The Frontstretch Newsletter SPECIAL EDITION: November 22nd, 2009

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Nov 22, 2009, 10:20:40 AM11/22/09
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THE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER
Presented by Frontstretch.com
The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!

November 22nd, 2009
Volume III, Edition CCXXVII

EDITOR'S NOTE: Surprise! As an end-of-season bonus, we've got extra newsletters flowing all weekend at Homestead with our Managing Editor Tom Bowles there covering all the action. If news breaks, you'll read it here as Silly Season ramps up over the final three days of the year.
 
DON'T FORGET THE FRONTSTRETCH LIVE BLOG TODAY!
Jimmie Johnson's victory Sunday at Phoenix has given him a 108-point lead going into the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, all but securing him a fourth straight title.  But while there may not be much of a race for the championship this weekend, that doesn't mean the action will stop on a 1.5-mile oval whose graduated banking often makes for fantastic finishes.
 
Can't get to a television to watch the race?  Or are you too busy watching the NFL to switch over?  Well, join your favorite Frontstretch writers instead for commentary, opinions, polls, and all kinds of other inside information you just can't get anywhere else as you follow the race LIVE from your computer.  The action starts at 2:45 PM EST on Sunday, so feel free to drop on by.  And remember, viewer posts are always welcome, so don't be shy -- participate!

Today's Top News
by Tom Bowles

Busch Clinches First Nationwide Series Championship

All Kyle Busch had to do was fire up the engine on the grid to clinch his first career Nationwide championship at Homestead.

But that's not the style he's know for. Showcasing the trademark aggressiveness that's branded him one of the sport's top-level drivers, Busch charged forward from his 5th starting spot Saturday night, led a race-high 73 laps, and held off a desperation charge by Carl Edwards to become the first man to win both the championship and the final race of the season since Sam Ard did it in 1983.

"It's not easy to do," he said after also surviving spirited charges from Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, and others in what became one of the most competitive Nationwide races all year. "A lot of drivers come down here with the championship locked up, take the pressure off themselves, ride around, whatever, collect a check. But that's not what I'm here to do. I'm here to collect trophies."

And that's exactly what Joe Gibbs Racing has been doing over the last two seasons, now totaling 33 Nationwide Series wins in their last 70 starts. It's left the rest of the field scratching their heads, most of all their closest challenger in Edwards -- who finished 210 points short of a title run.

"I was talking with some other drivers about it even tonight, just how well their cars handle," he said. "They seem to build really nice stuff, and they put a lot of effort into it."

"I initially for a long time thought it was just the engine, and I'm starting to realize that our cars could be better. From the drivers to the tire pressures, they seem to have things figured out over there."

The No. 60 car initially seemed to be in position to get the last laugh, but after taking fresher tires under the race's final caution he was able to close to within a car length of Busch but not pass him. Making a banzai move on the final lap similar to Kansas in the Fall of 2008, when he slammed the wall off the fourth turn trying to catch Jimmie Johnson, Edwards closed quickly on the back bumper of Busch ... but when it was clear his car was losing control, he backed off to avoid wrecking both men.

"I just dove way down in there to see what that looked like, how close I could get," he explained. "I mean, I couldn't get by him without probably touching him. So I didn't I just didn't have enough time."

Jeff Burton was third, with Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top 5 finishers. For Hamlin's No. 11, the race was marked by his off-track feud with Brad Keselowski -- one that led to an on-track skirmish when Hamlin came through on his promise to exact revenge on his rival after being wrecked at Phoenix last week. Just nudging the rear bumper of the No. 88 coming off turn 4, Hamlin sent him spinning wildly down the frontstretch on Lap 35 in a move that earned him a one-lap penalty from NASCAR for rough driving.

"Something deliberate like that, they got to penalize me, there’s no doubt about it," he said. "So I wasn’t mad about that at all. My objective here was to try to win the race first, and take care of business second."

"There’s going to be other days we’re going to be racing, and he’s still going to think about it when I’m in his rear-view mirror. Because honestly, the scales are [now] tipped a little bit more in my favor."

