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NASCAR Notebook: Nationwide, Jones and Duno

By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn.) — @Erik_Jones will make his first ever start at Bristol Motor Speedway when he starts the Food City 300 on Friday but may prove to be a fast learner thanks to his experience at tracks similar in design to the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.

While competing in the ARCA Racing Series from 2012-2013, Jones thrived at Salem Speedway and Winchester Speedway in Indiana — two high speed, high-banked short tracks similar to the one rooted in northeast Tennessee.

In addition to a third-place finish at Winchester and a fifth-place at Salem in 2012, Jones also won the prestigious Winchester 400 Super Late Model race in 2013 — one of the most daunting events in short track racing. While nothing in the world can simulate Bristol, Jones explained that there were several little things that should carry over from his short track background when he makes his Thunder Valley debut on Friday night.

“A few things do carry over,” Jones told Popular Speed on Friday morning. “I haven’t been to those places in a heavier car but the same short track approach that gives you success at a Winchester or Salem should apply here.

“So yeah, I think there were a few things that I took from my Late Model background and I applied them when I took my first few laps.”

Jones was 12th on the speed charts after the final practice session on Thursday afternoon and was only three-tenths behind the fastest time set by Kyle Larson. The KBM rookie described his first few laps in just a single word — different.

“I’ve been figuring it out more and more as the weekend goes by,” Jones said. “It seems that the high line is the dominant line but you can work the bottom too. We have a good Reser’s Toyota Camry and we’re going to make it better.

“We’re getting close but we’re going to have to keep up with Kyle (Busch) which is something I think we are capable of doing.”

Former ARCA Rivals Welcome Milka Duno to Nationwide

@MilkaDuno is hoping to make a little history on Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the first Hispanic female to compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. However, the controversial Venezuelan will have to first qualify her RAB Racing No. 29 and also has some past baggage to overcome in the process.

It’s no secret that Duno has battled consistency concerns over the years, getting ran out of the Verizon IndyCar Series and displaying a slow learning curve in the ARCA Racing Series while drawing the ire of several rivals.

Nationwide Series championship leader Chase Elliott raced against Duno in ARCA as did the division’s most recent winner in Chris Buescher. Those two plus current ARCA driver John Wes Townley say they have no hesitation sharing the track with her on Friday should she manage to make the race.

“I passed her a few times during practice and didn’t think anything of it,” Townley said. “I don’t have any hesitation with her being out there. Bring it on, I say.”

Elliott raced against Duno from 2011 to 2013 in ARCA and says he doesn’t have any qualms but admitted that he hadn’t put a lot of thought into it when asked on Thursday afternoon.

“Who knows what this weekend will bring for them,” Elliott said. “I wish them the best of luck though.”

Buescher was crowned the 2012 ARCA Racing Series champion and likely has the most experience of running against Duno. They had a brief scuffle at Salem during his championship winning season but he didn’t bring it up when asked. He explained that as an acquaintance, he would make himself available to Duno for advice or feedback if she ever approached him.

“It’s a challenging track but I think she’s going to have a lot of fun learning this place,” Buescher said. “It’s very similar to some other places she’s run at in the past like Winchester or Salem … We’ll help her in any way if she were to ask for it.”

For her part, the former IndyCar driver admitted that she is in for a difficult challenge on Friday. She was 36th fastest during the final practice session on Thursday, good enough to make the field if that were qualifying.

She says that every race of her career has led to this moment and that she believes that her experience will see her way through these five races this season with an eye towards running for Nationwide rookie of the year honors.

“Our mission in practice was to improve our time and we did that,” Duno said. “It was a good practice. The car is good. We made a few changes and I’m learning with (crew chief) Bruce (Cook) a lot because you know it’s my first time at Bristol and first time with the car. I have so many things to learn but I’m a fast learner.

“It’s a wild place. My ARCA experience at Salem and Winchester helped me to handle this. Everything I learned in ARCA has helped me for this. Everything happens faster though. We have to go fast to qualify, so we’ll try and do that.”

