Doug Turnbull · Tuesday April 14, 2009
The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series each took a breather this Easter Weekend while the Nationwide Series fired its engines (and Gibson guitar amps) in Nashville. Since this column already detailed the HOTNESS and NOTNESS of the Cup Series following last week’s events in Texas, we find it only fair to take a look at which drivers are tending well and poor in both of NASCAR’s other top divisions.
Something that both the Nationwide and Truck Series do share is a two-driver breakaway in the points standings. However, while one of those battles is just heating up, the other threatens to cool down as soon as Kansas in two weeks considering one or both of the drivers involved may not run the full schedule.
Which championship in which series am I talking about? Find out by checking out the HOT, WARM, and COLD drivers of NASCAR’s second and third biggest series. Not surprisingly, the way things are these days, you will notice a familiar name or two from Sprint Cup on the list.
HOT: Kyle Busch – In ten races total amongst the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, Busch has amassed four wins, seven top 5s, and eight top 10s. It’s a sizzling start that has him leading the Truck Series points by 38 over closest challenger Todd Bodine while trailing Carl Edwards in the Nationwide series standings by just 23. Having garnered two wins in each of NASCAR’s top three series, Busch shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
But don’t expect Busch to stay in the title hunt in all of NASCAR’s top three divisions. Over in the Truck Series, Busch plans on stepping out of the No. 51 truck for several races, thus taking himself out of the championship chase. Interestingly enough, Bodine may also have to turn his schedule away from full-time competition if his No. 30 Germain Racing team cannot find sponsorship, meaning that the Truck Series’ two most successful drivers this season may not even remain in contention for the championship.
However, Busch plans on staying in the No. 18 Toyota and competing for his first NASCAR championship in the Nationwide Series. And with a second place finish at Nashville, he’s well on track to do so just one month after a devastating 39th place finish after crashing out at Las Vegas.
HOT: Kevin Harvick – The longtime triple-dipper in NASCAR’s top three divisions has one win and two top 5s in both the Nationwide and Truck Series. The difference between Harvick’s good stats now and in the past, however, is that he has amassed these numbers running part-time in his own equipment. Before winning Martinsville in his own No. 2 Truck, Harvick guided his No. 33 Nationwide entry to his first win for his own company in that series. With Kevin Harvick, Inc. equipment scoring good numbers no matter who the driver is (Kelly Bires was 4th at Nashville), expect its owner/driver to continue running well this season in both series.
HOT: Joey Logano – How could we put this column together without listing NASCAR’s only big winner this week? Sliced Bread has looked stale this season, but sure proved his worth in Saturday’s Nationwide Series win in Nashville. Equally impressive as Logano’s victory was his ability to simply drive around his superstar teammate Kyle Busch, who does not exactly give up positions very easily. Hopefully, Logano’s momentum will carry over to the 18-year-old’s Sprint Cup ride, where the No. 20 team has struggled mightily with him behind the wheel. But Saturday’s win at least shows critics that Logano does still know how to drive a race car, possessing considerable potential to develop into the champion he is expected to become.
WARM: Brad Keselowski – Not long ago, Keselowski was off to a dreadful start in not only the Nationwide Series but also in his Sprint Cup attempts. Wrecks and bad luck took the No. 88 JR Motorsports ride for a ride down the points standings through the first few races. But in the last month, Keselowski’s steady hand has guided the high profile entry back to fifth in points after scoring back-to-back third place finishes at Texas and Nashville. Keselowski has also held his own in the Cup Series, most recently finishing 23rd in a fifth Hendrick Motorsports entry at Texas, the best of any “rookie” driver in the field. Expect big things and multiple wins this season from the driver being groomed as Hendrick’s next big star.
WARM: Carl Edwards – Edwards has five top 5s in six Nationwide Series starts for the No. 60 Roush Fenway team this season, and would be 6-for-6 in the top 5 department if not for late-race contact with Logano in Texas two weeks ago. Edwards, though, has yet to win this season in Nationwide with only a fraction of laps led compared to Busch, prompting Edwards to campaign to RFR brass for more emphasis to be placed on the No. 60 car. One big equalizer for his and Busch’s teams is shoddy pit road work, which has cost both organizations tons of track position over the course of the year. All blunders aside, though, this team is among the few elite ones in the Nationwide Series and will be a constant threat to visit Victory Lane.
