In a Nutshell: The first companion race for the Nationwide Series since Dover was a trip back to reality for Nationwide Series fans, as Cup regulars ran roughshod over the field. Cup drivers scored the first seven finishing positions and eight of the top 10 spots Saturday, with Tony Stewart scoring a relatively easy win at New Hampshire. Stewart took the lead for good on lap 136 after Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards had shared the top spot for much of the early part of the race. In the end, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas wound up the class of the field, with Stewart and Busch (who finished third) combining to lead 138 of 200 laps. Behind them, Greg Biffle wrecked late in the event after starting from the pole but losing the handle on his car in the second half of the race.
Mike Bliss was the top finisher of the Nationwide Series regulars, joined only by Brad Keselowski in the top 10. Between them, Bowyer fell back late and finished ninth, maintaining the series points lead over David Reutimann. Reutimann moved into second, 182 points back, with Keselowski dropping to fourth in the championship standings; however, Keselowski remains the lead Nationwide Series regular in the title chase.
Who Should Have Won: Stewart. JGR Toyotas were by far the stoutest cars in the field, and Stewart’s No. 20 was noticeably better than Busch’s No. 18 for much of Saturday afternoon. Though Stewart didn’t get up front until later in the race, he effectively stalked the leaders throughout the entire event, and upon taking the lead, pulled away from the field as a whole. Stewart had set the No. 20 team on fire by winning the season openers at Daytona and Fontana, and that fire hasn’t settled since. Hats off to Dave Rogers and his team; they were the class of the field on Saturday. Again.
Bliss has completely reversed the fortunes of Phoenix Racing since taking over the team’s No. 1 Chevrolet, and that continued on Saturday. Bliss was a fixture in the top 15 all day, and by race’s end was the leader amongst the Nationwide regulars. Bliss’s eighth-place finish was his seventh top 10 with the team, and allowed Bliss to maintain his sixth-place position in the series points. Looking ahead, Phoenix Racing has had success in the past at Daytona, and coming off of three consecutive top-10 finishes, Bliss has the momentum and car to be a factor for the win at the season’s final plate race.
Jason Keller qualified in the top 10 for the third consecutive week and finished in the top 15 for the fourth consecutive race, scoring an 11th-place finish after running amongst the lead Nationwide Series regulars all race long. Keller’s on-track performance has definitely put his CJM Racing team on the map, but Keller has continued to struggle on pit road, losing positions during every exchange of pit stops. His No. 11 crew has proven to lack the speed of the higher-funded teams’ pit crews, and because of this Keller has found himself unable to contend for top fives – although he has run well enough on the track to snag them. There’s no reason to think, however, that the No. 11 crew won’t improve with time; and should the crew pick up its game, Keller may well break into victory lane before season’s end.
Better Luck Next Time
Stanton Barrett and his entire operation have dealt with one adversity after another as of late. Earlier this week, the team was shocked by the death of car chief Jason Arden in a car crash in Mooresville, N.C. In the face of this tragic loss, Barrett and his team car, the No. 31 of Kenny Hendrick, both qualified for Saturday’s race, but neither had much success at the Magic Mile. Hendrick completed only 15 laps before parking his Chevrolet while Barrett found himself way off the pace and lapped early. Barrett eventually parked the No. 30 with electrical issues after completing only 71 laps, and finished a disappointing 33rd. Thoughts and prayers go out to Barrett’s team and to the NASCAR community in general for the loss of a vibrant young crew member in Jason Arden.
Landon Cassill’s first start as the polesitter of a Nationwide Series race certainly didn’t go as he would have liked. Cassill saw the front of the field only during the pace laps, as he had to start at the rear thanks to an engine change. Cassill’s No. 5 car was competitive though, and he moved methodically through the field into the top 15; by the 50-lap mark, it looked like he was set to contend for another top-10 finish. Finishing the race, however, was not in the cards, as Bobby Hamilton Jr. and his No. 25 Ford sent Cassill into the wall – ending his day early in the 34th position. Though Cassill and Hamilton Jr. had a prior run-in at Nashville, the contact between the two cars appeared incidental to this writer – although that’s not what Cassill was saying afterwards.
Brad Coleman’s first full-time season in the Nationwide series has been hard – to put it lightly – and that’s not just because he left JGR. Coleman’s No. 27 Ford was involved in a lap 2 incident that marked the third crash for Coleman in the last five races. Though the damage to his Ford was minimal, Coleman was still forced by NASCAR to be towed to the garage and to visit the infield care center. Coleman eventually returned to the track nearly 20 laps down, and ran with the backmarkers for the duration of the day, finishing 31st and dropping to 17th in the Nationwide Series standings. That’s the lowest of any driver who has started every series race this season.
Underdog Performer of the Race
MacDonald Motorsports’ primary driver DJ Kennington was set to run international double duty on Saturday, attempting to run both the Nationwide Series race at Loudon and the Canadian Tire Series race at Barrie Speedway. Kennington, however, didn’t have the luxury of a private jet, and thus was forced to abandon his plans when the commercial flight schedule changed – forcing Kennington to skip the race. With little time to find a replacement driver for his No. 81, owner Randy MacDonald did the surest thing he could do… he put himself behind the wheel. Making his first start since this race last year, MacDonald kept his nose clean all race long and scored a solid 26th-place finish for his team. MacDonald may find himself behind the wheel more this season, as Kennington plans to attempt international double duty nearly a dozen more times.
“It’s yours, bud. You deserve it.” – Tony Stewart to his crew chief Dave Rogers after scoring his fifth Nationwide win of the season, the first for Rogers at his home track.
“Bobby might have something against me. I think it was after Nashville he was upset with me. Like I just said, I think we got wrecked by the No. 25. I think there was an incident in Nashville that he wasn’t happy with. I tried talking to him at Kentucky and tried to work things out, but I guess not. [But] we can build ‘em faster than he can.” – Landon Cassill after his incident with Bobby Hamilton Jr.
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series will tackle the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway for the Winn-Dixie 250 this Friday, July 4th. Coverage from the season’s final restrictor-plate race begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 and 8 p.m. on MRN.