A championship comeback if there ever was one, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. saw his championship hopes vanish then reappear again over the course of a race due to some patience, strategy, and a little bit of luck. Around lap 100, Stenhouse made contact with Joey Logano and in the process severely damaged his No. 6 machine. After getting trapped a few laps down to repair the damage, Stenhouse fought tooth and nail to get back on the lead lap and finally received the free pass on lap 163. From there, Stenhouse worked his way up through the field and on the final caution found himself right back in contention.
While Stenhouse would have likely been happy to settle for a top-five or top 10 finish after the day he had to fight through, several of the leaders ran out of fuel on the final restart and Stenhouse was in prime position to take the lead. As Kyle Busch ran out of fuel heading into turn three, Stenhouse took over the top spot and held onto it as he crossed the checkered flag by 0.288 sec over Austin Dillon.
After the comeback, points leader Elliott Sadler (finished fourth) now only holds a sixth point lead over Stenhouse heading into Texas. Dillon is third and 26 points out of the top spot.
Joey Logano, the other half of the Stenhouse incident, was also able to make an amazing comeback. Following a similar path as Stenhouse, Logano was also the beneficiary to the misfortunes of the leaders who ran out of fuel. He finished third and expressed frustration with the Stenhouse incident, but ultimately seemed understanding.
Two drivers who particularly turned heads in Saturday’s race, however, were Cole Whitt and his teammate Danica Patrick. During the restart on lap 166, Whitt bolted around Austin Dillon, who had been very strong all day and ultimately finished second, and was able to hold onto that spot for a few laps. While that may not sound all that impressive, consider the fact that Whitt is still a rookie. While he had a good car and was in the top 10 almost all day, Dillon had a considerably stronger car, yet Whitt was able to hold him off and even battle with him for a few laps before ultimately settling back in behind him.
Meanwhile, Patrick had a comeback of her own. After going a lap down due to some failed pit strategy, she found her way back on the lead lap due to the help of the lucky dog. On lap 175, Patrick dove down below Sam Hornish Jr. and Kyle Busch, who were battling for the lead, making it three wide for the top spot. While she wasn’t able to clear either driver for the lead, it grabbed the attention of everyone watching and she was able to finish 10th.
Not often do we attribute Paul Menard to being a competitive driver, let alone good enough to challenge for the victory. Yet it was Menard who led more laps than any other driver, crossing the finish line first 110 of the 206 laps run. Unfortunately for Menard, none of those 110 laps was the most important one. Menard ran out of gas on the final restart and finished a disappointing 16th that did not at all reflect the dominating performance he put on the field.
Kyle Busch suffered a similar heartbreak. Having only led 29 laps all day, Busch found himself holding the top spot after Menard slowed. It looked as though he would be the driver heading to Victory Lane, but it was not to be. Heading into turn three, Busch also slowed, wiggled the car, but ultimately ran out of gas while Stenhouse drove by on the outside.
Sam Hornish Jr. also ran out on the backstretch just before the field went green for the final time even though he had also shown a strong enough car for the victory. He finished ninth.
No one was happier to see the day end more than Brian Scott. The day started out promising when he qualified third and even maintained a top five spot for the first few laps. Yet it was Scott who was the cause of not one, not two, but three cautions throughout the day. All were single-car incidents and each spin got progressively worse.
While Scott was able to finish, he spent multiple laps behind the wall and finished the race 19 laps down in the 26th position.
However, an honorable mention must be given to none other than Pakistani driver Nur Ali. His weekend started out poorly when he caused an incident during a practice session with Erik Darnell and refused to take responsibility for it. The jokes flew on social media on his speed—or lake thereof—particularly from the spotters who were guiding their drivers around him.
To no one’s surprise, he eventually crashed in turn three on lap 70 and retired from the race thereafter. He was scored 33rd when the race ended.
Start-and-parkers occupied nine of the 43 starting positions and took home $126,058 of the prize money.
Cup Series regulars occupied two of the top 10 finishing positions and three of the 43 starting spots. They took home $94,475 of the prize money.
349 of 1,290 starting spots have been occupied by Cup Series regulars. (27.05%)
15 of 29 trophies won (51.72%)
The Final Word – I see people complaining about Cup Series drivers racing in the Nationwide Series on a daily basis, and the incident between Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t help. While Stenhouse admitted and, rightfully so, took fault for the incident, Logano still expressed his displeasure by tapping Stenhouse’s bumper several times over the course of the race. The general reaction was, “Why should Logano be upset? He’s not running for a championship!” Actually, he is. You see, owner points still exist in this series and guess which car is leading it? That would be the No. 18 Toyota that Logano happened to be piloting on Saturday. So while he might not be in the actual driver’s championship, he still had a job to do for his car owner.
- I have to give Kyle Busch credit where credit is due. I expected him to decline comment and storm off to his hauler in frustration after losing the way he did. Honestly, I’m not really sure I could have blamed him. He literally only had a few hundred yards to go before he had the victory. Even just a few more drops of fuel and he had it won. This isn’t just another case of a Cup Series driver winning in the Nationwide Series either. Busch was running for his own team and, not only has he gone winless in the Nationwide Series for what might be the first time since 2003, but he has yet to win with his own team. In other words, there was more at stake for that victory than his ego. It was business and personal. Yet after the race he gave a cordial, calm and professional interview just moments after it all went down. It was refreshing and he needs to keep that up.
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