There were plenty of positive stories for the Nationwide Series after a surprising Friday qualifying session. Former champion Clint Bowyer sat on the pole, but behind him came a trio of surprises combined with one familiar name: young Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Danica Patrick (her best Nationwide qualifying run ever), and Justin Allgaier. With a perfect mix of veterans, two-car tandem drafting and a popular restrictor plate rules package, it’s likely Saturday’s 300-miler will serve as the best event of the weekend.
That’s a good thing, because next week isn’t shaping up too well.
Conducting a survey of all 45 teams at the track, Frontstretch discovered it’s questionable whether the series will have a full field next weekend in Phoenix. In fact, multiple sources confirmed there’s a worry less than 43 cars will show, a combination of the economy, a new car design and a 20 percent purse reduction causing several teams to pack their bags and stay away for good. Among those on the definite “no” list for next week include Kevin Harvick, Inc.’s No. 4, Penske Racing’s No. 12, and Germain Racing’s No. 15. Phoenix Racing’s No. 1, JR Motorsports’ No. 5, 2nd Chance’s No. 79 (after a DNQ) and Means Motorsports’ No. 52 (following their practice crash) are also unlikely to show, which would drop the entry list total to just 38 cars.
It’s unknown at this point whether NASCAR would ask several teams to bring out their backups, what they’ve done in order to ensure the field remains filled during past years. Key Motorsports and MacDonald Motorsports would be likely candidates, but even in a best-case scenario that leaves the grid one to two spots short with a surprising lack of new ownership stepping in along with a popular new car design.
The last short Nationwide field was in February, 2008 at Fontana with 42 cars. For the record, NASCAR remains insistent that a field with less than 43 cars does not affect their TV contract and result in any sort of financial return to the network (in this case, ESPN).
*News ‘N’ Notes* (as compiled by Tom Bowles and Bryan Davis Keith)
– Danica Patrick’s fourth-best qualifying performance is easily the best of her career.
– Patrick Sheltra, the defending ARCA Racing Series champion, is having discussions with Rick Ware Racing about running additional Nationwide races following this weekend in Daytona. The driver also noted that he will likely be returning to the ARCA ranks part-time, running the companion races on the tour’s intermediate circuits.
– Jeremy Clements, who qualified 29th for Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300, is currently under the weather battling the flu. No word on whether or not the No. 51 team will have a backup driver on standby.
– Bobby Santos III’s wreck in Thursday practice did more than destroy Means Racing’s only Nationwide COT; it also put the team’s entire 2011 plan in jeopardy. According to a team member, plans had been in place to run a full Nationwide Series schedule with the No. 52, though now the team in unsure whether they will be able to procure a car to run at Phoenix.
– Kelly Bires will be returning to the No. 25 car at Phoenix for Team Rensi, though according to the driver “we [the team] likely won’t have the money to race” next weekend’s 200-miler. Bires confirmed that the team will be start-and-parking until additional funding can be secured.
– Blake Koch will be returning the seat of MacDonald Motorsports’ No. 81 at Phoenix. Koch ran two races of the 2009 season for the team, finishing 17th at Memphis and 34th at Homestead.
– Charles Lewandoski has signed on with Tri-Star Motorsports to run a limited schedule in the team’s No. 19 Chevrolet. The deal, which is for 10 races that have yet to be announced, will displace regular driver Mike Bliss, who will on those weekends drive the team’s third car, the start-and-park No. 44 entry. The No. 19 car has limited sponsorship on the hood this weekend from East Central Floridian magazine, though the remainder of its 2011 races remain unsold.