In a Nutshell: On lap 29, a handful of drivers came in for fresh tires and adjustments at Memphis… and it turns out that made all the difference. A caution on lap 126 after over 90 laps of green flag racing left less than 10 cars on the lead lap, including Carl Edwards, whose No. 60 Ford was the class of the field. Edwards was never seriously challenged for the lead throughout the rest of the race despite multiple late-race cautions, and made coming from the back of the pack look easy, scoring a relatively easy victory. Defending race winner David Reutimann got his No. 99 Toyota to second with a few laps to go, but he refused to use the bump-and-run to move Edwards out of the way, a decision Reutimann later questioned himself for making.
The race’s ending was highlighted with fireworks on pit road. After Landon Cassill got into the back of his Ford on the frontstretch just before the start/finish line, Bobby Hamilton Jr. blocked Cassill’s car on pit road, proceeding to drop Cassill’s window net and exchange some heated words. Video of the incident also saw Hamilton apparently grab Cassill’s throat and Hamilton’s wife giving the young development driver a one-fingered salute. Hamilton was summoned to the NASCAR hauler after the race.
Edwards’s victory shook up the Nationwide Series points, as leader Clint Bowyer struggled all race long, winding up 16th. Bowyer’s difficulties allowed Edwards to shave 80 points off his lead; Edwards now trails by a much more manageable 116 markers with three races left in the Nationwide Series season.
Who Should Have Won: Kenny Wallace. Sure, Edwards and Reutimann both had excellent racecars. But this was a race highlighted by the number of Nationwide regulars and lesser-known drivers that comprised the field. And of all those stories, the best was definitely Wallace. Driving for the underfunded Jay Robinson Racing operation, there is no doubt that Wallace has stepped up the performance of the No. 28 team. Saturday, however, was uncharted territory for the underdog operation. Wallace and his No. 28, a 2006 Chevrolet, finished in the third position in a run that can best be described as remarkable. Had the team not struggled on a late-race run in which they opted for scuffed tires, who knows what could have happened.
And before anyone makes the assumption that they lucked into it, let it be stated that Wallace passed Joey Logano and his JGR Toyota under green and kept him at bay for several laps. Rest assured, there is no one racing in NASCAR that has lucked into passing a JGR machine in 2008.
Mike Bliss has got to be wondering what he and his No. 1 team have got to do to get into Victory Lane. The No. 1 car was among the fastest in the field, again; the No. 1 led laps, again. Yet, like so many other teams, they were unfortunately also caught with so many others two laps down thanks to pit strategy. Nonetheless, Bliss was one of the few cars that had anything for Edwards in the early going, and was among the best of the cars who finished off the lead lap. Bliss ended up with a seventh-place finish and 44 laps led, allowing him to maintain his fourth-place position in the standings.
Austin Dillon may never be the owner that his grandfather Richard Childress is, but he very well may outstrip him as a driver if Saturday was any indication. Making only his second career Nationwide start in a dusted off No. 21 RCR Chevrolet, Dillon benefited from a pit stop for tires on lap 29 and took full advantage. Running with the leaders for the entire duration of the race, Dillon posted a convincing top-five finish, outperforming fellow RCR veterans Bowyer and Scott Wimmer handily. Childress said after the race that he plans to run his grandson full-time in the Camping World East Series next year. That field better watch out for this young gun.
Rusty Wallace Incorporated as a team enjoyed a solid outing on Saturday. Steve Wallace and David Stremme kept their Chevrolets out of trouble, scoring ninth- and 10th-place finishes, respectively. That’s exactly what a team searching for sponsorship needs. The success was particularly sweet for Stremme, who has seen the No. 64 team go from his part-time ride to his full-time home for 2008; he wants eagerly to score a win for the team before he heads to Penske Racing for 2009.
Better Luck Next Time
Earlier in the season, Logano lived up to the hype in his Nationwide debut for JGR, scoring a sixth-place run on the treacherous high banks of Dover. The same, unfortunately, could not be said for the latest JGR driver to make his debut, Marc Davis. Davis, driving the same No. 18 Toyota that had won the previous three Nationwide series events, qualified fourth but fell backwards early with handling issues and more so during the race’s long green-flag run due to a reported slowly-leaking tire. By lap 132, Davis was four laps down to the leaders, and though he did manage to make up some ground, the 23rd-place finish that the day was not what the young driver and JGR was looking for. Davis’s 2009 plans are up in the air, and Saturday didn’t cement them any further.
Mark Green and the No. 70 team have been among the more competitive part-time operations on the circuit this season, but – sans Talladega – had not gotten close to the front. However, when the caution flew on lap 126, the No. 70 found itself in the top five. This didn’t last long, however, as the team had to go under the hood for an extended period of time during the yellow flag. The lengthy work dropped the team from the top five to the back of the pack, and though Green in the end completed 245 laps, the resulting 30th-place finish was a far cry from what could have been on a Saturday that saw many other unexpected faces score top-10 finishes.
Hamilton Jr. came into the race at Memphis knowing that without a sponsor coming out of the woodwork, he was likely running his last race of the season and possibly ever for Team Rensi. Hamilton got everything he could out of his No. 25, running in the top 15 for much of the event but never challenging for the win. Hamilton finished 18th after late-race contact with Cassill resulted in a spin on the final lap, and proceeded to let his emotions get the best of him, getting into an altercation with Cassill on pit road following the race. Team Rensi landed a 25th-hour sponsor to make it to this point in 2008… here’s hoping they can do it again, and fast.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Kenny Wallace. See above for the recap, but putting a Jay Robinson Racing car in the top five is perhaps the underdog performance of the season.
“I just can’t believe that last restart. Reutimann was all over me, and all he had to do was bump me out of the way and that would have been a lot different race. If I ever wear another guy’s t-shirt, it will be a David Reutimann t-shirt. That was amazing how clean he raced me at the end.” – Carl Edwards on his Memphis triumph
“I went over to make sure he was OK, and that his throttle wasn’t hanging or nothing.” – Bobby Hamilton Jr. on his post-race interaction with Landon Cassill
“He would have moved me.” – David Reutimann lamenting on his decision not to move Carl Edwards on the race’s final lap
Up Next: The Nationwide Series heads to the Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Challenge this coming Saturday. Coverage from the “Great American Speedway” begins at 3 p.m. on ESPN2 and 3:30 p.m. on PRN.