NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
Turner Brings Series Success Home To Texas
Forgive Steve Turner if he’s a bit preoccupied this week.
A former dirt racer who began his family-operated race team out of Hallettsville, Texas so his daughters could compete, Turner is set to bring one of the biggest – and quickly becoming one of the baddest – NASCAR Nationwide Series teams home to Texas Motor Speedway.
His Turner Motorsports organization has grown from a home-spun shop to one that includes four full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series teams and two full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams.
The teams in both series have been successful early in 2011, but his NASCAR Nationwide Series outfit is making the biggest headlines. Mark Martin brought Turner its first series victory with a win at Las Vegas last month.
The team currently has three drivers ranked in the top five in the championship standings. Two – Reed Sorenson and Jason Leffler – have held the points lead at various times this season. All four teams are ranked in the top 10 in the owner standings with the No. 38 team leading the way in fifth.
Sorenson comes to Texas as one of two driver championship contenders to post top-10 finishes in both series races there last year. Sorenson was third in this race last season and finished seventh in the 2010 fall race. Steve Wallace was ninth last spring and 10th in the fall.
Stenhouse Is Navigating The Learning Curve
His is s turnaround of epic proportions. And Ricky Stenhouse Jr. comes to yet another track where he can cast some of the gremlins that nearly ruined his NASCAR Nationwide Series career before it got off the ground. In fact, he’s at the perfect place to stomp them out with his beloved cowboy boots.
After five races last year, Stenhouse, 23, had an average finish of 32.2, two DNFs (did not finish) and his No. 6 team had fallen out of the top 30 in owner points, meaning he’d have to qualify on time to make the race. He finished 23rd in this race last year due to an accident. The fall race was one that mirrored his second-half improvement last year; he finished 11th.
Now after five races, he’s leading the driver standings, has an average finish of 8.2, has one pole, and has led 38 laps – most recently two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway where he was challenging for the win late. And perhaps most importantly, he’s completed all but two laps, keeping his car on the track instead of in the garage.
He’s finished out of the top 10 only once (14th at Bristol) and earned his first top-five finish (fourth) at Auto Club. He’s got the best average finish among the trio of Roush Fenway drivers that include 2007 series champion Carl Edwards (9.2) and Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne (14.2).
His turnaround can be traced back to the second half of the 2010 season, when the NASCAR Nationwide Series debuted its new car at four tracks before integrating it into competition full-time this year. Stenhouse took to the new car immediately, fashioning an average finish of 8.5 in those races.
The new car is making its track debut at Texas, which is one of four tracks series teams opted to have extra practice time.
Upset Alert At Texas?
Millions of brackets were busted along the way as the games in both the men’s and women’s college basketball championships were paired down to the final games this week. The favorites fell by the wayside early and late, leaving underdogs to vie for the titles in both tournaments.
That comparison can be made this weekend at Texas. Kyle Busch comes in as the overall No. 1 seed, and rightfully so. Busch, the 2009 series champion, has won the last three spring races at Texas and five out of the last six overall at TMS. He’s also coming off consecutive victories this season – at Auto Club and Bristol – and he also won at Phoenix. Busch has had four perfect 150.0 Driver Ratings at TMS, including his victory in this race last season.
But NASCAR Nationwide Series driver championship contenders have been closing the gap on double-duty drivers this season. And although Texas has been a track where the double-duty drivers have thrived over the years, an upset -- a la the NCAA tournament -- isn’t out of the question. Carl Edwards broke Busch’s five-race TMS winning streak last fall; could that information assist Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing teammates, standings leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, a few months later? A Turner Motorsports driver and Texas native – James Buescher – won the pole for last year’s fall race, while two of his teammates – Reed Sorenson and Jason Leffler – were in the top 10 at the finish.