In A Nutshell: In a word: dominating.
That’s how one could describe Tony Stewart’s run at Darlington in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 Friday night. Stewart, who qualified third, led on three different occasions for a total of 90 laps to score the win. His fourth victory in the Nationwide Series this season, it also doubled as his first in any NASCAR division at the Lady in Black.
Stewart’s only serious challenge came on a green-white-checkered restart, courtesy of former second-place runner Mark Martin running out of gas with four laps to go. As Martin slowed, he was hit from behind, resulting in an accident which collected six cars. Most of them were running in the top 10; however, series points leader Clint Bowyer avoided it all to setup a showdown with Stewart for the lead. But the No. 20 pulled away in NASCAR’s version of overtime, beating the No. 2 of Bowyer by .815 seconds – and reasserting the team’s dominance in the series.
“It’s not the drivers because it’s been here (victory lane) with three different guys,” said Stewart of the car that’s now won half of the 12 Nationwide Series races in 2008. “These guys at JGR do such an awesome job; it’s an honor to drive this racecar.”
Stewart’s now won two-thirds of the Nationwide Series races he’s entered this season (four of six). And for Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s their eighth victory in 12 Nationwide events this year – including the fourth straight for the No. 20 car.
Who Should Have Won: Stewart. Was it Tony or the No. 20 car? Regardless, it’s hard to make an argument for anyone having anything for the Old Spice Toyota. Stewart had a little trouble just past halfway working through some traffic, allowing Matt Kenseth to build a two-second advantage over the field. But after having to pit for a loose wheel, Kenseth spun, bringing out the caution and promptly falling out of contention for good. Stewart reassumed the point, and never looked back after that.
David Stremme seems to be resurrecting his career in NASCAR. Despite missing one Nationwide race this year, he now sits in 10th in points while posting two top fives and seven top 10s in 11 races. On Saturday night at Darlington, Stremme ran in the top 15 all night, got great pit stops from his crew, and avoided Martin’s mess late to bring his No. 64 Atreus Homes & Communities Chevrolet home in sixth place. It’s David’s third straight top-six finish.
Chase Miller, making only his ninth career Nationwide series start, posted his first career top-10 finish, coming home in eighth place. The Nationwide Series rookie, who started from the outside of row eight, was also a beneficiary of the big wreck that happened with four laps to go. Miller somehow squeaked his Motorola/Verizon Dodge through the mess unscathed to complete what could be considered a flawless race for the young driver.
Jason Keller came all the way from the 29th starting position for his first top-10 finish of 2008. The Busch/Nationwide Series veteran of 434 starts ran between 10th and 20th most of the night, staying on the lead lap and putting himself in position for a good finish at night’s end. Jason’s seventh-place run in the America’s Incredible Pizza Company’s No. 11 Chevrolet was the 163rd top 10 of his career.
For the series points leader, things couldn’t have gone much better than they did. Bowyer not only finished second in the race, but the drivers second through fourth in the points all wrecked during the battle of attrition that was the Diamond Hill Plywood 200. As a result, Bowyer extended his lead from a slim nine-point margin to a much more comfortable 112.
Better Luck Next Time
Carl Edwards managed to complete just three laps – hitting the wall on two of them. Carl scrubbed the wall on lap 1, obviously damaging his right-side tires, which promptly gave out on lap 3. Edwards shot into the turn 3 wall hard, doing enough damage to his Scotts Water Smart Ford to cause the team to pack it in for the night. Edwards fell from just nine points out of first to 150.
Kelly Bires seems to wind up in this category too often. When you look at the race results in the paper, you’ll see Bires finishing 24th, five laps down and out of the race due to an accident. What you won’t see is Bires’s Clorox Ford sitting in ninth on a restart with less than 10 laps to go. When Martin ran out of gas as the green flag waved on a restart, the field stacked up behind him, and Bires got turned into the wall by Mike Bliss. He then made additional contact with Sam Hornish Jr., ending what was lining up to be a strong run for the team.
Wallace also was victimized by Martin’s running out of gas. Restarting 11th with just a few laps remaining, Wallace had nowhere to go as the the field wrecked in front of Mike’s No. 7 GEICO Toyota. The veteran tried to shoot the middle, but just got sandwiched between Martin’s spinning car and the No. 1 of Bliss. Wallace’s machine was too crippled to continue, meaning that despite a great effort, a 25th-place finish is all he has to show for it.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Bodine, who apparently had nothing better to do on a Friday night, took his truck team to Darlington, qualified on time, and brought it home in fourth place in his first Nationwide Series race of the season. Bodine really didn’t turn any heads in practice, running anywhere from 19th to 26th in those sessions, but put it together when it counted, qualifying 15th. The Onion then proceeded to stay in the top 20 all night, getting great pit stops from the pit crew for his truck team, and used some timely pit strategy to put the car all the way up in second place.
A late brush with the wall caused the handling to fall apart, but Bodine still brought home his No. 03 Germain Racing Toyota in fourth place, an impressive achievement by a part-time Nationwide Series effort. Bodine would have actually finished third but was edged by Reutimann at the finish line.
Purse Snatcher Watch
10 of the 43 starting positions in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 went to Sprint Cup regulars.
141 of 473 starting positions in the Nationwide Series races this season have gone to Sprint Cup regulars.
Only three Sprint Cup regulars managed top-10 finishes at Darlington… but those regulars swept the top-three positions.
11 of the 12 Nationwide races have been won by Sprint Cup regulars.
Five of the top 10 in Nationwide points are Sprint Cup regulars.
“We’re just going to go into turn 1 here and hope to get through it. After that, we’ll just settle in and see how things shake out.” – Matt Kenseth on his radio talking to Rusty Wallace before the waving of the green flag to start the race
“Yeah, we run outta gas there.” – Mark Martin over his in-car radio after his slowdown caused a six-car pile-up with just a few laps to go
“You know, the next time I’m a lap down and I’ve got damage, I’m gonna race him like a S.O.B. and wreck him too.” – Kyle Busch on wrecking out of the race after contact with the No. 88 of Brad Keselowski
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series gets a much-needed week off next Saturday, but returns May 24 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. for the running of the Carquest Auto Parts 300. Coverage can be seen on ESPN2 starting at 7:00 p.m. ET, or heard on your local PRN affiliate at 7:30.
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