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So Far So Good But Elliott’s Guard Won’t Come Down

By Kelly Crandall (BRISTOL, Tenn.) – The approach is simple for Nationwide Series point leader @ChaseElliott – the season isn’t over yet.

“There’s plenty more opportunities for me to mess it up. That’s for sure,” Elliott said on Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He’s not wrong in his philosophy; it’s just that Elliott has barely set a wheel wrong this year to believe that a colossal meltdown is imminent. After 22 races he leads JR Motorsports teammate @ReganSmith by 10 points, a position he has held for a total of 10 weeks on the season. There’s also the strength of three wins, which has helped set him apart in every score worthy category.

The 18-year-old has been unfazed at certain venues that many would have considered a hurdle for a rookie driver. Instead, Elliott has continued to impress along the way by escaping places like Bristol in March by finishing ninth, or winning in his first trip to Darlington and grabbing top-10 finishes in all three road course races.

“Every week is a hurdle, and I think if you ever get comfortable with somewhere and think it’s not a hurdle that’s when you’re going to get in trouble,” he said. “You’ve got to take each week a race at a time and just know that no matter where you’re racing anything can jump out and bite you at any given time.

“In racing there is so many things that you can’t control and really the only thing you can do as a racer and as a team is make the most of the things that you do have control of.”

The No. 9 NAPA team has failed to finish in the top-10 on just six occasions this season. And even those races – aside from Charlotte where he was 37th – were not a complete loss as Elliott salvaged top-20s. For an organization that has won seven races, their credit has been directed toward the preparation, the people and each weekend’s plan of attack.

For Elliott, it begins back at the shop. It’s the basics; it’s the easy steps to success, meaning pay attention to every nut and bolt going on the car and that they are tightened beforehand. Then pick a setup that can be massaged upon, not thrashed over in the garage.

“Whether that may be making sure things are properly put on and set up well, and things are in place before you get to the racetrack. That determines how your weekend is going to go in a lot of aspects,” Elliott said.

The numbers back up the story: no DNF’s, the completion of 3,680 out of 3,706 laps, 205 laps led and an average finish of 8.8.

“Making sure that side is done okay and on my end, doing my best to control the things that are at least somewhat in your hands,” he admitted. “Not trying to mess those up are the biggest things to look at each week.”

On Thursday, Elliott was fastest in the opening Nationwide Series practice session and fifth during final practice.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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Roush Fenway Youth Benefitting from Mark Martin Return

By Matt Weaver (Bristol, Tenn.) — Earlier this month, @MarkMartin and Roush Fenway Racing announced that the long-time partners have reunited and that the Sprint Cup veteran would serve as a driver coach and team consultant moving forward. But as it turns out, Martin had already joined the team several months prior and had already been working with RFR’s Nationwide Series drivers — @Chris_Buescher, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Reed.

Each week following a NASCAR event, Martin visits the Roush Fenway shop in Concord, N.C. and attends the weekly debriefs with team officials, drivers and crew members. His job is to analyze race footage and opine on what the team did right and where there is room for improvement.

Buescher is the most recent winner in the Nationwide Series, having won last week on the road course at Mid-Ohio. On Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Buescher called Martin a “huge asset for the team because of his talent and experience” from 30 years in the sport.

“It’s going to help us move forward, especially rookies like me and Ryan,” Buescher said. “We’re going to a lot of these tracks for the first time this season and while I have two prior races here, Mark helps us both on the track and off.

“He attends our team debriefs and tells us what he saw we could have done better. I’m really looking forward to having a long term relationship with Mark and having him help us as we continue to improve.”

Weaver: Roush Restocking for Future Success

Bayne is the 2011 Daytona 500 winner and is far from a rookie but he still feels like Martin has helped him improve this season, leading up to his full-time debut in the Sprint Cup Series next year. Bayne was quick to point out that everyone at RFR attends the meetings and provides their input but that Martin’s tenure is what separates him from the rest of the organization.

