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Notebook: Don't count out Allgaier as Nationwide contender

September 15, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Opposites attract in veteran Wallace, young Truex; Miss Sprint Cup steps aside

The 2011 Nationwide Series championship race seems to have come down to three drivers, among leading newcomer Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and veterans Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson. But a guy who's just barely out of championship consideration might be able to make a case for himself if he can sweep this season's races at Saturday's venue, Chicagoland Speedway.

Justin Allgaier, a native of Riverton, Ill., comes to his home track after winning here in June, his second career Nationwide victory. With seven races left in the season, Allgaier's currently fifth, 75 points behind Stenhouse Jr.

"Anytime you go to your home race track, it raises your spirits and gives you extra incentive to go out and run well," Allgaier said.

He needs a turnaround. Since that win in June, Allgaier's season has taken a downward turn with two DNFs, including a fuel cell gone bad while leading during the final at Road America that cost him a certain victory. Things went from bad to worse when, two weeks ago at Atlanta, Allgaier bumped into Turner Motorsports teammate Sorenson and turned Sorenson into the wall, costing Sorenson a critical top-10 finish.

Opposites attract in Wallace, Truex

Two drivers at the opposite ends of the career spectrum, crafty veteran Kenny Wallace and fresh-faced Ryan Truex, might have more in common than you'd think. Both drivers come from racing families and are making the most of their opportunities in the 2011 Nationwide Series.

Dash 4 Cash

Aug. 6Iowa/Reed Sorenson
Sept. 9Richmond/R. Stenhouse Jr.
Oct. 14Charlotte

Truex, the two-time K&N Pro Series East champion, posted a career-best fourth-place finish last weekend at Richmond in his second start for Joe Gibbs Racing -- and he had to hold off Wallace to do it. Truex, 19, started the season with Pastrana-Waltrip Racing. Before finishing 11th two weeks ago at Atlanta, his first start in a six-race deal for JGR, he had last raced in the series at Chicago in June, finishing 20th. Truex also is scheduled to race at Dover, Kansas and Phoenix. He may also land another ride since he qualified for the Nationwide Series' final Dash 4 Cash race at Charlotte.

Wallace also qualified for the last Dash 4 Cash race on the heels of his fifth-place finish at Richmond, his first top-five since finishing third at Memphis in 2008. Wallace is having a renaissance season driving for independent RAB Racing (by his choice, not being paid to help the team save money) and is seventh in the standings, 21 points ahead of his nephew, Steve Wallace, who sits in eighth.

Kenny Wallace, who has 870 combined starts in each of NASCAR's three national series, earlier this year became only the second driver to reach 500 starts in the Nationwide Series. He's on track to break Jason Keller's all-time record of 519 at Texas in November.

Roush has best shot to end Gibbs' title run

Championships seem to come naturally for Joe Gibbs, and this season has the possibility for more of the same as Gibbs is seven races away from making series history by becoming the first owner to win four consecutive series owner titles. JGR won the last three, with the No. 20 in 2008 and with the No. 18 the past two seasons. Kyle Busch's 2009 drivers' championship was the series' last unified title.

Busch, usually piloting the No. 18, isn't entered this weekend. His JGR Sprint Cup teammate and 2009 Chicagoland race winner Joey Logano will be in the No. 18 Toyota while Truex drives the No. 20. Tweaking the mix, Logano will still work with crew chief Adam Stevens, who usually tends the 20, while Ratcliff will move over to work with Truex.

Nationwide Series

Owner Standings
RankCar OwnerPts.Behind
2.60Jack Roush1002-48
3.6Jack Roush950-100
4.33D. Harvick942-108
5.32S. Turner934-116

A scant 48 points separate Gibbs from Jack Roush in second, via Roush Fenway Racing's No. 60 driven by Carl Edwards. And ever since Edwards won the 2007 series driver championship, but failed to unify the title as the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team won the owner title, he has been on a mission to collect an owner title for the No. 60 team. With seven races remaining, time is running out. This may be his last, best shot, especially since Edwards plans to cut back his series schedule in 2012, the first time in his career he won't run a full-time Nationwide schedule.

