This weekend’s upcoming race at Texas Motor Speedway will mark the fifth event of the season for the Nationwide Series and the final race before reverting to the 2009 owner points standings to determine who is locked into the field each weekend.
Looking at the current standings, there are a number of teams that are all but locks to be in the Top-30 cutoff after Saturday’s 300-miler. Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 team, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18, NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 and Braun Racing’s No. 10 are all operations that will likely breath a sigh of relief when they go to qualify at Nashville two weeks from now… because they won’t have to.
But, while this influx of predominantly Cup-driven operations is on their way in, that means that someone’s got to go. While it’ll be a cause for celebration to see MSRP Motorsports’ No. 90 entry get the boot from the ranks of the locked-in, the same can’t be said for a number of full-time teams that are in real danger of heading to Nashville having to race their way into the show.
In the Danger Zone
Danny O’Quinn, No. 01 JD Motorsports Chevrolet
The 2006 Busch Series Rookie of the Year had done well in his first three races of the season with the underdog JD Motorsports operation. He scored a lead-lap finish at Daytona after qualifying seventh and delivered a surprising 18th-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, O’Quinn fell victim to an early wreck at Bristol that left his No. 01 team with a 37th-place DNF, a result that dropped the team to 29th in the current owner points. With two full-time teams within six points of the No. 01 in the standings, a good finish at TMS is paramount for O’Quinn.
Brandon Whitt, No. 61 Specialty Racing Ford
Last year despite missing the season opener at Daytona, veteran driver Kevin Lepage scored top-20 finishes at both Las Vegas and Bristol with this same operation, results that led the team to secure a Top-30 spot in the field early in the year. 2009, however, has been a different story. Though Whitt and the No. 61 have been in the field for the first four races, the team hasn’t cracked the top 20 in any of them, and currently sits on the Top-30 bubble heading into Texas. Unlike Lepage, who is known for his time-trial prowess, Whitt has struggled with qualifying in the No. 61 car, with an average start of 34.0 since joining the team last summer. Losing the Top-30 position will hurt this team, and likely Whitt’s job security, very quickly.
Scott Wimmer, Key Motorsports No. 40 Chevrolet
This team knows all too well how much it hurts to be outside the Top 30. At Fontana, despite outrunning the No. 90 car and others in qualifying, longtime Truck Series owner Curtis Key’s new operation was booted from the field in favor of Johnny Chapman, who parked his car 10 laps into the show at Auto Club Speedway. Missing the race at Fontana, coupled with late-race damage suffered in the season opener at Daytona, cancelled out Wimmer’s impressive 11th-place run at Las Vegas and has the team currently on the outside looking in at a locked-in spot. Much like Specialty Racing, the No. 40 team has not been strong in qualifying this year, averaging a starting spot of 33.3. Nos. 40 and 61 will likely be keeping a close eye on each other at Texas… assuming the No. 40 races its way into that field.
Brian Keselowski, No. 26 K-Automotive Dodge
Brad Keselowski’s elder brother Brian is an accomplished short-tracker on the ARCA Re/Max Series circuit, with wins at the Berlin Raceway and Salem Speedway on his resume. He also has scored top-15 finishes in NNS competition at Memphis and Bristol. That said, it was quite surprising to see Brian DNQ at Bristol, a missed race that likely will keep his No. 26 out of the Top 30 for the near future. Keselowski has done well on track when in the field, finishing all three races he qualified for this season, including a top-20 run at Las Vegas. But after failing to make the show at the same Bristol track that plays to his strengths, one can’t help but question if this team’s qualifying packages will be consistent week in and week out to keep Brian’s season a legitimate full-time campaign.
There are a number of other teams out there that will be sweating bullets at Texas and Nashville the following week, including
- Kertus Davis, No. 49 Jay Robinson Racing Chevrolet
- Kenny Hendrick, No. 42 Smith-Ganassi Racing Dodge
- Jimmy Means Racing’s No. 52 Chevrolet
- John Wes Townley, No. 09 RAB Racing Ford
So while Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are busy hogging all the TV time on ESPN this weekend, keep an eye on the scoring ticker, because all of these potential storylines will be playing themselves out throughout the pack.
Of course, for a lot of these teams the drama begins with Texas qualifying, so be sure to tune in for the telecast of what will likely be a dramatic session. Oh wait… you can’t. Shame.