NASCAR National Series News And Notes

[media-credit name=”rir.com” align=”alignright” width=”236″][/media-credit]Fast Facts

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

The Race: Capital City 400


American Muscle

The Place: Richmond International Raceway

The Date: Saturday, April 28

The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX, 7 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 300 miles (400 laps)

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

The Race: Virginia 529 College Savings 250

The Place: Richmond International Raceway

The Date: Friday, April 27

The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 187.5 miles (250 laps)

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The Race: N.C. Education Lottery 200

The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway

The Date: Friday, May 18

The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)

TV: SPEED, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 201 miles (134 laps)

White-Hot Hamlin Returns To Racing Roots

With his second victory of the season in hand, Denny Hamlin is on top of the world.

And that world figures to get even brighter as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series shifts its focus to Richmond International Raceway for Saturday night’s 400-lap, 300-mile Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is for Lovers.

Hamlin is a two-time Richmond winner (fall 2009-10) and also will compete in Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race he twice won. And for icing on the cake, there’s the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown, a Thursday night charity race for late model stock cars benefiting the Virginia driver’s foundation.

Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola are among drivers competing in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series-sanctioned event. Among others in the all-star-type event are a number of rising stars, including K&N Pro Series drivers Darrell Wallace Jr., Sergio Pena, Chase Elliott and Whelen All-American Series drivers C.E. Falk and Travis Braden.

“We’re excited. I love going to Richmond anyway, but any time you can go after winning the previous week, it makes it a little more exciting. I’m excited about it,” said Hamlin, a Chesterfield, Va., native who jumped from sixth to fifth in NSCS points standings with his Kansas victory. “It’s a big weekend for us next weekend, and obviously this is a great step to trying to get some promotion for that.”

Saturday’s race also should be an exciting homecoming for Hamlin’s crew chief, Virginia Tech engineering graduate Darian Grubb, Floyd, Va. The pair combined for Hamlin’s 19th career victory, putting him on the threshold of joining 20-plus Virginia winners Joe Weatherly (25), Ricky Rudd (23) and Jeff Burton (21). Last week, Hamlin pushed the No. 11 to the top of the all-time wins list with 199 victories. The victory broke a tie with the No. 43.

Weatherly, a two-time series champion, partnered with Paul Sawyer in purchasing Richmond International Raceway in 1955. The facility has been owned by International Speedway Corp. since December 1999.

The 2012 season is the 60th since the track’s NASCAR Sprint Cup debut in 1953. NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty won the 100-mile race in a Dodge. The track was reconfigured to its current 0.75-mile triangular shape in the fall of 1988. Richard Petty is the all-time Richmond winner with 13 victories. Stewart, Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Terry Labonte lead drivers active in 2012 with three wins apiece. Kevin Harvick won last September’s race – the only driver besides Busch and Hamlin to win at Richmond since 2009.

Statistically Speaking, Richmond Should Give Kyle Busch Big Lift

Wins at Phoenix and Kansas appear to have cured Denny Hamlin’s hangover from his 2010 championship near-miss. Perhaps a trip to Richmond International Raceway, where he’s the three-time defending winner of the track’s spring race, will do likewise for Kyle Busch.

Busch, who rolled up 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories in fewer than 250 races, hasn’t won in 20 starts. To put that in perspective, Busch had gone to Victory Lane every 10.6 starts when he last won at Michigan International Speedway in August of last year. The Las Vegas native has won in all seven seasons as a full-time NSCS competitor with three or more victories in each of his past four years with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch hasn’t exactly dropped off the face of the earth; he’s got three top 10s, including a second in the weather-abbreviated race at Auto Club Speedway. He’s currently outside the top 10 in points (13th), where he’s been after seven of eight races. In 2011, Busch spent only one week worse than seventh prior to the cut-down to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. Richmond should be a different story. Busch ranks among the leaders in most of the key Loop Data Statistics at the 0.75-mile track, including a second-best Driver Rating of 114.8. In 14 starts, he’s yet to finish off the lead lap heading 859 of 5,610 serials run.

“If you look at the stats there, it’s about as good as it gets at Richmond for the M&M’s team and I hope we can continue that coming up,” Busch said.