“Everyone at the team is involved in these meetings but he’s certainly provided his approach and perspective on all the things that we do,” Bayne said. “From my perspective, he’s been a huge asset especially as I get ready to run in the Sprint Cup Series full-time.

“I definitely plan on leaning on him quite a bit and I really look forward to having him at the shop.”

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The Dream Comes True for Daniel Suarez at Joe Gibbs Racing

By Kelly Crandall (HUNTERSVILLE, N.C.) – Carl Edwards isn’t the only new driver at Joe Gibbs Racing who needs a nap.

“I couldn’t sleep in the last week. This is amazing. I’m very happy,” Daniel Suarez told Popular Speed on Tuesday next to his new car.

This after the organization made a major move toward the future in announcing that along with Edwards in the Sprint Cup Series for 2015, Suarez would be their new Nationwide Series driver. The 22-year-old Suarez will move from the K&N Pro Series East where he’s won twice as well as the Toyota Mexico Series where he’s been victorious in four of ten events.

Sponsorship for the No. 18 will come from ARRIS, which will also support him in a part-time Camping World Truck venture for Kyle Busch Motorsports. They are also partnering with Edwards in the Sprint Cup Series.

“I really feel lucky to be in this position right now, being partnered with the Joe Gibbs racing organization, Toyota, TELMEX, Telcel Racing,” Suarez said. “They have been supporting me since I was a little kid. There’s a lot of people who have been on my side helping me a lot. I’m really excited.”

Suarez is a current member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and made his Nationwide Series debut in April with the company. He started 12th and finished 19th in the event where he ran all but one lap. There are no current plans to have him run more races this season in preparation for the 2015 campaign.

A rendering of Daniel Suarez's No. 18 for the 2015 Nationwide Series season (Photo Credit: Joe Gibbs Racing)
A rendering of Daniel Suarez’s No. 18 for the 2015 Nationwide Series season (Photo Credit: Joe Gibbs Racing)

“The only problem we have this year is we already have a lot of races,” Suarez said on his schedule. “We have races in Mexico; we have races in K&N; we have maybe one race in Nationwide, maybe one race in Trucks, but we don’t have a lot of weekends off, so it’s going to be tough (to run a Nationwide race).”

With five races remaining in the Toyota Mexico Series season, Suarez leads Antonio Perez by night points.

“There is not a lot of plans. Maybe we can make some but it’s going to be tough,” he said, “because we want to be focused in the championship in Mexico to try to win the championship.”

Joe Gibbs Racing does not have a finalized Nationwide Series lineup besides Suarez’s but will keep the options open of running four cars. Currently, @Elliott_Sadler runs full-time in the No. 11 while the No. 20 and No. 54 cars are both split between different drivers.

Team owner Joe Gibbs hopes to have an announcement in the near future, along with crew chief and team details. But Suarez, with new teammates and a Nationwide start under his belt, is ready to get racing as soon as possible.

“I feel like we are ready to make the step. One thing that I believe is going to help me a lot is to have teammates like @KyleBusch, @DennyHamlin, @MattKenseth, and now Carl Edwards,” he said.

“That is going to help me a lot. I believe this is a very important point because even when I don’t know many racetracks all this advice and help with communication, the setup, many small points, works a lot. My debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in Richmond, my first time ever in Nationwide car, in the radial tire, with two practices, qualifying, the race, it was crazy.

“But with all this help from all these guys over at Joe Gibbs racing, helps me a lot too in the simulator … I think we can get there.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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Ernie Cope Tabbed as Crew Chief for Elliott in 2015

By Kelly Crandall – Ernie Cope will replace Greg Ives next year atop the No. 9 NAPA pit box for Nationwide Series driver @ChaseElliott.

JR Motorsports announced the news on Tuesday, as Cope steps into the role after Ives heads to the Sprint Cup Series for @DaleJr. Cope already works within the company as the crew chief for the part-time No. 5 machine driven by a variety of drivers. That will remain unchanged next season though a crew chief search will now be thoroughly conducted the team said.

