In a Nutshell: For the 23rd time this season, a Sprint Cup driver proved that they had the awe-inspiring mettle to dominate NASCAR’s AAA series. For the eighth time this season, Kyle Busch proved to race fans that he is indeed deserving of a full-time ride in the Cup ranks, because he’s such a darned good Nationwide Series driver. And for the second time in the four races since Joe Gibbs Racing was “penalized” for its involvement in a cheating scandal at Michigan, its No. 18 team and their “substitute” crew chief dominated the field. Though several drivers had excellent racecars, Mike Bliss’s car took too long into a run to get going while Brad Keselowski had repeated issues on pit road that lost him valuable track position, allowing neither to challenge Busch, who led 157 laps.
Clint Bowyer got into trouble on pit road as well, but his No. 2 team rebounded to score a 10th-place finish. Bowyer’s recovery allowed his points lead to weather strong runs by fellow title contenders Keselowski and Carl Edwards, who finished third and fifth. Bowyer now leads Edwards by 186 points with six races remaining in the season, while Keselowski remained in third, 248 markers behind.
Who Should Have Won: Keselowski Judging from the charge Keselowski made in the last 30 or so laps of the race, it’s clear that his car was among the class of the field. Unfortunately, track position was not in the cards for the No. 88 team. Between dropped lugnuts and a stop that saw two pit crew men injured when the team’s car fell off the jack, pit road was a nightmare for Keselowski, and the positions lost in the pits left Keselowski with too much ground to make up on Busch. The No. 18 team had quite the setup, but this weekend they did have a challenger in the JR Motorsports No. 88.
Bliss has had countless good runs with the Phoenix Racing No. 1 team this season, but Saturday’s race at Dover was the best run the team has had in a long time. After leading Happy Hour practice and qualifying fifth, Bliss ran in the top 10 for the entire race, leading 44 laps, more than the No. 1 car had led in the season’s 28 other races combined. As the event wound down, Bliss was in fact faster than Busch on the long run. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Bliss’s car on restarts. Nonetheless, the run was the sixth consecutive top 15 for this team, and Charlotte (the site of Bliss’s only career Nationwide win) is only a race away.
Scott Wimmer has got to be wondering what he’s going to have to do to land himself a new ride for the 2009 season. Since it was announced that Wimmer would not be returning to Richard Childress Racing, Wimmer has scored an average finish of 4.0. This weekend, Wimmer and his No. 29 car started in the top 10, led laps, ran in the top 10 all day, and finished fourth, his third consecutive top-10 finish. Between Wimmer and Jeff Burton, RCR’s No. 29 team has scored four consecutive top-10 finishes and is looking much more like the defending owners’ champion after what has to this point been a lackluster 2008 campaign.
JGR’s No. 18 and No. 20 teams really seem to be reeling from the suspension of crew chiefs Justin Ratcliffe and Wally Rogers. Since NASCAR levied its big stick towards Toyota’s flagship for blatant cheating at MIS, the teams have scored three poles, two wins, six top-10 finishes and an average finish of 7.0. Way to go NASCAR, that kind of punishment will keep cheating from happening again. Tell me again why these cars weren’t parked?
Better Luck Next Time
Kelly Bires. Great car, blown tire, bad finish. Story of the season for this promising talent.
CJM Racing and the No. 11 team has enjoyed the steady, experienced wheel of Jason Keller all season, until they decided this past week to go in another direction. Enter Scott Lagasse Jr., who washed out of both Armando Fitz’s and Chip Ganassi’s driver development program after crashing in four of his seven career Nationwide starts. Make that five of eight. Lagasse, already off the lead lap, drove way too hard into a turn and flattened his Chevrolet, giving the CJM team their first DNF due to a crash since the season opener at Daytona. Their fabricators better be ready to roll up their sleeves, because there’s much reason to think that they’re going to be fixing a lot more cars with Lagasse behind the wheel. Maybe he hasn’t had enough time to develop, but from what I’ve seen, I’m not sold on this new full-timer’s ability to compete at this level. CJM Racing could have done a whole lot better in selecting a replacement.
Bryan Clauson has had some solid runs this year, but he’s been involved in a lot of wrecks this season that weren’t his fault. And Saturday was no exception. Though ESPN’s telecasters tried to absolve Marcos Ambrose of any fault, the Aussie flat ran over young Clauson coming out of turn 4. Clauson slammed into the inside wall on the frontstretch, heavily damaging the front of his Dodge. While his spotter and crew were vocally incensed over the radio, Clauson walked away and was quite calm in his post-incident interviews. One can’t help but wonder how frustrated this USAC standout has to be with the season he’s had.
What started as a promising season for John Wes Townley has soured over the course of the summer, from his full-time ARCA ride to his part-time efforts in the Nationwide Series. Townley, who has struggled in Truck competition, posting a 26.2 average finish in five starts with two DNFs, finally made his Nationwide debut this weekend (he DNQ’d at Dover after wrecking in qualifying). Unfortunately, a good run was not in the cards for the young Ford development driver, whose engine expired after 143 laps. Townley, whose full-time ride with RAB Racing is loosely affiliated with Roush Fenway Racing, has not posted the same kind of results this season as RFR’s other ARCA driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and runs like the one he endured Saturday are not going to help him climb the ladder.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Just as with everyone out there, times are tight for race teams right now. Unfortunately, that’s led a number of Nationwide Series teams to attempt to justify start and park all season, claiming it’s too expensive to run full races. Enter Morgan Shepherd. Shepherd, who already has top-20 finishes at Talladega and Darlington to his credit this season, was able to run the Dover race in its entirety this weekend. How? When he pitted, rather than taking four fresh tires, he took a fresh right-front tire only. And the ever-feisty veteran turned in an admirable performance, finishing three laps down in 22nd. That’s called resourcefulness, and its something that a lot of “race teams” apparently need to learn. Because if a 60-plus year old man with little money and a patch-quilt crew can turn in runs like that, there’s no reason that the six teams that parked their cars within the first 10 laps of Saturday’s race can’t either.
“It was a great effort by this whole team. Joel Weidman, the new crew chief on board this week – he deserves it. He did a great job of calling the race today. Of course, we have to say ‘hey’ to the guys at home.” – Kyle Busch on his eighth win of the season and his suspended crew members
“It felt like the No. 59 just got up under our wing and got us a little loose and then just finished us off. We’d been a little tight all day and just got a little snug off of [turn] 4 there and the No. 59 got up underneath us and loosened us up real big time and turned us around, run into the back of us and turned us around.” – Bryan Clauson on his wreck
“Iit’s tough to see that decisions have to be made on financial situations. We need the Team Rensis of the world and we can’t afford to run them out.” – Jason Keller on his debut run with Baker/Curb Motorsports and the reality of the Nationwide Series today
Up Next: The Nationwide Series next heads to the plains to tackle the Kansas Speedway. Coverage of the Kansas Lottery 300 begins at 3 p.m. on ESPN2 and 3:30 p.m. on MRN.