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Nationwide Rookie Class Is A Humdinger

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 18 2009
Jason Keller knows rookie talent when he sees it in the Nationwide Series. (RacinToday photo by Mark Henderson)

Jason Keller knows rookie talent when he sees it in the Nationwide Series. (RacinToday photo by Mark Henderson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Driver Jason Keller has been around the Nationwide Series garages for a while now. He’s seen the prospects and the can’t-miss phenoms and the never-will-haves come and go and in some cases, come back again.

Keller has seen the fat years for young drivers and he’s seen the Slim Fast years. As he sat in a director’s chair behind his Baker Curb Racing hauler at Chicagoland Speedway a week ago, he pondered the question of just exactly where this year’s Raybestos Rookie of the Year class fits into it all.

Finally, Keller, who was a rookie in 1993, labels it a very good class but says that opinion needs an explanation.

“Definitely, we’ve got a lot more competition between the rookies in the class than we’ve seen in years,” Keller said.

There are several reasons for that, Keller said.

The first is driver talent. The class appears to have plenty of that, although, Keller points out, quantifying that can be problematic.

And any attempt to quantify that will have to have something else, something less human, factored into the equation.

“You’ve got rookies now in real good equipment,” Keller said. “So, it will definitely be a little bit tighter race (for rookie of the year honors) than in years past. In the past, you’ve had guys in great equipment and then guys in not-so-good equipment.”

The reason for that is not mystical or even complicated.

“Just timing. It’s just worked out that way,” Keller said.

A good rookie class is not just important for the young drivers’ families. Keller said that it is no cliché to call young drivers the future of the sport. They are essential, he said. Especially these days, in these economic conditions.

“We need new drivers with new identities,” Keller said.

This year’s rookie class features 10 contenders for the Raybestos award. Five of those drivers are among the top 15 in points.

Tops among the group in points is Justin Allgaier, who drives for Penske Racing.

Allgair is sixth in points. He is also the guy whom Keller named as his top pick to move to the next level and do well there.

“I think Justin Allgaier is probably the one who is in the situation that can take him the furthest,” Keller said. “I think that the other ones are limited by where their situations will take them. But time will tell how far they go.”

Notes on this year’s Nationwide rookie class:

* Allgaier leads Brendan Gaughan by eight points (183-175) in the overall Raybestos standings entering the July 18 Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at Gateway (Madison, Ill.) International Raceway.

* Allgaier is sixth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship standings, best of any rookie.  He trails fifth-place Joey Logano by 255 points and leads seventh-place Mike Bliss by 11.

* Brendan Gaughan (eighth) is the only other rookie currently ranked inside the top-10 in the series championship standings.

* Two rookies have won pole positions during the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series season: Gaughan and Erik Darnell.

* Cale Gale was the Raybestos Rookie of the Race in the 2008 Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250, scoring a sixth-place finish.

* Two rookies have won at Gateway since the Nationwide Series began competing at the 1.25-mile speedway in 1997 (12 races): Kevin Harvick (2000) and Reed Sorenson (2005).  Harvick captured the 2000 race by 1.338 seconds over Jeff Purvis while Sorenson won the 2005 race by .710 seconds over Mike Wallace.

Rookie standings heading to Gateway:

Justin Allgaier –183 points

Brendan Gaughan –175

Michael McDowell – 158

Scott Lagasse Jr. – 145

Michael Annett –127

John Wes Townley – 93

Erik Darnell – 79

Ken Butler III – 50

Peyton Sellers – 37

Marc Davis – 24

Terry Cook – 22

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 18 2009
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