“It became clear rather quickly that the absolute best option for Chase and the NAPA team next year is already in this building,” said general manager Kelley Earnhardt Miller. “Ernie builds fast cars, has a good rapport with Chase, and is familiar with the inner-workings of our company.

“Hopefully that will create a seamless transition at the end of the year, and the No. 9 team will continue its championship form right into 2015.”

Elliott currently leads the standings by 10 points over teammate @ReganSmith after three wins in 22 events. The 18-year-old son of NASCAR champion Bill Elliott will return to the series for sophomore year, and is expected to run a limited number of Sprint Cup races, according to Rick Hendrick.

Cope has a rich history in the Nationwide Series, having won 12 career races. This season, the first in which he’s been with the organization, Cope has won three races with JR Motorsports drivers @KevinHarvick and @KaseyKahne. Harvick and Cope have won a total of 10 Nationwide Series races together since 2009.

“Kevin and I have enjoyed a lot of success, and we’re not done yet,” Cope said in a release.

“There is a lot of racing left this year, but in putting the pieces together for 2015, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete the full race schedule. I’ve been able to do that only once, and that was in 2011 with @Elliott_Sadler when we finished second in the championship. I’d like another shot at it, and Chase Elliott is an extremely talented race car driver.”

Cope will begin his transition from the No. 5 to the No. 9 team at the conclusion of the 2014 season.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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Chris Buescher Claims First Career NASCAR Nationwide Win At Mid-Ohio

Staff Report (NASCAR Wire Service) LEXINGTON, Ohio — The math didn’t add up.

Crew chief Scott Graves was in NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie Chris Buescher’s ear, telling him he was two laps shy of making the finish. The thing was Buescher was in the lead by more than two seconds when he got the news.

“Not going to lie. Scott about had my nerves shot there at the end,” Buescher said. “We were trying to save all we could there knowing that we were trying to keep the distance on the guys behind us.”

Somehow, someway Buescher did the job, coaxing his No. 60 Ford to the finish line to win the first race of his Nationwide Series career, taking the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He is the third rookie to win this season and the 14th different driver to do so in 2014.

Turns out all the figuring was off a bit.

“It was cool to pull it off and have plenty left over for a good burnout at the end,” Buescher said.

In the 90-lap race, Buescher last pitted on Lap 52 during the fourth caution of the day. The fifth and final caution for Jeff Green hitting the wall in the Esses (Turn 5)  lasted three laps and it was a key three laps.

“The way the race played out helped us as well,” Graves said. “When everybody did pit, we had a big enough lead, and I think that allowed him to save a little bit more for a few laps.”

His closest rivals, Regan Smith and Brian Scott, marveled at the mileage he squeaked out of his fuel tank.

“I don’t know for the life of me how the 60 made it on fuel because nobody else in the field was even near that fuel mileage,” Smith said after finishing second in the No. 7 Chevrolet. “That was pretty interesting.”

Smith wasn’t surprised by the speed Buescher showed in the last third of the race, saying the rookie has come a long way this season.

“I was surprised that he made it. I didn’t have much more for him at the end,” Smith said.

Buescher gave the car a little shake on the last lap which Smith thought was a signal that the leader was out of gas, but it was for naught. Buscher got around Ashland’s Tim Cowen in the Carousel and crossed the finish line with 1.114 seconds to spare.

“Sometimes the race comes to you,” Scott said, the third-place finisher in the No. 2 Chevrolet. “I think all the circumstances happened for him. Right place at right time.”

Early in the race Scott, pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. and Alex Tagliani had the fastest cars

Hornish led or battled for it for more than 50 laps, but a missed shift hurt the engine and he had to park his No. 54 Toyota in the garage.

“I didn’t give them what they deserved,” Hornish said.

Scott and Tagliani briefly tangled, sending Scott off course and clogging his air intake with grass. He started to overheat but made it to the pits in time to save his race. From there he battled through the field to land on the podium.

“It’s the nature of the beast when these guys come in and are supposed to be road course specialists and are only doing one-off races. They feel they have something to prove and they drive like they do,” Scott said.

