Atlanta: Series round 26 preview

* Two-Time Series Champ Harvick Returns To Defend Win * Penske Racing Stable Looking Stout In 2010 * In The Loop: Bayne And Kahne In Atlanta Harvick Returns To Atlanta To Defend His Crown Two-time series champion, Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Rheem ...

Atlanta: Series round 26 preview

* Two-Time Series Champ Harvick Returns To Defend Win
* Penske Racing Stable Looking Stout In 2010
* In The Loop: Bayne And Kahne In Atlanta

Harvick Returns To Atlanta To Defend His Crown

Two-time series champion, Kevin Harvick (No. 33 Rheem Heating, Cooling & Water Heating Chevrolet) returns to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway to defend his 2009 win there. Harvick hasn't been in his Kevin Harvick Inc. equipment since Michigan where he finished 10th. In his absence, drivers Elliott Sadler and Max Papis have been behind the wheel.

This season Harvick has made 19 series starts, posting two wins (Las Vegas and Nashville), 10 top fives, 17 top 10s and two poles (Talladega and Charlotte). Of the 10 top fives, seven of those were finishes of third or better.

Harvick has made eight starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway, posting a win, three top fives and five top 10s. Last year he led 131 of the scheduled 195 laps, dominating most of the event.

"Atlanta has been a really good track for us and it seems like we have a really good base set-up for there," Harvick said. "The only difference is the tires. You have that added variable in there because you don't know how the Nationwide car is going to react."

This season, NASCAR Pre-race Loop Data shows Harvick ranked in the top five in three key categories: second in Driver Rating with 117.3; fifth in Average Running Position with 7.107; and fourth in Laps in the Top 15 with 85.2% of laps completed at Atlanta in the top 15.

The 1.54-mile track is one that has fit Harvick's racing style since the beginning of his career. It was the site of his first win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series when he first took the wheel in that series for Richard Childress Racing.

"I just like the fact that the car slides around a lot and you have to move around the race track and really search for somewhere to find more grip in order to make the car drive well," Harvick said.

Penske Racing Continues To Develop The Young Stars Of Today

In a time when everyone keeps asking who is going to be the next best thing. Roger Penske has decided he will not only seek them out, but use the NASCAR Nationwide Series to develop their talents.

Penske Racing teammates Justin Allgaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge), and series standings leader Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge) yielded to 20-year-old Parker Kligerman's (No. 42 Dodge) talent last weekend in Montreal, where Kligerman made his seventh series start at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. In an impressive run, he started 21st and finished eighth, joining his teammates Keselowski (fourth) and Allgaier (ninth) in the top 10. It was his second top 10 of the season.

Kligerman is one of Roger Penske's developmental drivers who also drives for owner Eddie Smith. He competed in the ARCA RE/MAX Series last season, amassing nine wins and finishing the season second in the standings.

Keselowski is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition this season as the standings leader.

With his fourth-place finish at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, he has not only extended his standings lead over Carl Edwards (No. 60 Fastenal Ford) to 365 points, but also closed the gap on the No. 18 car owned by Joe Gibbs in the owner point standings. Keselowski has posted four wins, 18 top fives, 21 top 10s and five poles this season.

His teammate Allgaier also is having a career-best season, currently fourth in the standings with one win, six top fives, 14 top 10s and one pole.

In The Loop: Bayne's and Kahne's Similarities Are Uncanny

The resemblances between Kasey Kahne (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) and Trevor Bayne (No. 99 Out Pet Car Toyota) are, frankly, bizarre.

They're both teen idols.

Both could double as a male soap opera lead.

Their talents in a stock car are immense.

Heck, even their last names rhyme.

And, more than likely, they'll contend for a top-five finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Kahne, by default, will take the role as grizzled veteran in this matchup. Kahne, 30, who has

almost a full decade on the 19-year-old Bayne, will start in this weekend's NASCAR Nationwide Series event. He'll run Braun Racing's No. 38 Toyota for the seventh time this season. His first six starts haven't produced much success â€" so suggests his 22.5 average finish.

But a race at Atlanta should cure those ills.

Kahne has scored six top 10s in his last seven Atlanta starts, and in the last five, has a Driver Rating of 110.5, an Average Running Position of 8.3, 92 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 84.0%.

It's not like Kahne has stunk up the show this year, either. Check out his Driver Ratings in some of his poorer finishes. In his 32nd-place run at Bristol in March, he scored a rating of 101.0. In his 26th at Charlotte, he had a rating of 114.0.

Overall, Kahne has a Driver Rating of 97.3, suggesting that his bad finishes were more a product of bad luck than poor performances.

Bayne, not yet 20, is performing well beyond his years. In last year's Atlanta race, his first at the 1.54-mile track, Bayne scored a 16th-place finish with a Driver Rating of 82.0. Considering his performance lately, both those numbers should improve.

Over the last seven races, only two drivers have scored more points than Bayne: points leader Brad Keselowski and 2007 series champion Carl Edwards.

Over that span, Bayne has three top fives, five top 10s, 62 Fastest Laps Run, 95 Laps Led, a Driver Rating of 104.3, an Average Running Position of 9.7 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 81.6%.

