Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nationwide Series Roundup

With the Nationwide Series off for the next two weeks, what better time to take stock at what's happened so far this season. Three races into the 2009 campaign, Carl Edwards holds a 48-point lead over Brian Vickers, thanks to top-5 finishes in all three events.

Edwards finished second in the Sam's Town 300 on Saturday at Las Vegas, .391 seconds behind teammate Greg Biffle. The 2007 series champion, who finished second last year to Clint Bowyer, was expected to battle it out all season long with Kyle Busch, who wrecked out early on Saturday and fell to fifth in points.

Saturday's race was anything but uneventful, with 12 cautions for a race-record 60 laps and a combined 32 pit-road speeding violations. The tire compound Goodyear provided made coming off Turn 4 difficult on fresh rubber, especially when one was trying to make a pass on the low side. Busch found that out early on Saturday, when he tried diving underneath Kevin Harvick, only to have his No. 18 snap around coming out of Turn 4 and pummel the outside wall -- and polesitter Scott Speed.

Edwards nearly found out on the last lap; he was underneath Biffle in the final corner, but he broke loose and decided to lift off the gas rather than push the issue and risk wrecking both himself and Biffle.

That tire compound, which was also used in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race, didn't seem to respond well to the Nationwide cars, which aren't as wide and had less horsepower. Las Vegas being one of the fastest tracks on the circuit didn't help, either.

Three races into the 2009 season, and we've seen three different winners: Tony Stewart at Daytona, Busch at Auto Club Speedway and Biffle Saturday at Las Vegas. Busch had a car capable of winning on Saturday, but the wreck knocked him out and precipitated his fall in the standings.

It's still early, though, which means Busch has plenty of time to catch up and wage that expected duel with Edwards for the title. Considering the interest generated last year when these two tangled in the Cup Series race at Bristol, it should be one heck of a battle.

Brendan Gaughan deserves recognition in the early going, sitting fourth in points in the No. 62 Chevrolet with Rusty Wallace Motorsports. Gaughan, who finished fourth on Saturday, has two top-10s this season, and his worst finish was a 16th-place effort at Daytona.

Nice to see Gaughan, long a fixture of what was then the Craftsman Truck Series, back at the track.

One guy not having the start he would've liked is Brad Keselowski. He finished third in the series standings last year, the highest-finishing non-Cup driver, and despite having fast cars every week, Keselowski sits 22nd in the standings, 244 behind Edwards. Keselowski is only one point ahead of his older brother, Brian, in the standings.

Keselowski had a top-5 car at Daytona before a cut tire late relegated him to a 21st-place finish. A top-10 run in Fontana was thrown away late thanks to a wreck with Biffle, and Keselowski limped home 17th.

Saturday's race was an adventure; Keselowski suffered major damage when he and Mike Bliss collided trying to avoid a spinning Denny Hamlin in the opening laps, and when the crew thought they had the damage repaired, Keselowski cut a left front tire.

Keselowski, who also ran Sunday's Cup race and finished 38th, came in 22nd on Saturday.

He has time to turn it around, and with the combined power of JR Motorsports and Rick Hendrick behind him, there's no reason to think Keselowski can't still be contender and win a few races this season. But the start of the season hasn't been what Keselowski wanted, and when the season ends, he might just look to Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas and see why he wasn't the one hoisting the championship trophy.

The Nationwide Series will return Saturday, March 21 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast on ABC at 2 p.m. EST.

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