In a Nutshell: Carl Edwards talked all week about how his No. 60 team had to be perfect the next two weekends if they had any shot of scoring a second consecutive Nationwide title. And while there were minor hiccups, the No. 60 group did everything they could, leading the most laps and dominating the second half of Saturday’s event to score Edwards his sixth win of the season.
The defending champ was facing heavy competition early on from Kevin Harvick and from the No. 18 of JGR, this week driven by Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, who got within a car length of Edwards on the final lap, won the pole and led 62 laps, but never could recover from a botched pit stop that saw his crew mix sticker and scuffed tires during a tire change. Kyle Busch also faded late, suffering from brake troubles for the second portion of the race.
As for the points chase, Edwards made up 35 markers on leader Clint Bowyer, but that could have been considerably more. Bowyer got caught up in a wreck on a mid-race restart that did heavy damage to the hood of his Chevrolet. However, his pit crew worked extremely quickly to repair the damage, and with his banged-up car Bowyer drove all the way back into the top five. As a result, his lead stands at 56 points heading into Homestead, making this the closest Nationwide title race since 2003.
Who Should Have Won: Edwards. Though Hamlin had the No. 18 team again primed to score the win, Edwards dominated much of this race. Hamlin’s tire problems came early enough to give him time to recover; he just couldn’t pass the No. 60.
Justin Allgaier has been involved in numerous incidents over the course of his first two Nationwide starts, and that trend continued into Saturday’s race. But after spinning following an incident involving Brian Ickler, Allgaier rebounded and enjoyed an uneventful rest of the day. Come race’s end, Allgaier scored a solid 11th-place finish, his career best in the Nationwide Series. Not too shabby considering that Allgaier had never run at PIR in any form coming into this weekend.
Landon Cassill’s future is in limbo thanks to the recent decision by JR Motorsports to cut back the schedule of the No. 5 car he was supposed to share in 2009. And Cassill did himself no favors in qualifying on Saturday, wrecking his primary car. Cassill did himself a lot of favors, however, when the green flag dropped. Starting 42nd in an unpracticed backup car, the rookie drove all the way through the field, avoiding trouble and scoring a sixth-place finish, the highest-finishing Nationwide Series regular. Runs like that will get Cassill into a car next season.
Jason Keller definitely took a step back in equipment when he moved from CJM Racing to the Baker/Curb No. 27. That said, much like was seen when Keller took over the CJM No. 11 ride in 2007, his new team is quickly showing improvement. Keller’s 13th-place finish marked the best run for the No. 27 car since Brad Coleman scored a 10th-place run at Watkins Glen way back in August. Further, Keller scored his fourth top 20 in six starts with Baker/Curb. Why is this noteworthy? Coleman, the former driver for the team, scored only seven top 20s in 25 races in the car. Baker/Curb’s got the right wheelman now.
Better Luck Next Time
Derrike Cope failed to qualify for his first race behind the wheel of Sheltra Motorsports’s No. 82 entry. But, Cope didn’t have one DNQ this weekend, he had three. In addition to missing the race himself, Kevin Lepage and Jason White also both missed the show in cars owned by Cope. If Cope and his teams had actually planned to run the distance on Saturday, I’d have felt bad for him.
John Wes Townley proved to be an absolute menace to everything he drove at Phoenix this weekend. Townley wrecked his Roush Fenway truck during NCTS qualifying on Friday, only to wreck the backup truck during the race. How’d he follow that act up? By wrecking in Nationwide qualifying, only to wreck his backup during the race. Four race vehicles wrecked in two days is as bad as it can be for any driver, and unfortunately for Townley, this has become the norm. Be it in ARCA, the trucks, or Nationwide, Townley has wrecked just about everything he’s driven in the last few months. Yet, thanks to sponsorship, he’s moving up to Nationwide competition full-time in 2009. As happy as I am to see a new full-time Nationwide team, I’m not sure this driver is one I want to see on-track 35 times. We seem to have the makings of a new Kyle Krisiloff…
Though Scott Wimmer rebounded for a top-20 run, Wimmer likely lost his best remaining chance to win in the No. 29 car. Wimmer was among the top five cars in practice all day Friday and for much of the race, but a tire failure resulting from excessive brake heat spoiled any chance he had at victory.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Kenny Wallace. Another top-15 finish… in a Jay Robinson Racing car, no less. I’ve told this story more than once this year, but frankly, there wasn’t an underdog out there this weekend who could top more of the same from a frankly overachieving Kenny Wallace.
“If we run like we’ve been running and we perform as well as we have and Drew makes the decisions that he’s been making, we can close 56 points without Clint having trouble. They just have to have a little bit of an off day. We needed this today. We needed to win this race.” – Carl Edwards on his sixth win of 2008 and his shot at a second consecutive Nationwide title
“That’s what we needed. These guys worked their tails off on this backup car. I can’t thank them enough, everybody at JR Motorsports, National Guard and Hendrick. I just can’t believe this. That’s what we needed. I’m so happy right now.” – Landon Cassill on his sixth-place run in a backup car
Up Next: The Nationwide Series concludes its 2008 tour on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Coverage of the Ford 300 begins at 4:00 p.m. on ESPN2 and 4:30 p.m. on MRN.