Even Nationwide superhero (or supervillain) Kyle Busch can’t overcome bad pit strategy at Dover. A bid for his seventh win in the series this season went sour the second the No. 54 Toyota chose to take four tires under the race’s final caution, on Lap 163, a move that dropped him from the lead to well outside the top-10 finishers. Busch’s loss was Joey Logano’s gain; after a solid, top-5 run the Ford team decided to go with only two on their final stop. With Busch back in traffic, Logano had clean air and clear sailing to cruise to his first victory driving for Penske Racing and the No. 22 car.
Nationwide Series regular Brian Vickers, who also used the two-tire strategy finished second with teammate Matt Kenseth right in tow. Trevor Bayne was fourth, while Busch, with that extra set of fresh rubber could only make his way back to fifth. Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish, Jr., Austin Dillon, Regan Smith, and Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10 in a race that was mostly devoid of drama aside from that final round of calls. Just five cautions were scattered throughout, mostly for one-car incidents and the race at times developed into a single-file parade, the Monster Mile forcing its combatants to race its one-mile configuration rather than themselves.
In the championship battle, Smith and Hornish were neck-and-neck most of the day before the No. 12 car pulled ahead in the closing stages. The net gain was minimal, just two points but it closed the deficit to 27 heading to Iowa next week.
Brian Vickers didn’t lead a lap on Saturday, but his runner-up finish, after a weak start to the 2013 season had to feel like a win. Vickers is finally flashing some consistency now after some early bumps in the road that included mechanical gremlins at Daytona, an engine failure in Fontana and a few quirky moments in between. Now up to third in points, just 42 behind Regan Smith the championship remains a strong possibility for the veteran as long as he can muscle his way to a win or two. For as strong as Joe Gibbs Racing cars have been this season, it’s a shock Vickers has only been able to lead 43 total laps; by comparison, Kyle Busch has led 899.
After waiting years to find sponsorship, in order to run full-time before being backed by owner Jack Roush Trevor Bayne has watched excitement turn to aggravation this season. That’s why Saturday’s solid, fourth-place run was so important. Posting back-to-back top-10 finishes, for the first time since early March Bayne led five laps and was a mainstay, inside the top 5 for most of the race’s second half. It’s that type of consistency which builds confidence, and now the series is heading to Iowa, where the No. 6 team has been very successful in the past. Could a trip to Victory Lane be just around the corner?
The end result for Austin Dillon wasn’t what he wanted; eighth does no good when you’re already three steps behind in the championship chase. But for a driver who had led just seven laps, entering Saturday’s event it was important to get this type of race under his belt. Winning the pole, for a second straight week he led 43 laps before getting shuffled back; the No. 3, from that point turned into survival mode, battling an ill-handling car but still using track position to score a top 10. Dillon needs those types of gritty performances to “hang on” until he can get to his bread and butter portion of the schedule: intermediate tracks.
Cup drivers stole the show once again, leading the final 111 laps of the race. When Kyle Busch faltered, through faulty pit strategy there were a long list of others waiting to take over the throne. So far this season, only Sam Hornish, Jr. and Regan Smith have been able to break the stranglehold of Cup Series veterans in Victory Lane.
Reed Sorenson spent the past three months running in top-level, Richard Petty Motorsports equipment. Heading back to small-time Key Motorsports, after finishing his sub assignment for good buddy Michael Annett has been a rude awakening. At Charlotte, the team blew an engine, running 37th and Dover was a debacle all its own. Mechanical gremlins caused him to lose power, bringing out a caution as the No. 40 car stopped on the racetrack. His end result, 29th, left him the last car still running and brought his average finish since returning to a rough 33.0.
The number 23 won’t be Ty Dillon’s favorite for weeks to come. He blew an engine in the Truck Series, with 23 laps complete and in the Nationwide race struggled to 23rd in his part-time ride. It’s one of the worst slumps of the young driver’s career, who’s ready talent-wise to move up to Nationwide full-time but is not showing the results as of late to justify the promotion that’s already set in stone.
Elliott Sadler must have done something to tick the Monster Mile off in recent years. It was here, in the Fall of 2011 where a pole-winning run turned into a 14th-place disaster, a turning point that helped tilt the championship race in favor of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Now, if Sadler loses the title in 2013 we could point to Miles The Monster as the culprit once again. The car was terrible, from the drop of the green with a loose condition that got the best of the veteran on Lap 80, sending him slamming into the inside wall. Limping around the rest of the day, the 28th-place result was his second-worst of the year and left him seventh in the championship battle, 64 points behind leader Regan Smith. That’s a big mountain to climb considering the quality and quantity of drivers he needs to leap over, including his own teammate; it’s not just Mr. Stenhouse anymore.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Cole Whitt. For a driver who was once earmarked for Sprint Cup, the pet project of former Team Red Bull it’s been sad to see this talent sitting on the sidelines. Let go by JR Motorsports last offseason, after no sponsor stepped up to back him and with no more TRB support, Whitt was forced to take a job with TriStar as a mechanic. Humbled and patient, the move paid off this week when Hal Martin ran out of sponsorship money to continue driving the team’s No. 44 car. Owner Mark Smith tapped Whitt on the shoulder Monday, who hadn’t driven all season and said he’d be given an opportunity to go the distance. The Californian responded beautifully, making the most of his audition with a lead-lap, 16th-place performance which is easily a season best for the car. As of now, he’ll run just at Iowa next week but if a sponsor is reading, and/or watching it could be the beginning of a second chance for a California native who deserves it.
Start-and-parkers occupied 7 of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $93,126 in purse money.
Cup regulars scored four of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied four of the 40 starting positions, and took home $107,375 in purse money.
The Final Word
- Dover’s crowd, once again for the Nationwide Series was incredibly weak. Not the best argument for those who say that Kyle Busch coming in and dominating every race is what the fans want to see.
- Brad Keselowski, in the ESPN booth? Great job. I expected nothing less… and I expect to see more.
- I’ve never really understood NASCAR’s complicated purse structure, where sponsor bonuses and weird quirks can allow a 20th-place team, for example to make more money than one who finishes eighth. But the discrepancies I saw in Dover’s purse took things to a whole new level. Joey Gase, who start and parked in 34th place made more money than sixth-place finisher Kasey Kahne. How is that even possible? More importantly, you’re doing the equivalent of rewarding a team for pulling their car in early. Why should Gase push the issue when there’s a limited “bonus” for trying to run the whole distance and scraping out some type of miracle top 10? This structure has to be changed, dramatically in order to discourage the whole start-and-park system; for racing, after all, is a business.
- The standalone portion of the Nationwide Series schedule starts this weekend at Iowa. With the way in which Cup regulars have made mincemeat of the series, ripping up the competitiveness of what otherwise would be a quality championship battle it can’t come soon enough.
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