WARM: Ron Hornaday – Hornaday has been “in the hunt” in each of the four Truck Series races this season, scoring top 10s in all of them, but the three-time champ has not had the edge on the No. 33 Chevy to break into the lead very often. This is evidenced by the wily veteran’s mere 27 laps led all season (an average of between six and seven per race) in comparison to Kyle Busch’s league-leading total of 285. However, if Bodine’s team cannot run the full schedule, Hornaday may be left to battle for the championship with old rival Mike Skinner, who is running surprisingly well for Randy Moss’s new truck program. Drivers lurking in Hornaday and Skinner’s shadows include Matt Crafton, Johnny Benson, Chad McCumbee, Timothy Peters, Rick Crawford, and Terry Cook (although Cook is also in jeopardy of cutting his season short due to lack of sponsorship for his HT Motorsports program.)
COLD: John Wes Townley – A full-time run in NASCAR’s second-tier division has not been the dream this teenager expected. The new No. 09 RAB Racing Team, with funding from Townley’s dad’s restaurant chain, Zaxby’s, has been living a nightmare with their man behind the wheel. Townley, only 19, has wrecked twice and spun countless times in practice, forcing his team to work from behind — he’s run two race weekends where both his primary and backup race cars were destroyed. The Georgian has been mediocre at best in the races he has finished, with a best run of only 16th in a Nationwide Series where numerous teams either start and park or don’t have the funding Townley does to be competitive.
It’s surprising the rookie has been unable to get a handle on a race car that is set up by veteran crew chief Brad Parrott, so much so he’s dropped out of a “locked in” qualifying spot in owner points with this poor start. Adding to the setbacks for the team is a steep 100-point penalty levied upon it by NASCAR for unapproved chassis modifications in Daytona. This penalty leaves them as the lowest-ranked team in points to qualify for each Nationwide race to date.
COLD: Scott Wimmer – What a fall from grace for this Wisconsin driver. Cast on the scrap heap from Richard Childress Racing after a couple of quiet, consistent, part-time seasons, Wimmer signed on with startup team Key Motorsports, which decided to add a Nationwide car back to its operation after running a Truck Series team for the past few years.
Two months later, it’s been mixed results at best for a new organization that’s found the going difficult. Wimmer started dead last in Daytona and was running in the top 15 before crashing out and finishing 32nd. A DNQ the next week only added to the team’s disappointment before an 11th place finish in Las Vegas flashed some future potential. Still, Wimmer has not had consistent runs in the car, and even scored his second DNQ of the season in Texas.
Despite the roller coaster start, Wimmer is still scheduled to run the rest of the season in the No. 40 except for the few races he has signed to run in JR Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevy. If he runs well in both of these entries, he may be able to gain the attention of a car owner who can put him in better equipment… but he hasn’t done that quite yet.
COLD: Shane Sieg – 2009 is supposed to be a breakout year for this still-young driver who has raced off and on in the series for several seasons. Sieg got a chance as Kyle Busch’s fill-in at Billy Ballew Motorsports last year, parlaying that into a full-time gig in the No. 15 truck as his teammate after some strong performances to end ’08.
But things have not turned out as planned for Sieg in ’09, as his best finish has only been 15th at Daytona. Most disappointing was his 32nd place run in Martinsville a couple of weeks ago… after starting on the outside pole. Sieg has not led one lap this year and may find himself looking for a ride soon as a result. I had a chance to speak to up-and-coming late model driver Jess Mattox, who tests for Ballew. His uncle’s company is Woodward Pools, which not only sponsors his late model but also funded Sieg’s Martinsville ride. If Sieg’s struggles continue and Mattox’s uncle wants his nephew to get a Truck Series break, who knows what may happen down the line?
Sieg and Mattox, by the way, got into a shoving match with their race cars at the April 4th Georgia Asphalt Series race at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, GA. One can only imagine what those sheet metal shoves would become if Mattox took Sieg’s Truck Series ride. Hmmmmm…
Well, that wraps her up for this non-Sprint Cup edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not. The Truck Series sabbatical continues, as that series will not return to the track until Saturday, April 25 in Kansas at 5:30 PM ET. In the meantime, the Nationwide Series sees its next green flag Friday at 9 PM ET in Phoenix, while the Sprint Cup Series returns to action Saturday night at the same track at 8 ET. Turn here to see who comes out on top – and on bottom – in the wild wild west next week.
Listen to Doug on Captain Herb Emory’s racing show The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury 120 on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and online at wsbradio.com. You can also hear Doug do pit road reporting for the Georgia Asphalt Series at lanierspeedway.com/gas.html. The next race is in Anderson, SC this Friday night.
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