The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Pepsi 300 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday April 13, 2006

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Race Trax: Pepsi 300

Amy Henderson · Thursday April 13, 2006


On Track
The Pepsi 300 is the eighth race on the 35-race NASCAR Busch Series Schedule. The Busch Series will visit the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway twice in 2006-they’ll return in early June. The current Nashville track has hosted the Busch Series races each year since 2001, when it replaced the old Nashville USA on the schedule. The track is a fairly flat tri-oval track with 14 degrees of banking in the corners, nine on the frontstretch and just six degrees on the backstretch. Drivers will race 225 laps for the checkered flag. The field will include 2005 spring polesitter and race winner Reed Sorenson.

45 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the top 30 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The entry list includes eight full time Nextel Cup drivers. The Busch Series qualifying record at Texas is 166.515mph, set by Martin Truex Jr. in 2004.

The points battle in the Busch Series reads largely like a Nextel Cup leaderboard, with the top five positions still being held by full-time Cup drivers. Leader Kevin Harvick holds a 121-point advantage over Denny Hamlin who moved into second after JJ Yeley experienced some bad Texas luck last week. Yeley, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle fill the top five. The top Busch regular is Johnny Sauter in eighth, and Busch-only drivers Paul Menard and Jason Leffler are in ninth and tenth.

What To Expect
Nashville is a unique track on the Busch Series circuit. It is slightly shorter than most of the big, flat tri-ovals they visit, but faster and grippier than the one-milers. Part of this owes to the track’s concrete surface, which provides excellent grip while not being prone to the temperature changes that asphalt undergoes over the course of a day.

Whether it’s the track or the relative inexperience of many of the drivers (there will be fewer Cup regulars and more part-time and Busch-only teams in the field this week, a Cup off-week), Nashville tends to produce cautions. The fewest a 300-mile race has ever seen is six, or one about every 50 laps, and there have been as many as eleven caution periods in a single race. This means that teams may not see a green-flag pit stop all day. This means they’ll have time to make adjustments-and proper adjustments will be critical if a car isn’t racy right out of the hauler. Last year’s first race saw several drivers whit good handling cars that made good adjustments get strong finishes-far behind race winner Sorenson, whose car handled from the drop of the green flag. A car that handles Nashville’s concrete surface and sweeping turns well will run up front all day.

Who to Watch
Horsepower and handling are once again the key words, and Reed Sorenson certainly had them both in this event in 2005. With a year’s experience under his belt, Sorenson figured to be a top contender. Also strong last April were Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick has looked like a contender everywhere so far.

The Busch regulars have held their own at Nashville. This is in part due to the scheduled off-week for the Nextel Cup Series, but also to the fact that Nashville is unlike any track on the Cup circuit, and this takes the experience factor out of the equation to a degree. Sorenson won as a Busch regular one year ago. Kenny Wallace finished second to Sorenson that day and was clearly faster than everyone else in the field-and the AutoZone team is bringing that car back rather than one of the new cars they’ve struggled with so far this year. Jason Keller leads current drivers in top-five finishes at the track with three. Johnny Sauter has been consistently strong this year as well, and Stacy Compton had a tenth-place run last spring.

Did You Know:
-Nashville’s trophy-a working Gibson guitar-is one of the most unique and sought-after in the Busch Series?

-The only Cup regular to win at Nashville was Michael Waltrip in 2004? Busch Series regulars have taken home the rest of the guitars.

-No Busch Series driver has won from the pole at Nashville?

-The winningest car owner at Nashville is Greg Pollex? Ppc Racing has two wins at the track. (And two entries on the card this week in Wallace and John Andretti)

You Don’t Say"¦
"I definitely feel more confident heading back there this time than I did heading there around this time last year. I was a rookie last year, so there were a lot of unknowns. There is still a lot more for me to learn, too, but it was definitely intimidating going to race at places I hadn’t run before. I know going into this weekend, I am looking forward to it, as well as all of the guys on the team. We had two strong runs there last year, so we’re hoping to capitalize on our past. It is going to be a little more challenging this year, because there are going to be a lot of great drivers and teams there that were not all there last year. I believe [Kevin] Harvick is going to be there in the No. 21 car so he’ll be good, but hopefully we will be better." -last spring’s winner, Reed Sorenson on returning to Nashville with more experience under his belt

"Nashville is one of the most unique 1.33-mile tracks. Turns one and two are a little more "˜normal’ for that size track, but three and four are more like the corners at a half-mile track. It’s very challenging to get both ends of the track suited to your car’s handling. With my win there in 2003 "" and guitar – plus a second-place finish that season and a strong run there last fall, my team and I are hungry and determined, with one goal for Saturday "" to win!" -veteran driver David Green on Nashville

"It was my very first race at a big track, at least what I called a big track at the time, and that track pretty much allowed me to be seen by Richard Childress. I was running in a guy’s ARCA car from Kansas City and just immediately took a liking to the place. I went there pretty blind, but loved how fast it was. I have led a lot of laps there and got my first win in the Busch Series there. When you have those kind of stats, it makes it easy to say that Nashville is one of my favorites." -driver Clint Bowyer on why he likes Nashville

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