Points leader and rookie Chase Elliott was fourth and Tagliani fifth. Justin Marks, Elliott Sadler, Dylan Kwasniewski, Trevor Bayne and Dakoda Armstrong rounded out the top 10.

As for Buescher, he had the added pressure of winning his first race while driving for the race and series title sponsor on the side of his car.

“It was a really humbling experience and really cool to get our first win here under these circumstances,” he said.

Results from the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio can be viewed below.

1. Chris Buescher

2. Regan Smith

3. Brian Scott

4. Chase Elliott

5. Alex Tagliani

6. Justin Marks

7. Elliott Sadler

8. Dylan Kwasniewski

9. Trevor Bayne

10. Dakoda Armstrong

11. Mike Bliss

12. Ryan Reed

13. Matt DiBenedetto

14. Landon Cassill

15. Cody Ware

16. Ryan Sieg

17. Tanner Berryhill

18. Tim Cowen

19. Ty Dillon

20. Brendan Gaughan

21. Carlos Contreras

22. Jeremy Clements

23. Tomy Drissi

24. Bobby Reuse

25. James Buescher

26. JJ Yeley

27. Joey Gase

28. Jeffrey Earnhardt

29. Jeff Green

30. Sam Hornish Jr.

31. Kenny Habul

32. Derrike Cope

33. Stanton Barrett

34. John Jackson

35. Blake Koch

36. Carl Long

37. Timmy Hill

38. Josh Reaume

39. Roger Reuse

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Nationwide Series Drivers Prepare for Season’s Final Road Course

By Stephen Conley (LEXINGTON, OH) – The NASCAR Nationwide Series takes its final road trip of 2014 this weekend, and after last week’s battle at Watkins Glen they take to the tight and technical road course deep in the heart of Ohio. It’s the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

Saturday is only the second trip for the Nationwide Series to the 13 turn 2.258-mile road course. Last year’s event featured a dominating performance by the No. 22 Penske Ford driven by @AJDinger. This year that car will have another road racing ace behind the wheel in the form of Alex @Tagliani. It will be Tagliani’s second race in the Discount Tire Ford for Roger Penske as he wheeled that car to the pole position at Road America and came home in second after an incredible driving display racing from 23rd on the green-white-checkered finish.

Tagliani recently compared racing at Road America to Mid-Ohio, saying Road America is a very fast track and if you don’t come off the corners right you can lose a lot of time down the long straights. But Mid-Ohio is a very technical track, and drivers can easily get off course and lose their tires.

“It will be very busy in the infield section of the course,” Tagliani added.

@SamHornish Jr. returns home to Ohio for this event and admitted he spent more time here as a fan than he has as a driver. But for Hornish, last year he had to chase his then Penske teammate for the win and said he had to be real cautious as far as trying for the lead.

“You don’t want to wreck your teammate,” Hornish also added about the rough and tumble style of racing. Instead noting, a driver’s mindset it to hit them before they hit you.

Most of the drivers also expect this to be a very challenging race and expect the contact to be about the same as it was last year.

“You really have to get the most out of your car on the restarts, and that is when the contact really tends to happen,” Hornish told the media Friday morning at Mid-Ohio.

The Nationwide Series will have two practices on Friday. The first for an hour from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. was led by Hornish Jr. at 85.346/95.245 mph, followed by @ReganSmith, @Chris_Buescher, Tagliani and @BScottRacing (Brian Scott).

The second practice is scheduled to run from 3:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Qualifying for the Nationwide Series takes place at 9:40 a.m. Saturday morning and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 will go green at 2:45 p.m. for 90 laps, which equals 203.22 miles.

@LandonCassill will have to drop to the rear of the field as @RyanEllisRacing is in his No. 01 Johnny Davis Racing Chevrolet for both practice and qualifying. Landon is staying in Michigan for his Sprint Cup car and will fly into Mid-Ohio just in time for the race.

