In a Nutshell: Friday night was the night Clint Bowyer was looking for. After enduring weeks of poor-handling race cars and seeing his points lead diminish, Bowyer and the No. 2 team found themselves amongst the class of the field. By lap 106, they took the lead and never looked back… that is, until Lap 227.
Bowyer — in the lead with no surrounding lapped traffic — got loose exiting Turn 1 and slipped up the race track, opening the door for Brad Keselowski. Finishing off a charge to the front from his 37th starting spot, Keselowski flew by Bowyer and led the remainder of the race, scoring his second Nationwide Series win of the season and of his career — all the while making up more ground in his chase for the series title. Bowyer held on to finish in the runner-up position, followed by Greg Biffle, polesitter Cale Gale, and David Stremme. Kyle Busch was among the contenders for the win, but trouble with lugnuts on the final round of pit stops left Busch and his No. 18 mired too far back in traffic to catch up. He finished seventh.
After making up valuable ground in his title hunt last week, Carl Edwards fell backwards after a melted bead on his right front tire slammed his No. 60 Ford into the wall early. Edwards completed 160 laps and finished 37th, a result that left him 241 points behind leader Bowyer. Bowyer now holds a 122 point lead over Brad Keselowski with nine races left in the season.
Who Should Have Won: Keselowski. Sure, Bowyer led the most laps and had an excellent race car. But Bowyer started at the front, and lost this race completely on driver error. Keselowski, on the other hand, navigated traffic to climb from 37th to first, and once he passed Bowyer, kept him back there — not an easy task in itself. The driver of the No. 88 car was a very deserving victor on Friday night.
The last time Dario Franchitti raced at Bristol, it was with his now defunct No. 40 Sprint Cup team, and he was essentially a one-man wrecking ball during that event. Luckily, that Dario Franchitti was nowhere to be seen on Friday night; instead, the IRL champion of old came to drive in his place. After surprising everyone in attendance by sitting on the outside pole, Franchitti proved to be a contender throughout the race. The No. 40 car led a whopping 87 laps, and while the Scotsman faded late in the going to 11th in the final running order, he turned in the most convincing performance of his stock car racing career. Franchitti has shown marked improvement with his Nationwide Series efforts over the last few weeks…just imagine if he had started at this level at the start of the season (like he should have).
Gale’s qualifying efforts have dramatically improved over his last few starts, and his short track mettle was evident all weekend long. Gale started off by taking the pole competing against the deepest field the Nationwide Series has seen all season; among those he bested for the honor were Edwards, Busch, Bowyer, and Biffle. And that pole proved to be no fluke, as the young prospect led the race’s first 17 laps and remained in the top 10 all race long. Gale held off numerous Cup drivers late to score a fourth place run, a career best finish and the first top five of his Nationwide career. The youngster is currently scheduled to run only one more race in this series this season… but judging from his performance Friday, that’s bad news for KHI and the No. 33 car.
In one of the less inspiring stories of the week, Scott Wimmer, despite having played the good soldier role as a test driver and Jeff Burton’s teammate for Richard Childress Racing, is being released after this season while perpetual underachiever Casey Mears somehow landed another premier Sprint Cup Series ride — the coveted fourth seat at RCR. Facing the unemployment line, Wimmer did his job search about as big a favor as he could Friday night, showing off his short track roots and scoring a solid sixth place run for the No. 29 car. Wimmer has gotten the job done in the Nationwide Series every time he’s ever run in it, and here’s hoping that runs like his at Bristol keep up his resume… he deserves a ride in this series for 2009.
Better Luck Next Time
After strong showings at Montreal, Watkins Glen, and Michigan, Marcos Ambrose had been on the hottest streak of his young NASCAR career. Unfortunately, Bristol was where it all went cold for Ambrose and his No. 59 team. The Australian found the wall only 19 laps into Friday night’s race, and eventually finished the event 20 laps down in 34th. Ambrose maintained his tenth place position in points despite his misfortune, but he now has only a 30-point cushion over 11th place Jason Keller.
Outside of restrictor plate races, Mike Wallace has also enjoyed success on the short tracks throughout his NASCAR career — but that wasn’t the case this time at Bristol. After struggling all night long with his No. 7 Toyota, Wallace found trouble on lap 221. After getting loose through the exit of a turn, the GEICO car found itself spinning courtesy of Denny Hamlin, who had nowhere to go. Wallace found the inside wall and was done for the night, finishing a disappointing 35th; however, he was able to remain ninth in points.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Though the No. 22 team of Fitz Motorsports is not an underdog in the Nationwide Series ranks, their driver this week — NASCAR Canadian Tire Series regular Andrew Ranger — certainly was. Ranger, making only his second career Nationwide Series start and his first on an oval, delivered an admirable performance, remaining on the lead lap until the race’s final circuits and scoring a 19th place finish. More importantly, Ranger brought his No. 22 car home in one piece. Ranger is scheduled to run 7-10 races with this team throughout the rest of the season, and if Bristol was any indication, team owner Armando Fitz may have stumbled upon a diamond in the rough with Ranger. But no matter what happens from here, the Canadian certainly did a commendable job Friday night.
“We were dead equal – Clint and I. I knew I needed a break, and he gave it to me. All I can do is force him to run hard, and he made a mistake. I’m lucky.” – Brad Keselowski on his second career Nationwide Series win
“I just can’t believe it. I just got loose down there and made a mistake and gave it away.” – Clint Bowyer on his runner-up finish and late race bobble
“It’s appropriate that we had the Call of Duty game on the GameStop car tonight, because it certainly was a war out there.” – Joey Logano on his NASCAR Bristol debut
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to the West Coast and the Auto Club Speedway this coming Saturday night. Coverage of the Camping World RV Service 300 begins at 9:30 PM EST on ESPN2 and 10 PM on MRN.