Stewart is not entered in this race.
  • There are 12 drivers from the Sprint Cup Series, now known as "Insurance Whackers", who are entered in the Stater Brothers 300 with many of them considered favorites to win the race.

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ON THE INSIDE TRACK

Among the Sprint Cup crop of "Insurance Whackers" Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are certainly favorites to win this race. But technically speaking neither of these drivers are "whackers." They plan to run the entire combined Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series schedules for what is going to be a busy year for each of them. Also on the favorite lists for the Nationwide Series race will be Greg Biffle, who has won at the Auto Club Speedway before. along with Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and David Reutimann.

Kevin Harvick will be driving his own car, the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, in Saturday's race. Harvick is a two time series champion and second on the series' win list with 32 trips to victory lane. But all of this was accomplished in a car owned by Richard Childress Racing. While the Kevin Harvick Inc Chevrolet has seen victory lane in the past it has been with other drivers behind the wheel. He has yet to win a race in his own race car. He also hasn't seen victory lane at the Auto Club Speedway. Look for him to make an all out effort to fill both of these voids in the Stater Brothers 300.

Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 CitiFinancial Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, is a past Nationwide Series champion and leads the series' win list at the Auto Club Speedway with three trips to victory lane. However that last win in Fontana was back in 2006 and Biffle now finds himself with a 75 race winless streak in the Nationwide Series. It's a safe bet that he has plans to rectify this in Saturday's Stater Brothers 300.

While Joey Logano is working the learning curve as a full time Sprint Cup driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, he will be also making several Nationwide Series appearances this season. Logano will be driving the #20 Game Stop Toyota in Saturday's race. Since 2005 this particular car has a 7.7 average finish ratio at the Auto Club Speedway. Also bear in mind that this is the same car that Tony Stewart beat up the competition with in last year's race.     

Also on the inside track includes some actual NASCAR Nationwide Series teams that many observers feel could become a huge factor in the final standings at the end of the season. This group includes Brad Keselowski in the Dale Earnhardt Jr owned Chevrolet, along with Mike Bliss and Jason Leffler, Also being looked at as a potential dark horse is Jason Keller who was racing in this series when many of his colleagues were playing with toy race cars in their backyards. Known as the "iron man" of the series, Keller has 458 starts and ten wins. He also impressed a lot of observers in last week's season opener in Daytona with a ninth place finish.
   
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ON THE OUTSIDE TRACK.

There are 15 teams on the go or go home list meaning they will have to qualify on speed to make the race. A couple of them are significant names. That includes Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 Toyota. Because this car ran a limited schedule last year the team is outside of the owner's points standings. But we all know that's not going to be a problem. Also on the list is David Reutimann. While the Sprint Cup driver has had many starts in the Nationwide Series, he will be driving for a different team in Saturday's race: the #10 Toyota from Braun Racing. This also shouldn't be a problem. Also on the list is Joe Nemechek and his newly formed Namco Toyota Team. Nemechek has always been strong on qualifying day in the past and it's likely "Front Row Joe" will drive his way into the field. If he doesn't he lined up second on the Past Champions Provisional list. Greg Biffle has the first slot but it's not likely that he'll need it. For the remainder of the field the pressure is on and qualifying for the Stater Brothers 300 is going to be very dramatic.

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TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS AND EATING GOOD IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

Jason Leffler, driver of the #38 Great Clips Toyota, has two very good reasons why he's glad to be in southern California. First it means that last Saturday's horrible day at Daytona is officially over. Leffler qualified fourth for last week's season opener at Daytona but he accidentally triggered a lap 72 accident that took out three cars. NASCAR thought the move was a little too aggressive and parked his car on pit road for a five lap penalty. Commenting on that situation earlier in the week Leffler said "for obvious reasons we're looking to put last week behind us. The real season starts in Fontana because you're performance there will be a pretty good indicator of where you stand in comparison with everyone else."

The second reason Leffler is happy to be in southern California is it presents the opportunity to catch up with family and friends in his native Long Beach which is just a short freeway trip from the Auto Club Speedway. He also gets to dine at his all time favorite restaurant: In And Out Burgers.

Eric McClure, driver of the #24 Hefty Ford, along with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Boris Said spent Friday at the K1 Speed Indoor Go-Kart Racing Experience in Ontario. The two drivers were there to take part in the filming of the PBS Television Series "Ambassadors." This west coast program highlights opportunities for local high school students to learn about life experiences while having fun in the process. 

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NEWS FROM THE PATERNITY WARD

California driver Burney Lamar will be on the Braun Racing pit box supporting his colleague Brian Vickers and their Toyota team. Lamar will be driving this car in the Nationwide Series on a part time basis this year. He will be monitoring the Stater Brothers 300 with a cell phone in his hand, a suit case at his feet, a rental car parked close by and a plane ticket in his pocket. That's because Lamar's wife, super model Nikki Taylor, is very close to giving birth to a baby girl. The delivery date is believed to be around March 5th but doctors have advised the Lamars that this baby may very well be an early arrival. If that doesn't happen then Lamar will have the same precautions February 28th at the series race in Las Vegas.

Dan Deeringhoff, crew chief of Jeff Burton's #29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet, will not be at the Auto Club Speedway on Saturday. He's in North Carolina with his wife Sandy awaiting the arrival of their first child. Pat Smith will man the pit box in his absence.

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