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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas

In a Nutshell: For the first half of the race, it looked as if the Nationwide Series may have a different storyline to follow, as Kevin Harvick led 88 of the first 93 laps and appeared to be poised to score his first career series win in his own equipment. However, a lengthy pit stop to change a defective battery took Harvick out of the running, and the race became another Joe Gibbs Racing romp after that. Denny Hamlin, driving the No. 18 predominantly occupied by Kyle Busch this season, looked just like his teammate behind the wheel, leading the last 43 laps (99 total) and handily winning the 300-mile race at Kansas. Hamlin’s triumph also allowed Toyota to capture the Nationwide manufacturers’ title well over a month prior to season’s end.

Cup regulars dominated the event, as they have on the majority of the intermediate circuit races run this season, scoring the top-five finishing positions and combining to lead 194 of the 200 laps run. It wasn’t all rosy for the purse snatchers, though, as both Busch and Mark Martin endured hard crashes. Martin was visibly shook up after his wreck, having to sit down on the racetrack between exiting his car and boarding the ambulance. He later was cleared by the infield care center.

Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer extended his lead in the series’ driver championship standings further. While fellow title contenders Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski both scored top 10s, Bowyer’s runner-up finish allowed him to build a 196-point lead over second with five races remaining in the season.

Who Should Have Won: Hamlin. Harvick led much of the first half of the race before suffering electrical troubles, but let’s face it, the No. 18 was hooked up once Hamlin got out in front. Put a Cup driver in the best car in the field on a cookie cutter, and you get an utterly predictable race like the one seen on Saturday.

Worth Noting

JTG Daugherty Racing saw both of its teams perform well and get the finishes to show for it this weekend. Marcos Ambrose continued a run of improved performance in recent weeks, scoring his fourth consecutive top-20 finish with an 11th-place run. Ambrose had the track position late in the race to score a top 10, but his car developed a tight condition that relegated him to 11th. Fortunately for Ambrose, the car that ended up ahead of him in 10th was none other than his teammate Kelly Bires, who has run well on intermediate tracks this season but struggled to close the deal. Bires and his No. 47 team are in the midst of a sponsorship search, and runs like Saturday’s aren’t going to hurt their case.

Jason Leffler and his No. 38 team slogged through a mediocre summer, but they have turned their performance around in the latter parts of the season. Saturday saw Leffler and team finish eighth, their second consecutive top 10, as well as a career-best finish at the Kansas Speedway for Leffler. While the No. 38 team may be far removed from the Nationwide title many thought they’d contend for this season, they do appear well on their way back to the upper echelon of Nationwide regular teams. Can’t help but wonder if Leffler’s distancing himself from double duty with the No. 70 Sprint Cup team didn’t distract his summer efforts more than he and the team seemed to think.

Better Luck Next Time

Bryan Clauson got good news a couple of weeks ago when he found out the No. 40 ride was his for the season with the departure of Dario Franchitti from stock car racing. Unfortunately, that promotion hasn’t resulted in tremendous success for the youngster. Saturday, Clauson and team failed to get a handle on their car all race long, finding their successful adjustments from races past ineffective in fixing their Kansas Speedway piece. Clauson finished three laps back in a distant 21st.

With primary driver DJ Kennington in the thick of a title run in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, MacDonald Motorsports has found itself utilizing driver by committee to fill its No. 81 car for much of the second half of the season. While some drivers, such as Kevin Hamlin and Shane Huffman, have scored solid finishes for the team in Kennington’s absence, the same didn’t happen on Saturday for Bobby Hillin Jr. Hillin, a Cup series winner in 1986, had not made a start in a major NASCAR series since 2000 before Saturday. Unfortunately, his return was not one to be remembered, as a wreck on lap 93 ended Hillin’s day early and left the No. 81 with a 36th-place finish, the worst for the team since Watkins Glen.

Steve Wallace’s second full campaign in the Nationwide Series’ ranks has featured much more promise than his crash-filled rookie season, but it still has been riddled with forgettable finishes nonetheless. Unfortunately for Wallace, Saturday was another such day. Only 15 laps into the running, the No. 66 suffered terminal engine failure, leaving its driver and team with their worst finish, 41st, of the entire 2008 season. The result broke a stretch of four consecutive top 20s for the team, and dropped Wallace to 155 points out of advancing to the top 10 in the season points standings.

Underdog Performer of the Race

After spending much of the early part of the season driving for Jay Robinson Racing, Robert Richardson found himself on the outside looking in as the rides at JRR were filled by veterans Derrike Cope and Kenny Wallace. Since losing that ride, Richardson has gone to driving for his father’s newly formed R3 Motorsports. Richardson has made two starts on intermediate ovals in the R3 No. 23, but crashed at Charlotte and wrecked as a result of tire failure at Michigan. Finally, at Kansas, Richardson parlayed one of his limited races into a respectable run. Richardson completed 197 of the 200 laps run Saturday, finishing 23rd and scoring his best finish since a 19th at Talladega in April. Like many drivers in the Nationwide ranks, Richardson’s career is in hiatus until a sponsor or development contact comes around. Until then, Richardson can do no more than get the most out of the rides he’s got, and Saturday he did just that.

JGR vs. the Field

Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have won 17 of 30 Nationwide Series races this season.

Joe Gibbs Racing Cup drivers have won 16 of 30 Nationwide Series races this season.

Since the oh-so-harsh suspension of crew chiefs Wally Rogers and Jason Ratcliffe from NASCAR for cheating at Michigan, the No. 18 and No. 20 teams have posted three wins and an average finish of 6.5 in eight starts. That’ll teach ’em.

Quotables

“We made adjustments every pit stop. Everyone on this race team never gave up. We didn’t have the best car in qualifying, didn’t have the best car at the beginning of the race, but the whole Z-Line Designs crew did a great job making the adjustments throughout the race and the car just kept getting better and better.” – Denny Hamlin on his fourth Nationwide Series win of the season

“Left a lugnut loose and got run over by the [No.] 1 (Mike Bliss) trying to get back to pit road.” – Kyle Busch on his hard crash

“We never really found it. I don’t know if we could have stayed on the lead lap. Those leaders were coming pretty close behind us. We just caught a bad break catching that yellow right after we pitted. That put us two down and then lost another one or two there at the end. Tough day for our Fastenal Dodge. In two weeks we’re going somewhere we really like to run [Lowe’s Motor Speedway]. We really need that, and hopefully we can get a good finish there.” – Bryan Clauson on a disappointing outing

Up Next: The Nationwide Series next heads to the heart of NASCAR country for the Dollar General 300 on Friday night, October 10th. Coverage from the Lowe’s Motor Speedway begins at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and 8 p.m. on PRN. Frontstretch will be trackside for Friday night’s race and will be providing on-site coverage and insight throughout the weekend.

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