Busch has only three more Nationwide Series races left on his 2011 schedule: Charlotte, Texas and Homestead. Edwards will compete in each of the seven remaining races. Edwards' average finish in the fall races on the past seven tracks is 7.7 with five wins (2010 at Texas; 2008-10 at Phoenix and 2008 at Homestead). Busch's average fall finish at his final three tracks is 8.3 with six wins (2008-09 at Charlotte; 2008-09 at Texas and 2000, 2010 at Homestead).

Johnson more than confident entering Chase

Jimmie Johnson has proven, over the past five years, that he can win championships in any number of ways; so when he was asked recently if he felt better going into the Chase feeling invincible or vulnerable, he admitted it might not matter.

"I've been both, and the Chase is humbling to all," said Johnson, who has only one win this season, the fewest he's ever entered the playoffs with. "Kyle [Busch] rolled in there one year [2008] with eight wins, pulls into Loudon [Chase opener] and the sway bar falls off the car.

"There's no guaranteed way to enter it, but you need everything you can working on your side. It only makes life easier. So yes, if you're coming in hot, you're coming in off of wins, momentum is on your side -- all of those things are very productive and useful to have. But you can win without 'em."

* Chase is full of legitimate contenders | Six picks to end the streak at five

Villeneuve hot after NASCAR future

True to the prediction he made following last month's Nationwide Series event in Montreal, former Formula One world champion and 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve and his manager have been working hard to ensure Villeneuve's long-term future in NASCAR. Villeneuve said he would consider team ownership, "not for the sake of owning a team, but for the sake of driving."

Rick Gorne, who has known Villeneuve since the second-generation F1 standout was 16 years old and worked with him with Reynard during the Canadian's Indy car days and with the BAR Formula One team, has managed Villeneuve's affairs for the past 18 months and said this past month has been particularly busy on the NASCAR front.

"Our intention is to get Jacques racing a full program in NASCAR next year," Gorne said.

Red Bull still shopping offers

Red Bull Racing executive Jay Frye said this week that both his American team and their Austrian owners are continuing to explore possibilities that would enable the two-car team, which currently fields Toyotas for Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne, to continue.

Frye also said that Red Bull's commitment to the program and its financial stability has erased some of the urgency to get a deal done. But it's also a fact there are only 10 races remaining in the 2011 season.

Russell steps up to ownership

Nationwide Series veteran Ronnie Russell, who's been involved in the management of Team Rensi Motorsports for its entire 13-year, 528-start history -- including five victories by Bobby Hamilton Jr. -- has assumed primary ownership of the organization from former McDonald's executive Ed Rensi.

Rensi, the team founder who's stepping back from motorsports to pay more attention to his recently launched Chicago-based restaurant venture, Tom & Eddie's, said "Ronnie will have my complete support whenever he needs it, however I am confident he can do whatever he needs to do without me."

Team Rensi fielded nine entries earlier this season, for a combination of Kevin Lepage and Kelly Bires.

"Ed remains an inspiration to the team and to me and I cannot thank him enough for his support and confidence over the years," Russell said. "There have been so many changes in our sport the last few years and sponsors are looking for integrated relationships with all of their marketing partners. We have a proven history of delivering positive results to our sponsors and providing measurable return on their objectives."

Long-term Miss Sprint Cup to step aside

Monica Palumbo

After four years in the Miss Sprint Cup program, Monica Palumbo has notified Sprint that 2011 will be her last in the role that has made her one of the most recognizable faces in NASCAR -- particularly in Victory Lane.

 "I've been Miss Sprint Cup for four years, experienced everything under the sun and I am forever grateful to have held on to this role for so long," Palumbo said. "It has been a dream job, but you just know when it's time to close one chapter and begin a new one, so I recently let Sprint know this will be my final season. I am looking forward to the next challenge and the next opportunity. I always knew my job as Miss Sprint Cup wouldn't last forever, but it will forever be a part of me."

Fans will have the opportunity to meet Palumbo at a number of races during the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, including this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Fans are encouraged to stop by the Sprint Experience, located in the display area at every Cup Series event, for photos and autographs with Palumbo as she closes out her final season as Miss Sprint Cup.