Tuesday, March 13, 2012



Identity Crisis? Hardly.
A series long known as a steppingstone for young drivers, as a career destination for some of its veterans and as another racing opportunity for established NASCAR Sprint Cup stars is now known for something else: its own identity.

The pick-a-series rule established in 2011 along with the full integration of the new car also last year certainly has been major bricks in the identity foundation. Danica Patrick’s full-time entry this season also has moved the needle.

But the drivers have done their part. Three races into 2012 have resulted in winners who haven’t "checked the box" for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points – James Buescher (full time in Trucks), Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. That’s a first since 1995. Meanwhile Patrick (Daytona) and Sadler (Las Vegas) have captured two of the first three Coors Light poles. Two Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates are ranked in the top five – Austin Dillon (second) and Cole Whitt (fifth). Only three drivers who were in the top 10 in the standings after three events last year are among the top 10 now  – Stenhouse (second), Justin Allgaier (fifth) and Trevor Bayne (sixth) – bringing more new names into the spotlight.

Stenhouse Earns Win – And Martin’s Respect
With the lightning-fast start by points leader Elliott Sadler this season (one win, one pole, two third-place finishes); some began to wonder when – and if – Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, would start to surface.

Last Saturday at Las Vegas, Mark Martin had quite the complimentary answer. "That was a serious beat-down he put on me that last run," Martin said, describing how Stenhouse grabbed the lead with just over 50 laps to go en route to winning his first race of the season and first on an intermediate track. "I’m not ashamed to say it wasn’t even close."

Stenhouse finished a disappointing 19th in the season-opener at Daytona then rallied to a third-place result at Phoenix prior to his win. But Sadler’s mojo is in overdrive heading to Bristol. A Virginia native, Sadler loves the .533-mile track. In 10 series starts, he has one win (1998) and has been strong in his last three races with a pole, two top fives – including a fourth-place finish in this race last year – and one top-10 finish.

Is Bristol Kyle’s Remedy?
"Kyle Busch" and "slow start" are rarely used in the same sentence. Since 2009, the year he won the series championship, Busch has won at least one race – actually the second race of the season – among the first three.

Busch is in his first season as a series owner-driver manning his own Kyle Busch Motorsports equipment instead of running for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team for which he’d made all but 11 starts since2008. He’s now sharing the No. 54 Toyota with his brother Kurt with an eye on the series owner championship.

Heading to Bristol, Busch’s team is 15th in the owner standings. He finished 19th at Daytona due to an accident, was 11th at Phoenix and 33rd at Las Vegas, his home track, after an accident forced him to the garage for repairs before returning to finish the race.

But BMS could be the remedy Busch is looking for. He’s the defending winner of this event and has won the last three series races there overall. In 15 starts he has four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s.

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