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Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the Rearview Mirror: The Last 7 Days in NASCAR

2011 Schedule
The NASCAR 2011 Schedule was released on Wednesday. Many of the major changes had previously been announced – that of Kentucky Speedway gaining Cup dates, Atlanta and Infineon Raceway losing a date each, Chicago to the Chase, etc. One item that had been a matter of speculation was whether NASCAR would move the season finale away from Homestead Miami Speedway.

The schedule shows that Homestead did, indeed keep the final race of the 2011 Season. The 1.5 mile track is considered to be one of the most beautiful tracks in the NASCAR Circuit with palm trees lining the edges and interior of the facility. With the last race of the season being in late November there is a limit to which track can hold that final race from a weather point of view.

Vegas was discussed in circles of both media and fans to bring the season finale and the awards banquet to the same city. Although in theory this would seem to be a way to bring more fans to Vegas for the awards banquet, in reality a two-week Las Vegas event would be more of a strain on most family budgets than would two individual weekend events on opposite sides of the country.

Driver Contract and Sponsor Deals
Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing announced this week, officially, that Budweiser is coming on board to Sponsor Harvick in 2011. Announced Tuesday, this is a three-year deal for 20 points and two non-points races each season. RCR also announced last week that Paul Menard and family sponsor Menard's will join the team in 2011.

Marcos Ambrose signed with Richard Petty Motorsports on Tuesday. Ambrose said that driving for RPM is an incredible honor and a dream opportunity. After announcing that he was parting ways with JTG/Daugherty Racing he almost immediately began talks with Richard Petty Motorsports regarding a 2011 in the number nine car. Stanley Tools will be the main sponsor of Ambrose's ride.

Aric Almirola and JR Motorsports announced during a Bristol press conference on Friday that Almirola will be driving in the number 88 car full-time in 2011. Aric was smiling throughout the press conference, and for good reason. After the Earnhardt-Ganassi number eight funding dried up early in the season Almirola moved to the Trucks Series and currently sits in the second place spot in the Camping World Trucks Series Points. Further, he stepped in for David Reutimann during Sprint Cup practice after David fell ill to suspected food poisoning. Almirola had a good week.

Bristol Week
Fans began arriving around Bristol Motor Speedway at the beginning of the week. The Camping World Truck Series Race ran on Wednesday night. Due to pre-race engine repairs Pole-sitter Kyle Busch was relegated to the back of the field to start the O'Reilly 200. Busch ran his way through the field and took the lead on lap 91.

On his way to his win, Busch spun Jennifer Jo Cobb on lap 85 when she got loose and checked up in front of Kyle. Busch was in the process of lapping Cobb when the incident occurred. The spin caused Cobb to come down on the number 31 of James Buescher and caused major damage to both trucks.

Busch only took one pit stop, on lap 30; fuel conservation was in full play by the end of the race. When a late race caution came out for a crash involving Ken Schraeder and David Starr, Busch and his team were concerned whether they had enough fuel to go for the green-white-checker finish. In the end, Kyle prevailed and bowed to the crowd from the start finish line.

Friday night's Nationwide Series Food City 250 saw Kyle Busch starting from the third position, after racing Brad Keselowski for several laps Kyle's car got loose and moved up the track in front of Brad. Kyle admittedly thought he was clear; he was not. Brad got into the back of Busch which Kyle thought was an intentional act. From the fan view on replays, it was not. Kyle came back in the next turn on lap 219 and dumped Brad.

Kyle continued to hold off contenders Jason Leffler and Elliot Sadler to take home his second win of the weekend. Busch starts 19th in the Irwin Tools 500 Cup Race on Saturday night and will be going for a win to complete the sweep. He will not go unchallenged, however.

Three drivers are going into the Saturday night main event having already run twice this week at Thunder Valley. Whereas running both the Nationwide Race and Cup Race on the same weekend is fairly commonplace among NASCAR drivers, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Newman will pull triple duty. Busch and Keselowski raced in both the Trucks Series and Nationwide races; Newman raced in the Modified race earlier in the week and the Nationwide race.

Eleven other drivers are pulling double duty at Bristol this weekend. Todd Bodine and Max Papis are running both the Cup Series race on Saturday night and raced the Trucks Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 200. Drivers participating in the Cup Race after having competed in Friday night's Nationwide Race are Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Reed Sorenson, and Paul Menard.

Beyond those drivers starting two or more races Kyle will also have to get past Jimmie Johnson on Busch's way to a possible sweep. Johnson is starting from the Pole on Saturday night and posted a win in the Spring race at Thunder Valley. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was strong in the Nationwide Race and said that his Cup car is very similar; could we see Earnhardt get winners points this week?

Will the double and triple duty drivers' efforts to get Bristol Motor Speedway figured out pay off? Will Kyle take the Bristol Sweep? Will Jimmie be able to repeat? NASCAR Nation will find out by the end of the night. ABC coverage of the Irwin Tools Night Race starts at 7:30 p.m. From Thunder Valley.
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Photo 5: Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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