Kyle Busch won another, but the points race was the talk of Chi-town Saturday night (Sept. 14).
After a fairly uneventful first three quarters of the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, the first of two accidents involving title contenders broke the championship race wide open. While Elliott Sadler slowed on the track to come into pit road, Brett Butler came in like a wrecking ball, plowing into the back of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and effectively ruining his day.
But that wasn’t all. Less than 30 laps later, Justin Allgaier bounced off the backstretch wall coming off turn two, bumping into Regan Smith. The driver of the No. 7 was sent spinning, bringing out the caution and knocking Smith out of the top 10.
Eventually, Smith recovered for a 13th-place finish, while Sadler was not as lucky, ending up one lap down in 19th.
Meanwhile, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon were virtually flawless. Both drivers were among the few able to challenge Busch for the lead at different points in the race, with Hornish finishing third and Dillon fourth.
Their successes meant an increased points lead for Hornish, while Dillon remains 17 points outside the lead. But while two of the main championship contenders remained in major contention following the race, Smith dropped to 36 points behind Hornish after the race, while Sadler is now 44 points behind first with seven races remaining in the season.
Busch continued a dominant weekend in Chicago, leading 195 of 200 laps en route to his 10th victory of the season. Joey Logano recovered from a rough start to finish second, with Hornish and Dillon third and fourth. Dale Earnhardt Jr., making a rare series appearance, topped his JR Motorsports team with a fifth-place finish.
Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Parker Kligerman, Kevin Harvick and Nelson Piquet Jr. rounded out the top 10.
-Sure, the race ended up being a bit boring, but given NASCAR’s recent volatile happenings in the Cup Series, an uneventful race might be exactly what the sport needed, with no drama and all.
-Eric McClure returned to competition Saturday after missing four races due to renal failure. While his race may not have gone exceedingly well — McClure finished 25th, two laps down — it was a triumph to see him back on the track after being hospitalized with his illness. Simply being able to run the entire distance just weeks removed from disease is good enough.
-The thing about Sadler and Smith’s misfortune is that it wasn’t exactly their own faults. The former wasn’t exactly running great Saturday before his accident, but 19th place shouldn’t have been his; not sure why Brett Butler was unable to avoid Sadler’s slowing car. The latter might have been the reason Justin Allgaier was so high on the track and eventually smacked the wall, but it’s hard to tell for sure. Either way, the chain reaction that followed didn’t exactly ruin Smith’s race, but it did take out his chance at the finish he really needed to stay in title contention.
-Remember when Kyle Larson was still kinda-sorta in contention for the series title? Saturday was the kiss of death for him in that regard. After spinning in qualifying, Larson started the race 39th, but was able to move into the top five with relative ease. Then, while battling for position with Sam Hornish Jr., contact caused a tire rub on Larson’s No. 32, causing him to lose a few positions. That rub resulted in a blown tire and a meeting with the outside wall, pieces of tire and sheet metal strewn about on the track. The damage ended up too great for Larson to continue, and the rookie ended up 32nd, putting him 110 points out of the points lead.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Will I ever be able to find enough time to proclaim the full extent of my respect for what Kevin Swindell and Biagi-DenBeste Racing have been able to do in their shortened schedule in 2013? Swindell didn’t run a fantastic race and ended up 16th, but being able to at least finish on the lead lap almost every race in a partial schedule is no easy feat. It would be interesting to see how the team would do if it had the funding for a full-season operation.
Start-and-parkers occupied six of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $98,494 in purse money.
Cup regulars won the race, scored five of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied six of the 40 starting positions and took home $235,075 in purse money.
Best Career Finishes: none
The Final Word
The title race continues to impress. In just one race, things can change drastically, and while the whole fight wasn’t exactly flipped upside down, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler’s struggles make the championship battle a two-man race, assuming both Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon don’t have major issues over the next seven races.
But that’s the thing — they could. Both have had their problems throughout the season here and there, showing that neither is invincible when it comes to faltering. This isn’t like Matt Crafton’s dominant showing in the Camping World Truck Series this season, thankfully. One bad race for Hornish and Dillon — while Smith and Sadler finally rid their demons and stay consistent — could bring the title hunt even closer once more.
Oh, if the top two do have their problems, let’s not completely count out Brian Vickers (56 back) either.
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