Make no bones about it the Texas Motor Speedway with its high banks, long straights and that sometimes wicked little dog leg can indeed be a serious challenge for even the most seasoned NASCAR veteran. Their latest test from this speedway will be Friday night when the Nationwide Series takes the green flag for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
What a difference a year makes. It was this time last year that Nationwide Series rookie driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was wondering if he had a NASCAR career left to hang on to. Now, for the first time in his career, he’s leading the championship points and is considered a true candidate for the Nationwide Series title.
Stenhouse began last year full of hope and excitement. He was a Nationwide Series development driver for Roush Fenway Racing and everyone agreed he had a very bright future. But, after the first five races of the 2010 season, Stenhouse was tearing up equipment. He had two DNF’s, did not finish, along with an extremely high average finish ratio of 32.2. Making matters worse was the fact that he dropped out of the top 30 in the series’ owner’s points which placed him in the “knock out qualifying” group.
Everyone, including the young driver himself, was truly convinced that the golden opportunity was over and he was going to be released from the ride. But team owner Jack Roush felt that the spark that drew his attention to Stenhouse to begin with was still there. He benched his driver, for a very brief time, to settle him down a little bit. The ploy worked. Stenhouse finished the 2010 season with three top five finishes, eight top tens and won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title.
He carried that momentum into the new season as well. In the first five Nationwide Series events he has a top five, four top tens and one pole. His NASCAR driver rating has been placed at 108.0 which is 48.2 points higher than this time last year. Jack Roush has never struck me as being the type of person to run around yelling “I told you so.” But I bet that’s what he’s thinking.
When Kyle Busch enters a NASCAR Nationwide Series race there are three factors that are automatically assumed. First, his Toyota ride from Joe Gibbs Racing is going to be strong. Second, it’s expected that he will drive his way to the front and if he doesn’t win the race he will at least dominate the event. Third, he’s going to be in a position to create some new numbers that will lead to new series records. Once again all three apply to Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas.
Busch is the defending race champion and he will be bringing enough Texas sized stats with him to fill the trunk of a Toyota. In 12 starts there he has a record tying five consecutive wins that runs from the 2008 to the 2010 seasons. He also has ten top five finishes, 11 top tens and he’s won the pole two times.
Busch has already won three of the last five Nationwide Series races this year. A win at Texas would elevate that number to four wins in six starts which would allow him to break the record for the best season start in the series history. The current record is held by Mark Martin who had four wins in seven starts back in 2000. Kyle Busch knows a lot about chasing down Mark Martin’s Nationwide Series numbers. He could also pass the 20,000th NNS laps led mark during the Texas race. He needs to lead 117 laps Friday night to accomplish that milestone.
In 2005 the NASCAR records management system created what is now known as loop scoring data. They used mathematical formulas to determine new racing categories such as driver rating, average finish ratio and even the number of fastest laps run during all of their races. Under this system a perfect driver rating is 150.0. Since 2005 a perfect driver rating, in the Nationwide Series, has been achieved a total of 27 times. 14 of them were accomplished by Busch with four them occurring at Texas.
At the Texas Motor Speedway Busch leads the series stats in driver rating, 127.4, fastest lap run, 518 laps, and he has an amazing average finish ratio there of 4.9. If you’re thinking Kyle Busch is the clear cut favorite to win Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, you’re right.
There are a handful of special guest seat assignments associated with Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Texas that will bear some scrutiny. Joey Logano will join Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Kyle Busch in the line up.
Sam Hornish Jr. returns to the series in the #12 Dodge owned by Roger Penske.
Kasey Kahne makes another visitor’s appearance driving the fourth Chevrolet team entered by Turner Motorsports.
Texas native and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular David Starr is also moonlighting in this race driving the #05 Chevrolet for owner Wayne Day.
Paul Menard will be making his first series start for 2011 driving the #33 Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Inc and we’ve all seen what that car is capable of.
David Reutimann will be doing double as well during the Texas weekend and will do a fill in stint for driver Ryan Truex in the #99 Pastrana Waltrip Racing Toyota. Truex is recovering from recent hand surgery. He sustained a fractured right wrist and a broken bone in his right hand quite some time ago but only here recently did the injury start to bother him to the point where he needed surgery.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 is 200 laps/300 miles around the Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5 mile quad oval.
The race has 45 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. 13 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning these teams do not have a guaranteed start in the race because they are currently outside of the NASCAR’s top 30 in owner’s points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race. One of those drivers, Jeff Green, is guaranteed a start because he’s eligible to use a past champion’s provisional.
The Nationwide Series new car will be making its official debut at the Texas Motor Speedway Friday night. Because of that factor NASCAR has granted the teams some extra practice sessions. Texas is one of four tracks selected for extra practice to accommodate the new race car.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network with the pre race show beginning at 8 pm eastern time.