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Development Journalists

Championship Battle Heats Up

By Stephanie Adair – In just one race, the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings have shifted again. Austin Dillon has now claimed the top spot after finishing sixth at Kansas Speedway last weekend. He leads Sam Hornish Jr. by eight points in the championship standings. With four races left in the season, it looks to become another exciting battle for the series championship.

Dillon has made an impressive surge, as of late, posting in the top six the last four races. Hornish Jr., on the other hand, has faced adversity finishing 17th in the last two races. This could spell trouble for the Penske Racing driver.

Heading into Charlotte Motor Speedway, both are fairly equal in stats. It should be interesting to see which one prevails over the other when they cross the finish line. At Texas Motor Speedway, Dillon has the advantage. The 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion has three top 10s in three starts there with a 4.7 average finish. In comparison, Hornish Jr. has only two top 10s in seven starts and a 17.9 average finish.

Dillon’s strength doesn’t stop in Texas. He is exceptionally stout at both Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead Miami Speedway as well. At both tracks, he has finished in the top 10 at least 75% of the time. Dillon proves to be a formidable opponent, despite Hornish being highly competitive this season. Both drivers will be vying for their first Nationwide Series title.

One misfortune could sink championship hopes for either driver. With competition as close as this, a team needs to be above par to win it all. Every position and every point will count. What would be most useful is a win. Hornish has secured one at Las Vegas Motor Speedway while Dillon has yet to visit Victory Lane this season. If the championship comes down to a tie, the greatest number of victories would be the deciding factor.

With such a narrow points margin separating the two drivers, no one may know whose name will be engraved on the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series trophy until the checkered flag flies at Homestead. However, if either one has the upper-hand in this battle, it would arguably be Dillon.

Stephanie Adair is a Popular Speed Development Journalist.

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XFINITY

Matt Kenseth Wins in Kansas

By Unique Hiram (KANSAS CITY, Kan.) – Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 18 Reser’s Toyota, claimed victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway. He crossed the start/finish line 0.952 seconds ahead of Paul Menard. This is his second victory and tenth top 10 finish this season.

In regards to being concerned about the damage to his front end, Kenseth said, “Well, I mean especially if you ask somebody that gets to work with me on a regular basis, patience is probably not my best quality. Yeah, we just had a lot of silly things go on and when that caution flew and it looked like we were about seven laps outside of our window, I knew that was the opportunity for us to get some tires on, pack some fuel in it and either hop for a caution or save a little bit until the end.”

“It all worked out, but, yeah, when I got the hole in the grille, it really affected my handling. It made the car really tight and I knew we needed to come and fix that and we had to spend the time to do it. It seemed like every time we got track position we kept getting int he back, but it all worked out in the end.”

Rounding out the top ten were Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Kyle Busch, Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon, Parker Kligerman, Brad Sweet, Trevor Bayne and Elliott Sadler.

Race Highlights:

  • New points leader Austin Dillon, eight ahead of Sam Hornish Jr.
  • Kenseth is sixth on the all-time series wins list
  • Alex Bowman was the highest finishing rookie
  • 17 lead changes with 10 different leaders
  • 11 cautions for 50 laps which includes one competition caution, four spins, five accidents and one debris caution

For the complete unofficial finishing order, click here.

For the current points standings, click here.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series will be heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 11) for the Dollar General 300. It will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

 

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XFINITY

Austin Dillon Leads the Way at Kansas

Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 AdvoCare Spark Chevrolet, captured the Coors Light Pole Award at Kansas Speedway. He set a new track record speed of 184.420 in 29.281 seconds. This is his first pole at the speedway and 10th pole in 73 NASCAR Nationwide Series races.

Rounding out the top ten are Justin Allgaier (184.062), Elliott Sadler (183.530), Paul Menard (183.355), Regan Smith (183.337), Brian Scott (183.281), Parker Kligerman (183.206), Trevor Bayne (183.082), Brad Sweet (183.038) and Chris Buescher (182.989).

For the complete Coors Light Pole qualifying order, click here

The Kansas Lottery 300 will be broadcast on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. ET.

 

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XFINITY

Championship Hopes Fade Following Chicagoland

By Summer Bedgood – Elliott Sadler came into the weekend needing a good run in order to get back into championship contention in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Sadler came into the Chicago weekend 28 points behind points leader Sam Hornish Jr., and was quickly losing site of the points lead with the number of races winding down on the schedule.

