Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nationwide Series: Pepsi 300 Preview

The NASCAR Nationwide Series will have the stage all to itself this weekend, with the Sprint Cup Series taking its traditional Easter break. The series will head to the 1.333-mile Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday for the Pepsi 300, the Nationwide Series' first standalone event of the season.

Scott Wimmer won this race last year, leading 22 laps en route to his sixth career Nationwide Series victory. Wimmer took the lead from Clint Cowyer with 21 to go, leading the rest of the way. Polesitter Kyle Busch led a race-high 118 laps before spinning out and finishing 16th, two laps down.

Carl Edwards, who has won three races at Nashville and shown a strength at the concrete ovals, finished third, while Brad Keselowski came in fourth.

Keselowski, who earned first top-10 of the season last week by finishing third at Texas, would win the series' second race at Nashville last year, the Federated Auto Parts 300 on June 7. It was his first career win.

Edwards and Busch would have to be considered the automatic favorites, but don't count out the likes of Bowyer and Keselowski. Also keep an eye out for rookie Justin Allgaier, who sits fifth in the points, has three top-10s and one top-5 in five races so far this season.

Wimmer is also not to be overlooked; the defending race winner is entered in the No. 40 Chevrolet owned by Curtis Key. In nine career races at Nashville, Wimmer has eight top-10 finishes.

It's a rare chance for the Nationwide Series to stand on its own, even with five full-time Sprint Cup drivers in the field. These standalone events always have strong crowds, both in numbers and enthusiasm, but it'll be interesting to see the TV response with not Sprint Cup event for support.

Given the debate going on as to whether Cup drivers should be racing in the series -- Cup regulars have won all five events so far this season -- does the Nationwide Series have an identity crisis? NASCAR wants the series to develop younger talent, but that's hard to do with the likes of Busch, Ewards and Kevin Harvick stealing the limelight and wins.

Then again, if those guys aren't in the race, the fans aren't likely to be in the stands. It's a Catch-22 in a lot of ways. You want the fan interest, but you want the young guys to be competitive and the sponsors to invest. Sponsorship dollars are hard to come by in this economy, and young guys might not get a fair shake if Cup guys keep stealing wins and purse money (which is nowhere near as lucrative as in the Cup Series).

I just love racing, no matter who's in the car. But let's face it -- if racing quality was the only thing most fans cared about, the Camping World Truck Series would be racing in packed houses every week.

Guarantee you the series wouldn't be taking month-long breaks, either.

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