Kyle Busch excels in the Nationwide Series in general, but he is exceptionally good on the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway. In Busch’s last seven starts on the concrete, half-mile oval, Busch has five wins. Friday night was another dominating performance by Busch, who led all of the laps in the race except for a 22-lap segment when Kyle Larson assumed the lead on a caution flag pit sequence when Larson beat Busch out of the pits. Brad Keselowski tried to make it close at the end but it appeared as though Busch was just running as hard as he needed to and could pull away from his closest pursuer whenever needed.
The race was only slowed by four cautions, which tied it for the fewest cautions in a Nationwide Series race at Bristol since 1992. Since the track was repaved in 2007 there have only been three races in the series that have seen double digit caution periods. The first 65 laps of the race were caution free until there was debris on the back straight. The race then went green until lap 105 when Nelson Piquet Jr. went for a spin in turn four. That produced the caution that saw Larson beat Busch out of the pits to become the only other driver to lead during the event. The race then went green until lap 154 when Drew Herring, driving the No. 18 that took Kyle Busch to his 2009 series championship, spun out in turn three. When the race went back to green it took just five more laps before Brian Vickers got a little high coming out of turn four, lost the back end of the car and hooked Parker Kilgerman in the right rear. Kligerman turned hard into the outside wall and then slid down to the inside wall. Vickers eventually got back into the race but Kligerman was done. From then on the race was clean and green as Busch notched his 120th career national series win.
Austin Dillon kept his nose clean all night long and brought his No. 3 home in third place. Justin Allgaier started on the outside of the front row, slipped a little late in the race but battled back to a strong fourth place finish. Kyle Larson, who finished second to Busch in the Spring race and managed to lead 22 laps Friday night, came home in a solid fifth place and also claimed the Rookie of the Race award.
Sam Hornish, Jr. finished the race in 12th position, which cost him nine points in the standings and now has him in the point lead by a scant six. Dillon’s third-place run has him sitting second in the overall standings, five points ahead of Elliott Sadler, who finished the race in 10th and slipped one spot in the standings. Regan Smith had a tough night, suffered some damage when he rear ended a car as the field slowed for a caution, and came home a disappointing 21st, which dropped him to fourth overall, as Dillon leap frogged Sadler and Smith. Allgaier’s top 5 run moved him up a spot over Brian Vickers to secure the last spot in the top 5 in points.
On the owner’s championship side of things, the battle between Busch and Keselowski epitomized the struggle to win the owner’s championship. After AJ Allmendinger’s win at Mid-Ohio last week, the two teams were tied in total wins for the season. Busch has now put the No. 54 one up in the win category but the No. 22 continues to hold the top spot by 16 over the Joe Gibbs Racing entry. Penske Racing actually has the first and third place cars in the owner’s points, as the No. 12 is sitting in third. However for all intents and purposes, the battle is down to the No. 54 and the No. 22 as the leader is 108 points ahead of third place.
It is said often, love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is one of the best drivers in the history of the sport. Old school fans don’t want to hear about the win totals across the three national touring series but it is hard to ignore the numbers. Busch’s victory is his 60th of his career in the Nationwide Series. Busch has 261 starts in the series which puts his winning percentage at nearly 23% all time. Over the three national touring series of NASCAR, Busch has 120 wins. His 60 wins in the Nationwide Series continues to increase the all-time win record that he already possesses. He has 33 wins in the Camping World Truck Series, which finds him second all-time, 18 behind Ron Hornaday Jr. Assuming Busch doesn’t give up running the Trucks, it will only be another four years before he catches Hornaday. In the Cup series, where no one is ever going to touch Richard Petty’s 200 career wins, Busch has 27 victories. That total puts Busch 24th on the all-time list. Assuming he can notch 23 more victories in his career, that will put him at 50 which would currently tie him for 11th on the list. One other point about Busch’s win Friday night at Bristol, he now has the most National Touring Series wins at Bristol. He has won 15 races on the concrete half mile, five in Sprint Cup, six in Nationwide and four in Trucks. The six in Nationwide and four in Trucks are both series highs at the track.
When only two drivers lead during an event, it is pretty hard not to include both of them in the Good category. Kyle Larson is the highest rookie in the points, sitting in eighth place, 107 points ahead of Alex Bowman who sits in 11th. Larson has six top 5s and 13 top 10s and has led five races. His 22 laps led last night was the most he has led in a race so far this season. With rumors swirling that Larson is about to make the move to the Cup series to fill the seat of the No. 42, he has to be itching to notch a win in the Nationwide series before he takes the next step.
Justin Allgaier has three career wins in the Nationwide Series. The first of those three came at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2010. In Allgaier’s 10 career starts at Bristol he has five top 10 finishes and three top 5s, including last nights fourth. He is sitting fifth in points but is only 39 points out of the top spot. If the team can build on the momentum and finish the year with consistent top 5 finishes, he very well could make a run at the 2013 championship.
