Race Weekend Central

The Future of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. On the Line at Charlotte

The story leaving Iowa this past Sunday was bigger than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It was the breakthrough that an entire series worth of competitors had been waiting months for; a Nationwide Series regular took the checkered flag for the first time in 2011.

That being said, the story now shifts to Stenhouse himself. Heading into race weekend at Charlotte, the Nationwide Series’ newest winner not only comes into Saturday riding a wave of momentum that has his No. 6 team in prime position to win Roush Fenway Racing their first NASCAR championship since 2007…he also has earned his shot at the big time. With fellow prospect Trevor Bayne out of the seat for another week, Stenhouse will take the wheel of the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford for another of NASCAR’s most prestigious races…the 600 miler.

Even Short Term, The Absence of Trevor Bayne a Losing Situation for All

As the Nationwide Series heads to Darlington, it will for the second weekend in a row be devoid of one of its title contenders and most recognizable faces. Trevor Bayne, the youngest driver in history to win the Daytona 500, will not race at the Lady in Black this evening, despite being released from the Mayo Clinic earlier this week. Taking his place in the No. 16 car again this weekend will be Roush Fenway Racing development driver Chris Buescher.

Mystery still shrouds the surroundings regarding Bayne’s hospitalization and time away from racing. A team press release stated that Bayne was admitted complaining from nausea, fatigue and vision impairment, apparently the result of an inflammatory condition.

Nationwide and the Never-Ending Identity Crisis

Those who are not supportive of the preponderance of Cup drivers double-dipping and dominating NNS competition have long derided the series as “Cup Lite,” meaning every single change that everyone from the title sponsor to the sanctioning body have thrown at the former Grand National ranks has proven incapable of shedding that abrasive reputation. The new identity remains elusive.

Nationwide Superteams Have No One To Thank But Themselves After Indian Trick Bites at Texas

It’s perhaps fitting that as the Nationwide Series heads to Alabama to tackle the high banks of Talladega, one of the stories garnering attention from the series and its last outing has to do with something, well, Indian. After all, there’s no other circuit on NASCAR’s national touring slate that is rumored to be built on an Indian burial ground.

The story is the old “Indian trick,” which longtime series stalwart Means Racing was attempting to utilize in running the distance at Texas last weekend; that is, to take the less worn left front tire and put it on the right front of the car. Whether or not that tire swap was responsible, Chris Schendel and his No. 52 car were on highlight reels for days after cutting a tire in turn 1, pushing up the track and smack into the path of Kyle Busch, ending Busch’s shot at the win as he was running down race leader Carl Edwards. (For the record, kudos to Allen Bestwick for breaking this little tidbit…it’s not often you’ll see an ESPN staffer digging for such nuggets in the back of the garage.)

As the Nationwide Series Breaks New Ground at Texas, Much of the Old Guard is On the Sidelines

Heading into the first Nationwide Series night race ever at the Texas Motor Speedway, two teams synonymous with success in NASCAR’s AAA division are in the headlines, but not for reasons consummate with their place in the sport’s recent history. For two teams, a historic trip that would ordinarily see their Fords storming to the front of the field is just the latest week in a struggle to stay viable, if you can call it that, shells of their former selves on and off the race track.

Roush Fenway Racing Prospects Battling Team, Career History at Fontana

It’s hard not to think of Roush Fenway Racing whenever NASCAR’s traveling circus heads west to Fontana and the Auto Club Speedway. With 15 wins across NASCAR’s three national touring series, and a list of winners including 2002 Nationwide Series champion Greg Biffle, 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin among those that have contributed to the trophy haul, out west has felt right at home for the blue oval brigade’s flagship.

And while it’s been over four years since the outfit’s Nationwide Series program has visited victory lane at the two-mile oval, Roush has been far from an afterthought in the running order; they’ve placed at least one car in the top 5 in every series race run at the facility since 2008 and in the top 10 since the spring race of 2003 (that race was won by Matt Kenseth driving what was then John Reiser’s Nationwide Ford, so the tally arguably goes back even further).

What a Difference A Year Makes: McClure Right at Home with Tri-Star

The results may not be flashy on paper. And, according to the driver of the No. 14 car, the first three races of 2011 haven’t even been what “we all [at Tri-Star] thought it was going to be.”

And that’s not even taking into account that the next stop for the Nationwide Series tour is the Bristol Motor Speedway, a track that Eric McClure isn’t too keen on visiting. “I really don’t have any fond memories of anything related to Bristol, and that’s not even limited to the track,” he quipped when asked if the world’s fastest half-mile was out to get him.

There’s a case to be made for that. Not only did McClure injure his back in a qualifying wreck at the track the last time the series visited, earlier this week he injured his hand in a household fall. A case of Bristol getting the best of him? Not according to the driver.

Tri-Star Motorsports Triples Its Presence on the Track for 2011

2011 saw Mark Smith roll into Daytona as the owner of Tri-Star Motorsports, playing Nationwide Series underdog with an operation that just one year ago took an unsponsored car that failed to qualify for three of the first seven races, and with Jason Keller behind the wheel charged into the top 30 in owner points…and a locked in spot in the field…by season’s end. The roster has changed for Tri-Star; Eric McClure joined the team in the offseason along with longtime backer Hefty, while veterans Mike Bliss and Jeff Green have also been brought on board. But the role Smith is playing in the garage as owner is nothing new.

After all, he, and Tri-Star, have been here before.

For Justin Allgaier, A New Ride, A New Home, The Same Title Questions

“There’s really no way to change anything more than we’ve changed,” says Justin Allgaier of his new home at Turner Motorsports. Formerly the Braun Racing organization, Allgaier is coming into the fold during an offseason that’s seen the team switching to the new Nationwide car, a new manufacturer in Chevrolet, a new engine provider in Hendrick Motorsports, and, in his case, a sponsor new to NASCAR racing. It’s a great story of a Nationwide regular getting a fantastic opportunity.

Only thing is, Allgaier’s not just any Nationwide regular; under this season’s new points system, he’s the defending Series champ. In 2010, he was also the only such driver to win an NNS race on an oval, propelling Penske support into his first career victory at Bristol last victory. And yet, despite all that he still found himself out of a sponsor and a ride when the checkered flag flew at Miami last fall. So while his new home at Turner Motorsports may lack the history and stature of his former home at Penske Racing, what the youngster has gained after a tumultuous 2010 in experience and perspective may prove enough to make title defense a realistic venture.

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