In A Nutshell: It’s been a season of struggles for Reed Sorenson in the Nextel Cup Series this year. Mired in 28th in the standings and in the midst of a sophomore slump, the 21-year-old Georgian has simply spent the better part of the past few months just trying to keep his job at Chip Ganassi Racing.
A Busch Series win should do more than enough to help that cause.
Sorenson survived the carnage of wrecked racecars and a late challenge by Scott Wimmer to take the checkered flag first in Saturday night’s Gateway 250. Sorenson’s second win in three years on the 1.25-mile Illinois oval, his trip to the winners’ circle snapped a 60-race Busch Series victory drought that dated back to this race in July of 2005. On a night where several contenders took themselves out in a series of multi-car wrecks, Sorenson kept his car above the fray while leading 95 of the final 126 laps in his Juicy Fruit Dodge. Even when shuffled back in the pack due to pit strategy, Sorenson got aggressive enough to dart through the field and fight his way up front, passing David Reutimann to take the lead for the final time on lap 159. Reutimann wound up third behind Wimmer, with Busch Series regular Jason Leffler and Nextel Cup rookie David Ragan rounding out the top five finishers.
Who Should Have Won: Wimmer. While Sorenson led the most laps on the night, he was a consistent beneficiary of track position – something Wimmer never could quite get a hold of over the second half of the race. Starting on the pole, he dominated the first 53 laps, looking like the car to beat until a flat right front tire sidelined his cause on lap 54. While caution flags kept Wimmer on sequence with the rest of the field, the time he lost while coasting to the pits kicked him back to the back of the top five, and on a night where passing was tough on this tricky, narrow track, that was enough to keep him from ever making it back to the top spot. Moving to second with eight laps left, Wimmer actually had the fastest car in the field but it was too little, too late for the No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet.
Three Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race Weekend
1) On a night when several “young gun” Busch Series drivers were in the field for standalone events, why did they never hold a candle to the Cup veterans?
Because they were too busy wrecking each other out. After a relatively calm first 100 laps that saw just two cautions – one for debris – the second half of Gateway’s race had the tow trucks working overtime. A total of seven yellow flags in the final 125 miles decimated the field, collecting several of the main contenders in some nasty-looking accidents that left the garage area looking more like your local junkyard.
18-year-old Landon Cassill, making his debut for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 24, volunteered to be perhaps the biggest wrecking ball. When fellow rookie Tim McCreadie broke loose on lap 100, everyone in the front of the field slowed accordingly – except for Cassill, who drilled Mike Bliss‘ rear bumper and spun him around. The resulting wreck collected Kenny Wallace and Kyle Krisiloff, among others. But Cassill wasn’t done; next time, he’d be the victim, colliding head-first into the turn 3 wall after contact with lapped car Travis Kittleson a few laps later; Brad Keselowski also got involved in that one.
That was the way it seemed to go for several of the Busch “stand ins;” Cale Gale, Brad Coleman, Kelly Bires, and Bobby East were among a handful of others who saw their days go sour courtesy a visit with some sort of concrete wall. By the time the checkered flag flew, just two of the 20 drivers or so with less than one season of Busch Series experience finished the day in the top 10 – Cup rookie Ragan (fifth) and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kevin Hamlin (seventh).
2) Forget Buschwhackers – what about the Truckwhackers?
Every week, most of the criticism gets focused on the Nextel Cup regulars who invade the Busch Series to the tune of stealing wins, money, and prestige. But this weekend, a different type of invader made themselves a viable threat – Truck Series regulars stealing the limelight as best they could underneath the glow of the Cup contingent. Both Ron Hornaday Jr. and Todd Bodine notched top-10 finishes on a night that saw both battle through adversity. Hornaday’s car received damage in a wreck at the race’s midpoint, but still fought through handling concerns en route to a solid eighth-place finish. In the meantime, Bodine put his Toyota up front through pit strategy, staying out to take the lead on lap 123 and holding on to the top spot for 15 laps. While Bodine’s shot at the win went out the window in bizarre fashion – Chase Miller made contact with the No. 03 Toyota by accident, slamming the car’s right front fender when passing him under yellow after receiving the “free pass” to get his lap back – Bodine still brought an overheating, aero-challenged racecar home in 10th place. Not bad for a pair of drivers simply looking for a relaxing week off in the midst of challenging for a Truck Series championship.
3) How disappointing a homecoming was it for the Wallaces?
So much was made of the three active Wallaces racing each other entering Saturday night, you’d have thought the track was renaming itself “Gateway International Wallace Reunion Facility.” But unfortunately for them, the one invitation they forgot to send out to their party was Lady Luck. Before 10 laps were complete, young Steve Wallace was in the garage after brake failure left him hitting the wall in turn 3; 100 laps later, uncle Kenny joined him after becoming an innocent victim in Cassill’s pinball machine-style wreck. That left just Mike to carry the Wallace banner, and even he couldn’t put together anything worth waving to Mom about; an ill-handling car combined with poor track position sent the No. 7 GEICO Chevrolet limping home in 12th.
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle:
- Two of Sorenson’s three career Busch Series victories have come at Gateway.
- Wimmer now has eight finishes of 11th or better in his last nine Busch Series starts.
- Leffler has top-10 finishes in four of the last seven races – none of them consecutively, which means he’s due for a rough weekend in Indiana next Saturday.
- JJ Yeley picked up his first Busch Series top-10 finish of the season.
- Carl Edwards put together one of the most exciting drives of his young racing career. After spending the night in the top five, Edwards pushed it a little too hard and wrecked his car on lap 179, destroying the rear end of his No. 60 Ford. But through some quick work by his pit crew, Edwards stayed on the lead lap and miraculously kept from breaking a major part in the wreck; he then spent the final 18 laps slicing and dicing through the field en route from a charge from 17th to sixth in the final rundown. With the car looking like it was going to come around on every turn of every lap, the hometown boy from nearby Missouri earned every point he got this weekend.
Speaking of the points, with Kevin Harvick taking the weekend off, Edwards’ point lead grew substantially. Now 852 ahead of second-place Reutimann, Edwards is on pace to clinch the title in October, a full month before the Busch Series even finishes off its season. Harvick dropped to third, with Ragan fourth and Leffler the top Busch Series regular in fifth place.
Back in the second half of the top 10, Dave Blaney dropped two spots to sixth, while Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Stephen Leicht held steady at seventh and eighth. Mike Wallace jumped up three positions, from 12th to ninth, with rookie Marcos Ambrose rounding out this week’s top 10.
Buschwhackers in this race: Eight
Starting spots taken by Buschwhackers YTD: 380 of 856
Buschwhackers finishing in top 10: Five
Buschwhackers finishing in top 10 YTD: 156 of 210
Races won by Buschwhackers YTD: 19 of 21
Buschwhackers ranked in top 10 in Busch Series points standings: Five
“We’re playing the odds – second, third, fourth – and one time, we’re going to actually win one of these things. But I couldn’t be happier with the way this team has been performing.” – Scott Wimmer
Next Up: From the tight turns of Gateway, the Busch Series heads north to an even narrower racing facility up in Indianapolis. It’s short-track racin’ time, as the O’Reilly Raceway Park plays host to the Kroger 200 on Saturday, July 28th. The coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and the IMS Radio Network.