In a Nutshell: I might as well write a template for this portion of the Nationwide Series Breakdown. This Saturday, Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the NASCAR Nationwide Series X (Heluva Good! 200). Driver X (Denny Hamlin) smoked the field, leading X (131) of X laps (200). Joe Gibbs Racing has now won X (nine) of X (14) races in the Nationwide Series this season.
Hamlin was, unlike last weekend’s post-race interview, far from provocative in victory lane, thanking JGR for taking a chance on him as a development driver four years ago and also thanking the fans that stuck out a three-hour rain delay to watch the race.
“We’ve got the greatest fans [here] in NASCAR,” said Hamlin, as if attempting to quash the angst many have demonstrated towards him following his conflict with Brad Keselowski last week at Charlotte.
The only driver who seemed to have anything for Hamlin was Kyle Busch, who led 68 laps early in his No. 32 Toyota before damage in a pit-road collision forced him back in traffic. Mired in the pack, Busch was moving to the front late in the race before being collected in Braun Racing teammate Jason Leffler’s accident. Busch’s wreck allowed Clint Bowyer to both retain and expand the series’ points lead.
Also of note was Joey Logano’s much anticipated debut in the Nationwide Series. Logano ran in the top 10 nearly all day, coming home sixth without any damage to his car.
Who Should Have Won: Hamlin. As has happened so many times in the Nationwide Series this season when JGR has been at the front of the pack, the fastest car won the race on Saturday. Though Busch was able to challenge Hamlin before his car was damaged on pit road, Hamlin set the tone of the race from lap 1, passing polesitter Carl Edwards to lead the first lap. It’s hard to dispute the simple fact that Hamlin had the best car all race long.
If Saturday’s race was any indication, Logano is the real deal. Logano stepped into the No. 20 car, the hottest ride on the Nationwide tour, and it never missed a beat. Qualifying ninth, Logano ran in the top 10 for the vast majority of the race, passing cars both on the high and low side of the track while keeping his nose clean. Minus a ding from slight pit-road contact, Logano’s car came home without a scratch on it. Though he was disappointed with himself for bringing his Toyota home sixth, Logano definitely lived up to his hype in his NASCAR debut, and will likely be a threat to win when the series tackles Nashville next week.
David Stremme may be the veteran driver at Rusty Wallace Incorporated, but he’s a first-time Nationwide Series winner waiting to happen. Stremme finished a strong third at Dover despite taking only two tires late in the going, and may have had something for race leaders Hamlin and Edwards had he gotten four tires. Nonetheless, Stremme’s run was noteworthy, as it was sixth consecutive top 15 in the No. 64 car, and also marked the first time in seven Nationwide Series starts at Dover that he ever cracked the top 15 (his previous best finish was 16th in 2004). Stremme also cracked the top 10 in Nationwide Series points with the run.
Mike Wallace has had a somewhat disappointing season this year when compared to the success that Germain Racing has had in the Truck Series, but that didn’t show on Saturday. Wallace was a top-10 car as soon as his team unloaded off the hauler, and he ran with the leaders all weekend, ultimately finishing eighth for his second top 10 of the season. Wallace’s team was reported to have found something in the body work of their racecar’s front-end that had improved on-track performance… so this may be a team to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
Better Luck Next Time
Landon Cassill ran strong in the truck race on Friday at Dover, and picked up where he left off in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday. After qualifying seventh, Cassill began a march to the front of the field… that is, until he became the latest JR Motorsports development driver to get in the crosshairs of an impatient Sprint Cup regular. Greg Biffle ran over Cassill entering turn 3 early in the going, causing significant damage to the rear end of Cassill’s No. 5 car. Cassill struggled to a 25th-place finish as a result – yet another race in which this promising prospect was denied a good run.
Brad Coleman had easily the biggest smile of all drivers on his face in the Nationwide Series garage, coming in with a boatload of confidence after his first Sprint Cup test at Pocono earlier this week. Those good feelings translated onto a great performance on the racetrack, too, as Coleman qualified sixth at Dover – his best effort of the season. However, Coleman’s No. 27 began backpedaling as soon as the green flag dropped, leading his team to take no tires on an early pit stop to gain track position. That didn’t work; the wear and tear on Coleman’s old Goodyears eventually proved too much, failing and putting Coleman’s car into the wall. Coleman wound up out of the race in 32nd, and remained 17th in the series standings.
Leffler was running in the top 10 again when disaster struck for yet another week. On a late restart, Leffler got loose in turn 2, spinning himself and, of all people, his teammate Busch. The incident robbed both Braun Racing entries of a good finish, and gave Braun their second and third cars to repair in two weeks (Leffler wrecked at Charlotte last week). Leffler was at least up front in his interviews, claiming full responsibility for the incident.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Kenny Wallace brought Jay Robinson Racing’s No. 28 car home in 20th, his fifth top-25 finish in nine races with his new team. In comparison, this same No. 28 team scored only six top-25 finishes in the entire 2007 season. The results haven’t been flashy, but the hiring of Wallace is paying dividends for JRR. When asked about being a big-name driver driving for an underfunded team, Wallace remarked that being with JRR was bringing out the best in him. Apparently, he’s doing the same thing to the No. 28 team.
“I told everyone he’d finish in the top seven. He proved me right, so I guess I won a little money.” – Denny Hamlin in Victory Lane, talking about his teammate Joey Logano more than his victory
“I gained confidence by doing all that [qualifying and running well]. I also gained confidence that I pissed him [Greg Biffle] off enough that he had to wreck me. He tried multiple times to get up to my bumper and couldn’t do it and so he finally decided he needed to wreck me.” – Landon Cassill on his wreck with Greg Biffle
“It ain’t much in my book.” – Joey Logano on his sixth-place finish in his Nationwide Series debut
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to the Nashville Superspeedway next Saturday, June 7, for the Federated Auto Parts 300. Coverage from the Music City begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 and 7:30 p.m. on MRN.