I Wish They All Could Be California … Drivers And Crew?
Sunny California is the next destination for the NASCAR Nationwide Series and it happens to be the home state of several drivers and crew members, including Cole Whitt, Jason Bowles, Brad Sweet and Danny Stockman, crew chief for Austin Dillon. With a line-up like that, NNS fans just might be cheering for a California native in Victory Lane this weekend.
JR Motorsports driver and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Whitt, from Alpine, east of San Diego, leads the Cali contingent. He’s currently fifth in the standings, 41 points behind series standings leader Elliott Sadler. Whitt has posted one top five and two top 10s, with a season-to-date Driver Rating of 86.2 and an Average Running Position of 14th. He is second to Dillon in the rookie standings, just five points from the lead. This weekend will be Whitt’s NASCAR national series track debut at Auto Club Speedway.
The 2009 K&N Pro Series East Series champion and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Bowles, from Ontario, just minutes from the speedway, is in his first full series season with MacDonald Motorsports. Bowles is currently 19th in the series standings, 28 points behind 10th-place Mike Bliss. Bowles is also third in the rookie standings, 29 points behind Dillon. This weekend, Bowles will attempt to make his NASCAR national series track debut at Auto Club.
Hailing from Grass Valley near Sacramento, Sweet will be making his series season debut for Turner Motorsports. Sweet is sharing the No. 38 Chevrolet with Kasey Kahne and also is in the running for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Atop the pit box calling the shots for Dillon will be Fontana’s own Stockman. Stockman lived in Fontana until the age of five, then his family moved to nearby Yucaipa. Stockman and Dillon are ranked fourth in the points while also leading the rookie standings.
Elliott Sadler Leads NASCAR Nationwide Series Eligible Winning Ways
“Blood is in the water!” exclaimed NNS standings leader Elliott Sadler in Victory Lane last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway after winning his second race of the season. Listen to more Elliott Sadler audio here.
It has been 17 years – the 1995 season – since the year’s first four winners were not full-time NSCS drivers. James Buescher, points eligible in the NCWTS, won the season opener at Daytona. Sadler won at Phoenix, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Las Vegas and Sadler again at Bristol.
Back in ’95, the first four series races were won by Chad Little (two), Kenny Wallace and Johnny Benson, the latter going on to win the championship. David Green and Larry Pearson, full-time NNS drivers, also won the following two races.
Will the trend continue? It won’t be easy. Not since 2002, when Scott Riggs won, has an NNS-only regular won at Auto Club Speedway.
Richard Childress Racing’s Sadler might just be the one to answer the call. Sadler’s two wins are complemented with two third-place finishes in the first four starts this season, culminating in an average finish of second. His season-to-date Driver Rating (107.0) leads the series. Sadler has made seven starts at Auto Club Speedway, posting two top-five finishes. He also won the track’s NASCAR Sprint Cup fall race in 2004.
Bliss, Malsam Have TriStar Motorsports In Contention
Large comebacks in the NNS point standings are difficult but Mike Bliss is bucking that trend this season, having gone from 27th to 10th in the three races since Daytona. Bliss, who drives for TriStar Motorsports, an independent organization in the series, is one of the most versatile drivers in NASCAR. He won the 2002 NCWTS title and is the only driver to count 200 starts in both NNS and Truck. Since 1995, he’s competed full-time in at least one of NASCAR’s national series.
The season opener at Daytona was unkind to Bliss, he finished 39th after being caught up in an accident, but he followed it up with a 16th-place finish at Phoenix and back-to-back 15th-place finishes at Las Vegas and Bristol.
Bliss’ rebound isn’t the only highlight for TriStar thus far in 2012. Tayler Malsam, who also has climbed the NASCAR ladder through the NCWTS, is a quiet surprise, holding down the seventh spot in the driver standings. Malsam, 23, finished sixth at Daytona and has ranked in the top 10 through the first four weeks of the season. This is his first full-time season in the NNS.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Kyle Busch has won five of the last six series races at Auto Club, including sweeping both races in 2010. This will be Busch’s first start at Auto Club as an owner/driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Busch also will attempt to post his 150th NNS top-10 finish. Busch currently is tied with Greg Biffle for 12th on the series all-time top-10 finishes list. … Danica Patrick has improved to 12th in the standings, up three spots from last week, in her first full-time season in the series. She finished 30th in this race last year. … Milestone Watch: Morgan Shepherd will attempt to make his 325th NNS start at ACS. Shepherd has made nine starts at ACS with an average starting position of 35th. Jeremy Clements will attempt to make his 75th series start this weekend. He has made two starts at ACS with an average starting position of 26th. Erik Darnell will attempt to make his 25th NNS start this weekend. This will be Darnell’s ACS debut in the NNS.