A 12th place finish in a National Touring Series race might be an accomplishment for some drivers, but when you’re chasing a title, it is far from what you expect. Sam Hornish Jr., while he did leave the track with the points lead, finished last night’s event two laps down to the leader in 12th position. Hornish has been on a roll for the last 10 races with only Indianapolis and Bristol not seeing finishes in the top 10 and the three races after Indy being top three finishes. While this is probably just a blip on the radar, especially considering it was a bad spark plug wire that caused the issue, it could be a bad omen if the performance over the next couple of months follows Friday night rather than the previous month.
Start and park cars attack races with a different mindset than teams that are racing to complete races or win events. They make their money by using the same cars and parts for weeks on end. During the Nationwide race on Friday night there were four cars that started and parked. All four of them came to their haulers with right side damage on their cars. It seems odd that drivers who know they aren’t competing for a win would push their cars hard enough to damage them in a handful of laps, or 67 in the case of Matt DiBenedetto.
Regan Smith continues to battle for the series championship but Friday evening was not a good one for the former points leader. Smith slipped high and hit the wall when there appeared to be fluid on the track. After he regained his rhythm and lost close to a dozen on-track positions, he ran into the back of Cole Whitt as the field checked up for the incident between Brian Vickers and Parker Kligerman.
Speaking of Brian Vickers, the driver of the No. 20 was in position to have a solid points evening when he hit some fluid on the track in turns three and four, bounced off of the wall and clipped Parker Kligerman. The end result for Vickers was a mangled race car resting against the inside wall on the front straight. While Vickers team persevered and managed to get him back on the track before the end of the race, they ended up 56 laps down with a 34th place finish. Vickers was running in 10th when the incident occurred. The 24 points he lost would have put him in fourth in points just five behind Elliott Sadler for third instead of losing a position to sixth, 40 points out of the lead.
Parker Kligerman wasn’t setting the world on fire Friday night but he was managing his evening and poised to come out of Bristol with a finish somewhere around the 10th – 15th position. Unfortunately he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, got clipped by Vickers as the spun down the track, and nosed into the wall before ending in a crumpled heap at the end of the front straight. Fortunately for Kilgerman, Alex Bowman and Nelson Piquet Jr. didn’t have good evenings either so he held onto a solid 10th place position in the points.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Tri-Star Motorsports is not one of the more well-funded teams in the sport. Their No. 10 car is a truly part-time effort that had the opportunity to run on Friday night with Cole Whitt behind the wheel. This was Whitt’s 10th start of the season out of the 23 races in the series this year. He’s 21st in points and the highest driver in the standings with fewer than 15 starts. He came home in 14th place on Friday night, ahead of Jeff Green and Mike Bliss, both his teammates with far more experience.
Start-and-Parkers occupied four of the starting positions while eight drivers that attempted to qualify, went home. The prize money the start-and-park crowd took home added up to $66,036.00.
Cup regulars took four of the starting spots in the race, including the top two finishers. The tale of the tape shows that the Cup stars garnered $127,416 in prize money.
Best Career Finish: Chad Hackenbracht made his fourth start in the Nationwide Series. The driver, whose twitter handle is @hackensomething kept his nose clean and soldiered to a 20th-place finish.
The Final Word
Bristol Motor Speedway is practically Kyle Busch’s private playground. Busch is the only driver in history to sweep a three race weekend and that happened at Bristol in 2010. Busch is the all-time leader in wins in the Nationwide Series with 60. You can’t deny it, whether you like him or hate him, that he can wheel a race car better than most of the people who have ever done it. Listening to Elliott Sadler before the race, he spoke of Busch taking the No. 11 out during practice and all of the feedback he was able to give. Many people forget that the Busch brothers worked on their own cars for years before breaking into the national series of NASCAR. They are some of just a few drivers in the garage would know how to make their cars do what they want to with both the steering wheel and the wrench.
The “new” Bristol doesn’t require drivers to beat and bang to pass people but, unfortunately, it requires many laps for drivers to make a clean pass. Contact between cars still exists, but it is more the result of people making mistakes rather than racing too close too each other. Seeing cars run three wide for multiple laps around a half mile race track is an amazing site, even if they don’t seem to show it very much on television. Before you pass judgement on the concrete oval in Bristol, make sure you see a race in person. You’ll be glad you did.
One final thing that would make a huge difference with these aero sensitive cars that we have in the national series these days. The sport needs tires that wear out. It is a drum that this writer beats all too often but it continues to prove itself out almost every week. Kyle Busch ran this race on one pit stop. A 250 lap race, on a concrete track where the racing groove is on a section of the track that has been ground and is rougher than the rest of the track. There is no reason in the world a race tire on a car that is as powerful as a Nationwide car can last for that long under race conditions. Whether NASCAR and Goodyear will listen is anyone’s guess, and probably a whimsical hope, but we fans can always hope.
Next Up: Saturday, August 31st the Nationwide Series will be running at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The coverage starts at 7:30 on ESPN2 and PRN.
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