In a Nutshell: The pre-race show spent an hour talking about Toyota dominance in the Nationwide Series, a discussion that ended with ESPN’s “analysts” coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t Toyota causing the problem… it was Joe Gibbs Racing.
Well, whomever’s at fault, it seems the rest of the manufacturers have yet to find themselves a solution that’ll allow them to remain competitive. JGR dominated a very uneventful race once again Friday night, with Kyle Busch leading 101 laps and scoring an easy fifth win of the season in his No. 18 Camry. But JGR didn’t just lay waste to the field Friday night… Toyota did. Sure, JGR ran strong, but so did Michael Waltrip Racing and Braun Racing. In all, five Toyota Cup drivers scored top-10 finishes, including four of the top-five spots in the final running order. The race also marked the third consecutive companion weekend for the Nationwide Series, and the third straight week that Cup regulars took the money and ran – scoring eight of the top-10 finishing positions. The only Nationwide-only driver who had anything for the Cup guys was Brad Keselowski, who delivered an admirable performance while fighting illness to score a third-place run and make up ground on series points leader Clint Bowyer. Bowyer finished seventh and now leads the series standings by 183 with 15 races remaining.
Who Should Have Won: Busch. Had Tony Stewart not suffered damage early in the race and found himself mired in dirty air, his No. 20 Camry might have had something for Kyle Busch. But it’s one of those things where we’ll never know; and with Stewart not at 100%, Busch had the best Toyota in the field – and that’s all that needs to be said.
JR Motorsports resisted the urge to put a Cup driver in their cars for the Chicagoland weekend and reaped the rewards, as both Keselowski and Landon Cassill turned in admirable performances. Keselowski, despite being sick throughout the race, gutted out the hot summer night to score his second consecutive top-five finish for the No. 88, a run which allowed him to close in on championship leader Bowyer. Cassill was equally impressive, running with the Cup regulars – especially early in the going – en route to scoring a 10th-place finish for the No. 5 Chevrolet. Both drivers turned in clean, competitive performances that allowed them to be the only two Nationwide Series regulars to finish in the top 10 of Friday’s race.
After watching Toyota’s Sprint Cup driver stable beat the Nationwide Series field into submission – again – NASCAR finally looked to be taking notice on Friday night. Immediately following the conclusion of the race, NASCAR seized 10 Nationwide engines – including the Toyota motors of Busch, Stewart, and Brian Vickers – to take back home to the tech center in North Carolina for dyno testing. Toyota fans out there can argue all they want that the TRD guys have simply done their homework and are outperforming their opponents, but they are also reaping the benefits of outspending far lower-budgeted teams, running all but Cup equipment in NASCAR’s AAA series with their stars of the Sprint Cup series behind the wheel.
If Toyota wants to outspend teams left and right and give Cup stars the best cars in stock car racing, they can, and there’s a place for it. It’s called the Sprint Cup Series. But this is the Nationwide division, and to have Busch, Denny Hamlin and Stewart taking turns to claim minor-league trophies and much-needed purse money week after week in cars with a horsepower advantage is going to quickly turn off any Series viewers and fans that don’t wear JGR colors. There can and should be limits on competitive advantages here; this ain’t Cup racing. It’s a shame Busch, Hamlin and Stewart have forgotten that.
Better Luck Next Time
Despite a larger than normal influx of Cup drivers for Friday night’s race, Brad Coleman turned in another top-15 qualifying effort in his No. 27 Ford. But that was the only bright spot for Baker-Curb Racing on Friday, as the No. 27 went backwards from the drop of the green flag. By race’s end, Coleman was six laps down and finished the race a distant 30th. How bad has it gotten for this team and driver? Coleman is now only 34 points ahead of 18th-place Kenny Wallace and his vastly underfunded Jay Robinson Racing car in the standings. And to think, this guy voluntarily left JGR…
Dario Franchitti’s debut as a Nationwide Series regular didn’t go as he hoped on Friday night. Though Franchitti posted a stellar sixth-place qualifying lap in the afternoon, he and his Fastenal Dodge couldn’t find the handle all night long. Franchitti fought tight conditions from green to checkered, eventually finishing four laps down in 26th. Seeing the No. 40 team, which has been a contender at numerous racetracks this season, run so far towards the back of the field at Chicagoland has got to have fans questioning how committed to stock car racing Franchitti is now that the honeymoon is over and his Cup ride is gone.
It was a rough week – to put it lightly – for Kevin Lepage. Despite racing the No. 61 Specialty Racing team into the Top 30 in owner points and keeping it there all season long, Lepage was released from the ride in favor of the younger, less experienced Brandon Whitt. Lepage then failed to qualify for the show at Chicagoland in his new No. 43 Chevrolet ride, just the second such miss he’s had all season long. Following that disappointment, Jimmy Means Racing put Lepage in the No. 52 in place of Brad Teague, but the car subsequently blew a motor after just 109 laps. Though Lepage’s 34th-place finish was nothing to write home about, it was still better than Whitt’s debut with Specialty Racing; the No. 61 finished 41st after completing only 20 laps. Here’s hoping that team hasn’t resorted to field-filling.
Underdog Performer of the Race
It was a tough week for the Nationwide regulars in general, and with 50 cars at the track, a large number of underdog teams failed to make the show. That being said, Mark Green’s 22nd-place finish was not the best run of the season for his No. 70 ML Motorsports team – but it was an impressive performance nonetheless for the part-time competitors from Indiana. Green ran as high as 13th in the early going of the race, and though he ended up finishing two laps off the pace, the veteran still managed to outrun numerous high-end organizations, including both Rusty Wallace Inc. cars, Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 (Franchitti), and Robby Gordon’s operation. It bears repeating that this team could make some noise if they ever get the resources to go full-time; and at the very least, the No. 70 deserves a pat on the back for a solid run near their backyard.
Joe Gibbs Racing vs. the Field
JGR Toyotas led 101 of 200 laps in the Dollar General 300.
JGR Toyotas have won 13 of 20 Nationwide Series races this season. (12 of those wins have been with Sprint Cup drivers behind the wheel)
JGR Toyotas have led 48.8% (1,744 of 3,644) of the laps run in the Nationwide Series this season.
“I actually learned a new line from Brad Keselowski [for the Cup race]. Normally, they’re learning from us, but tonight I learned from them.” – Kyle Busch on what he learned from running (and winning) Friday’s Dollar General 300
“My team is a good team, too. They’ve got what it takes to win. We’ve got what it takes to win. But Chevrolet has got what it takes to win sitting on the shelf – because we can’t run it – so that’s very frustrating.” – Brad Keselowski on Toyota’s dominance and Chevrolet’s new R07 engine
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series takes center stage next weekend with the Cup Series taking a week off. Coverage of the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 from Gateway International Raceway begins at 9:00 p.m. Saturday night on ESPN2 and 9:30 p.m. on MRN.