Promise Being Fulfilled In 2012 For ‘Can’t Miss’ Prospect Truex

Being a “can’t miss” prospect can be a blessing or a curse. Just ask Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, whose second-place finish in Sunday’s STP 400 at Kansas Speedway boosted him to the runner-up position in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points, has seen the label from several angles.

In 2004-05 Truex captured back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide Series titles leading the series in victories both seasons as he won a combined 12 times, including races at Daytona and Talladega. He beat Kyle Busch one year and Clint Bowyer the next and was off to NASCAR’s premier series with the wind at his back.

Three seasons with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and one with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates left much promise unfulfilled: one victory, at Dover in 2007, and a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ among the few highlights. Last year’s first run with Michael Waltrip Racing seemed like more of the same – until his No. 56 Toyota team was reorganized and revitalized late in the season.

He finished 2012 with top-10 finishes in four of the last five races and hasn’t looked back. He’s finished six of eight races among the top 10 – three in the top five – and led 173 laps at Kansas, the most since his Dover victory. The 31-year-old Mayetta, N.J., native won the Coors Light Pole at Texas and ranks second only to points leader Greg Biffle in Driver Rating (105.5) and third (8.7) in Average Running Position.

The secret behind Truex’s resurgence? One might be his ability to stay out of trouble. Truex has run 7,142.37 miles since the last time he was listed as being part of an accident or spin that brought out a caution. Of those 7,142.37 miles run, 6,142.876 were on the lead lap. Both figures are currently best in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

There’s Hope For Hendrick To Snatch Elusive 200th Win At Richmond

Hendrick Motorsports’ 200 wins beat goes on, oddly. Last week at Kansas Speedway, Denny Hamlin placed his No. 11 Toyota into Victory Lane – a record 199th time that number has won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Unpredictably, arguments can now begin about who will reach 200 wins first, the No. 11 or Hendrick Motorsports. With a four-driver-to-one numbers advantage, HMS feels like the likely favorite. But its drought continues.

So Richmond International Raceway awaits on deck, and yet again, there’s reason to believe. Hendrick leads all active teams in Richmond victories with 10, second only to Petty Enterprises all-time.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. loves the short track. He boasts three victories there, and comes into the race with four consecutive top-10 finishes after a seventh-place run at Kansas.

Kasey Kahne earned his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Richmond in 2005. He finished third in this race last year.

Jimmie Johnson has three Richmond wins, including a sweep in 2007.

Jeff Gordon scored seven consecutive top 10s at Richmond from 2007-2010, and finished third in September of last season. In all, he has two victories at Richmond.

Lean Pickins’ For Ford, Roush Fenway At Richmond In Recent Seasons

With Carl Edwards moving into the top 10 in points (ninth), Roush Fenway Racing is a triple-threat championship machine. Greg Biffle continues to lead the standings with Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth a solid third with five top-five finishes.

But Richmond could be a momentum stopper.

Ford hasn’t won a Richmond race since the fall of 2006. Current RFR drivers have a single Richmond victory – Kenseth in the fall of 2002. Biffle is 0-for-56 in short track starts and hasn’t finished higher than 13th in his most recent 10 Richmond races. Edwards, however, could build off last year’s fifth- and second-place finishes.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Milestone Watch: Hendrick Motorsports isn’t the only member of the NASCAR garage pining to reach an elusive milestone. Ryan Newman still waits for his 50th Coors Light Pole, which would make him the ninth driver to accomplish the feat. Newman has one pole at Richmond, in 2004. … Greg Biffle needs to lead 16 more laps to reach 5,000 laps led in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. … Joey Logano will add another talent to his repertoire: color analyst. On Thursday night at Richmond, he’ll join Mike Joy and Phil Parsons live at 7 p.m. on SPEED to call the K&N Pro Series East race. … Top Gear and host Richard Hammond will be fully immersed in the world of NASCAR at Texas Motor Speedway when the NASCAR episode of the world’s biggest car show premieres Monday, April 30, at 8:30 p.m. ET on BBC AMERICA. In the episode, Hammond explores the history of NASCAR and tells the story of how the sport evolved into what it is today. The episode also features interviews with NSCS drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Travis Pastrana To Make NASCAR Nationwide Series Debut at Richmond

Death-defying aerial acrobatics on motorcycles, off-road rally racing, skydiving and X-Game gold medals are nothing new for Travis Pastrana, but this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, Pastrana will make his long-awaited NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.

