In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch had the strongest car in the field, again. Kyle Busch led the most laps, again. Kyle Busch won the race, again.
In what’s becoming a running theme in the Nationwide Series this season, Busch led four times for 133 laps en route to his second consecutive win during the race Friday night. But he wasn’t unchallenged; in fact, Busch held off a furious late-race charge from Carl Edwards, who enjoyed his best Nationwide run of the season with a second-place finish. However, it wasn’t enough to slow down Busch, who won by a little over a quarter of a second; the victory marked his second consecutive win in this series at the Phoenix International Raceway.
“Toward the end of the race, racing with Carl was pretty cool and a lot of fun,” said Busch. “I’m very fortunate that he gave me all the room that I needed to race clean. He had a great racecar.”
“I just want to thank all the Interstate Batteries dealers and distributors and Norm Miller (chairman of Interstate Batteries), because they all do an awesome job for us. It was just a great night.”
Edwards had taken the lead from Busch on lap 159, but lost it during a costly slow pit stop with less than 20 laps to go which inevitably cost him the victory. He did manage to get alongside Busch in the closing laps and had a better handling car, but the horsepower under the hood of Busch’s No. 18 allowed the 22-year-old to use the high side and hold off his challenger’s repeated shots at the win.
The win escalated Busch to third in the Nationwide Series standings; he’s now 106 points behind current leader Clint Bowyer, who finished eighth. But despite his place in points, Busch again told reporters he does not plan on running the full Nationwide Series schedule unless he wins the next six events. For their sake, the rest of the Nationwide Series field better hope that doesn’t happen.
Who Should Have Won: Busch. Busch’s Toyota was not as dominant on Friday night as it had been at Texas Motor Speedway a week prior, but it was still the class of the field. Even though Busch reported handling problems throughout the race, the motor in the No. 18 kept Busch at the front all race long; and when the driver needed a little extra horses, he had ’em under the hood. Busch’s pit crew also got the No. 18 out ahead of Edwards during the final round of pit stops, snatching the lead and ultimately the victory from Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60. It was a total team effort that got Kyle Busch to victory lane… and deservedly so.
Mike Bliss made all of the writers out there (myself included) that questioned his move to Phoenix Racing eat a healthy helping of crow this weekend, scoring a sixth-place finish in James Finch’s No. 1 Chevrolet. The finish was Bliss’s third top 10 of the season, allowing him to remain seventh in the series standings and second among Nationwide Series regulars. Even more noteworthy, the run was the first top 10 for the No. 1 team since Max Papis finished third in it at Montreal last August, a drought of 20 races. There’s still much work to be done at Phoenix Racing, but they all deserve a pat on the back for Friday’s performance, just Bliss’s second behind the wheel of the racecar.
Stephen Leicht‘s performance in his first two races in the No. 21 earned him a start at Phoenix, and he delivered again, bringing the car home seventh. In three series starts this season, Leicht now has an average finish of 9.6; for the record, Bobby Labonte, the driver he’s sharing the No. 21 with, is only averaging a finish of 17.4. RCR needs to land Leicht a sponsor, soon; because if his performance in a limited schedule this year has said anything, they’re sitting on a very young and bright prospect in Leicht.
David Stremme is making a strong case for Rusty Wallace Incorporated and sponsor Atreus Homes to make his gig in the No. 64 full-time. Stremme scored a 10th-place finish Friday, his fourth top 10 of the year, and now sits 13th in the season standings. The finish marks a solid comeback for the team, which saw a streak of good runs snap at Texas last week due to mechanical troubles. Now, the No. 64 has scored three top 10s in the last four races, and they’ll try to capitalize on that momentum as Papis takes over the car in Mexico City.
Better Luck Next Time
Losing Bliss has derailed Fitz Motorsports and the No. 22 car. Since losing their driver to Phoenix Racing, the team has lost any momentum that it had, scoring finishes of 20th and 27th with Robby Gordon behind the wheel. The team has said it plans to utilize a variety of Cup drivers throughout the season, but if Gordon has proven anything, driver by committee isn’t going to replace the chemistry the team had with Bliss. Team owner Armando Fitz has slipped to 12th in the owner standings.
Jason Keller has got to be left wondering what could have been. Inside of 50 laps to go, Keller cracked the top 10, having recovered from a crushed right-front fender earlier in the race from an incident with Stremme. Keller was flying, running lap times comparable to the race leaders; but then the engine in his No. 11 let go on lap 182, relegating the team to a 32nd-place finish. Nonetheless, Keller and his team got some well-deserved airtime during the race broadcast and are doing their new sponsor proud.
John Young‘s return to oval racing in NASCAR (his last oval race was a Truck Series race at Texas in 2000) didn’t go very well. Young, who spun in practice, hit the wall early in Friday’s race and destroyed the right side of the car. The 37th-place finish marked the second consecutive DNF for the Baker/Curb No. 37, which doesn’t bode well for a team seeking sponsorship.
Underdog Performer of the Race: James Buescher. Buescher’s debut in the Nationwide Series was quiet and unheralded, but the youngster from Plano, Texas ran an admirable first race, keeping his nose clean and finishing a solid 18th in Braun Racing’s No. 32. Buescher, who last year became the youngest winner in ARCA Re/Max Series history, is currently scheduled to run at least five more Nationwide races for Braun Racing, along with select ARCA and USAR races. Buescher has shown remarkable consistency at the ASA, ARCA and USAR level the last few years, and is definitely a name to keep an eye on in the driver development ranks.
“Purse Snatcher” Watch
11 of 43 starting positions in the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 went to Sprint Cup regulars.
103 of the 344 starting positions in Nationwide Series races this season have gone to Sprint Cup regulars.
Seven Sprint Cup regulars finished in the top 10 of the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200.
Seven of eight Nationwide Series races have been won by Sprint Cup regulars this season.
Six of the top 10 in Nationwide Series points are Sprint Cup regulars.
“It’s too bad somebody’s got to lose a race like that. It was fun, but it’s too bad we had to run second. That last caution hurt us a little, and he [Kyle Busch] got us off pit road [on lap 180]. We came in first, and went out second.” – Carl Edwards on his runner-up finish
“That’s two 11th-places in a row. Unfortunately, the first pit stop we left a lugnut off the left front. We keep having pit-stop mistakes and we’re not going to finish in the top 10 with that. We’re going to work on our pit stops this week, and we’re going to go to Mexico with Scott Pruett and do the job. Dario did a heck of a job all weekend. I can’t say enough about him. He’s getting better every week.” – Brad Parrott, crew chief of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 40 Dodge
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series turns left and right this Sunday, April 20th, at the challenging Autodromos Hermanos Rodriguez road course in Mexico City. Coverage from south of the border begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and 2 p.m. on MRN.