Sadler, Stenhouse Face Heated Final Championship Stretch Run
Eight races left, two drivers on top of their game and just one point separates the fierce competitors as the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway.
Standings leader Elliott Sadler just barely held on to the points lead following last weekend’s race at Richmond. Sadler and the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team rebounded from an accident involving the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of rival Ricky Stenhouse Jr. that sent the points leader behind the wall. Sadler finished 12th and Stenhouse went on to finish second, closing a 12-point gap to just one.
Last season Stenhouse turned it on and closed out the championship over the last eight races. Starting with Chicago all the way to Homestead, Stenhouse had an average finish of 5.4 compared to Sadler’s 9.8. Stenhouse also led more laps over that span than Sadler, leading a total of 117 laps to Sadler’s 35.
But this could be Sadler’s year. Sadler (5.5) did better than Stenhouse (6.7) in average starting position over the last eight races of the 2011 season. Minus Sadler’s accident at Phoenix, the two drivers almost mirrored each other in 2011. This season, Sadler has posted three Coors Light poles, four wins and 18 top 10s; Stenhouse has four poles, four wins and 19 top 10s.
Heading to Chicago this week is like pouring gas on the fire. Sadler and Stenhouse finished one-two respectively at the 1.5-mile track earlier this season. Stenhouse sat on the pole and dominated the race leading 135 laps, but Sadler took the lead late for the victory. Stenhouse’s performance at Chicago gives him an edge in the pre-race Driver Rating category (110.6) over Sadler (85.7).
Illinois Natives Return Home For Dollar General 300 Powered By Coca-Cola
On Saturday, three NNS regulars return to their home state of Illinois for the Dollar General 300 Powered by Coca-Cola at Chicagoland Speedway. Justin Allgaier (Riverton), Danica Patrick (Roscoe) and Erik Darnell (Beach Park) are all hoping to impress their home-state crowd.
Allgaier, currently fifth in points (-95), has one victory (Montreal), six top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 2012. In June 2011, he earned his only victory at Chicagoland after leading only the final lap. In five NNS races, he has two top-five and four top-10 showings.
In three appearances at Chicagoland, Patrick has one top-10 effort. Her best finish at Chicagoland is 10th place in June 2011. In the track’s first race this season, Patrick finished 14th, the last driver on the lead lap. She is 11th in the standings (-351).
This Saturday will be Darnell’s second NNS start at Chicagoland. Darnell, who is in 16th place in the standings (-581), made his only other start at the track earlier this season, when he placed 30th. His best finish of the year is 14th at Talladega in May.
Six Former NNS Champions Make The 2012 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup
Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. are just two of the six former NASCAR Nationwide champions who made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. Joining them is their former boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick.
Truex makes only his second Chase appearance, but he does have championship experience having won back-to-back NNS championships in 2004 and 2005 with Chance 2 Motorsports, which was co-owned by Earnhardt.
This is also Keselowski’s second stint in NASCAR’s playoffs. He won the NNS championship in 2010 while driving for Penske, but drove for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports from 2007-2009.
Earnhardt, who also won NNS titles in back-to-back years (1998-99), enters the Chase for the fifth time. The 2002 NNS champion Biffle returns to the Chase after missing it last year. It is his fifth appearance in the playoffs. In 2008, Bowyer won the NNS title, but he also qualified for his second Chase. This year marks his fourth trip. Harvick, another two-time series champ (2001 and 2006), enters the Chase for the sixth time in his career.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Owners Championship Update: With just eight races left in the 2012 season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 team is leading the owner standings by 13 points over Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 team. Just one point behind the No. 2 team is Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 team in third. … Milestone Watch: Joey Logano attempts to post his 50th NNS top-five finish this weekend at Chicago. … Lap Leaders: RCR’s No. 33 car has led the most laps this season with 948. Two-time series champ Kevin Harvick owns most of the laps led in the No. 33 with 787. Harvick matched 2007 series champ Carl Edwards for third on the all-time NNS wins list with his 38th victory last weekend at Richmond. Paul Menard is in the No. 33 this weekend. … All-time NNS starts leader (532) Kenny Wallace returns to the series this week in the No. 99 car. … Million Dollar Quartet will make its second appearance of the season in pre-race activities at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, Sept.15.