O’REILLY AUTO PARTS CHALLENGE ADVANCE & ENTRY LIST

ELLIOTT LOOKS TO MOVE CLOSER TO BECOMING YOUNGEST NASCAR SERIES CHAMPION AT O’REILLY AUTO PARTS CHALLENGE

Nationwide Series Owners Championship In The Cards For Penske
Logjam Behind Elliott In Nationwide Series Standings
Gaughan Making Mark In Nationwide Series

FORT WORTH, Texas (Oct. 28, 2014) – Nationwide Series championship leader Chase Elliott will be looking to get a step closer to etching his name in the history books when he competes in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.

Elliott, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, holds a 42-point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith with three races remaining and returns to the speedway where his first career Nationwide Series victory came in April.

Heading into the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m. CT), Elliott is in line to become the youngest driver to win the series championship in NASCAR’s three top-tier series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck Series) and also vying to be the first rookie champ since the Nationwide Series started as the secondary NASCAR series in 1982. On top of that, JR Motorsports, in its 10th year of operation, has never won a title, either.

“I just try to keep it as simple as possible and keep it as stress free you can and take it a week at a time,” Elliott said. “I put a lot of emphasis on that, and that’s just the truth. You’ve got to take it a week at a time and try to just compete for wins. I think that’s the best way to go about it. Hopefully we’re still in the hunt when it counts and we can battle to the end.”

However, as the rookie approaches what could be his first NASCAR championship, Elliott is not letting the thoughts of winning the title in historic fashion sink in just yet.

“I’ve been trying to enjoy it, but at the same time you’ve got to be ready and stay focused throughout and realize anything can happen,” Elliott added. “It’s certainly not over until it’s over and you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Elliott also has a chance to make more history should he hold on to the points lead over the final three races. If he can secure the title, he and Bill would join a select number of father-son duos that have had the father win the Sprint Cup title and the son claim the Nationwide Series crown.

David Pearson won the Cup title in 1966, ’68 and ’69 while his son, Larry, won the Nationwide Series in 1986 and ’87. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won seven Cup crowns while Dale Jr. has two Nationwide championships. Ironically, Elliott’s team, JR Motorsports, is owned by Dale Jr.

In addition to all the NASCAR history that is within his reach, Elliott also is chasing a historical footnote at Texas Motor Speedway. With his win in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, he is looking to become just the second driver in speedway history to sweep both NNS races in the same season. Kyle Busch is the only driver to accomplish the feat, doing so twice (2008, ’09) en route to five consecutive wins.

Elliott owns three victories along with 24 top-10 finishes, including 14 among the top five, in his 30 starts. While the 42-point lead would appear to be insurmountable, he cannot clinch the series title at Texas, but another win or top finish can almost put the finishing touches on it.

And while it would seem to either be his teammate Smith or himself to hoist the series trophy at the season finale in Homestead, Fla., Elliott knows he will have to be at the top of his game to hold off his teammate.

“It’s no different than racing anybody else,” Elliott said. “Regan’s a great teammate, and he’s a good racer, a very smart racer, and he’s helped me a lot this year. Each week, we share information, and that’s great and all, but when the green flag comes out, he’s a competitor. I look at it that way and so does he.”

The win at Texas in April got Elliott rolling, vaulting him from fourth to first in the points standings. In that race, he made a bold move on the high side of Kevin Harvick in the elbow of the frontstretch to take the lead on Lap 185 and then held on for a 2.251-second victory over Kyle Busch in the 200-lap event. With the victory, he became the second-youngest winner in series history at 18 years, 4 months and 8 days.

“It was just a phenomenal night,” Elliott said at the time. “It’s an honor to race with these (Sprint Cup) guys. Passing (Kevin) Harvick for the lead and holding off Kyle (Busch) at the end was really cool.”

He won in his next outing at Darlington and then at Chicago in July for his third victory of the season that allowed him to regain the points lead. Since then, he has reeled off 11 consecutive top-10 finishes to solidify his lead. The series, however, returns from its longest layoff, one that will reach 21 days in between that race and the one here in Texas.

“These two off weeks are important,” Elliott said. “I think a lot can be gained or lost if you are not careful in these two off weeks. That’s a lot of time guys have at the shop to massage on things and rebuild three race cars for these final three races of the season. So we need to make sure we do our part on that end at the shop.”

Tickets for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge are available by contacting the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.

 

Yet Another Title In Line For Penske?

Earlier this season, Team Penske won the Verizon IndyCar Series title with driver Will Power and is in hot pursuit of the NASCAR Sprint Cup title with two drivers – Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – among the eight competing in the Eliminator 8 Round. It may surprise some that a third title also is in play.

Team owner Roger Penske might have one more title on the horizon as his Nationwide Series team is on the verge of winning the owner’s title for a second consecutive year and possible changing of the guard. Four of the last six Nationwide Series owner titles have been won by the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. From 2008-12 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the JGR teams have been the ones to beat but last season all that changed.

In 2012, Penske decided to create what he calls, ‘a farm team’ in the Nationwide Series to groom young talent and further progress his whole organization’s NASCAR program. With the addition of young talented, rising stars like Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, his vision has become reality. Penske won the NASCAR Nationwide Series owner title last year and is on pace to go back to back.

“We just want to win,” Logano, co-driver of the NNS No. 22 Ford team, said. “Yeah, obviously the IndyCar side, they did their job already, and they’re done.  They’ve done a great job.  Now it’s our job.  We have two more championships to win.  Not just the Sprint Cup championship, but we want to win that Nationwide owner’s championship too.  We’ve got to keep plugging away.”

Penske’s No. 22 Ford Mustang team guided by crew chief Jeremy Bullins has a 31-point lead over Gibbs’ No. 54 Toyota Camry team. Penske can clinch the series owner’s title by finishing the next three races sixth or better without leading any laps, seventh or better leading one lap or eighth or better having led the most laps in each event.

“It’s the human capital,” Penske said. “It’s the people that we’ve been able to attract as we got some speed and we got some success. We’re able to bring people in, the key people on the team are folks who have come up through the organization, and I think that’s been key.”

Chasing The Leader

While Chase Elliott holds a commanding 42-point lead in the Nationwide Series, there is only a 22-point gap between the drivers that currently occupy second through fifth place.

Elliott’s JR Motorsports teammate Reagan Smith is second with 1,064 points and is followed by Brian Scott with 1,045 (-19), Elliott Sadler with 1,043 (-21) and Ty Dillon with 1,042 (-22). If April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at TMS was any indication, expect these four to still be bunched together following Saturday’s race.

All four of them finished among the top 12, with Smith pacing the group with a seventh-place finish. Dillon was ninth and was followed by Sadler in 10th and Scott in 12th. Dillon, however, made the biggest gain of the race after starting in 38th position.

Dillon, the 22-year-old rookie driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, may be the one to watch from this group as they ready themselves for Saturday’s race. He won his first career NNS race at Indianapolis and has registered 22 top-10 finishes, including six among the top five, with the majority of those coming for the Richard Childress Racing driver on the larger race tracks in the series.

That first career win at Indy came a week after finishing fifth at Chicago. He was then ninth at Atlanta, seventh on a return trip to Chicago and third a week later in Kentucky, all 1.5-mile stops with the exception of Indy’s 2.5-mile layout.

All three of Dillon’s poles this season have come on 1.5-mile racetracks, notching his first at Las Vegas in the series’ third race of the season, adding another at Kentucky and the most recent coming earlier this month at Kansas.

To add to that, Dillon has enjoyed success at TMS in the Camping World Truck Series. In five truck series starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Dillon qualified and finished among the top 10 in every one, including a dominant victory in last November’s WinStar World Casino 350, where he led 130 of the 147 laps. He also made his first Texas Motor Speedway appearance in the Nationwide Series that weekend, finishing 12th.

Multiple Winner

NASCAR veteran Brendan Gaughan has made an impact in the Nationwide Series this season, joining Chase Elliott as the only full-time drivers with multiple wins and sitting eighth in the championship standings.

Gaughan has won twice this season, both of which were firsts for the former Camping World Truck Series standout in this series. His first win came in June when he conquered the rain on the permanent road course Road America. That victory was his first in 98 Nationwide Series starts. Then Gaughan won his first oval NNS race at Kentucky Speedway in September.

“Returning to Victory Lane this season has been a big morale booster for not only me but for my team as well,” Gaughan said. “For the remainder of the year we will continue to learn and find things that work to get us a leg up on the competition for next season.”

Gaughan, the driver of the No. 62 Smokey Mountain Snuff Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, arrives for this week’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway, a place he has enjoyed a great deal of success particularly in the truck series.

On the Nationwide side, he has made five career starts and his 11th-place finish in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 was his best of those starts. On the truck series side, he won four consecutive races at TMS in 2002 and ’03 and his nine top-five finishes in his 19 starts rank second all-time to the 10 by Todd Bodine.

A veteran of the Camping World Truck Series, Gaughan has made 19 starts at TMS in that series and won four consecutive races in 2002 and 2003. He also finished in the top-five in three of his last four NCWTS starts at TMS.

Last Laps

Kyle Busch (No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota) will look to continue his dominance in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Texas Motor Speedway as he looks to add to his track-record six wins in the series in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge. His most recent win came in the 2013 O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, one of four times he has won the annual spring race. Busch has won the fall edition twice, but his last came in 2009. However, he did finish second in the 2010 race and third in ’12. … Brad Keselowski, who won last year’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, will not defend his race title as Team Penske teammate Joey Logano will drive the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford in the race. Other full-time Sprint Cup drivers joining Logano in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge include Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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