Nashville Nationwide Preview
The NASCAR Nationwide Series will be given the opportunity to do something this Saturday that they both need and deserve. NASCAR's second racing tier will be in a stand alone event meaning they will not be sharing the bill with any other series including their usual supportive role for the Sprint Cup teams.
This solo venture is the Federated Auto Parts 300 and will be held at the Nashville Super Speedway. The race is 225 laps on a very challenging 1.33 mile D shaped concrete oval. The 43 starters will also racing for the highly coveted custom electric guitar that serves as the winner's trophy.
This race officially launches what is known as the Nationwide Series' "stand alone season." Over the period of the next three months seven of 13 races will either feature the Nationwide teams or, in the case of Saturday's race, they will be the marquee event. This stand alone event is a genuine opportunity for the full time Nationwide Series team to rise and shine and show us what they're capable of accomplishing.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is at the Pocono Speedway in Pennsylvania this weekend and that's going to mean that many of the Cup teams who frequently run both series will not be in Nashville. The two respective race schedules, including practice and qualifying, makes the travelling back and forth prohibitive for the Cup drivers and crews.
However this does not mean that the Federated Auto Parts 300 will be completely "Cup light." Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are entered into this race. Busch leads the Nationwide Series points standings going into Saturday's race. Edwards is in second just 40 points away from Busch.
To say that Kyle Busch is on fire in this series would be a major understatement. So far in the Nationwide Series Busch has three wins, a driver rating of 126.1 and has led 1,071 laps. However his last three appearances in the series has not netted a trip to victory lane despite dominant performances that saw him lead 349 of 523 available laps in these events. This was due to late in the race issues. Busch will be looking to collect his first custom guitar at Nashville where he has two top ten finishes at the track.
There's a reason why Edwards has the nick name "Concrete Carl." He has an outstanding record on concrete based tracks. That includes Nashville where he's compiled three wins, seven top five finishes and seven top tens in just eight starts.
Both drivers announced late last year their intent to seek both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series championships in 2009. That's why they've going to be racking up a significant amount of frequent flyer miles between Tennessee and Pennsylvania this weekend. However they're going to need some back up to make this happen. Eric Almirola, on loan from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, will be doing the practice and set up driving in Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Auggie Vidovich, from NASCAR's Camping World West Series, will do the set up work for Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing team.
In recent weeks we have seen evidence that some of the Nationwide Series' regulars are showing signs of refusing to back down to their Cup counterparts. The last two races have been won by series regulars. Mike Bliss won the race at the Lowe's Motor Speedway while Brad Keselowski won the race at Dover last weekend. Keselowski is the Nashville defending race winner from 2008 and is expected to be a huge factor in Saturday's event.
Qualifying will also be an intense affair at the Nashville Super Speedway. The race has 45 entries meaning that two of the teams will have to pack up and go home. The entry list also includes 14 teams on the "go or go home list."
The Raybestos Rookie of the Year rankings are going to bear attention as well during this race. Brendan Gaughan, from Rusty Wallace Racing, and Justin Allgaier, from Penske Racing, are tied with 124 points each. Michael McDowell, from JTG-Daugherty Racing, is close to them in third at 113 points.
Charity will also be a major factor during the Nashville weekend. The activities will support the local chapter of the American Red Cross and their efforts to aide victims of the April 10th tornado that struck nearby Murfeesboro-Tennessee. A driver's autograph session has been scheduled for Saturday afternoon and the fans will be asked to consider making a donation to this worthy cause.
In the true competitive spirit of NASCAR teams there is also the "Tornado Relief Fund Team Challenge," This is a garage competition to see which team can raise the most money for the Red Cross. The team that collects the most donations will receive some special highlight TV time from ESPN2.
The Federated Auto Parts 300 Nationwide Series race can be seen on ESPN2 beginning at 7pm eastern time. by Dave Grayson