Originally scheduled to make his first start last July at Lucas Oil Raceway, Pastrana’s bid was thwarted due to injuries suffered during the X-Games the night before. Now after injury rehab and a couple of runs in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East – including Thursday night’s Blue Ox 100 – the action sports icon is set for his big-stage NASCAR moment on Friday. It’s a homecoming, of sorts, for Pastrana, as well. He’s a native of Annapolis, Md.

Pastrana is set to run at least seven series races in 2012. He will be driving for RAB Racing, which last week announced an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing that will feature RAB equipment and MWR technical and marketing support. The No. 09 Toyota now becomes the No. 99.

Though a huge star in other sports platforms, Pastrana has taken a modest approach to NASCAR. “I just hope I don’t hit a wall, don’t hit anybody else, don’t make anybody upset, and hopefully we can end up on a lead lap, and I think it will be a really strong goal for me,” Pastrana said.

Pastrana’s experience in the NASCAR K&N Pro East and West Series will be most valuable in preparation for this weekend. He has made five total career starts in the East Series with a best finish of 12th at Bristol earlier this year.

“We’ve done our homework,” Pastrana said. “I’ve got great people behind me. I’ve been with the crew chief (Scott Zipadelli) since I started in NASCAR, and I feel really confident with the people I have around me.” (Click here for the Pastrana transcript)

Virginia Native Sadler, Reigning Champ Stenhouse Lead Series Regulars

It’s home sweet home for NNS standings leader Elliott Sadler, a native of Emporia, Va., who goes home to showcase his talents at Richmond International Raceway. Sadler leads a contingent of talented drivers not running full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend who have won seven of the last nine NASCAR Nationwide Series races dating back to last season at Texas.

Despite momentum on their side, Richmond is going to be a hard egg to crack for the non-full-time NSCS drivers. Double-duty NSCS drivers have won every Richmond race since Robby Gordon claimed the track’s fall race in 2004. Another Virginia native, Denny Hamlin, last week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup winner at Kansas, comes home with confidence and also is the defending winner of this race.

Kevin Harvick, who’s tied with Mark Martin for most NNS wins at Richmond with five, also returns to the series this weekend. Brad Keselowski, the winner of this race in 2010, Joey Logano, who has three top-10 finishes in three series races at Richmond, and Kasey Kahne are also slated to compete.

But Richmond could be very different this season. Reigning series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has closed the gap on Sadler to a mere four points following his victory a few weeks ago in Texas. Sadler and Stenhouse have virtually mirrored each other’s finishes. Both drivers have posted two wins, four top fives and five top 10s in the season’s first six starts. Both are at the top of their game heading to Richmond, but Stenhouse (95.7) slightly betters Sadler (92.9) in pre-race Driver Rating at the 0.75-mile speedway.

NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.

Ryan Blaney, 18, son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney will make his NNS debut at Richmond this weekend driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing. In only four starts in the K&N Pro Series East and West, Blaney has a win – last November at Phoenix – a runner-up finish and two other top-10 results. He’ll also run Thursday night’s K&N Pro Series East race. … Steve Wallace will make his return to the NNS at Richmond. He’ll drive the No. 4 Chevrolet, which lists his father, NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Rusty Wallace, as owner. Steve Wallace hasn’t run in the series since the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami. … Tanner Berryhill, 18, who had seven K&N Pro Series East starts in 2007, will attempt to make his series debut at RIR for Vision Racing. … Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas swept the RIR races last year, but the competition at the 0.75-mile track has been wide open over the last four years. Each manufacturer has at least one win since the 2009 fall race. … Kurt Busch is making his second consecutive start for Kyle Busch Motorsports, but his first in the NNS at Richmond. His owner and younger brother, Kyle Busch, will provide great notes as a four-time NNS winner at RIR. …. Michael Annett will have a special young man attending the race, Joseph “Sepp” Shirley, a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy from Mechanicsville, Va. “If you think something is impossible, keep trying. If you like it, keep doing it, because you are succeeding,” said Sepp, a boy who eats, sleeps and breathes sports. He’s on football, baseball and swim teams, and also dabbles in skiing and basketball – all while living with cerebral palsy. Sepp and his family will be guests of the No. 43 Pilot Flying J Nationwide team this weekend, sitting atop the pit box and cheering on Annett. … Danica Patrick, 11th in points, will make her second NNS career start at Richmond this weekend. She is the sixth female driver to compete in the NNS at Richmond, joining Diane Teel, Patty Moise, Shawna Robinson, Tammy Jo Kirk and Erin Crocker.

