Finally, someone has Kyle Busch’s number. And it’s his teammate.
Running his first Nationwide Series race since an incident that saw him knock Busch from the lead at Dover with two laps to go, Joey Logano beat his teammate without the chrome horn on Saturday… and took the checkers for his trouble.
On a late restart on lap 189, Logano engineered the best restart anyone not driving the No. 18 car had all night, lining up directly on Busch’s bumper and capitalizing on his opportunity. Putting the pressure on as soon as the yellow flag ended, the 19-year-old wound up taking the lead on lap 191 when Rowdy got loose in turn 2 and moved up the racetrack. From there, Logano drove off into the sunset, scoring his second Nationwide Series victory of the season and second consecutive at Kentucky Speedway on the anniversary weekend of his first major NASCAR victory one year ago.
Though falling short of victory lane, Busch made major strides in the title chase with his second-place performance. Carl Edwards for the second consecutive season struggled mightily to get a hold of the Kentucky oval, throwing major adjustments at his car on every pit stop to no avail. Edwards’s 20th-place finish allowed Busch to extend his points lead to 137 over his fellow Cup competitor. Brad Keselowski, on the heels of another strong third-place showing in his No. 88 car, moved to third in the points ahead of Jason Leffler and now sits 208 markers back (Leffler finished sixth on Saturday and is 218 points behind).
Edwards’s struggles were also accentuated by two speeding penalties, two of over 20 handed out by NASCAR throughout Saturday’s race as pit cycles were seeing a consistent half-dozen or more drivers penalized each. Edwards was outspoken following the event that NASCAR was in error regarding their handling of pit-road speeds on exit, where the vast majority of the penalties were assessed.
The race, which featured side-by-side action for much of its 300 miles, was again extremely well-attended: While not an announced sellout, the crowd was estimated at 70,000, an estimate that did not appear exaggerated from the TV shots seen Saturday night.
Logano may have gotten the best of Busch at race’s end, but it was absolutely mesmerizing to see the charge that Justin Allgaier made on Busch following a lap 28 restart. Using the high side of the track and forcing Busch to run on the track’s bumpy inner lane through turns 1 and 2, the Penske Racing rookie raced side-by-side with one of NASCAR’s best for over ten laps for the lead, leading five of those circuits and all the while proving that, at least in the short run, his Dodge had something for the Nationwide Series’ fastest racecar. Allgaier’s aggression continued even after Busch eventually got away, as he battled hard all night with Keselowski and other heavy hitters en route to finishing fifth, his third top five of the year. Allgaier’s relentlessness and near impossibility to pass on the track both frustrated the living daylights out of Keselowski and made this writer think an awful lot about how much he looked like one of Penske Racing’s past protégés… Ryan Newman. More performances like these are going to turn the heat up on David Stremme in the near future.
Kelly Bires also deserves a shout-out for his rebound performance in the No. 33. After wrecking his primary car in qualifying, Bires started 42nd…but ended up finishing 10th after a steady charge through the field. Here’s hoping he lands a full-time ride soon… it’s a shame to see this kind of talent running Phil Parsons’s start-and-park cars most weekends.
Also, Brendan Gaughan’s top-five run with interim crew chief Shane Huffman on the pit box was fun to watch following the suspension of regular head wrench Bryan Berry at Nashville.
Already reeling from the Detroit Red Wings’ loss in the Stanley Cup finals, the Keselowski brothers both fell well short of what they were shooting for as they tackled the Kentucky Speedway. Yes, Brad Keselowski finished third, but found himself battling traffic instead of the leaders all race long thanks to a pit-road speeding penalty on lap 71 and numerous pit stops that lost the No. 88 car track position. Though he had a car that each and every time charged back into the top five, Keselowski never had position to challenge Busch and Logano and lost ground yet again in the point race. As for brother Brian Keselowski, his troubles started with a wreck in practice Friday. The No. 26 team had no backup, and ended up having to rent a car from team owner Randy MacDonald just to start Saturday’s race. Brian ended up completing only 38 laps before parking his rented ride, a performance that resulted in the No. 26 team falling out of the top 30 in owner points. With two wrecked cars at their shop needing to be rebuilt, including the car they hoped to run at Milwaukee, qualifying on time next weekend is not what this team needs on its plate right now.
Also, Stephen Leicht’s return to the track he won at two years ago did not unfold like a storybook. An early spin that damaged the car’s right-front fender and later overheating issues led Leicht to complete only 137 laps and finish a disappointing 31st. The No. 29 team for RCR is not performing at the level it has been accustomed to the past few seasons, and that does not bode well for the youngster still trying to find a sponsor and a second chance at full-time Nationwide competition.
