Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sadler, Stenhouse Previewing Epic Championship Battle?

Sadler, Stenhouse Previewing Epic Championship Battle?
Sports can create irreplaceable memories for fans. Even though it’s early, the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ close competition is providing plenty for fans to cherish.
Just four points separate standings leader Elliott Sadler and second-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. following Stenhouse’s victory at Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend.
 Six races into the books and the all-too-familiar rivals have similar stats. Each has two wins, four top fives and five top 10s. The difference comes down to Sadler’s 12 bonus points to Stenhouse’s 11 and the one Did Not Finish (DNF) by Stenhouse after an incident on the last lap at Daytona.
Though Sadler holds the top spot in the series driver standings, Stenhouse bests him in three key season-to-date Loop Data categories: Driver Rating - Stenhouse (118.3), Sadler (113.6); Average Running Position - Stenhouse (5.7), Sadler (6.3); and Green Flag Passes - Stenhouse (445), Sadler (378).
Strapped In And Ready To Win
Despite the season being only six races old, it seems like the days of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers dominating NASCAR Nationwide Series races are fading. Over the last nine events, seven have been won by drivers who don’t receive championship points in NSCS. Six of those victories have come courtesy of NNS driver championship contenders – including last Friday night’s win at Texas by reigning series champion Stenhouse. The other win was the opener at Daytona by NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular James Buescher, who’s scheduled to compete in nearly half the NNS races this year.
Series regular drivers are taking notice of their recent accomplishments against full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers.
"It builds confidence in me to be able to go out and do that," Stenhouse said after winning at Texas last weekend. "We just have to be consistent; you know we have been running up there with those guys (NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers) all year long. We just have to keep it up."
An average of 5.6 full-time NSCS drivers has competed in each NNS race this year. Joey Logano is the lone full-time NSCS driver with a win (Auto Club) in the NNS. Last season, each of the first six races of the season was won by NSCS championship-contending drivers.
Can the NASCAR Nationwide Series regulars continue their winning ways? History says it will be tough. Since Johnny Sauter won Richmond’s 2003 fall race, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points chasers have won 16 consecutive times at the Virginia track, host of the series’ next race on April 27.
Everyone In To The Talent Pool
One of the key elements of the NNS and the NASCAR ladder system is that it keeps a healthy rotation of fresh faces in the driver’s seat. And with new talent to the series comes a learning curve. Here are some of the drivers this season who have started to get ahead of that curve.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Dillon is currently third in the series driver standings, just 20 points behind Sadler. Dillon also leads the rookie of the year standings, 22 points ahead of Cole Whitt in second. Though Dillon has yet to visit Victory Lane this season, he has rallied off four top fives and five top 10s in the first six races.  His season-to-date Driver Rating is 100.7.
Danica Patrick, in her first full series season, is just outside the top 10 in the standings. Following a season-best eighth-place finish, also her second-best career result, she’s now 11th, 15 points out of 10th – a nice comeback considering she was 26th following Daytona.  Her season-to-date Driver Rating is 71.3.
Michael Annett is not new to the series, but has hit his stride early this season. Annett is fifth in the standings, 64 markers behind Sadler in his fourth full-time season in the NNS. He posted his second top-10 finish of the year (ninth) last Friday night at Texas. That marks the highest ranking the Des Moines, Iowa, native has attained in his NASCAR national series career. His previous best was eighth following last fall’s Phoenix race. This year he’s changed teams, bringing Richard Petty Motorsports into the series for its first fulltime season. His Ford Mustang sports Petty’s iconic No. 43.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Sam Hornish Jr., fourth in the standings, returns to the NSCS at Kansas this weekend for Penske Racing while Tim Andrews will attempt to qualify Go Green Racing’s first NSCS effort there. … Points leader Elliott Sadler is gearing up for softball season, which starts this weekend. He plays with semi-pro players on several teams throughout the summer in southern Virginia. … Johanna Long will meet and greet fans at the Keen Parts Trailer from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Friday, April 20, at the Spring Charlotte Auto Fair. Keen is on board to sponsor her No. 70 ML Motorsports Chevrolet for four races this year. … Racing resumes April 27 at Richmond, where Travis Pastrana is set to make his long-awaited series debut. Pastrana will drive under the RAB Racing banner as RAB and Michael Waltrip Racing announced an alliance that will feature RAB equipment and MWR technical and marketing support. The No. 09 Toyota now becomes the No. 99. Ryan Blaney, 18, son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, also is ready for his series debut at RIR, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing.

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