Tight Championship Battle Hits The High Banks At Talladega
Unpredictable, close-quarters, high-speed, side-by-side racing is the recipe for the wildcard atmosphere Talladega Superspeedway provides as the next stop for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Seven races into the schedule, just two points separate standings leader Elliott Sadler from second-place and reigning series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse has been on a charge since Bristol, closing a 25-point deficit to Sadler; including his series leading fifth top-five finish last weekend at Richmond International Raceway.
Both Sadler and Stenhouse have been on point this season with two wins and six top-10 finishes apiece.
But this weekend could be Sadler’s chance to slow Stenhouse’s roll. Stenhouse finished 38th at Talladega last year as a result of a Lap 67 accident; one of only two DNFs on the season for Stenhouse, while Sadler finished in the top five.
Sadler has the upper hand over Stenhouse in three key pre-race Loop Data categories heading to Talladega, including his series-leading Driver Rating (112.6), Average Running Position (6.5) and Average Quality Passes (158); as compared to Stenhouse with a Driver Rating of 72.2, Average Running Position of 19.7 and Average Quality Passes of 112.
Female Drivers Long, Patrick To Make Talladega Debuts
Talladega Superspeedway might be one of the most daunting for a series track debut. But to be considered elite in the series, drivers must be able to conquer any track surface the NNS throws at them. And for Johanna Long and Danica Patrick, those debuts come this weekend in the Aaron’s 312.
Long, at age 19 the youngest female to compete in the NNS and a current Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, is from Pensacola, Fla., and cut her racing teeth racing in Legends, Pro Late Models and Super Late Models in Alabama at tracks in Mobile and Opp.
Having made five of the seven series starts this season, Long is currently 19th in the driver standings with an average finish of 21st.
She more than held her own in her national series debut at Talladega last October, starting eighth and finishing 16th in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. Long drives for ML Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and the team collected its only top-five result to date at ’Dega in 2008.
Unlike Long, who has logged laps at Talladega, Patrick will be making her NASCAR debut at the speedway. Much of Patrick’s NASCAR success has come at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega’s sister track. In four starts at Daytona, Patrick has one pole, three top-10 starts, and one top-10 finish.
KBM Puts The Big Multi-Car Teams On Notice
Could the tide be receding of large, multi-car teams enjoying the greatest success in the NASCAR Nationwide Series? Possibly. Case in point, the turnaround of the single-car Kyle Busch Motorsports team and the most successful NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, Kyle Busch.
After an inauspicious – and somewhat unlucky – start to the organization’s inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series season, the team won its first race in exhilarating fashion last Friday night in Richmond. Kurt Busch delivered the historic victory for his little bro, banging side-by-side with hometown favorite Denny Hamlin to the tune of a .062-second margin of victory – the closest margin of victory in series history at Richmond.
Kyle Busch, the 2009 series champion, is the defending winner of the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega and coming off this past weekend at Richmond has a huge wave of momentum to carry his team to even greater success. Busch has made eight series starts at Talladega, posting one win, three top fives and four top 10s. He’ll be competing against Kurt, who also will run in the Aaron’s 312 this weekend for Phoenix Racing.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Tayler Malsam will travel to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 7-8 for an official press event promoting “Global Youth Traffic Safety Month” and the “Million Messages in May” program as a part of RAAD (Recording Artists, Actors and Athletes Against Drunk Driving) and the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS). … Sam Hornish Jr. isn’t flying under the radar anymore. A three-time IndyCar Series champion and 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner, he’s found his second NASCAR wind. In his first full-time season in the NNS, Hornish is fourth in the points and comes off a season-best, fifth-place result last week at Richmond. … With the NCWTS in an open week, James Buescher, the NNS winner at Daytona, is entered at Talladega. … 1992 series champion Joe Nemechek – the all-time series pole winner (five) and two-time race winner at Talladega – nearly made it three wins with help from Mike Wallace last year. With Wallace as the pusher, Nemechek finished third. He may return the favor this year as Wallace’s hauler, primary car and majority of equipment was lost in a hauler fire at the JD Motorsports’ Gaffney, S.C., shop on Sunday. Wallace’s back-up car was spared and will be ready for ’Dega. RAB Racing has offered its NCWTS hauler for use by the JDM team at Talladega. … The No. 3 Chevrolet will make its first series run at Talladega since 2000 this weekend with driver Austin Dillon.