Rick Ware Racing’s most publicized moment this season came during a qualifying session, when Jeffrey Earnhardt failed to qualify at Dover following a hard wreck in practice. This Saturday, qualifying is again where they made headlines… and none of them were pretty. Travis Kittleson failed to get the team’s primary No. 31 entry into the field (Justin Hobgood did qualify the team’s start-and-park No. 41). More notable, though, was Stanton Barrett’s late No. 79 entry with the team. Barrett, who had to race his way in, did just that on the first lap and locked himself into the field. However, his team did not relay that to Barrett, who assumed that he had to make a second lap to secure a starting spot. On the exit of turn 4 on that second lap, Barrett got loose and pounded the wall, causing heavy damage to his car. With the Ware team fielding three cars, there were no backups available for Barrett, who instead had to make patchwork repairs to his car and even missed the drivers’ meeting to ensure that the No. 79 could start. Barrett completed only one lap and finished 43rd, with Hobgood running one more lap before parking. To summarize: three cars, a combined three laps completed, a DNQ and a wrecked machine for a team that has found itself in over its head for much of this year.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Mark Green. Owensboro, Ky. is the home of racing’s three Green brothers. David and Jeff are the most successful, as both have Nationwide (then Busch) Series titles to their credit. Yet it was brother Mark that made all the noise Saturday night. While David Green was coaching John Wes Townley, watching his former ride in the No. 07 being limped around by Mike Harmon, and Jeff Green failed to qualify the No. 91 car, Mark took full advantage of having a sponsor on-board his No. 0… and a chance to finally run the distance with JD Motorsports. With American Patriot Getaways on his hood and the hometown crowd before him, Green went from green to checkers, completing 197 of the 200 laps run and scoring a 19th-place finish, the best run of the year for the No. 0. With Danny O’Quinn also finishing in the top 20, it was the first time since Daytona that JDM had two cars running at the end of the race.
The Final Word
First and foremost, a round of applause to the Kentucky Speedway crowd that again showed up in droves, and witnessed one of the better Nationwide Series races run in 2009. And while the track apparently needs to look at their methods of calculating pit-road exit speeds, one thing that officials need to ignore completely is the complaining from a variety of drivers regarding how bumpy the track surface has gotten.
Rusty Wallace mentioned during ESPN’s coverage of qualifying that the track had taken on characteristics similar to the old Lowe’s Motor Speedway, with the bumps and dives present all over the track. There wasn’t a driver out there who debated whether or not the facility had drastically changed over this offseason… but there was also no debate that the action seen at Kentucky was among the best NASCAR has seen this year on an intermediate oval configuration. Side-by-side action was aplenty, and the bumps present in the low groove of turn 1 and 2 made the high line a very viable option, as Allgaier and Gaughan both proved.
Between the new fan facilities at the entrance to the track and the planned expansions to the grandstands, Bruton Smith is leaving his mark on his newest-acquired facility. Please, Bruton, do us all a favor and don’t do to this surface what was done to Lowe’s. There’s nothing wrong with a track having some character… just look at Daytona.
As for the race itself, Logano emerged the winner, but as has been the story of the season, Busch was the class of the field. Busch didn’t get the win he wanted, but he did enjoy a stellar points night. Saturday’s race did well to present a true microcosm of the points race as we near the midpoint of 2009, with Busch the clear favorite.
- Edwards – the No. 60 team is missing something, and until they find it, they’re going to stay out of the win column, and out of the 2009 hunt.
- Brad Keselowski – The cars are there and the driver is hungry, but the team’s continued struggles on pit road and inability to get going early on restarts is going to make track position all the more a commodity for Keselowski – and all the more difficult for the team’s equipment to mount a challenge to the JGR Toyotas.
- Leffler – There is no team working harder in the garage and no team getting more out of their stuff… but the No. 38 team is still Braun Racing versus Cup giants Gibbs, Hendrick and Roush.
Perhaps most important, though, was what Allgaier demonstrated to the entire Nationwide field: taking it to Busch is possible. Allgaier’s furious 10-lap battle with Busch early in the going of Saturday’s race was by far the highlight of the event, and some of the best side-by-side racing seen in any form of NASCAR racing in 2009. With much of the motorsports’ media coddling Busch as God’s gift to racing and JGR’s Toyotas continually running ramrod over the Nationwide Series field, it was refreshing for fans to see one of the Series’ up and comers mount a serious challenge to Busch. It has to be hard for teams out there to know the road to victory lane goes past perhaps the most powerful cars the Nationwide ranks have ever seen, and that makes examples such as Allgaier’s willingness to charge after them all the more important for competitors and their fans to see.
Here’s hoping that aggressive mentality prevails at Milwaukee… a track that’s no stranger to the chrome horn.