In a Nutshell: Despite being the first standalone Nationwide Series event of the season, the first two-thirds of Saturday’s race at Nashville saw Cup regulars dominating, with Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer claiming the top two spots.
But that all changed on lap 163; and in an instant, a Nationwide-only driver was finally given his shot at Victory Lane.
First, the incident that changed the complexion of it all. Bowyer, making a run on Busch in turn 4, got Busch’s No. 20 loose and sent him into a spin. Just like that, the 22-year-old was in the grass with a crushed left-side fender, and Bowyer had damage to the right side of his Chevrolet. Busch clearly got the short end of the stick; he pitted under green to fix his car and was never again a factor, finishing two laps off the pace.
Busch’s misfortune sent Bowyer to the point, with his teammate Scott Wimmer moving into second. The last 60 laps then saw Wimmer slowly run down Bowyer, finally making the pass for the lead with 21 laps to go. Wimmer, along with the rest of the race leaders, drove “with an egg under the throttle,” saving fuel to the finish to lock up the win for the No. 29 Chevrolet. Wimmer’s victory was the first for a Nationwide Series regular this season (albeit a part-time participant; Wimmer shares this ride with Cup Series veteran Jeff Burton). It was also the Wisconsin driver’s first triumph since July of 2003 at Pikes Peak, as well as his first since aligning with Richard Childress Racing following the 2006 season.
Said Wimmer of his victory, “I can’t believe it’s been this long.”
Who Should Have Won: Kyle Busch. This segment of the Breakdown might soon be renamed after the Cup points leader turned Nationwide “so-close” performer. Once again, Busch was the class of the field, leading 125 of the first 162 laps and virtually untouchable on longer runs. This week, however, it wasn’t mechanical troubles that took the youngster from contention; instead, it was his own mistake. Busch got loose and spun himself into the infield grass on lap 163, flattening two tires and damaging his left-side fender which forced him to pit under green. The team never recovered, and the No. 20 Chevrolet finished two laps down in 16th by the checkered flag. A dejected Busch was a man of very few words after the event, calling his incident “just a stupid mistake on the driver’s part.”
Kelly Bires had the race of his career Saturday, running up front all day long to score his first top-five finish in the Nationwide Series. Bires’s car was strong throughout, and likely would have finished further up the running order had it not been for two disastrous pit stops that cost him nine positions on the race track. Said Bires, “I think we probably were a top-two car here today, but we just had a bad day on pit road.”
David Stremme was not even scheduled to run the race at Nashville this weekend, but sponsor Atreus Homes stepped in and asked Rusty Wallace Incorporated to keep him in the car to capitalize on the team’s recent momentum. Stremme did both team and sponsor proud on Saturday, living up to lofty expectations by scoring a sixth-place finish. Stremme has now scored three top 10s in his last four races in the No. 64, putting the veteran 13th in the standings.
Part-time development drivers took advantage of the off weekend for most of the Sprint Cup drivers to score excellent finishes. Cale Gale, Chase Miller and Colin Braun all scored career best finishes of eighth, 14th and 15th, respectfully. And second-year man Stephen Leicht finished 12th, his second consecutive top 15 for RCR in as many starts with the team.
Better Luck Next Time
Sterling Marlin was called in at the last moment to fill in for Johnny Sauter in the No. 1, but was never a factor in the race. Marlin finished his return to the Nationwide Series in 22nd, three laps down, and if anything spoke volumes as to how far off the pace Phoenix Racing finds itself six races into the season.
Kenny Wallace found himself in a new full-time ride after Fitz Motorsports’ No. 36 team closed earlier this week, and quickly found out how the other half of the Nationwide Series lives. In his debut for Jay Robinson Racing in the No. 28, Wallace was lapped early and often, finishing eight laps down in a distant 32nd-place finish. Wallace has a full-season deal in this car with sponsor U.S. Border Patrol, but the equipment has a long way to go before it gives a chance for him to get back to the front of the field.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Bobby Hamilton Jr. showed up at his hometown track as both a driver and an owner this weekend, performing admirably at both in the process. As a driver, Hamilton Jr. overcame handling problems midway through the race to score the first top 10 of the season for himself and Ed Rensi’s No. 25 team. Just as impressive, though, was the story of Hamilton the owner. Hamilton/Sadler Racing’s No. 95 car came to Nashville with driver Willie Allen, but wrecked late in Happy Hour with their only car. The team could have withdrawn; instead, they worked all night at their local Nashville shop to rebuild the car, which Allen qualified for Saturday’s race (he finished 33rd).
“Purse Snatcher Watch”
Six of 43 starting positions in the Pepsi 300 went to Sprint Cup regulars.
To date, 76 of the 258 starting spots in the Nationwide Series have gone to Sprint Cup regulars in 2008.
Three Sprint Cup regulars finished in the top 10 of the Pepsi 300.
Five of six Nationwide Series races have been won by Sprint Cup regulars this season.
Five of the top-10 drivers in Nationwide Series points are Sprint Cup regulars.
“I had no idea we’d come back to a 10th-place finish, because we were absolutely horrible the first run. We figured some stuff out for the next time that we were here. Overall, our Smithfield Ford Fusion was good. At the end of the day, I’m just tickled to death.” – Bobby Hamilton Jr. on his 10th-place run
“You can struggle with a single-car operation or a lower budget team, and that’s not where any driver wants to be. I’m just trying to do the best I can for Richard right now, and hopefully sometime I’ll get back to racing Nationwide or Sprint [Cup] full-time.” – Scott Wimmer on his first Nationwide Series win since 2003
Up Next: The Nationwide Series now takes some hard-earned time off after six straight weeks of competition. They’ll return to action on Saturday, April 5th, with the O’Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. Coverage from the track begins at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and 3 p.m. on PRN.