In a Nutshell: Until Kyle Busch blew a right-front tire with less than 30 laps to go, Matt Kenseth and the rest of the Nationwide Series field were racing for second place behind Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota. But Busch, who led over 150 laps, suffered his second tire failure in as many weeks – setting the stage for a late-race shootout among several other Cup drivers moonlighting in the series. In the end, Kenseth was able to hold off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick through a green/white/checker finish at Atlanta to score his 24th career Nationwide Series win.
“Most of the day, it was a little struggle,” said Kenseth of his winning car. “We were a little bit off, and struggled with it a little bit yesterday. Today, we had to make a lot of changes and Drew made some good changes overnight, and made [the car] drive a lot better than what it was driving yesterday. We still could have been better, but it was good enough to get up through there.”
Harvick settled for a runner-up finish in his self-owned No. 33. Harvick was running down Kenseth in the final laps, but a late-race caution for debris derailed his charge to the lead.
“I think we were better than the No. 17,” Harvick said, “but he was better than we were for a couple of laps.”
Behind the top two, Nationwide Series regulars scored three finishes in the top 10 for the second consecutive week. But it wasn’t enough for them to overcome the Cup onslaught, as Harvick unofficially took the Nationwide Series points lead. Fellow Sprint Cup veteran Carl Edwards is second in the standings, but first among those drivers intending to run for the Nationwide Series championship this season.
Who Should Have Won: Busch. Joe Gibbs’s No. 20 car has been on a rail since the Nationwide Series season began, and Busch’s performance was more of the same. Nobody in the field could touch the 22-year-old, who led 153 of the race’s first 170 laps. It took a broken shock mount on lap 171 to derail Busch’s trip to victory lane; that caused Busch to lose control and send his dominant Camry into the turn 1 wall.
“Obviously, we had the dominant car,” said Busch. “Farm Bureau Insurance and Toyota should be real proud. These guys on the No. 20 team have had four winning cars this year, but only have two trophies to show for it. I’m just sorry about the fact that we blew another right front tire.”
Brad Keselowski has had the No. 88 at the front of the field all season and finally scored a top 10 to show for it. Keselowski ran with the leaders all day at Atlanta and matched his career-best finish, bringing the car home sixth. In the process, he became the best-finishing Nationwide Series regular.
Mike Bliss was another Nationwide Series regular who had a strong showing, scoring a convincing seventh-place finish. The finish was Bliss’s first top 10 of the year and propelled his No. 22 into eighth in the Nationwide Series standings. Bliss is currently first in points among Nationwide Series regulars.
Jason Keller and his underdog CJM Racing team came into the weekend “motivated because they had paint on the car” (they were sponsored this week by America’s Incredible Pizza) and scored a lead lap finish of 14th. Since a crash at Daytona not of their making, Keller and his No. 11 team have scored three consecutive top-20 finishes… potential sponsors out there, take note!
Better Luck Next Time
Despite his mishap, Busch remained third in the season standings, trailing only Harvick and Edwards heading to Bristol.
Chip Ganassi Racing saw both of its teams struggle at Atlanta. Dario Franchitti spun early in the No. 40 and finished a distant 28th, five laps down. Meanwhile, the No. 41 team’s painful season continued. Since Bryan Clauson‘s sixth-place run at Daytona, Clauson has been caught in two accidents caused by other drivers, while Kyle Krisiloff also destroyed one of the team’s cars at Las Vegas. Saturday, Clauson was running mid-pack at Atlanta before backmarker Eric McClure spun in front of him, destroying his Dodge and leaving the team with a disappointing 29th-place finish.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Keller. The series veteran is now 17th in the standings following his latest strong run.
“Nation Whacker” Watch
15 of 43 starting positions in the Nicorette 300 went to Sprint Cup regulars.
58 of the 172 starting positions in the Nationwide Series have gone to Sprint Cup regulars this season.
Seven Sprint Cup drivers finished in the top 10 of the Nicorette 300.
Four of four Nationwide Series races have been won by Sprint Cup regulars.
Seven of the top-10 drivers in Nationwide Series points are Sprint Cup regulars.
“Well, were out of the bad points (Top-30 owner points) deal. Today was about walking into this race where we are secure in the points going into Bristol, because it it’s a bit of a lottery. Now, we’re fairly safe in points, and we’ll be going there knowing after the fifth race we’re in the Top 30, which means a lot when you get rainouts and such.” – Marcos Ambrose after an 11th-place finish, his best run of the season
“My teammate spun out in front of me. I got into him. There was nothing I could do. He went low, I went high. He came back high, I went low, and we were in a wreck. It was a bit of an interesting day. After that, we were just trying to survive, and we survived to a 31st-place finish, which isn’t great; but for how bad the car is, it’s really not that bad.” – Brian Keselowski
Next Up: The Nationwide Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Sharpie Mini 300. Coverage at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” begins Saturday at 2:00 p.m. on ABC and 2:30 p.m. on PRN.