In a less-than-shocking development, Kyle Busch won a Nationwide Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Well, perhaps it isn’t that shocking… since he’s won more there, in this division than any other track on the schedule. Unlike many of his other wins this season, Busch did not dominate the event; in fact, it was one of the more tightly contested of the season. But when the money was on the line, he put his car in front of the field and held on over two series regulars. Busch passed Sam Hornish, Jr. with seven laps to go, edging all competition by .459 seconds to earn his 11th victory in just 23 starts. Austin Dillon passed Hornish with five laps to go, moving to second, but ultimately could not catch Busch for the win. Hornish came home in third, Kevin Harvick crossed the line in fourth, and Cup points leader Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-5 finishers.
Busch won the pole in qualifying, with the No. 54 Toyota during the afternoon and took the green flag first. He led the first six laps before being passed by former teammate Joey Logano, now running the No. 22 for Penske Racing. Logano held the point for 15 laps until he surrendered the lead to Hornish. Hornish ran up front for 27 laps, comfortably before he pitted during green-flag stops. The caution then came out, with the night’s most serious accident as Reed Sorenson took an off-road excursion on the front straight, smacking the wall hard and then collecting Brian Vickers. Elliott Sadler, Vickers’ teammate was then hit hard as he was exiting pit lane. The blow was exceptionally tough for Sadler due to the fact he’d wrecked in qualifying, pulled out the backup car, started shotgun on the field and had worked his way up into the top 10, running times as fast as the leaders.
When the race restarted, Hornish regained control until the caution flew again on lap 90. Kenseth was first out of the pits after that round of pit stops and assumed the lead on the restart, until lap 105, when Harvick passed him for the top spot. The next caution, at lap 113, saw Regan Smith stay out and assume the point. He was able to lead for 28 laps before he had to pit, surrendering first position to Kyle Larson. Larson, a series rookie had figured out how to make the very top groove work all of the way around the track and seemed to have victory in sight. But Larson then gave up the lead when he pitted during the final caution of the night, on lap 157 for the blown engine of Jeffrey Earnhardt. A bobble on the right front cost him a shot at the victory, exiting the pits in sixth position. Busch then took the lead on the final restart, ahead of Dillon while Larson frantically tried to make up lost ground. He went back to the top of the track, again finding his groove until he smacked the fence and killed the handling of his race car, ultimately coming home 13th.
Hornish took the lead from Busch on lap 180 and looked to be heading to victory; but, with 10 laps to go, his car’s handling took a decided turn for the worse. Busch then chased him down and passed him with seven laps left. The all-time winningest driver in the series was never challenged, from that point on and claimed a record eighth Charlotte victory of his career in the Nationwide Series.
The tires and racetrack are finally becoming a good marriage for Charlotte. The character of the track is returning, as the washboard effect at the bottom of the turns is making handling difficult. The tires are also finally falling off so that driver ability comes into play as runs progress. That fact was never more obvious than six on-track passes for the lead out of the 14 lead changes we saw Friday night. Hopefully, that trend will continue through the Bank of America 500 Saturday night, for the Cup Series and into 2014 at the 1.5-mile oval.
The win is Busch’s 62nd victory in 267 starts in Nationwide competition. Combined with his five Truck Series wins, Busch has the most NASCAR National Touring Series wins at Charlotte (13) despite getting shut out in the Cup Series. Busch is also the ninth driver to win a Nationwide race from the pole at Charlotte. The last driver to accomplish that feat was Matt Kenseth, all the way back in 2000.
Austin Dillon’s second-place finish is his first top 5 in four career starts at Charlotte. It is his 11th top-5 finish of 2013. Right behind him, Sam Hornish, Jr.‘s podium finish is his first top-5 result in seven career starts at the speedway. But it still wasn’t enough, despite 14 top 5s overall this season to reclaim the lead in the championship chase. Dillon still holds an eight-point advantage over Hornish with three races remaining on the year.
Larson, despite his slip towards the finish remained the highest-running rookie in 13th.
Justin Allgaier started the race in 12th and ran inside the top 15 all night. When the checkered flag fell, the No. 31 Chevrolet crossed the line a solid sixth. While all of the spotlight has been on his Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, and his pending full-time transition to Cup Allgaier has had one fine season himself. Making his Cup Series debut, with two promising performances he’s also jumped to fourth in points in the Nationwide Series, with a realistic chance to finish as high as third. Now, if he could just get a win to pair with those 15 top-10 results…
James Buescher continues to showcase his talent every time he gets an opportunity in the Nationwide Series. The reigning Truck Series champion qualified 30th, then gained 10 spots in the first 10 laps of the race to flex his muscle. He settled in the upper 20s, after the field strung out but his crew was able to make the car right just past halfway. In a race filled with top-tier talent, he was able to scratch and claw up to 11th by the end of the night. The jury’s still out on whether Buescher will choose to move up in 2014. However, based on this year’s results (10.5 average finish in four starts) the driver is clearly ready to do so.
