In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch won the pole for this race and led every lap, sans the few he fell behind during a cycle of green-flag pit stops. By the end of the race, Busch had led 144 of 150 laps and went virtually unchallenged, scoring an easy seventh victory of the Nationwide Series season for his No. 18 team. Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers also fielded strong entries throughout the night, though neither driver had anything remotely in the same ballpark as Busch.
Cup regulars dominated the event, grabbing eight of the top-10 finishing positions (the two Nationwide regulars to crack the top 10 were Joey Logano in sixth and David Stremme in 10th). Toyota enjoyed tremendous success outside of Busch’s victory, with Vickers, Logano and David Reutimann all scoring top-10 finishes – a convincing performance that put to rest any questions as to whether or not the manufacturer had made up for the horsepower lost after NASCAR placed restrictions on TRD engines.
While the race was quiet at the front, it was an eventful night for Brad Keselowski as his title chances took a major hit. Keselowski struggled in qualifying, but persisted his way into the top 15. Further adjustments got Keselowski up to the 12th position and within striking distance of Clint Bowyer, but carburetor problems put the No. 88 Chevrolet behind the wall. Keselowski eventually returned to the track, but finished a distant 22 laps down in 33rd. Though he earned five bonus points for leading a lap, Keselowski slid back to 204 points behind leader Bowyer (who finished seventh after battling handling issues for much of the race). Edwards scored a runner-up finish and made up ground on both Keselowski and Bowyer but remained third in the Nationwide standings, 222 points out of the lead.
Who Should Have Won: Busch. 144 of 150 laps led. It wasn’t even close. For the record, Busch hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in Nationwide competition since Kentucky in June.
Kelly Bires was described during ESPN’s broadcast as a solid driver who has run well, but has yet to break out. Bires’s 13th-place finish on Saturday may not be the breakout of a superstar, but it was certainly a welcome finish for the young driver and his No. 47 team. After scoring a solid top-15 qualifying effort, Bires ran competitively throughout the first half of the race. The No. 47 then chose to go for track position by taking no tires on a cycle of caution-flag pit stops, and while Bires fell back during the run, he maintained his position until the next caution, allowing the team to capitalize and keep their Ford near the front.
One major question mark on Saturday for this team though was the lack of sponsor decals on the car. Though press releases earlier in the week announced that International Comfort Products would be taking the place of primary sponsor Clorox for the race, the No. 47 car had no decals on it both during qualifying and all through the race. Clorox is still prominently featured on the JTG Daugherty Racing website which seems to indicate that they haven’t left the organization or No. 47 team… here’s hoping that’s the case.
Another Nationwide race, another impressive top-10 run by standout Logano. Logano qualified third, ran up front all race long and scored a sixth-place finish. In all honesty, he’s making the Nationwide Series look easy. But that doesn’t mean we should give him a free pass all the way to the Cup Series; two incidents of note smudged this particular race for Logano. One occurred on pit road, when Logano came into his box way too hot and had to reverse in his stall to allow the crew to complete their stop. The second was on track, when Logano made contact with the No. 30 of Stanton Barrett and another car in a four-wide move coming onto the backstretch off turn 2. The pit-road troubles are definitely not encouraging, and while the turn 2 contact was not entirely of Logano’s doing, going four-wide off the turns at Fontana, especially when lapped traffic is involved, is not an advisable tactic. Call it nitpicky, but Logano’s not getting the nickname “Sliced Bread” and the keys to the No. 20 Cup car just to be another rookie.
Better Luck Next Time
Mike Bliss did end up with a 12th-place finish at the end of Saturday’s race, but had to be wondering what could have been. After enjoying a stellar run at Michigan, Bliss and his No. 1 team brought the same car to Fontana, and like their run in the Irish Hills, the No. 1 was at the front all race long. Bliss, after qualifying sixth, was really coming into his own late in the going and was among the fastest cars on track. Hopes for a top five or even more evaporated, however, with a late pit-road penalty. With the No. 1 team solidly in the top 10 in the Nationwide standings and Bliss having improved the program on every type of race track, all that’s left for this team to complete their turnaround is a return to victory lane. Chances for an independent team to win a race are few and far between, and this team can’t afford to throw away stellar runs like the one they were enjoying on Saturday night.
Scott Gaylord, a longtime racer on the West Coast, made little news when he was named the driver of the No. 52 Means Racing entry for the race at Fontana, though the SPEED crew did give him a nice shout out during qualifying. Unfortunately, Gaylord didn’t get a chance to make news on the track either, as his engine expired only 14 laps into the running and left the No. 52 with a 40th-place finish. Gaylord’s exit from the race came earlier even then the retirement of field-fillers Johnny Chapman, Larry Gunselman and Justin Hobgood.
Jason Leffler was enjoying a solid run at Fontana, looking to continue his No. 38 team’s rebound in recent weeks and cushion his seventh-place standing in Nationwide points. However, late-race contact with Jimmie Johnson left Leffler with a damaged fender and a shredded tire that required a green-flag pit stop to fix. Leffler ended up four laps down in 26th at the finish, falling to eighth in points behind fellow series regular Mike Wallace.
Underdog Performer of the Race
With a lot of underdog teams choosing to go the start and park route in 2008, Johnny Borneman III’s performances this season merit him a shout out. Borneman has attempted all four West Coast Nationwide races in 2008, and has qualified for all of them in a self-owned machine with minimal sponsorship. After racing his way into the field at Fontana, Borneman did exactly what he intended to do, log laps and finish. Borneman completed 145 of the 150 laps run, stayed out of the way running clean, and finished 29th. Borneman has run the distance in every race he’s entered this season despite being a completely under-funded operation, completing 92% of the laps in those events. A well-deserved pat on the back to the longtime West Coast racer for showing the Nationwide Series what the little guys can and should be doing with what they’ve got.
“These guys are pumped up, their excited. It doesn’t matter if you win a late model race, a Nationwide race, truck race or Cup race – you never know when your last one is going to be so this one means a lot. These crew guys have had a lot of adversity on them in the past few weeks and they don’t deserve the bad rap they’ve got. I don’t care about my bad rap but these guys here are the ones that work hard at the shop and do all the hard work so I really have to thank these guys.” – Kyle Busch on his seventh Nationwide Series win of the season
“He does a great job, but that car had a ton of steam and however they had their manifold set up or whatever to make power at certain RPM, there wasn’t anything I could do. Even if we stepped on the throttle at the same time, that thing would still pull away. I was doing the best I could. Obviously, they’re doing everything they can to make the most power.” – Carl Edwards on why Kyle Busch has done so well this season on restarts
“I thought we were making gains on the track. I thought we could have knocked out a sixth- or seventh-place finish. We’ll move on to another track where we’re good at and make up some ground but it wasn’t to be. It’s something about California, I seem to be snakebit here. I just can’t do anything right.” – Brad Keselowski after engine troubles left him with a 33rd-place run
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads back to the East Coast this weekend to the Richmond International Raceway. Coverage of the Emerson Radio 250 begins at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and 8 p.m. on MRN.