This could also be a very pivotal race in the Nationwide championship points as @ChaseElliott leads by a slim margin and has never seen Mid-Ohio. Early Friday he admitted he’s not great at road racing and most-likely cost his team in the two prior events at Road America and Watkins Glen.

Elliott leads his JR Motorsports teammate Smith by 12 points and second and third place, @Elliott_Sadler and @TyDillon, by a mere 13.

Stephen Conley is a Guest Columnist for Popular Speed

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The ‘Torture’ is Over for Matt DiBenedetto

By Joseph Wolkin – Former Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver @MattDRacing (Matt DiBenedetto) is finally getting the chance he deserves. The 22-year-old driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series lost his ride with one of the sport’s most-successful teams due to a lack of sponsorship following the 2010 season.

Since 2012, he has been forced to start-and-park 26 out of the 30 starts he has made in the series. Thanks to the efforts of @Josh_Wise and Curtis Key from The Motorsports Group , DiBenedetto will be back behind the wheel of the No. 40 Chevrolet for the remainder of the 2014 season. However, the reason he is racing the remainder of the year is not what one would quite expect.

“Josh Wise’s main focus is over on the Cup side,” DiBenedetto said on Monday afternoon. “He was running the No. 40 car full-time, but he knows it was hard because he didn’t have quite as much time to dedicate to the Nationwide side. That was part of it, but the main reason was that he got inside of the top-35 in the driver’s points in Cup, which takes away the eligibility for the team to get bonus money on the Nationwide side with him because they didn’t have a Nationwide driver running for Nationwide points.”

Wise, who drives the No. 98 car for Phil Parsons Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, entered the top-35 in driver points after a 24th-place finish at Pocono Raceway. Although he is now tied with Alex Bowman for the position, Wise will remain focused on competing  in the top-tier division after the team made the decision early in the season not to start-and-park at all this year.

Prior to this decision, DiBenedetto was scheduled to run just a handful of events in 2014 because of scheduling conflicts for Wise in the Cup Series. Now, the team can focus on gaining confidence. But more importantly – their driver is getting a chance that he has been searching for over the past several years.

“It’s tough. The start-and-park was just something I had to do temporarily – definitely not something I wanted to do. I knew that was what it would probably take to be able to race in the long run, and it is completely working out just like I was hoping. Obviously, it is tough. I understand why lower teams have a start-and-park car. I didn’t mind what it could do for me in the long run. It’s not something I would want to do forever because it’s torture,” DiBenedetto said.

“I’m a racer at heart and I don’t race in Nationwide just to get paid to drive a race car. I do it for the love of racing, and that’s something that is definitely lost in the sport now-a-days. Some guys still do it for the love of racing, but a lot of them do it for a job and pay check, which is not how it should be. I’m just a diehard racer and I just want to race. Whenever I get in a car for a team, I give 110 percent and give it all I got. It’s nice to be racing. When I’m not racing, I try to find something else to race like a dirt car or whatever. I do it just for fun. I’d do it for free if I could.”

This year, his best finish was 11th at Road America. At the time – it was just his second race of the season. Going into the next two races, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Bristol Motor Speedway, the California-native is confident in his small team.

“Bristol is one of my favorite race tracks that is coming up in a few weeks. I’m excited to go there, but we have a pretty good road course car, and I have always performed well on the road courses. We finished 11th at Road America, so I am kind of looking forward to the next two races the most. I am excited just to get to run all of the races,” he said.

Although he has previously been a test driver for JGR, Michael Waltrip Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, he has not done so recently. Unless he finds funding to race with one of those organizations, it is highly unlikely he will get a chance to race for them – at least for now. However, he is just fortunate that he doesn’t have to start-and-park anymore.

“I can’t put it into words. It feels incredibly great to get to race every week. It is like torture to start-and-park a car. You never just want to pull one in – even when we have a fast car, and we qualify well. It will be nice to get to race every week.”

Joseph Wolkin is a Popular Speed Development Journalist

EMAIL JOSEPH AT joseph.wolkin@popularspeed.com

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Is It Really Over – No More Iowa For Keselowski?

