Kyle Busch may have dominated the majority of the CNBC Prime’s The Profit 200, but he had to work a bit to emerge the winner.
Busch was just two laps from a commanding victory when a caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, bringing into question whether or not the Cup regular — and others — could make it to the finish without running out of fuel. Much of the field had cut their fuel mileage extremely close, something made uncertain by the extra laps run during the yellow.
Then a caution happened again. And again.
With each one, the unease rose among announcers and crew chiefs alike. Some — like Landon Cassill and Elliott Sadler — ended up out of fuel. No problem for Busch, who beat out his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Brian Vickers each restart en route to another win.
He even had enough fuel to do a prolonged burnout.
The win, the 58th of Busch’s career, was his seventh of the 2013 season in 14 starts, bumping his winning percentage back up to 50 percent. It was also his first win since Charlotte in May, snapping a four-race winless streak — a non-issue for many but interesting for a driver who set a blistering pace in his first nine races.
It was a day of domination for Joe Gibbs Racing, which led every single one of the 213 laps completed. Vickers, who finished second, paced the field for 63 laps, looking like a potential challenger to Busch, perhaps winning his first race of the season in the process, before his teammate pulled away. The other nine laps? Matt Kenseth led those, though he eventually faded to a ninth-place showing.
Austin Dillon notched a third-place finish, thereby getting the $100,000 Dash for Cash prize. Brian Scott and Michael Annett pulled off their first top-five results of the season, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr., Regan Smith, Kenseth and Alex Bowman rounded out the top 10.
Hornish’s finish of one position better than Smith cut the latter’s points lead ever-so-slightly, with Smith carrying a five-point advantage heading into Chicagoland next week.
At least Kyle Busch had to battle for the win in the end. You can call green-white-checkered finishes artificial excitement, but this race was shaping up to be one hell of a buzzkill if Busch was able to lead all the way to the finish unopposed. I think most people are content to see a driver dominate the way Busch did, but when it comes to a guy that runs wild on so many of these races, it felt oddly fulfilling, even if he still ended up winning. Call me subjective, but given we’re pointing out the good, bad and ugly in a race, that’s kind of bound to happen.
Brian Scott was with him in scoring his first top-five finish of the season, but Michael Annett’s fifth-place showing was even more of a triumph given that it was also his first top 10 of the year. Annett, who missed much of the beginning of the season after an injury at Daytona, had a best finish of 13th in eight races this year, far from his usual output. Chalk it up to getting back up to speed after an injury or simple dumb luck, but it was nice to see Annett running with the big guns again.
After finishing in the top 10 eight straight races, Kyle Larson finally came back down to earth Saturday afternoon. The Turner Scott rookie was 11th before the onset of multiple green-white-checkered restarts, eventually settling into a 14th-place finish. An unfortunate end to the streak for a guy who had a high profile sponsor in McDonald’s on the car for the race.
Tough day for Elliott Sadler. He ran well most of the race, but the Dash for Cash contender got spun by Regan Smith on the final restart. In the spirit of getting kicked while one’s down, he then ran out of fuel, being relegated to an 18th-place finish. Good thing there weren’t more cars on the lead lap.
Yeah, that red flag didn’t seem necessary. After the second green-white-checkered restart, Paul Menard and Parker Kligerman spun, with Menard backing into the fence and Kligerman getting stuck in the infield grass due to rains in the days prior. TV seemed to indicate there was enough space for cars to pass without an issue, so why was the red flag flown? Was it to save fuel for much of the field? Not sure, but it didn’t appear warranted.
It wasn’t a good Nationwide Series debut for Brett Butler. Butler, whose brother Ken has raced in the series in the past, drove his first of many races for SR2 Motorsports’ No. 24, and while he managed a solid 26th-place qualifying effort, a lap 43 accident effectively ruined his day after getting bumped by Jamie Dick and smacking the outside wall. His fellow debuting drivers, Chad Hackenbracht and Ryan Preece, had considerably better days in 21st and 24th, though Hackenbracht’s late-race spin was the reason for the green-white-checkered finishes to begin with.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Aside from his spin at the end of the race, Chad Hackenbracht had a pretty solid day in his first Nationwide (and second NASCAR) start. The former ARCA driver piloted Tristar Motorsports’ No. 44 to a 21st-place finish, two laps off the lead lap. Mention, too, to Mike Bliss, Hackenbracht’s Tristar teammate who placed 17th despite a last-lap spin.
Start-and-parkers occupied four of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $46,931 in purse money.
Cup regulars won the race, scored two of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied five of the 40 starting positions and took home $93,995 in purse money.
The Final Word
The crowd was OK and the racing was solid, but it was an overall ho-hum summer day in New Hampshire for the Nationwide Series. Possibilities of Kyle Busch not dominating the race were present after a faulty pit stop put him back a little bit in the field and relinquished the lead to Brian Vickers, but in the end, Busch could not be denied, winning his seventh race of the season.
New Hampshire will go down as another example of pure, simple Joe Gibbs Racing dominance, something that’s been incredibly common in the series in 2013, ever since Busch’s return to the team and Matt Kenseth’s decision to run a few Nationwide races here and there. Couple that with Vickers’s recent surge, and you have a recipe for success — that is, unless you’re the other teams in the series.
Don’t expect anything to change at Chicagoland next week, or anywhere else, for that matter. When it comes to the Nationwide Series, we’re all just driving in a Joe Gibbs Racing world.
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