NOTES FROM THE NASCAR NATION: The Nationwide Series at Bristol

NASCAR’s Nationwide Series will be playing a major role this Friday in the Festival Of Speed at the Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s expected to be full evening of racing is rubbing when the 43 Nationwide Series teams takes the green flag for the Food City 250. This race is also fully packed with some high profile NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers who will without doubt make this race even more interesting.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

The presence of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in teams participating in Nationwide Series events was a major focal point of a town hall style meeting held in Concord-North Carolina this past Monday. NASCAR President Mike Helton and Nationwide Series Director Joe Balash met with team owners, drivers and crew chiefs to explore new ideas for the series that could direct it towards an even brighter future.

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Among the ideas discussed was the possibility for the Nationwide Series having its own version of a Chase For The Championship with a format that would exclude the full time Cup drivers. It’s likely that the Nationwide Chase format will feature fewer drivers and races than the Cup championship format. There was also some discussion at the meeting regarding a possible limitation, if not even elimination, of points for Cup drivers who are in the top 35 of the rankings. It was regarded as move that would further aid the possibility of a full time Nationwide Series team winning the title.

It was pointed out that the full time Cup drivers has won the Nationwide Series championship over the past four consecutive years. With Brad Keselowski holding a 347 point lead over Carl Edwards in the current standings, it’s certain that championship streak will be extended to five years. From that came an idea that suggested the Cup drivers could still compete in the series but not for the championship. There seemed to be a general feeling that the prospect of a full time Nationwide Series team winning the championship would appease sponsors already associated with the series and perhaps even entice potential new sponsors.

However, it appears that any possible future changes in the series championship points will not impact the awarding of owner’s points. The competition for that title would remain wide open to owners of Cup teams. Over a period of recent years the owner’s championship has become a much coveted title with the competition for it even tighter than the driver’s championship.

Going into Friday’s Food City 250, Joe Gibbs Racing leads the owner’s standings based on the performance of their #18 Toyota team and primary driver Kyle Busch. But they only hold a four point lead over Brad Keselowski and his Penske Racing Dodge team.

It’s very clear that NASCAR wants more national attention to be paid on their full time Nationwide Series teams. They should be applauded for hosting these town hall meetings. It’s always a good idea to gather together to consider good ideas. More importantly, it keeps the lines of communication open between NASCAR officials and the team owners.

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Future considerations aside, Friday’s Food City 250 is loaded with some high caliber Sprint Cup talent: 14 of them to be exact. Among those Cup luminaries is Ryan Newman who will be doing another guest stint in the #1 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet for owner James Finch.

Clint Bowyer will be also be doing a guest stint in the Nationwide Series on behalf of his team owner Richard Childress. Zaxby’s Restaurants will be the primary sponsor on the hood of his #21 Chevrolet.

Joe Gibbs Racing will be in full force for Friday night’s race and will be bringing their pair of Cup and Nationwide aces with them. Kyle Busch will be piloting the #18 Z Line Toyota while team mate Joey Logano will be in the #20 Game Stop Toyota.

Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick clinched his place in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship following last Sunday’s win at Michigan. Apparently he wasn’t kidding when he said he was going to take a racing vacation. Kevin Harvick Inc had two trucks entered in Wednesday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol. Instead of driving one of them, as he often has in the past, he opted to place fellow Sprint Cup driver Elliot Sadler in the ride. They also has their #33 Rheem Heating and Air Conditioning Chevrolet entered in Friday’s Nationwide Series race. They also opted to place Sadler in that ride as well.

That has added some fuel to rumors regarding Sadler’s NASCAR future. He’s already said he doesn’t expect to return to his Sprint Cup ride with Richard Petty Motorsports and has been talking with other owners. He later said he would seriously consider a highly competitive ride in the Camping World Truck Series or Nationwide Series for next year preferring that to a non effective Cup team. It’s been one more item that’s made NASCAR observers say “HMMMMM.”

Kasey Kahne will also be in the Nationwide Series race driving the #38 Great Clips Toyota for Braun Racing. Yes, that is the same ride that full time series regular Jason Leffler usually drives. Leffler will move over to Braun Racing’s #10 Toyota with the Fraternal Order of the Eagles on the hood.

Here’s some good news for the Junior Nation. NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is also entered in the Food City 250. Earnhardt will be driving the #88 Real Tree Outfitters Chevrolet owned by his company J R Motorsports.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Food City 250 is 250 laps/133.25 miles around the Bristol Motor Speedway’s .533 mile oval.

The race has 52 entries. 21 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are currently outside of the top 30 in owner’s points. These teams will have to earn a berth in the race line up based on their qualifying speed.

The defending race winner is David Ragan from Roush Fenway Racing.

Chevrolet leads the Nationwide Series stats with 29 wins at Bristol.

The Food City 250 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network beginning at 7 pm eastern time.

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