It wasn’t to be. As Sadler began to head to pit road for a green flag pitstop with around 40 to go, he slowed his No. 11 Toyota as he exited turn four and drove closer to the entrance to pit road. As he slowed, Sadler says he stuck his hand out the window, but it appears that Brett Butler didn’t see him because he ran right into the back of Sadler. Sadler, as a result, sustained heavy rear end damage as a result. Though Sadler would finish the race, he would do so in the 19th position one lap down.

“I had my hands stuck way out the window, and I wear white gloves so you can seem them,” said Sadler. “I don’t even know who drives the 24 this week. They just run in the back of us and tore our car all to pieces and put us in a hole.”

Indeed. Though Sadler didn’t lose any actual positions in the standings, he went from 28 points out to 44. Though it is not an insurmountable amount, especially with seven races still left to play out, there will have to be some bad luck from Hornish as well as second place Austin Dillon for Sadler to have a legitimate shot at the championship.

If Chicago was any indication, though, it doesn’t look like that will happen. Both Dillon and Hornish were outrunning Sadler leaps and bounds on Saturday, with Hornish running in the top three for most of the race. Dillon wasn’t usually far behind, and finished fourth with Hornish right in front of him at third.

In fact, both Hornish and Dillon have outrun Sadler for most of this season, with Hornish having an average finish of 9.2, Dillon with an average finish of 9.8, and Sadler with an average finish of 10.6. Though he is not far off of either driver by any means, it is the recent loss of momentum that has worked to Sadler’s detriment. Neither Dillon nor Hornish have finished worse than 12th in the last four races. Meanwhile, Sadler has finished outside of the top 15 twice in the last four events.

And what about Regan Smith? The third place driver has a role in this, too, and even he finished a measly 13th. With a 36 point gap between himself and the leader, his standing in this series championship is no better than Sadler’s.

With just a handful of races left, it appears that Dillon and Hornish are making this a two man race, and it will take a resurgence in consistency from both Sadler and Smith to change.

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XFINITY

Harvick Wins in Head-to-Head Battle with Busch

By Reid Spencer (HAMPTON, Ga.) –In a thrilling head-to-head battle against pole winner Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick kept Busch behind him over a seven-lap run to the finish of Saturday night’s Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Harvick beat Busch to the finish line by .580 seconds after clearing the No. 54 Toyota with five laps left. The narrow loss kept Busch winless in the Nationwide Series at the 1.54-mile speedway and broke a streak of wins from the pole by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

Busch had been six-for-six this season in converting poles into victories before Saturday’s race.

The win was Harvick’s first of the season in seven starts, his second at Atlanta and the 40th of his career.

Series leader Sam Hornish Jr. ran third, followed by Kasey Kahne and rookie Kyle Larson.

A caution on lap 104 for debris on the backstretch erased a seven-second lead Harvick had built through a cycle of green-flag pit stops around the race’s midpoint. Undeterred, Harvick pulled away after the ensuing restart on lap 109 and owned a lead of more than five seconds when the next cycle of green-flag stops began on Lap 143.

Harvick was the last of the top three to come to pit road (lap 148), and by the time the field cycled through, his advantage over Joey Logano, then running second, had dwindled to .9 seconds.

Stretching his margin to as much as 1.9 seconds, Harvick was comfortably ahead when Jeff Green’s hard crash into the outside wall in the tri-oval on Lap 182 caused the fourth caution of the night.

That set up the final seven-lap green-flag run, after four-tire pit stops for the leaders, with Busch surging into second moments after the restart and battling side-by-side with Harvick before the driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet finally pulled ahead.

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XFINITY

JGR, Penske Have a Stronghold on the NNS

By Summer Bedgood – Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. When you see those names, your mind may instantly bring up the visual of Busch’s vibrant M&M’s paint scheme, or the Blue Deuce that is so iconic in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Despite their Sprint Cup Series status, though, both are just as recognizable in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This season alone, the two of them have combined for a total of 12 wins of the 22 races that have been run this season. Whether you like Sprint Cup drivers in Nationwide or not, their dominance is undisputed.

