While Saturday's Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway proved to be miserable for some drivers, teams and sponsors, but it went the other way for several drivers who desperately needed to have a good showing heading into the series' first break of the 2009 season.
The third race of the season was notably a slugfest. Whether it was the cars, drivers or track conditions, you couldn't blame the massive carnage on one particular thing. However, some of the most inexperienced drivers emerged from the smoke and bent sheet metal and proved it's just not rookies that make mistakes.
After going up in flames last weekend, Michael McDowell rebounded with a strong sixth place finish Saturday afternoon. A great way to cap off the week for McDowell who earlier this week became a father for the first time. The former ARCA RE/MAX Series driver collected a career-best finish in just his third start with JTG- Daugherty Racing. McDowell's previously best finish in a Nationwide Series event occurred in 2007 at Phoenix International Raceway with a 14th place finish. Ironically, the former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver also finished 14th in his NNS debut with JTG- Daugherty Racing at Daytona.
With his first career top-10 in eight starts, McDowell propelled 10 positions in the point standings and now sits 10th just 189 markers from the top spot.
In his hometown turf of Las Vegas, Rusty Wallace Racing driver Brendan Gaughan continued his early season surge with his second consecutive top-10 finish in his first full season of Nationwide racing. Last weekend, Gaughan finished ninth but the former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ace picked up two positions this week to finish seventh. Additionally, Gaughan led three laps at his hometown race track. Gaughan's worst finish this season was 15th in the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.
With his second top-10 finish in just four career starts, Gaughan jumped four spots to fourth in the championship chase just 104 credits behind series leader Carl Edwards.
CJM Racing's Scott Lagasse, Jr. continues to impressive in the No. 11 Incredible Pizza TOYOTA Camry. The former ARCA RE/MAX Series winner rebounded in a back-up car to post a nice ninth place finish in his 10th race for Bryan Mullet's organization. After finishing shotgun on the field in the season opener at Daytona, Lagasse, Jr with the help of crew chief Paul Wolfe, a former NASCAR Nationwide Series driver himself redeemed themselves with a solid 12th place run at Auto Club Speedway last weekend. This week, the team faced adversity but answered it proudly with Lagasse's first top-10 finish in 17 NASCAR Nationwide Series efforts.
With his run, Lagasse, Jr. gained 12 spots in the Nationwide point standings locking 15th heading into the next race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 21.
In a three-race deal with Key Motorsports, Wisconsin native Scott Wimmer rejuvenated the team's confidence with a sold 11th place finish Saturday afternoon a week after missing the show at Auto Club Speedway. Carrying sponsorship from Federated Auto Parts, the former Richard Childress Racing driver bolted from his 28th place qualifying effort to give Key Motorsports its best Nationwide finish since returning to the series last year.
In a car fielded by Evander Holyfield, Kenny Hendrick dodged the wrecks and remained confident to post a 12th place finish in his 32nd career NASCAR Nationwide Series event Saturday afternoon. Hendrick, a shock specialist turned driver logged a career-best finish in his first anticipated full season of driving in NASCAR's secondary series.
Hendrick's previous best outing occurred in his very first start for driver / stuntman Stanton Barrett at Gateway International Raceway in 2003 where he finished 21st. The team's effort on Saturday extended them up to 26th in the standings.
The legendary Morgan Shepherd had his best showing in his own No. 89 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS since a 13th place finish last April at Talladega Superspeedway. Shepherd expected to run the full season in 2009 is not producing start-and-park efforts like last year. Instead, the 67 year old driver is making sure to finish races and keep his team in the headlines. Shepherd's latest start in the Nationwide Series gave him 243 starts to his record with his very first start occurring the year before I was born in 1982 at Hickory Motor Speedway driving an Oldsmobile.
Shepherd in now 19th in the point standings picking up 10 spots thanks to his second consecutive top-20 finish.
Virginia's Eric McClure picked up his first top-20 finish in almost a year with a commendable 16th place finish driving the No. 24 Hefty Ford Fusion for Hamilton-Rensi Motorsports. After a somewhat slow start to the season, McClure's finish is the momentum he needed to keep the team alive heading into the first break of the year.
Before Saturday's finish, McClure posted a satisfying 22nd place finish in last year's Sam's Town 300 driving for restaurant entrepreneur Bob Jenkins. His first top-20 finish of the season allowed a gain of seven positions in the standings sitting 21st entering Bristol. McClure was just one position away of tying his career-best finish in the NNS series which came last year at Talladega Superspeedway where the Emory and Henry college graduate finished 15th.
Ken Butler III, otherwise known as KB3 continued to impress with a respectable 17th place finish Saturday afternoon after qualifying 37th. The Georgia native did a excellent job guiding his Aaron's Dream Machine Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS through the mess and was in-line to finish in the top-15 when the No. 23 ran out of fuel closing in on the finish. The R3 Motorsports was able to refuel the machine and send KB3 back into competition crossing the line three positions higher than his 20th place effort last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
Unfortunately, KB3 won't be able to build on his Las Vegas effort at Bristol, as the former ARCA RE/MAX Series winner is not expected to return to the No. 23 seat until Nashville Superspeedway on April 11. Still, KB3 is getting it and is likely to keep R3 Motorsports in the mix when he's at the helm.
Thanks to his 19th place performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Brian Keselowski sits just one point behind his brother Brad Keselowski in the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings entering the Scotts Turf 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway in March.
Trying to run the full schedule on very full minimal funds, Keselowski is hoping to deliver more finishes like Vegas that will keep his Dusty Whitney owned Dodge at the track for the remainder of the year.
The older Keselowski netted his first top-10 finish in just his fourth career NNS start at Memphis Motorsports Park in 2007. While he doesn't hold any wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series yet, Brad Keselowski is a three-time winner in the ARCA RE/MAX Series at Salem Speedway and Berlin Raceway.
While several drivers couldn't wait to get out of "Sin City", many of these drivers hope to build on their runs as the NASCAR Nationwide Series enters the first short track race of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 21st with the Scotts Turf 300 scheduled to air live on ABC at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
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