Win Puts Busy Buescher On Championship Trajectory

James Buescher’s long-sought NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Kansas Speedway was the product of persistence – and a busy racing schedule.

While most series competitors have run just four times in 2012, Buescher has been behind the wheel of either Turner Motorsports-prepared trucks or the team’s NASCAR Nationwide Series cars virtually every weekend since the 2012 season kicked off at Daytona International Speedway.

Buescher’s Kansas victory was his first in 76 starts that included four second-place finishes. The 22-year-old Texan was the surprise winner of Daytona’s NASCAR Nationwide Series opener. He’s run four more times with each finish among the top 15 and plans to compete in this Friday’s race at Richmond International Raceway and subsequent NNS stops at Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington Raceway.

Buescher is positioning himself to become the NASCAR Camping World Truck’s second consecutive “young gun” champion. Austin Dillon became the youngest at age 21 a year ago. Buescher’s victory boosted him to second in the standings, just four points behind leader Timothy Peters.

“I think we were definitely due [for a win],” said Buescher, who finished third at Martinsville and second at Rockingham. “We’ve had strong trucks at every style of race track we’ve gone to and all four have been completely different. It says a lot about the diversity of trucks we have in this organization.”

The victory was the second in a row for Turner, which collected its initial truck win with Kasey Kahne the previous Sunday at Rockingham Speedway.

No Stumbles At Kansas As Peters Keeps Red Horse Perfect

Red Horse Racing isn’t perfect. Not quite, but just about.

With Timothy Peters successfully defending his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship lead with a second-place finish at Kansas Speedway, the Toyota organization has gone four-for-four heading the points during the opening stages of the 2012 season. He also entered last year’s Kansas race No. 1 in points, but a 14th-place finish led to a subsequent standings drop.

Peters took the lead at Rockingham Speedway on April 15. Teammate John King, winner of the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway, was the point leader through the March 31 Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway.

Both Peters and King (eighth) occupy top-10 positions. A third Red Horse driver, two-time series champion Todd Bodine, is 11th.

Peters, last year’s fifth-place championship finisher, is the only series driver to have finished all four races among the top five. The team’s three drivers have accumulated six top fives and eight top 10s.

Five Teams Score ‘Lock-Ins’ For Charlotte Race

Last weekend’s SFP 250 bid farewell to the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owners’ championship points table upon which starting spots in the first four races of the season were guaranteed.

Locked in for next month’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, after having to qualify on speed thus far, are the No. 9 of Joe Denette driven by four-time champion Ron Hornaday Jr.; the No. 09 of Robby Benton driven by John Wes Townley; the No. 11 of Tom DeLoach driven by Todd Bodine; the No. 81 of Billy Ballew driven by David Starr and the No. 98 of Duke Thorson driven by Dakoda Armstrong.

The cut-off finds Susan Bates’ No. 39 in the 25th position, scoring the same number of points as Pam Sieg’s No. 93. Bates prevailed on best finish. Ironically, both trucks race out of the same shop.

Among those barely inside the top 25 is the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch Motorsports. The 2010 championship owner team, with driver Jason Leffler, is 24th after two finishes outside the top 30 and a single top-10 performance.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

Buescher’s crew chief, Mike Shelton, recorded his first series victory. Shelton is a former Joe Gibbs Racing suspension technician and NASCAR Nationwide Series car chief. … Turner’s win was the first since the series began for a Hendrick Motorsports-assembled Chevrolet engine. Although HMS won a trio of NCWTS titles with Jack Sprague, its power plants were built out of house. …  Three drivers, Peters, Dillon and Justin Lofton, have recorded top-10 finishes in all four 2012 races. Not so coincidentally, they occupy three of the first four positions in the championship standings. … Tim George Jr. posted his first Keystone Light Pole at Kansas with a speed of 172.436 mph.


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