Three-Man Race With Three Races To Go
Championship implications, high speeds, close quarters and an Asphalt Circus can’t waiver the focus of the top three contenders in the NASCAR Nationwide Series title hunt. Standings leader Elliott Sadler holds court with three races remaining, leading by just six points ahead of second-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 26 up on Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Dillon.
Heading to Texas this weekend, both Sadler and Stenhouse want to get their second Cowboy Hat in Victory Lane and cement this race as a two-horse battle – but don’t count Dillon out just yet.
Since retaking the standings lead following the race at Kentucky, Sadler has averaged an eight-point lead over second-place Stenhouse, but two of the final three races remaining are 1.5-mile speedways and the stats are showing that those type of tracks cater to his competitor’s strengths.
Of the 10 races held on 1.5-mile tracks so far this season, Dillon has the best average starting position (2.8) and average finishing position (4.8) of the three contenders. On those same tracks, Stenhouse has led by far the most laps. He has led 20 percent (388) followed by Dillon (16 percent) then Sadler (9 percent). Stenhouse also has the most wins (five) on those 1.5-mile tracks, Dillon has two and Sadler one.
At Texas, all three drivers have been successful. Stenhouse won at TMS earlier this season in April to earn his fourth of eight career NNS victories. In 2004, Sadler won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and in 2010 Dillon won a Keystone Light pole in the NCWTS.
Texas could be a springboard for Dillon to close his point deficit on Sadler and Stenhouse. Dillon has the best pre-race Driver Rating (110.4) of the three contenders at Texas and spent 100 percent of the April race in the top 15 with an Average Running Position of 5.286 (series-best).
Texas Might Just Be What Busch Needs
For the first season out of the box in the NNS, Kyle Busch has nothing to be ashamed of as owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports. The No. 54 Monster Energy team is eighth in the owner points standings and the team posted its first series win earlier this season at Richmond International Raceway with his brother Kurt Busch behind the wheel.
But there is one glaring hole on the 2012 check list: a win in his own equipment. Busch has won at least one NNS race for eight straight seasons dating back to his first series victory in 2004, and looks to tie Mark Martin for most consecutive seasons with a win at nine. In addition, he holds the overall record for most wins (51) by a driver in the series. So not wining this season has put Busch in unfamiliar territory.
In 19 starts this season, Kyle Busch has six top fives and 11 top 10s, including two runner-up finishes at Talladega and Chicago. Accidents, part failures and plain bad luck has plagued the team for much of the season, some of which has led to five finishes outside the top-20 with Busch behind the wheel.
But NASCAR returns to Texas, a welcome respite for Busch. As the track wins leader (five), Busch owns Texas Motor Speedway when it comes to the NNS. He rallied off a record-tying five consecutive wins between 2008 and 2010. He also has 10 top fives and two poles with an average finish of 7.1 in just 13 starts. On top of it all, he leads the series in pre-race Driver Rating (124.9) and Laps Led (1,187) at Texas.
Fans Should Enjoy Star-Studded Field At Texas
Not only will fans get the chance to see their favorite NNS championship contenders battle it out, but as an added bonus, several NSCS drivers will be pulling double-duty raising the level of competition.
Two former series champions, Kyle Busch (2009) and Kevin Harvick (2001, ‘06) are back behind the wheel this weekend. The two drivers sit one-two on the series all-time wins list at TMS and combine for nine of the 23 possible victories at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Joining them are Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and this season’s wins leader (eight) Joey Logano. Hamlin will be in the No. 18 car this weekend, which holds the lead in the owner points standings by 21 points over Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 team. Ryan Newman will be making his first series start of the season. Turner Motorsports has tapped Newman to drive the No. 30 car this weekend. Newman hasn’t competed in the series since Phoenix in February 2011.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Chasing History: Danica Patrick is on the verge of making NASCAR history. She currently sits 10th in the NNS points standings with three races remaining. If she finishes 12th or better in the standings at season’s end she will become the highest-finishing female in national series history. The record is currently held by Sara Christian, who finished 13th in the NSCS in 1949. … Racing Texans: McKinney, Texas native, Robert Richardson Jr., will be attempting to qualify for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge this weekend. Richardson has made 14 series starts this season posting a best finish of 17th at Daytona in July.
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