Nationwide Point Standings About To Scramble
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
Gladeville, Tenn. – Come late Saturday night, look for the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver standings to experience a major shakeup about the same time the Grand Ole Opry closes up shop across town for the umpteenth time.
Four of the top 10 drivers in NASCAR’s junior circuit will skip Saturday evening’s Federated Auto Parts 300 at Nashville Superspeedway to focus solely on Sunday’s Sprint Cup event in Pocono, Pa.
That’s welcome news for Justin Allgaier, Jason Leffler and Tony Raines, the only three non-Cup drivers ranked in the Nationwide Series’ top 10 heading into this weekend’s standalone race on the 1.333-mile D-shaped concrete oval just outside of Music City.
“It helps not having Kyle Busch here and whomever in the No. 20 car (Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano),” said 2004 Nashville winner Jason Leffler. “But you also have some good drivers that have stepped into those cars.
“You’ve got Mike Bliss in the No. 33 (for Kevin Harvick). And Scott Riggs is no slouch. He’s in the No. 21 (normally driven by Clint Bowyer). Definitely, the field is going to be tough. But it does help, especially not having Kyle here.”
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray’s decision to remain in Pocono this weekend has turned the Nashville driver lineup into a stock car version of musical chairs.
Mike Bliss is subbing for Harvick in the No. 33. Landon Cassill will keep the No. 81 seat hot for Michael McDowell. Parker Kligerman will serve as a super-sub until points leader Brad Keselowski arrives in town.
Erik Darnell has the task of setting up Carl Edwards’ No. 60 Ford for the Missouri native, who will fly to Tennessee following practice at Pocono on Saturday. Paul Menard will also do the Cup/Nationwide double this weekend. He’s receiving an assist from Colin Braun this weekend in Nashville.
A pair of Joe Gibbs Racing’s young guns, Brad Coleman and Matt DiBenedetto, get the keys to the No. 18 and 20 Toyotas this weekend. Young talent Sean Caisse will pilot the No. 09 Ford co-owned by Robby Benton and Brack Maggard.
Third-generation driver Coleman Pressley will step into JR Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet, which had been driven by McMurray for the past few weeks. And Josh Wise gets his shot in that team’s sister car, the No. 7 Chevrolet.
Veteran Scott Wimmer will step in for Biffle to handle the driving chores in the No. 27 Ford fielded by Nashville-based Baker-Curb racing. Former Series champion Jeff Green gets the call this weekend in the No. 40 Chevrolet owned by Curtis Key.
Despite the fact he won’t be forced to try to outrun so many Cup drivers, Allgaier contends Saturday night’s event still has the potential to be as competitive as any race on this year’s schedule.
“It seems like there’s just as much competition in these (standalone) races as anywhere,” said Allgaier, the Nationwide Series winner at Bristol in March. “It’s all a matter of how well you can work with your guys and how comfortable you can get your car.
“I know with Brad and Carl being here, they’re going to be tough. But with Kyle and Kevin not being here, that definitely opens up some doors.”
Veteran racer Tony Raines enters this weekend 10th in the driver standings. He realizes that this weekend’s stop in Nashville and standalone races over the next two weeks at Kentucky Motor Speedway and Road America is the time for the true Nationwide Series regulars to make up ground and shine.
“It’s definitely going to maybe allow somebody an opportunity to have either a career-best finish or have a shot at a win,” Raines said. “This race and the next two is our chance to get our position in the points a little bit more solid. We want to capitalize on it now.
“I hope it rains really hard (on Saturday) between here and Pocono and (Keselowski, Edwards and Menard) can’t get here, then you’ll really see a wild race.
“But if we win a race, we’d love to beat Carl Edwards sideways to the finish line rather than somebody that’s not running well or not up in the points. It’d definitely be exciting.”
– Jeff Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments