- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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JOLIET, Ill. -- Throughout a career in which he occasionally has been in the news for unflattering reasons, Tony Stewart often has gotten the focus right back on the racetrack by going out and winning.
So even if he weren't in Joe Gibbs Racing's dominant No. 20 Toyota, you'd have to consider him a favorite entering Friday night's Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN360.com). But all things considered, it'll be shocking if he doesn't win his sixth Nationwide Series race of the year in the first night race held at the track.
Word broke Tuesday that JGR had agreed to release Stewart from the final year of his contract. On Thursday, he made it official that he would buy into what's now Haas CNC Racing and drive for Stewart Haas Racing beginning in 2009.
In other words, his time to win with JGR is short-lived as of now -- so don't be surprised if he makes the most of it. And what better way to start what's left of his JGR career than by helping the organization make a little history?
A win Friday would be the 10th of the season for the No. 20 car, which would tie the mark by an individual car number in a season. In 1983, Sam Ard won 10 times in the No. 00 Oldsmobile fielded by owner Howard Thomas. Two years ago, Kevin Harvick (nine wins) and Jeff Burton gave Richard Childress Racing 10 wins in the No. 21 Chevrolet.
JGR's No. 20 car already has nine wins thanks to Stewart (five), Denny Hamlin (two) and one apiece for Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. With 16 races left this year, shattering the mark seems inevitable. All told, the organization has 12 wins overall, as Busch has two wins in the No. 18 Camry to go along with one for Hamlin.
Richard Childress Racing dominated the series a year ago, as Kevin Harvick (six), Jeff Burton (five) and Clint Bowyer (two) combined for 13 wins, another mark JGR can equal Friday.
Dave Rogers, the man who has called the shots for the No. 20 team, has an appreciation for what the team is trying to accomplish.
"Everyone who's involved in the Nationwide Series is proud of what Sam Ard did back in the 1980s. And racing against the No. 21 car a few years back, we know how dominant they were," Rogers said. "Every time you showed up at the racetrack, you knew you had to beat that 21 car. To post stats compared to what those guys did is incredible. We're proud of it. We are eyeing it and want to rewrite the history books. We'd certainly like to do that in Chicago."
The teams will start the race in daylight and end it under the lights, but Stewart said that won't be a problem.
"What you'll do is either run a clear visor or you'll run an amber visor, and you'll have colored tear-offs on top of it, and we can pull those off as the sun goes down," Stewart said. "That gives us the ability to use some tinting without using a tinted visor that we're stuck with for the whole night. That makes it easy. And especially for us dirt-track guys, who are used to pulling them off anyway, it's no big deal.
"As far as the track is concerned, from day to night it normally just gains a lot of grip and normally it doesn't change the balance of your car. It just gets faster as the surface temperature cools down. Wherever your balance is, whether you're loose or tight, you just gain more grip and go faster."
Busch, who will be in the No. 18 entry this week, knows running the track's first night race can only help as he prepares for running the Sprint Cup Series race under the lights on Saturday.
"[The track] will definitely be different at night. It's going to be the first time for everybody to try to learn what the track is going to do -- whether it's like Charlotte, or how much it changes from day to night," Busch said. "So, if it really tightens up or if it loosens up, or if it stays the same -- nobody knows any of that. Knowing what that race does will sort of help out the Cup guys and give them a better understanding of how much the track changes and what they can do to their Cup car to try to help it before the race starts."
First, though, Stewart and Busch will try to help JGR make history.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Tony Stewart has a way of winning when controversy surrounds him. The No. 20 has a way of winning in the Nationwide Series just about every race. Those two forces will converge at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, writes Mark Ashenfelter.