In a Nutshell: Carl Edwards did everything he could to try and steal his second consecutive Nationwide Series crown. Qualifying on the outside pole, Edwards ran in the top five all race long and led a third of the race (66 laps). Edwards also managed to pass Kyle Busch’s vaunted No. 18 Toyota with 34 laps to go on an intermediate oval, scoring his second consecutive win and seventh of the season.
But it wasn’t enough.
Clint Bowyer methodically drove to the front from his 13th starting position, finishing the race in fifth place. Bowyer’s 14th top-five finish of the season allowed him to secure his first major NASCAR championship, besting Edwards by a mere 21 points in the closest title Chase the Nationwide Series has seen since 2003. Bowyer’s championship also marked the third consecutive year that a Sprint Cup regular claimed NASCAR’s AAA title. Maybe the Yankees should start playing AAA baseball just for the hardware….
Nationwide Series regulars did well in their final race of the season, though, capturing five of the top-10 finishing positions. Brad Keselowski led the charge, scoring a third-place finish that also allowed him to finish third in the season points standings. Meanwhile, though he was not on track, Keselowski’s teammate Landon Cassill captured the 2008 Rookie of the Year title once his closest competitor, Bryan Clauson, suffered heavy damage after hitting the wall in the second half of Saturday’s race en route to finishing 34th.
Who Should Have Won: Edwards. Edwards kept the title chase at least somewhat captivating ’till the checkered flag waved, a first for the Nationwide Series since Martin Truex Jr. was given chase by Bowyer in 2005. He also kept Busch from topping the record of the great Sam Ard for wins in a season, proving that someone other than JGR could still win a race on an intermediate oval in the process.
Kelly Bires is one of those drivers that’s got to wish the series would go on for another month or longer. In his first full-time season with the No. 47 team, Bires found trouble early and often in the first half of the season; but as the campaign has progressed, this young prospect has shown why he got the nod to replace Jon Wood last season despite having limited Truck Series experience. After having to start the race in the back due to an engine change, Bires scored a ninth-place run in the finale at Homestead, a finish that allowed him to finish 13th in the final season standings. Bires is one of many young talents in the Nationwide Series that currently find themselves without sponsorship for 2009, and the JTG/Daugherty Racing team has not sounded encouraging when asked of the prospects for the No. 47 team. Maybe Ford Racing should pull some of those millions they’re pouring into Edwards for next season and develop this promising prospect… on second thought, drop the maybe.
Scott Wimmer’s two years of good soldiering for Richard Childress Racing proved to be all for naught. Though Wimmer’s sixth-place finish on Saturday was representative of his performance on the Nationwide circuit over the last two seasons, it nonetheless marked the end of his time with the team. Despite helping RCR secure the Nationwide owners’ title in 2007 and scoring the only win for the No. 29 team in 2008, Wimmer was passed over for RCR’s No. 33 Cup car in favor of perpetual underachiever Casey Mears. Truly a shame.
Josh Wise will get to drive Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 99 entry in a number of Nationwide races next season; and if Homestead is any indication, that’s good news for MWR. Though Wise struggled in many of his starts earlier in the season with Fitz Motorsports, Wise’s 12th-place finish on Saturday was his second top 15 in only his third start with MWR and their No. 00, a tangible demonstration of how the former open-wheel standout has improved over the course of the season. Wise’s schedule in the No. 99 for 2009 is not yet known; but if the last three weeks are any indication, MWR may want to consider letting this driver give it a full-time run.
Better Luck Next Time
Michael Annett is one of the few development drivers out there that is fortunate enough to have a ride – and more importantly, sponsor – lined up for 2009. Unfortunately, Annett’s first race in his new Hype Energy Drink Toyota didn’t go so hot. Annett scraped the wall hard to bring out the yellow on lap 66, and followed that up with a spin on the frontstretch on lap 90. Annett eventually finished 36th, 62 laps down, in his Nationwide Series debut. On the bright side for Annett, Daytona is his next race – and he won the ARCA 200 at Daytona in February.
Clauson has had a rough 2008 campaign, having experienced both highs and lows as a rookie. He opened the year with a sixth-place finish at Daytona, only to be caught up in wrecks constantly for the next month of racing, as well as having his starts cut back in favor of scrap metal king Kyle Krisiloff. Once back in the seat, Clauson scored a top five at Kentucky in June and followed that up two weeks later with a pole at Daytona – only to see his results slide during the second half of the season. This weekend, Clauson managed to get himself up into the top 10 with 50 laps to go, only to scrape the wall on lap 157 and be forced to retire from the race. Clauson’s subpar finish also took him out of the hunt for the 2008 Rookie of the Year crown. The future for this 19-year-old is uncertain, and with the sponsorship situation dire for newly formed Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, the No. 40 Nationwide team may find itself in the garage permanently in the near future. Not the best way to go out….
Just looking at the entry list and the final running order, there are a lot of series regulars that may not be back in 2009. To Mike Wallace, Chase Miller, Bobby Hamilton Jr., Danny Efland, Marc Davis, Jeremy Clements, Clauson, Brandon Whitt, Casey Atwood, Danny O’Quinn, Robert Richardson and Kevin Lepage, among others, best of luck finding rides and sponsors for 2009. Hope to see you back on the track at Daytona.
Underdog Performer of the Race: David Green. The 1994 Busch Series champion hasn’t been seen on the racetrack since the Truck Series tackled Las Vegas in September of 2007, but he showed up this weekend driving, of all cars, JD Motorsports’ start-and-park operation, the No. 0. Using his past champion’s provisional to make the field, Green took the No. 0 car the distance; and though the end result was a 29th-place finish, eight laps down, seeing this car running at the checkers – and Green back on the racetrack – were both pleasant surprises.
“Taking care of business, baby.” – Clint Bowyer on what Elvis would make of his Nationwide Series title
“I really had a good time racing with Kyle [Busch] there. That was a good race. Man, I know Clint had to be to sweating those last few laps because some of those guys behind him had tires. I thought, ‘Man, it could happen.’ Drew did a great job, my guys did a great job, and we had a car that was fast enough to win and we did everything right. If I could go back through the season and pick out 21 points, that’d be great, but we can’t, it’s a full season. Clint earned the championship. He’ll be a great champion. It’s neat to see how excited his family and how excited he is. I’m as happy as I can be for another guy to beat me, and I hope he enjoys it.” – Carl Edwards on his seventh win and runner-up finish in the Nationwide Series title chase
“I was spotting for David Green tonight, and one eye on David and one eye on Bryan all night. But I was just kind of watching with one eye closed, just kind of cringing the whole time, especially when Bryan was in the top 10. He had a good racecar early on. You know, we really could have easily started and parked a car and gotten the rookie points, but we knew what races we had to run, and we did what we had to do. I’m glad that it turned out the way it did. I had fun up on the spotter’s stand tonight anyways. Next year, you know, the economy is tough right now and everybody is struggling. It’s just tough right now. You know, I think you probably even see the championship team struggling. We’ve seen that in the past. Rookie of the Year is a very prestigious award. You know, I’ve said before that it’s something that Raybestos has been involved with for many numbers of years; and something that as a child growing up, Raybestos Rookie of the Year was a phrase that I had known since I was a little kid. So, to be able to have a title like that is awesome, and hopefully it does catapult into a ride or something.” – Landon Cassill, 2008 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year
Up Next: The Nationwide Series season may be over, but the tour (hopefully) lives on. Check out Frontstretch on Monday, November 24, for an in-depth look at how to fix and preserve the Nationwide Series.