Robby Benton And Boris Said Turning Heads As Independent Team Wins In Montreal

After 22 starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Boris Said (No. 09 ZAXBY'S Ford) took his Roush Yates-powered Ford to Victory Lane last Sunday in the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

The event ended with an exciting drag race to the finish, where Said's Ford gave him the extra power needed to edge fellow driver Max Papis (No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet) by inches across the start-finish line. The 0.012 second margin of victory was the closest ever on a road course in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

"I'm shocked … overwhelmed," Said said. "I thought I was going to cry, but I didn't. This was great clean racing and I'm happy to get this win for my team and owner Robby Benton."

Team owner Robby Benton operates his organization independently, and the Montreal victory evoked memories of David Gilliland's epic upset win at Kentucky in 2006 with another independent team, owned by Clay Andrews.

At age 14, Benton, a Charlotte native who grew up just around the corner from the NASCAR R&D Center, had his first job in NASCAR working with Robert Yates' race team on the flagship No. 28 car of Davey Allison.

"Davey gave me a pair of driving gloves the day I started," Benton said. "He autographed them across the knuckles. I still have those tacked up on my office wall."

Benton graduated to a crew position with the team, and was one of the many crew members who stood in line along pit road in 1998 congratulating Dale Earnhardt when he finally won at Daytona International Speedway.

Sunday, he was the one receiving the congratulations.

He'd gotten over 100 texts and calls in only a couple of hours after the race.

"I feel those same emotions," he said, referring to how the industry embraced Earnhardt's win. "It's special. It means a lot. It's a statement. Anyone can do this."

Kenseth and McMurray Join A Long List Of Double Duty Drivers Raising The Level Of Competition

Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 champion, Jamie McMurray (No. 88 Hellmann's Chevrolet) and fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (No. 16 World Financial Group Ford) will be in the field for this weekend's Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

McMurray has made seven starts this season for JR Motorsports, posting three top fives, and five top 10s. McMurray won at Atlanta back in 2002 driving for owner Tammy Brewer. He has made seven series starts at Atlanta, accruing one win, one top five and three top 10s.

In 10 starts, Kenseth owns two Atlanta wins (2004, '08), seven top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole. His last start at Atlanta came in 2008 when he won the event after starting 10th and leading 14 laps.

Kenseth will have some added pressure this week because he is sponsored by the World Financial Group, an Atlanta based company.

"Atlanta is going to be a great race weekend for the No. 16 team and I'm looking forward to running the Nationwide Series race," said Kenseth. "We've had success at it in the past and it always makes for an exciting race weekend."

Kenseth and McMurray join 10 other drivers pulling double duty this weekend: Kyle Busch (No. 18 NOS Energy Toyota), Joey Logano (No. 20 GameStop Toyota), Clint Bowyer (No. 21 ZAXBY'S Chevrolet), Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne ( No. 38 Great Clips Toyota), Carl Edwards, David Gilliland (No. 91 D'Hondt Humphrey Chevrolet), Paul Menard (No. 98 TARKETT/Menards Ford) and Ryan Newman (No. 1 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet).

NNS Etc.: Atlanta Edition

RCR Partners With Shepherd

Richard Childress Racing and Morgan Shepherd's (No. 89 Victory in Jesus Chevrolet) Racing for Jesus have formed Shepherd Racing Ventures, a partnership to run the No. 21 for the remainder of the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series season.

Clint Bowyer will drive RCR's No. 21 Zaxby's Chevrolet at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Sept. 4), Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 10), Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 15) and Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 6).

Shepherd will drive the No. 21 Shepherd Racing Ventures Chevrolet in the seven other races remaining.

"Morgan and I have been friends for a long time and he is a direct link back to the days when we raced together in the '60s, '70s and 80s," Richard Childress said. "He's been a great representative of NASCAR for all that time so I'm honored to be working with Morgan in continuing his racing career."

Nationwide Driver Of The Week:

This week's NASCAR Nationwide Series Driver of the Week is Robert Richardson Jr. (No. 23 R3 Motorsports Chevrolet) driving for R3 Motorsports, which is owned by his father, Robert Richardson Sr. Richardson Jr. has made 17 starts this season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, finishing in the top 25 seven times. His best finish came at O'Reilly Raceway Park, where he finished 15th. Richardson Jr. has made two previous starts at Atlanta, posting his best finish of the two last season (22nd).

Up Next: Richmond

The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to the state of Virginia next week, to Richmond International

Raceway for the Virginia 529 College Saving 250. The race is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 10. The race will be broadcast on ESPN2 starting 7 p.m. and the green flag is scheduled to drop at 7:30 p.m. Last season Denny Hamlin sat on the pole for the event and Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards won.

Manufacturers' Standings

Ford made it back-to-back wins at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve moving ahead of Dodge in the manufacturers' standings to third, by one point heading to Atlanta.

While Toyota still has a strong hold on the manufacturers' standings, leading Chevrolet by 43 points, it's teams have yet to win at Atlanta. Chevrolet teams will have an opportunity to close the gap this weekend. Chevrolet leads all four manufacturers with 11 wins at Atlanta.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Great Clips 300
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54 Mile Banked Paved)

The Date: Saturday, September 4
The Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

The Distance: 300.3 miles/195 laps

TV: ESPN2, 6:30 p.m. ET

2009 Winner: Kevin Harvick
2009 Polesitter: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Schedule prior to race day (times ET):
Saturday: Practice, 8:00-9:00 a.m. Final Practice, 9:30 a.m.-10:50 p.m. Qualifying, 2:40 p.m.

-source: nascar

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