In a Nutshell: The results at Texas Motor Speedway were exactly what anyone who’s followed the Nationwide Series in 2008 would expect. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas were untouchable. Cup regulars dominated the finishing order, taking six of the top-eight finishing positions. And Kyle Busch led early and often, leading 174 of 200 laps to score his 10th win of the Nationwide season. He’s fast become the Florida State of NASCAR, beating up on the lower ranks in much the same way the Seminoles opened the college football season with back-to-back games against I-AA teams.
What was unexpected, however, was the classiness that Busch displayed after the race. Busch’s 10th win of the season tied the series record for victories in a season, a record held by former champion Sam Ard, who’s lately struggled both with his health and financially. Recognizing the past accomplishments of Ard, Busch pledged in victory lane to donate $100,000 to Ard to help him through this difficult time.
“Sam Ard was one of the pioneers of the sport and this really means a lot to me,” said Busch. I got to thinking about it and I decided I’m going give him $100,000 to try to help him out.”
Polesitter Carl Edwards finished second and gained 25 points on standings leader Clint Bowyer, who finished sixth after getting tight on the race’s final run. Edwards has now trimmed Bowyer’s lead to only 91 markers with two races remaining, the closest title chase the Nationwide series has seen since 2005.
Who Should Have Won: Busch. Again.
Bobby Hamilton Jr. refuses to quit. After sponsorship dried up for his Team Rensi No. 25 car three races prior to the season finale, Hamilton himself forked over enough cash to keep his team afloat through the end of the 2008 season as they try to find sponsorship to keep going next year. And though Hamilton’s 16th-place finish wasn’t necessarily the miracle Rensi needs to keep going, it was certainly refreshing to see Hamilton back on track and competitive this weekend. Hamilton’s third-place qualifying run was especially impressive, as was the team’s ability to secure a sponsor while at the track this weekend (Wide Open Energy Drink). Keep your fingers crossed for these guys.
Another week, another top five for Joey Logano. While Logano has yet to light things up on the Sprint Cup side of things, he has kept the No. 20 team running just as well as earlier in the year when JGR’s Cup driver trio was steamrolling the field with it. Logano finished fourth on Saturday, scoring his fifth top five of the year while being the highest finishing non-Cup regular in the field. In 17 Nationwide races, Logano has been a model of consistency with 12 top 10s and an average finish of 9.2. He’s making the case for those who think he’s being rushed to Cup next year (like myself) harder to argue.
Josh Wise has shown improvement over the second half of the Nationwide Series season in his semi-regular ride with Fitz Racing. Unfortunately for Wise, judging from the legal troubles facing the No. 22 team on an almost weekly basis it’s not likely he’ll have that ride back in 2009. Fortunately for him, Michael Waltrip Racing has given him a few rides over the latter portions of the season, and his 11th-place finish on Saturday gave them reason to keep fielding a No. 00 Toyota for him. Wise brought his car home without a scratch on it, posting his career-best finish on an intermediate track.
Better Luck Next Time
Marc Davis is not doing himself any favors in trying to climb out of Logano’s shadow at JGR. After a disappointing 23rd place Nationwide debut last week at Memphis, Davis got behind the wheel of the No. 22 Fitz Racing entry on Saturday, and never broke out of mid-pack. Qualifying 27th and finishing 30th, six laps down, one can’t help but wonder if JGR and everyone around the 18-year-old prospect are trying too hard to develop Davis at the same frenzied pace as phenom Logano. There’s no doubt that Davis is talented, but let’s face it, not everyone is Logano. Davis’s results in the Camping World East Series have not matched Logano’s from his title run in 2007. In this writer’s eye, runs like Saturday are proof positive that Davis needs some more time to develop before tackling top-tier NASCAR. And time is something this guy’s got, he’s only 18!
It was going to be an exciting weekend for the Jimmy Means Racing team, with a new team racecar and Donnie Neuenberger bringing sponsorship. Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. Quickly lapped by the leaders, Neuenberger found himself in the way on the frontstretch as lead-lap traffic tried to clear his No. 52. Mike Wallace caught up to him and clipped his rear-end, sending Neuenberger’s No. 52 into the front wall. The damage parked the Means machine after only 43 laps. The 38th place finish was the team’s worst since, ironically, Neuenberger finished 43rd at Dover in September.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Hamilton Jr. Paying for his own ride to race in. Working on sponsor deals in the garage on race weekend. Sporting a plain racecar while donning the firesuit of an old sponsor. Hamilton was truly playing the role of underdog this weekend, literally putting his long-time home at Team Rensi on his back as the team desperately seeks funding for the 2009 campaign. And while he couldn’t back up his third-place qualifying effort with a top-five finish, Hamilton turned at least this writer’s head with his efforts through the Texas weekend. Sponsors, look here!
“I know his record of 10 wins and I know what he’s done for the sport, I know what all that is and how he’s built the Nationwide Series. His name is one of the lead names you look at along with [Tommy] Houston, [Mark] Martin and [Tommy] Ellis and all those guys. It’s a pretty cool list of names to look at and see who’s built this series.” – Kyle Busch on the significance of his record-tying 10th win of the 2008 campaign
“That we’re gonna win both of them [Nationwide and Cup titles], that’s my gut. But I think that’s what you have to believe, you know? So much can happen. So many things that I’ve seen just in my short time racing in these series, I’ve seen some things that are not normal, total luck chance things. I know that we all have the same chances of those things happening to one another, I just feel like we’ve got a shot at both these titles. It’s pretty exciting for me. It’s fun, in a way, there’s less pressure for me because we’re coming from behind and it’s a little easier to just go for it and see what happens.” – Carl Edwards as he closes the gap on Clint Bowyer
“I don’t think anyone had anything for him. The one restart when I was second I was hoping I could get something from him. Clean air is huge and he [Busch] had a great race car. He deserved this one.” – Joey Logano on his teammate’s victory
Up Next: The Nationwide Series heads back out west to the Phoenix International Raceway for the Hefty Odor Block 200. Coverage from the Diamond in the Desert begins at 4:00 p.m. on ESPN2 and 4:30 p.m. on MRN.