Mike Lovecchio · Thursday May 19, 2011
With a limited number of Cup drivers in Iowa Sunday, which driver has the best opportunity to prove himself?
A number of Sprint Cup drivers this weekend have opted to not double-dip and strictly turn their attention to Saturday night’s All-Star race. That leaves a number of quality rides in the Nationwide race Sunday in Iowa, a great opportunity for young up-and-coming drivers or veterans in dire need of a break. To find two drivers who have great opportunities this weekend, all you have to do is turn your attention to one team – Joe Gibbs Racing. There will be no Kyle Busch or Joey Logano in the No. 18 and No. 20 this weekend, instead it will be Michael McDowell and Drew Herring. McDowell has struggled to be competitive since breaking into the Sprint Cup series with limited experience in 2008 and has mostly been competing in a start-and-park ride with HP Racing. But this is the weekend McDowell can make race fans’ perk up their ears and say ‘Hey, I remember that guy!’ He may not have the most success in stock car racing, but he does have experience – more than most in the Nationwide field – and a top 5 ride, easily. McDowell has a chance this weekend to compete for a win, or at least a top 5.
McDowell’s teammate this weekend, Drew Herring, may be a relative unknown, but the 24-year-old driver has had a solid albeit brief Nationwide career. In four Nationwide starts Herring has two top 20s for Baker Curb Racing and has a great opportunity to improve on that this weekend. A win may be a stretch, but Herring has a chance for his first career top 10 and to impress other car owners who may be looking for a talented young driver.
How will Kimi Raikkonen fare this weekend?
Speaking of opportunities to impress, there are few rides across NASCAR’s national touring series more dominant than any truck owned by Kyle Busch, and this weekend former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen gets the chance to pilot the No. 15 KBM Toyota at Charlotte. Raikkonen is the latest open-wheel standout to dabble in NASCAR and should immediately have an opportunity to earn a top 5. Busch has said both he and Raikkonen turned competitive laps in a recent test, which means if Kimi is anywhere close to as fast as Busch, he should be quicker than 2/3 of the Truck field. I’ll go as far to say that if something were to happen to Busch Friday night, Raikkonen could win in his first ever start.
Will we see anymore on-track fireworks at the All-Star race?
The no-points, high-payout race Saturday night has been known to create more than a few fireworks, and with a couple of scores to settle fans are wondering if they’ll come to a head this weekend. Unfortunately, for those who want to see Harvick/Busch II, the probation will carry over into the All-Star race and it’s highly unlikely the two will sacrifice the possibility of missing a points paying race next week just to vent off any frustration one may have with the other. Still though, don’t be surprised to see other disagreements this weekend. It’s obvious that ‘boys have it’, although few know what the boundaries are, has produced more than a couple of frustrated drivers. A non-points race is the perfect race to not give that driver you feel hasn’t raced you cleanly an inch, and if there’s contact made, so be it. Don’t be surprised to see some fireworks Saturday night, but they won’t be from Harvick or Busch.
Will we see a double winner Saturday night?
It’s hard to remember a year with a more talented group of drivers in the Sprint Showdown. Between Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Burton, Martin Truex, Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers and Joey Logano one of those drivers can easily hit on a setup in the Showdown that can lead to the potential of a win in the All-Star race. But still, there’s a reason these drivers aren’t guaranteed a spot in the main event – they haven’t won a race in the last year and a half. It would be surprising for a winless driver over that span to suddenly win two races in the same night, but stranger things have happened.
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