For years, Joe Gibbs Racing has been a dominant force in the Nationwide Series. Between Busch’s eight wins and Matt Kenseth’s trip to Victory Lane in Daytona, JGR accounts for nine wins this year. Last year, they won nine with Joey Logano. In 2011, they won a total of 10 races between Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch.

Looking at these statistics, which go back even further than that, it looks like JGR is darn near unbeatable in the Nationwide Series.

However, there may be a new sheriff in town when you look at the drivers in Victory Lane this year, and they aren’t all just Sprint Cup crossovers. Penske Racing has seen their drivers go to Victory Lane in four of the last Nationwide Series races this year. A.J. Allmendinger was the most recent driver to go to Victory Lane, winning last weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio. Brad Keselowski won the previous two at Watkins Glen and Iowa. Busch snagged the win at the Brickyard, but Logano won the race in Chicago.

This gives Penske seven wins to JGR’s nine, which might sound like Penske is on the losing end. However, last year, while JGR was winning race after race and again dominating the season, Penske only had three measly wins with driver Keselowski. Hornish never made it to Victory Lane and Logano was still with JGR.

2011 was a little better, with Penske winning seven races but was still short of JGR’s 10.

Penske does have a dog in this fight, though, when it comes to running for points. Sam Hornish Jr. is leading the points standings and has a victory to his credit. Elliott Sadler, who is in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, is 13 points behind Hornish without a win. He has come close with two second place finishes, but has yet to seal the deal.

Joe Gibbs Racing is often seen as the Hendrick Motorsports of the Nationwide Series, and they have several statistics that back it up. Yet when you compare the results with that of Penske Racing, they appear equal and perhaps are lined up to eclipse JGR over the next few years.

What exactly is generating this change in the guard?

First of all, the movement of Logano to Penske may not have been a huge loss for JGR in the Cup Series (though his win last weekend might have changed that), but it has largely worked against them this season in the Nationwide Series. Not only has Logano gone to Victory Lane twice this year for The Captain, but Logano’s average finish this season is only slightly lower than Busch’s (6.6 to Busch’s 5.9) and Logano has run fewer races.

While Penske has not yet become the dominant force in the Nationwide Series, they are making a case for themselves as a powerhouse that is, at the very least, able to keep up and contend with the dominance of JGR.

This weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway might be an interesting one to watch in this ongoing Penske vs. JGR battle. Gibbs has four cars to Penske’s two. Keselowski and Busch are both going to be in the race, and those two are arguably the best current drivers at Bristol in the sport right now. It would be a huge surprise if neither team had a car in Victory Lane this weekend.

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Development Journalists

Dillon Hangs on to Points Lead; Is He Ready for Cup?

By Katie Copple – The grandson of racing icon Richard Childress may not have any wins yet this season but he did keep his points lead after a hard-fought battle at Watkins Glen International Raceway.

Austin Dillon, the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, has posted seven top-5 and 13 top-10 finishes this season and has been on fire during this season’s summer stretch. With six pole wins in a seven race stretch, from Charlotte in May to Daytona in July, Dillon has been consistently fast and up front which led him to where he sits now; on top of the point standings for the third straight week.

Dillon is on track to move to NASCAR’s top tier in 2014, driving for his grandfather at Richard Childress Racing. With only two wins in the Nationwide Series, both coming in 2012, is he ready to move up and will the lingering pressure of winning the Nationwide Series title cost him the point’s lead?

After his 12th place finish in Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen, Dillon holds a small three-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. and is just 18 points away from fifth place. With another road course race next weekend at a new track, Dillon and his team will need to be on their A-Game if they want they want to stay on top.

In 2012, Dillon ran his first full time Nationwide Series schedule and finished an impressive 3rd place in point standings. Going in to 2013, Dillon was pegged as one of the favorites to win the Championship with his biggest competition being Sam Hornish Jr. and Elliott Sadler.

There are 12 races left in the Nationwide Series season and still a lot of racing and competition left. Can Austin Dillon stay atop the point’s standings? If he continues to perform and run up front, Dillon can easily stay in contention for the Nationwide Series Championship when the series heads to Homestead in November. One thing Dillon will need to have before then though is a win.  He has four drivers nipping at his heels for the Championship lead and two of them have wins already this season.

Austin Dillon is one of the best wheelmen in the Nationwide Series circuit and has great equipment underneath him but if he wants to hoist that trophy up at the end of the season, both he and his team are going to need to step it up a notch in these final 12 races.