Hamlin also claimed that at the end of the race, he was greeted by cheers from other teams on pit road for what he called "exacting revenge" for several on-track incidents with other drivers through the year. But if Hamlin was hoping to bother Keselowski, well, his words didn't exactly hit home.

"Well, I mean I kind of liked it," Keselowski said of the incident, having to overcome that and an earlier spinout of his own doing just to come home 12th. "Thought that was funny. You know, I don’t really hold any grudges, and I’m ready to move on. Hell, I’m already moved on."

"I have a feeling when he wakes up in the morning, that he’s not going to feel any better about himself."

That race highlight nearly overshadowed Busch's championship day, with opinions from drivers varied on the feud. One current teammate of Denny's took a low road on the incident ... while a future teammate of Brad's just played Switzerland.

"What would be even better is if there were five drivers that teamed up at the beginning of next year and wrecked him in each of the first five races," Kyle Busch "joked" about the way Brad should be handled in the Cup Series in 2010. "He'd be out of the top 35 coming into the sixth race, so he'd have to qualify on time."

"I'm going to be the leader. I'm going to ante up everybody else. Maybe you shouldn't have let the cat out of the bag."

"The deal between [Brad] and Denny, it's unfortunate," countered Allgaier, who welcomes Kes to the Penske fold this February. "I'm not going to take sides because I'm not in either one of their shoes, and I can't tell you what I would do if I was in either one or the other's shoes. It's a tough situation. Nobody wants to see somebody get wrecked or wreck somebody else. But at the end of the day, it happens, and [this sport is] kind of self-policing, and I'm sure that they each felt they were right."

"I'm just glad to have him as a teammate."

As for Allgaier himself, a 20th place finish was enough to secure the Rookie of the Year title over Brendan Gaughan, Michael Annett, Erik Darnell, and others.

"You only get to do this once," he said. "I think at the end of the day I've been able to accomplish some really cool things, and this definitely is right on the top of the list. It means a lot. I feel good that we were able to come out on top, and it just really puts a period on the end of the season for us."

There were eight leaders and a record 20 lead changes in Saturday night's race. For more on this event, see Tom Bowles' commentary to be posted later today along with Bryan Davis Keith's Nationwide Series Breakdown, to be posted on the site Monday morning.

Hornaday Takes Truck Championship, Harvick Race In Homestead

From late Friday night, Kevin Harvick dominated the Truck race at Homestead, leading 108 of 136 laps and using new tires to jump up front during a green-white-checkered finish to take the checkered flag. Timothy Peters led briefly on old tires, but it didn't take long for Harvick to blow right by with a truck that was clearly the class of the field all evening.

Matt Crafton finished second in both the race and the point standings, with Colin Braun third in the final race for Roush Fenway Racing in the Truck Series. Peters and Todd Bodine rounded out the top 5 finishers, while Hornaday was eighth to cap off a championship he'd already clinched the week before at Phoenix. The final margin between him and Crafton stands at 187 points.

For more on what happened in the race, check out Beth Lunkenheimer's Truck Series Breakdown on the site Monday morning.

Saturday Notes

Silly Season Wrap-Up: Nationwide Series
As the year comes to a close, there's a wide range of uncertainty for several drivers and teams in the garage area. Here's a quick look at what I found out about uncertain futures for many in 2010:

No. 0 – Jeremy Clements
: Clements’ plans for 2010 remain unclear. He told me Friday the team may purchase a speedway car for Daytona, but there’s no firm decisions made on his schedule. The team had been working under a partnership agreement with JD Motorsports for about the final third of 2009.

No. 11 - CJM Racing: Currently without the sponsorship needed to compete for 2010. Several sources told me they're looking for a funded driver to foot the bill, similar to what John Wes Townley is doing for Richard Childress Racing for next season.

No. 20 – Brad Coleman: Sources tell me Coleman will NOT be back with Joe Gibbs Racing in any capacity in 2010. He’s currently looking for a full-time ride in either Nationwide or Trucks.

No. 22 – Parker Kligerman
: Limited schedule of races expected in 2010 with a third Nationwide car. Penske Racing will already run full-time teams for both Justin Allgaier (No. 12) and Brad Keselowski (No. 22).

