Kevin Rutherford · Sunday March 17, 2013
Despite his standing as a highly-touted prospect in the NASCAR ranks, Kyle Larson had a tough start to his rookie season in the Nationwide Series, crashing out of two races (one a spectacular launch into the Daytona catchfence that injured many spectators) and finishing a good-but-not-great 13th in his other event.
Saturday at Bristol, Larson flipped his poor luck almost completely. He charged to the front late in the going after starting 12th, closing in on the back bumper of Kyle Busch in the closing laps. When Busch went low on the final lap to avoid a lapped car, Larson went high. One second-closest finish in Nationwide Bristol history later, it was the Cup veteran in victory lane over the newcomer, but by a mere .023 seconds — basically a hood’s length.
The finish wasn’t without contact; after Busch went low to try to avoid the slow No. 70 of Brad Teague, Larson held his top line, banging into the leader’s right door when there was no room left. Luckily for Larson, the finish was not nearly as controversial as his Modified race at Daytona in February, when he took out leader C.E. Falk for the victory. Instead, many had praise for the young driver, including Busch himself.
Brian Vickers finished third for the second straight race, with last week’s winner and points leader Sam Hornish Jr. fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth. Regan Smith, Chris Buescher, pole sitter and early leader Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman and Brian Scott rounded out the top 10.
In total, eight caution flags flew during the event. Most notable was a crash involving Jamie Dick and Nelson Piquet Jr., in which Piquet smashed into the back of Dick’s No. 55 after the New Mexico native was spun down the straight.
With his fourth to Allgaier’s eighth, Hornish stretched his points lead to 22.
Give some credit to Kyle Larson for really wheeling that Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet. Though he’s still learning, he’s learning fast, and was pretty quiet throughout the whole race until the very end, when he made his move — and almost pulled it off. Kudos, too, for avoiding a blatant wrecking in the form of his run-in with C.E. Falk, though I’m not sure Larson was able to get close enough for that until the final lap. Either way, it was the first Nationwide race where he really showed his unmistakable talent, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Besides points leader Sam Hornish, Jr., one other driver has finished in the top 10 every race this young season: Brian Scott. Many were unsure what to expect of the Idaho native in his first season with Richard Childress Racing, but Scott has proven solid in the No. 2 so far. He’s never been a threat to win, but he’s almost always up front, and Bristol furthered that standing. Perhaps this is the year we finally see the guy in victory lane.
Justin Allgaier started from the pole and led the first 62 laps. Then he was never really heard from again. What happened? A pit road speeding penalty. From there, it was catchup, and he was able to do it fairly well, getting back up to fifth before settling into eighth after contact with Chris Buescher (which he was none too happy about). He only lost a few points of ground in the title chase and certainly had some benefit from Elliott Sadler’s woes, but after having such a strong car at the beginning, you wonder what could have been.
Speaking of Elliott Sadler, he came into the race tied for second in the points with Allgaier. He leaves 10th. After starting fifth and running consistently up front, Sadler’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs machine experienced engine woes, which knocked him out of the race entirely, finishing 36th. Now, it’s still early of course, but it’s a 51-point hole out of which he must climb now. That team’s definitely got its work cut out for it.
Jamie Dick is just not having a great year. He’s out full-time in Nationwide for the first time after part-time schedules in the past, driving for his family-owned No. 55. Crash at Daytona, crash at Phoenix, and now two wrecks at Bristol — one of which was an all-by-himself spin, the other hard contact into the inside wall followed by harder contact from Nelson Piquet Jr. It’s a shame, because that team has shown decent speed in 2013. This many wrecked cars this quick in succession has to hurt, though.
After a two-week suspension by NASCAR, Jeremy Clements returned to the seat of his No. 51. He was getting a shout-out from the broadcast booth, running 12th, when he smacked the wall and was done for the day. Not a great welcome back after what had to be a tough few weeks.
Also, Brad Teague was struggling mightily in his first 2013 start, often in the way of other cars and sometimes the genesis for major incidents, though his No. 70 tended to emerge unscathed. Best part of the day? When Hal Martin came up across his nose and spun into the inside wall. Looked like it was actually Martin’s fault (though it’s hard to say for sure), but Martin’s gestures after the wreck to the Nationwide veteran were fairly humorous to watch.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Give it to Mike Bliss, again. I hate to dote on him two weeks in a row (actually… no, no I don’t), but Bliss started ninth in his No. 19 (unsponsored this week) and maintained a 13th by the end — the same as his current points position. Oh, and lead-lap finish.
Start-and-parkers occupied four of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $67,556 in purse money.
Cup regulars scored two of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied seven of the 40 starting positions, and took home $184,768 in purse money.
The Final Word
Ugh. Another Kyle Busch victory, but at least he didn’t stink up the show doing it. Kyle Larson was coming, and if things had happened a split second different than they had, he might have been the guy standing in victory lane.
Still, for a race dominated by Cuppers (aside from Allgaier in the beginning), it wasn’t half bad. There was lots of racing all over the track, and the battle up front (and its unpredictability) made it fun to watch.
And if you’re on an excitement high from that race, good — save it up. We’ve got Fontana next week.
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