Johanna Long continues to prove that she has a ton of talent, putting together solid finishes with less than solid equipment. Long started 27th, in the No. 70 car and brought her ride home in 17th, steadily improving from the lap 67 caution through the end of the race. Someday, a smart team owner is going to give her a shot in a car that can actually win.
Regan Smith started the race in fifth place and floundered around in the back of the top 10 for most of the race’s first half. Not being able to drive forward, he took a shot and stayed out on a caution to try and gain track position. Unfortunately, that strategy backfired; he had to make a green flag stop, out of sequence which put him down a lap and never had enough time to recover. Ultimately back on the lead lap, in 19th that gift was too little, too late for a No. 7 team that appears to need a miracle now to win this year’s title. Once the point leader, he has just one top-10 finish in the series’ last five events.
Alex Bowman started to the outside of Smith and slid back a little further during the race. Taking the same chance that Smith did, gambling on a lucky caution he ended up just one position in front of Smith when the checkered flag flew. The promising rookie hoped to take advantage of a top-10 start; instead, he ended up coming home in 18th.
Elliott Sadler’s evening started off poorly and ended worse. Sadler wrecked during qualifying and was forced to start the race shotgun on the field, in a backup car. For a moment, it seemed as if recovery was possible; as the race began, Sadler’s Toyota was a rocket ship. Driving quickly through the field, he’d gained more than 30 spots, climbing well inside the top 10 before coming to pit road for his first stop. While exiting the pits, however, Sadler was collected by the aftermath of the Reed Sorenson/Brian Vickers contact. Though his team tried to repair his No. 11, it was just too loose to handle patched up. On lap 67, Sadler lost control in Turn 4, backed his wounded car into the wall and was mercifully done for the night.
While Joe Gibbs Racing’s Cup driver entries both scored top-5 finishes, including the win, their Nationwide drivers did not fare so well. Ironically, they were both torpedoed by the poor decision of Reed Sorenson. When Sorenson drove through the grass on the front straight, he lost control of his car, bounced off the outside wall and then collected both Sadler and Brian Vickers. While Vickers continued longer than Sadler, with an extensive amount of bare bond on his quarter panels, he eventually succumbed to the damage from the accident and retired after 127 laps. JGR’s No. 54 car did take over the owner’s championship, over the No. 22 owned by Roger Penske but the driver’s title isn’t going to happen for them this year.
Underdog Performer of the Race
There is something to be said for consistency. Mike Bliss is one of the most consistent drivers ever in the Nationwide Series, good for a 13th to 15th-place finish almost every race despite driving for a severely underfunded operation. Friday night was no different. Bliss started 24th, quickly jumped up into the low teens and then methodically worked his way into the 15th spot, where he finished the race. Bliss can bring home an intact car every week and still run up front if his equipment is capable. He’s now got three straight top-15 results for small-time TriStar Motorsports.
Start and park drivers occupied three of the 40 starting spots in Friday’s race. They took home $33,746 in purse money.
Cup regulars scored the win in the race, occupied three of the top-5 positions and four spots in the running order. They walked off with $144,575 in prize money.
The Final Word
- It has been a long time coming but Charlotte Motor Speedway is finally getting its character back. The bumps at the bottom of the speedway are returning and the once-repaved surface is actually aging. The tire that Goodyear brought to the track, while reported to be unchanged from previous years, seemed to give up more than it has in the past as the runs went along. As a result, there were six passes on-track for the lead, comers and goers all night long and Kyle Larson was able to run the top rim at both ends of the speedway. After the race, Kevin Harvick said, “I saw him running at the top in one and two. I haven’t seen a car up there in years.” The end result, like Kevin hinted at was one of the best Nationwide races at Charlotte in years.
- Love it or hate it, Kyle Busch is the best ever in the Nationwide Series and he proved it once again last night. His car was not the fastest, but when the lap countdown reached single digits he got up on the wheel, ran down Sam Hornish, Jr. and took the win. Busch also deserves credit for immediately donating his winnings, along with his team owner’s share, to his wife Samantha’s Pretty In Pink foundation for breast cancer financial assistance. People might think this guy’s a jerk – and sometimes Busch is – but he’s also got a big heart and it showed last night.
- The championship battle is a two-horse race and both drivers like the final three tracks. The eight-point bulge enjoyed by Dillon, though may be too much for Hornish to overcome without a mechanical failure with the current point system. That’s why we’ll be tuning in for the next three races… not the ideal way to settle a title fight, right?
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