No. 27 – Jason Keller / BakerCurb
: Kleenex left the team at the end of 2009, and sponsorship is unclear for 2010. Keller is free to talk to other teams, although he’d like to stay at BCR if sponsorship materializes.

Saturday Cup Notes

- Mark Martin
and Jeff Burton led the two practice sessions at Homestead Saturday. Martin, 108 points behind entering Jimmie Johnson entering today, knows the title bid is a longshot but has his team in position to deliver the best finish possible in case the No. 48 falters.

"I'm very proud of my race team," he said. "I feel like it's been a tremendous accomplishment to even give those guys any kind of run for their money, is a tremendous accomplishment. And my race team deserves great credit for what we've done."

As for Burton, he's simply looking to keep building momentum after a difficult season that saw him miss the Chase for the first time in four years. After three top 10 finishes with new crew chief Todd Berrier, it appears all of RCR has gotten a lift as teammate Kevin Harvick was right behind him in practice with the second-fastest speed. However, they'll start just 26th and sixth, respectively, for Sunday's race.

As for the championship leader, he posted the 3rd and 7th fastest speeds in practice, remaining consistent as he buckles down and focuses on a fourth straight title run tomorrow. Some other notables include:

- Martin Truex, Jr. (posting top 10 times for both practices)
- Joey Logano (posting top 10 times in both practices, dirving a No. 20 car that's won at Homestead multiple times in the past)
- Casey Mears (eighth in Happy Hour in what could be his final ride in the No. 07)

Volkswagen to NASCAR?

The Associated Press is reporting the head of Volkswagen's motorsports program is not only at Homestead-Miami but plans to meet with NASCAR officials during the weekend. The sport has openly been courting foreign manufacturers, with the stipulation they have an American plant in place to be eligible for full-time competition. And since VW has such a plant they're building in Tennessee, they'd become eligible in time for a switch to more technological-oriented cars in 2011 (with fuel injection) that better fit their business model. See the AP article for more; however, it makes clear both sides are in the early stages of talking at best.
 
Tom Bowles is the Managing Editor of Frontstretch.com. Reach him at edi...@frontstretch.com.

FRONTSTRETCH TRIVIA:
 
Q:  When the Winston Cup Series first came to Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1999, it also marked the first telecast of a Cup race for NBC since 1985 (they had actually never televised a race flag-to-flag up to that point).  Who was in the booth for NBC that day?
 
Check back Monday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!

Frontstretch Trivia Guarantee: If we mess up, you get the shirt off our backs!  If we've provided an incorrect answer to the Frontstretch Trivia question, be the first to email the corrected trivia answer to tri...@frontstretch.com and we'll send you a Frontstretch T-Shirt ... FREE!
 
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Coming Monday in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
--  Ford 400 Race Recap by Jay W. Pennell
--- Big Six: Ford 400 by Amy Henderson
--- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, Stat of the Week, and more!
 
Monday on the Frontstretch:
Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: Homestead by Matt McLaughlin
Matt's got all the post-race analysis and NASCAR water cooler fodder you need to know, after the Sprint Cup Series goes racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
 
Bowles-Eye View by Tom Bowles
Tom has his take on the biggest story coming out of the weekend in his Monday post-race commentary.
 
Five Points To Ponder by Mike Lovecchio
Mike will point out five things you shouldn't have missed from the last week in NASCAR racing after an action-packed weekend in South Florida.

Bubble Breakdown: Tracking The Top 35 In Owner Points by Mike Ravesi
34 teams are already guaranteed a spot on the grid for the first five races of 2010.  Just one spot, the 35th and final "locked in" spot remains.  Will the Front Row Motorsports No. 34 get it, or will Scott Speed somehow overcome the gap driving the No. 82 for Team Red Bull?  Mike continues to track those cars and others in and around the top 35 in owner points following the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Sprint Cup Rookie Report by Tony Lumbis
Tony has the wrapup of Sunday's action for the Sprint Cup Rookie contenders competing in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Truck Series Breakdown by Beth Lunkenheimer
Beth gives the wrap-up treatment to Friday night's Ford 200 from Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Nationwide Series Breakdown:  Ford 300 by Bryan Davis Keith
Bryan gives his full race rundown from Saturday's Nationwide Series showdown, the Ford 300, at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
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