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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2020 Auto Club 400 at Fontana

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(Photo: Randy Lanning)

The Headline(s): After winning the first stage and showing speed all weekend, Alex Bowman took the lead on lap 133 after a hotly-contested restart to begin the final stage, and never looked back. Gapping Ryan Blaney over the final run, Bowman cruised to his second career Cup victory and third career NASCAR national series win. …

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5 Points to Ponder: 2009 Preview Edition

As bad as the economy may get, and as much as it may cripple the sport we love, for four hours every Sunday afternoon drivers will drive, crew chiefs will lead their crews, and fans will enjoy their favorite form of entertainment. So, for this year’s first edition of Points to Ponder, let’s take a look at some of the (almost) non-economy related stories heading into 2009 all across NASCAR.

Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Aric Almirola Amazes Again at Bristol!

For the second time this season, Aric Almirola was behind the wheel of the No. 8 DEI Chevy at the Bristol Motor Speedway. The rookie came into this weekend on a mission: hoping to duplicate the top 10 run he turned in at the half-mile back in the spring. “Bristol is my kind of track. You bump, you grind, and just battle for 500 grueling laps. It’s a blast,” remarked an enthusiastic Almirola leading up to the race. As it turned out, the weekend’s events would leave this driver just as excited.

Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Patrick Carpentier Strong, But Sam Hornish Jr. Steals the Show at Michigan

On lap 2 of Sunday’s event, it certainly didn’t look like Hornish would be taking home rookie honors at the 3M Performance 400. That’s when the No. 77 Dodge slid up into the wall coming off of turn 2; as he lost control, the concrete swiped the side of his vehicle, luckily providing only cosmetic damage. As the race wound on, the Ohio native continued to battle a slick racetrack that both he and crew chief Chris Carrier did not expect based off their recent trip to the Irish Hills of Michigan back in June. Hornish lost a lap and could never break the top 25 until the end of the day, when he charged to a 22nd-place finish. That earned him the rookie honors for the seventh time this season, and his first since visiting this venue earlier this year.

Nuts for Nationwide: 24 Down; 11 to Go in the 2nd Series

It’s hard to believe there are only 11 scheduled races left in the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series and, unlike in the previous two seasons, we actually have a genuine title chase. Who needs the manufactured excitement of the senior circuit’s Chase for the Sprint Cup when you have a three-way shootout for the inaugural championship under the Nationwide banner? Two of the three protagonists in the battle for the title are, predictably, Sprint Cup regulars in Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer. But the third, JR Motorsports’ Brad Keselowski, has had the sort of breakout season that suggests his might be a name we’ll be hearing for years to come in Cup as well as Nationwide. This weekend’s race is a critical step along the way as home to the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet is Rochester Hills, Mich. – just two hours from the site of tomorrow’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen

Unlike last weekend at Montreal, Marcos Ambrose did not have the best car in the field. But unlike last weekend, Ambrose capitalized during Saturday’s race at Watkins Glen, scoring his first career NASCAR victory with a win in the Zippo 200. Ambrose ran in the third position for most of the event’s second half, stalking a furious battle between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton that saw both Cup stars forced to pit with less than 10 laps to go for fuel. Ambrose then cruised to an easy win, which also catapulted his No. 59 into the top 10 in Nationwide Series points.

Bowles-Eye View: JJ Yeley Proved Nice Guys Sometimes Do Finish Last

By all accounts, JJ Yeley is one heck of a nice guy. I haven’t dealt with him directly during my three-year tenure on the NASCAR beat, but he’s known to be funny, relaxed, excitable, and just an all-around good person. Too bad that reputation couldn’t translate into on-track success in a stock car. Yeley was released by Hall of Fame Racing Wednesday, putting him out of his misery after a 21-race stint that defied everyone’s lowest expectations. You know you’re in rough shape when your team releases you just half-a-season into a three-year deal; not only was Yeley signed through 2010, primary sponsor DLP has re-upped for next season and shows no sign of going anywhere anytime soon.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland

It seems the rest of the manufacturers have yet to find themselves a solution that’ll allow them to remain competitive. JGR dominated a very uneventful race once again Friday night, with Kyle Busch leading 101 laps and scoring an easy fifth win of the season in his No. 18 Camry. But JGR didn’t just lay waste to the field Friday night… Toyota did. Sure, JGR ran strong, but so did Michael Waltrip Racing and Braun Racing. In all, five Toyota Cup drivers scored top-10 finishes, including four of the top five spots in the final running order.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Camping World RV Sales 200 at Loudon

The first companion race for the Nationwide Series since Dover was a trip back to reality for Nationwide Series fans, as Cup regulars ran roughshod over the field. Cup drivers scored the first seven finishing positions and eight of the top 10 spots Saturday, with Tony Stewart scoring a relatively easy win at New Hampshire. Stewart took the lead for good on lap 136 after Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards had shared the top spot for much of the early part of the race. In the end, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas wound up the class of the field, with Stewart and Kyle Busch (who finished third) combining to lead 138 of 200 laps. Behind them, Greg Biffle wrecked late in the event after starting from the pole but losing the handle on his car in the second half of the race.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Federated Auto Parts 300 at Nashville

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.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Heluva Good! 200 at Dover

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.

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