Fans can vote online this year for the Most Popular Driver award in eight touring series other than Sprint Cup. That’s great. What’s not so great is NASCAR’s reluctance to put some drivers on the ballot at all. As of Wednesday of this week, Wallace wasn’t on the Nationwide Series ballot, despite being a series regular. Neither were Mike Wallace or Steve Wallace, also full-time drivers in the series. Many fans complained, and those names were added to the ballot, a week after voting opened. But what of the other drivers who have raced in the series? Where are their names?
1. The Other Big Three – American automakers GM, Ford, and Chrysler have just about reached the panic stage, as their financial well-being becomes a critical concern. GM stock has lost approximately 75% of its value over the last year, Ford Motor Company has seen a 50% decline of stock value in the last three months, and Chrysler is expected to either file bankruptcy or sell off what profitable segments of the company they can. NASCAR’s Chairman and CEO Brian France, speaking on whether there’ll be continued support from the “Big Three” in the sport considering their financial crunch, summed up the situation by saying, “…we’ll just have to see.”
Friday night’s race at Daytona was a true barnburner, slowed by only three cautions and run at a near-record pace. Unfortunately, Friday’s race was also as predictable as a TV movie — with Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas dominating the field. Once the checkered flag flew, it was Denny Hamlin scoring the win, his third in the Nationwide Series for 2008. Hamlin’s victory also marked the ninth of the season for JGR’s No. 20 team, and the 12th win in 18 races for JGR this season in this division.
With 16 races down and 21 remaining in the Nationwide Series, we have a long way to go. But after two straight maiden victories for two of the most promising young drivers in the sport, there is a lot to like about this year’s Nationwide Series championship. After a couple of blow out seasons–Kevin Harvick won the title at a canter in 2006 as did Carl Edwards in 2007–it looks like 2008 will be much more competitive. So who are the contenders and the pretenders for the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide crown? Who are we likely to be saluting come November? Who has a better than average chance and who are the pretenders – the men who might just pull off a surprise and win it all?
2. Would You Like Fries With That? – Joe Gibbs Racing driver phenom Joey Logano, continuing to live up to high expectations set by the sports media and NASCAR insiders — such as respected veteran Mark Martin — set a new mark for the youngest driver, at 18 years and 21 days, to ever to win a Nationwide Series race. Logano, piloting the JGR No. 20 Toyota, crossed the finish line more than two seconds ahead of runner-up Scott Wimmer in the Meijer 300 at Kentucky. “Three starts, two poles, one win. He’s OK,” said a very pleased Dave Rogers, Logano’s crew chief. What were you doing at 18?
In a Nutshell: Saturday’s race was dubbed the “Opportunity 300,” the first of numerous standalone events for the Nationwide Series this summer — and a number of drivers took advantage, making runs at their first career wins. But while Joey Logano was untouchable in the early going, and David Stremme ran up front all race long, it was Brad Keselowski in the No. 88 who cashed in, scoring his first career NASCAR victory on the 1.33-mile speedway. Stremme, David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer all stayed out on the track trying to stretch their fuel to the end, but a late-race caution allowed Keselowski — who took four tires later in the race — to run down the leaders and score JR Motorsports’ second series victory this season.
I might as well write a template for this portion of the Nationwide Series Breakdown. This Saturday, Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the NASCAR Nationwide Series X (Heluva Good! 200). Driver X (Denny Hamlin) smoked the field, leading X (131) of X laps (200). Joe Gibbs Racing has now won X (nine) of X (14) races in the Nationwide Series this season.
In a word: dominating. That’s how one could describe Tony Stewart’s run at Darlington in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 Friday night. Stewart, who qualified third, led on three different occasions for a total of 90 laps to score the win. His fourth victory in the Nationwide Series this season, it also doubled as his first in any NASCAR division at the Lady in Black.
With an off week in the schedule, the Frontstretch staffers decided to take a second look at a series of drivers looking for that lucky break. Our writers voted in the top 15 drivers who have never won a Sprint Cup race in their careers; and while these men might have been special in other forms of stock car racing, they were never special enough to make it to Victory Lane at the highest level (at least, not yet).
Did You Notice? That in the midst of the rumors surrounding Bill Davis Racing, it was revealed sponsor Caterpillar may be close to giving up the ghost and jumping ship to a top-level team for 2009; namely, Joe Gibbs Racing. Now, let’s see, the No. 11 already has solid sponsorship from FedEx, the No. 18 is set with M&M’s, and the No. 20 has Home Depot. So, where are they going to go? Certainly not on one of those cars; perhaps Joey Logano’s full-time Nationwide/part-time Cup sponsor for 2009 has been inadvertently revealed? This is something you want to stay tuned on.