With 11 top-10 finishes in the final 12 races in 2012, including a win at Kentucky, Dillon has a good stretch of tracks ahead of him to round out the season. Don’t take your eyes off of Austin Dillon; he is going to be a threat to be reckoned with.

 

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Development Journalists

Ryan Gifford Makes NNS Debut Tonight

Ryan Gifford is your average 24-year-old from Winchester, Tenn. That is if your “average” 24-year-old is racing stock cars for a living. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standout driver has been piloting the No.2 Toyota for Rev Racing since 2009. This young driver has accomplished a lot in his career and can now add a Nationwide Series start to his resume.

Given a rare opportunity, Gifford will make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Iowa Speedway in the No.33 Menards Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. In addition to making his debut in the Nationwide Series, Gifford also raced in the K&N Pro Series race on Friday for Rev Racing, bringing home an eighth place finish.

Gifford’s racing resume speaks for itself as he currently sits fourth in the K&N Pro Series East points standings. Thus far in the 2013 race season, he has accumulated five top-ten finishes, four top-fives and one win. Earning his first career pole award at Martinsville in 2010, Ryan became the first African-American to capture a pole in series history.

Being a part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program since 2010, as well as being a part of the NASCAR Next program, it is obvious that someone sees the talent that Ryan Gifford possesses. It comes as no surprise that Richard Childress has given him the opportunity to make his NASCAR debut.

Childress’s grandchildren, Austin and Ty Dillon, have helped Gifford in his racing career by giving him advice about the cars and even letting him take one of their dirt cars for a spin. “Working with Austin and Ty is always fun,” stated Gifford. “For me, I’ve got to learn a lot from them. They definitely do a lot to try and help me out.”

Why did RCR and Gifford choose to make their debut together at Iowa? The K&N Pro Series East races at Iowa, close to twice a year since the 2009 season. “I’ve got a ton of laps there,” Gifford said. “I know Iowa Speedway kind of like the back of my hand.” Gifford is aware that the track conditions may change from the K&N Series to the Nationwide Series, but feels that he can adapt to these conditions.

When asked what he was looking forward to the most Gifford said, “The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is getting out there on the track and learning more about the Nationwide car.” With limited experience in a Nationwide car, Gifford says he will take this race “one lap at a time” and that he hopes by the end of the weekend that he will finish up front.

Kelsey Tucker is a Popular Speed Development Journalist.

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XFINITY

RFR DOMINANCE: Bayne and Kelley Look for Back-to-Back Wins at Iowa

Heading to Iowa Speedway, there is one team that has dominated the track like no other.

Roush Fenway Racing and the No. 6 team started their winning streak back in 2011 with then driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Iowa was the sight of Stenhouse’s first and second career Nationwide Series wins. A large part of the success of the team is Crew Chief Mike Kelley, after leading Stenhouse Jr. to a total of three consecutive victories and a track record for 209 laps led, he is now atop the pit box for Trevor Bayne. As Stenhouse moved on to the Cup Series, the No. 6 team remained in tact as Trevor Bayne climbed into the seat of a back-to-back Championship winning car.

What does the No. 6 team have that no one else does? The simple answer is Crew Chief Mike Kelley and his notebook of winning strategies. Really the answer is a team that is a well oiled machine. From Spotter Mike Calinoff guiding Trevor safely around the track to each member of the pit crew performing flawless pit stops, it is a team effort.

While the season has been a roller coaster ride for Bayne, June’s Iowa race was the true test of the “magic” that the team has showcased in the past. Just days after celebrating his marriage, 22-year-old Bayne took to the track at Iowa knowing that all eyes would be on him given the history of the 6 car.

While Austin Dillon dominated the race, Bayne and Kelley raced a clean and smart race knowing they had a car capable of passing Dillon when it counted. With just 14 laps to go, the pace picked up as Trevor and Austin went side-by-side for several laps. Making the pass, Bayne took the lead and went on to collect the victory.

“Every team has a track that when you show up, you expect to win,” said Kelley, who’s won back-to-back Nationwide titles with Stenhouse, Jr., “this just happens to be ours.”

As we return to Iowa Speedway this weekend, the pressure is on for the No. 6 team to carry on the winning tradition they have forged for themselves. Will they succeed? Tune in and see – they won’t go down without a fight.

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