In a Nutshell: The Nationwide Series played second fiddle to the Cup series on Monday afternoon, starting their race an hour after the big boys took the checkered flag. That meant that 12 drivers were running almost 700 miles thanks to the delay of the Cup race and the postponement of the Nationwide race. However, it didn’t make much difference to Tony Stewart, who ran away with much of the event.
Stewart started the race on the outside of the front row because qualifying was rained out and led the first 23 laps before relinquishing the lead to Morgan Shepherd. Yes, Morgan Shepherd. OK, it was on pit stops; but still, Shepherd led a lap before he parked his car for the day. From that point on, Stewart regained the lead and wasn’t headed except for pit stops. Kyle Busch looked like he might have had a shot at Stewart before the end of the race, but it was not meant to be as whenever Busch would get close, Stewart would just pull away again.
Stewart’s team did not make an adjustment of any substance the entire day, and he was quoted after the race that his car was the absolute worst at the end – but he still took the checkered flag with a substantial lead. Busch was second to the line, followed by Kevin Harvick, David Reutimann and Carl Edwards to round out the top-five finishers. Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Stephen Leicht wound up in positions six through 10.
Who Should Have Won: Stewart. Stewart was the class of the field all day long. There are times when a driver steals a win or takes advantage of some development to get to Victory Lane; but that was not the case this week, as Stewart led the first lap and all but 14 the entire race. No one else led more than three laps in the event and those were all during the exchanges of pit stops, as Stewart was never passed on the track for the lead.
Leicht deserves a round of applause for his effort in the No. 21 car for Richard Childress Racing. Yes, that is a quality ride that has run quite well in the Nationwide Series for years, but right now they are searching for a sponsor, and Leicht is only in the car for two races. Leicht was smooth and consistent all day, and probably would have passed his teammate Bowyer if he had had another three or four laps at the end of the race.
Shepherd actually led a lap during the race this week. Yes it was under caution while the rest of the field pitted, but the King of Start and Park actually completed 25 laps and finished ahead of five other drivers this race. The man deserves a shout-out for making the trip all of the way to California and actually sticking it out until the first caution – perhaps by April, Morgan’s team will stick around long enough to run a whole race.
42 cars took the green flag on Monday, which is not a full field, and yet the race was still entertaining. There were no less than eight start-and-park drivers in the field, so the true competitive field was more like 34 cars; but, the fans got to see the same racing and Stewart would have dominated if there were 42 or 420 cars on the track.
Earnhardt Jr. actually ran a Nationwide race on an intermediate track not located in Charlotte this week and put in a very respectable seventh-place showing. After having to run around all day 41 laps down in the Cup race, it was probably enjoyable to compete somewhat in the Nationwide Series race.
Better Luck Next Time
Busch had hoped to be the first driver to lead the points standings in all three major NASCAR series simultaneously leaving California, but Stewart spoiled that by obliterating the field for the second race in a row. Eventually, Busch will probably take over the lead since Stewart is not running the whole series – but the way Stewart is running now, as long as he’s in the race, it’s not going to happen.
Larry Gunselman (vibration), Scott Lynch (brakes), Mike Harmon (handling) and Brad Baker (rear end) all failed to complete 10 laps in the race. It is rather amazing that a car entered into a major national racing series could actually have brake trouble within five laps on a track where drivers are basically flat out for the majority of the time, but they were able to take home just over $22,000 – not too shabby.
Brad Keselowski was running well during the race and staying competitive with everyone besides Stewart and Busch when his transmission had an issue on a restart on lap 110. His engine expired when it over revved when the transmission broke, ending his day 40 laps from the finish. His boss Earnhardt Jr. did not sound pleased when interviewed after the race about his car’s parts failure.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Jason Keller might not be an underdog in some people’s books when he has the most starts in the history of the series, but he is running for a standalone Nationwide team and had to overcome a 32nd-place starting position. Keller finished the race in 14th and on the lead lap.
“Ambulance Chaser” Watch
- 12 Cup regulars made the trek across the country and started the race in California.
- 29 of the 86 starting spots for the year have gone to Cup drivers.
- Nine Cup drivers finished in the top 10 of the Stater Brothers 300.
- Two of two races have been won by Cup regulars.
- Eight of the top 10 in Nationwide Series point are Cup drivers.
“This car was really good in the little practice we got Saturday morning. To lead 130-some laps of a 150-lap race is pretty impressive. We got lucky there at Daytona, but this is just one of those days that you can count on your fingers and toes – having a car this good all day.” – Tony Stewart on his dominant car
“Tony was pretty much in a league of his own for some reason. I got two second-places to the guy who won the first two races, so what else can you do? I’m happy with it. We’ll go on to Las Vegas [for Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300], and, hopefully, I can have another good run.” – Kyle Busch after being waxed for the second week in a row
Next Up: The Nationwide Series stays out west and goes racing in the desert on Saturday, March 1st for the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The action will be aired at 4:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and 4:30 on MRN radio.