By Unique Hiram – On Saturday night, Brad @Keselowski charged his way to victory, capturing the checkered flag for the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by New Holland at Iowa Speedway. This marked his third victory and seventh top-10 finish of the season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

He was chosen for double duty because of scheduling conflicts with the team’s development drivers. “This isn’t a race that Penske circles and says they want to send a Cup driver; it’s just the way it works right now. With the development drivers running the Truck series, the race is a conflict and it just kind of schedules out the way it does for me to be here,” Keselowski said during his post-race interview.

Upon making the trek from Pocono and touching down in the Midwest, he hit the asphalt running and focused on the task at hand. In the final round of qualifying, Keselowski took the provisional pole position with a time of 23.577 seconds; however, @TrevorBayne21 grabbed the top spot with a time of 23.558 seconds.

Once the green flag dropped and within 45 laps of the race, the double deuce was leading the field. The lowest position that he dropped down to was third and when it counted Keselowski was in the prime position to take the win. His margin of victory was 0.886 seconds ahead of a hard-charging @Mc_Driver (Michael McDowell).

The 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion eluded to the fact that this would be his last time racing at the track and was asked about this after the race.

“I’ve enjoyed the success that I’ve had here, and I think that it’s important to me personally to see those (development) drivers get an opportunity in races like that; I know that we are working towards that at Penske. I would expect it to be my last race here for quite some time,” he said.

In five starts this season, Keselowski has three wins, five top-fives, five top-10s and led 332 laps. Overall, in 212 series career starts, he has 30 wins with 101 top-fives, 134 top-10s, 17 poles and led 4,245 laps. With these stats and still being in the prime of his racing career, it would be difficult for one to think that he wouldn’t want to add more to his stellar career.

How long can he stay away from a track that he has methodically mastered? One Year? Two Years?

Only time will tell.

One thing that is for certain, the former series champion is a die-hard racer who has loved competing in Iowa. Although he may be taking a hiatus for a little while and showing his support of the development drivers honing their driving skills, I believe the “Hawkeye State” hasn’t seen the last of Keselowski.

In the words of this most famous colloquialism …“It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.”

EMAIL UNIQUE AT unique.hiram@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER @UniqueHiram

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Bayne: ‘Hopefully We Can Build on This’

By Brandon Butler – Heading into his final season as the full-time driver of the No. 6 AdvoCare Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, @TBayne21 had a lot to prove to not just himself, but his team and team owner Jack Roush.

To start off the season, Bayne finished no worse than ninth in the first five races.  He would then consistently finish inside the top-10 week in and week out until he had a bit of a rough stretch. But as the Nationwide Series rolls on through its summer stretch of the schedule, he is the driver who has continued to get progressively better and faster week in and week out.

After finishing 15th at Kentucky Speedway back on June 27, Bayne has not finished outside the top-10.  He was ninth at Daytona, ninth at New Hampshire, and came away second at Chicagoland (while having the strongest car late in the race), and wound up ninth at Indy.

After capturing the pole for the U.S Cellular 250 this past weekend at Iowa Speedway, Bayne lead 31 laps and ultimately finished third in a wild three-lap dash to the finish. Though the 2011 Daytona 500 winner won the final $100,000 cash prize in the NASCAR Nationwide Series “Dash 4 Cash” promotion for not only himself but one lucky fan.

While clearly proud of what his team accomplished this weekend, Bayne knows it is time to build upon the recent success as the championship battle heats up.

“I’m proud of our team this weekend because I felt like we were in this thing from the beginning to the end of the weekend,” Bayne said.

“We haven’t been able to put together a whole race weekend like that yet this year. Hopefully we can build on this. I feel like we did everything but go to Victory Lane this weekend.”

As Bayne hopes to continue to build upon the success he’s had over the last few weeks, he knows he has his work cut out for him.  The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to the road course the next two weeks of Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. At Watkins Glen, Bayne only has one top-10 in three races, while at Mid-Ohio, in his only race at the facility, he finished ninth.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.butler@popularspeed.com

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