In a Nutshell: Though he failed to overwhelm the CARQUEST 300 field as he has in so many other races this season, Kyle Busch was the class of the field again at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Pitting for fuel on lap 129, Busch stayed out for the duration of the race, conserving fuel under caution and taking advantage of clean air to stay in front of the field. Though Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski all mounted furious charges on Busch’s Camry, none were able to deny him his fourth Nationwide Series win of the season. Hamlin finished second in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20, breaking a four race win streak for the team.
Busch’s win, however, was overshadowed by late-race fireworks between Hamlin and Keselowski, who led for 25 laps and finished a career-high third. Hamlin, frustrated by Keselowski’s race-long lack of “racing etiquette” took a swipe at Keselowski’s car under caution, damaging the left-front fender and stripping him of any chance of running down Busch during the ensuing green/white/checkered finish. Following the race, Keselowski’s pit crew surrounded Hamlin’s No. 20 car, leading to a confrontation between the two teams’ pit crews. Both drivers and their crew chiefs were summoned to meetings with the sanctioning body.
Who Should Have Won: Keselowski. It’s debatable whether or not Keselowski would have been able to run down Busch during the green/white/checkered finish… even without damage from Hamlin’s swipe job. But we’ll never know, thanks to Hamlin’s Busch-esque tantrum under caution late in the race. Keselowski ran the race of his life Saturday night, racing cleanly and with composure, even passing his owner Earnhardt Jr. under green with a powerful high-side pass. Granted, Keselowski did nudge Hamlin under the yellow, but there is a big difference between a nudge in the back and damaging a car’s fenders trying to slam it into the wall. Keselowski had a top-three car without question, and had Hamlin shown even a smidge of the etiquette and patience that he was preaching post-race, the U.S. Navy may well have been celebrating a great Memorial Day victory.
Marcos Ambrose was effectively off the radar all night long, running in the pack and never challenging for the lead. But at Lowe’s, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ambrose kept his car clean all race long, logged a lot of laps, weathered the attrition of both the race and the treacherous track, and brought his No. 59 home 14th. Ambrose moved into 14th in the Nationwide Series standings with his finish.
Keselowski put any remaining naysayers to rest on Saturday night with a convincing performance and top-five finish. Keselowski worked his way methodically through traffic to the front, and put a power move on his boss, Dale Jr., that brought the entire crowd at Lowe’s to their feet. Keselowski gave some of the Sprint Cup Series’ brightest stars all they could handle from green to checkers, and effectively served notice that Keselowski is a name we’re going to be hearing a lot more of in NASCAR. Keselowski also moved to fifth in Nationwide Series points and is the highest-ranked series regular.
Better Luck Next Time
Kelly Bires has to be a candidate for the hard-luck driver of the year. Bires was enjoying yet another strong run in his No. 47 Ford, running in the top 15 for the majority of the race. All of this was for naught, however, as Kasey Kahne got loose and into Bires, effectively destroying the Clorox Ford and leaving this promising prospect with another wrecked car. Bires finished 33rd and slipped out of the top 15 in Nationwide Series points.
Kevin Harvick Incorporated took its licks from Lowe’s Motor Speedway. First, Kevin Harvick fell victim to a dangerously slick track during qualifying, wrecking hard and requiring a backup car in which he struggled all night to a 19th-place finish. Meanwhile, development driver Cale Gale was making the most of a rare Nationwide Series start with KHI, running in the top 15 in the later portions of the race only to be sidelined with driveshaft issues late. That dropped him to a disappointing 30th in the final running order.
Jason Leffler was enjoying Braun Racing’s strong performance in Saturday’s race, leading twice for 25 laps and running with teammates Busch and Brian Vickers at the front of the field. However, cycled back into traffic late with pit stops, Leffler was slammed into the wall by Steve Wallace, who lost his car in turn 4. The wreck caused heavy damage to the rear end of Leffler’s car, and this team limped home. Clearly, they deserved far better than their 32nd-place finish.
Underdog Performer of the Race
37th place is nothing to write home about, but nonetheless, I’m going to give a call to Morgan Shepherd for his performance Saturday night. Shepherd was running on the lead lap early when he suffered a broken brake line and was forced behind the wall. Rather than park it early, as four other teams chose to, Shepherd was issuing instructions over the radio to his crew on how he wanted his car fixed, and returned to the track. Shepherd ended up completing 99 laps on the night. While there were some small-timers out there who finished higher, Shepherd’s refusal to park his car scores major points in my book, and goes a long way towards refuting his status as a field-filler.
“I don’t care if it was NoS [Energy Drink], if it was Sunoco they put in there, there was enough of it in the tank tonight.” – Kyle Busch on his fuel mileage victory in the CARQUEST 300
“Mother******, that’s a pretty sight.” – An ecstatic Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the radio after being passed by teammate Brad Keselowski for the lead
“We raced hard, and that’s what racing is. He [Denny Hamlin] doesn’t like when guys race him hard? Well, that’s the sport and that’s what I do.” – Brad Keselowski on his third place run and altercation with Denny Hamlin
“Just don’t go on the start, let the field get a straightaway ahead of you.” – Kenny Hendrick’s spotter on how to properly field-fill coming to the green
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Dover International Speedway next Saturday for the Heluva! Good 200. Coverage from the Monster Mile begins at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and 3 p.m. on MRN.