There are a few things that one can usually count on when the Nationwide Series comes to Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis; hot weather, a Wallace or two (or three) will be racing and a long green-flag run sometime during the race.
Last Saturday night’s presentation of the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at GIR met most of those expectations with the exception, thankfully, of the hot weather. As Mother Nature provided a pleasant ‘70-something’ afternoon, Brad Keselowski captured the pole position (and a new track record) with a speed of 135.714 mph, with Reed Sorenson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Jason Leffler hot on his heels with Kyle Busch starting a distant ninth as the green flag flew.
Showing no respect for Keselowski’s impressive qualifying effort, Harvick and Busch quickly wheeled their way to run one and two respectively just a few laps into what would be a GIR record setting green flag run of 68 laps.
Michael Annett’s Ventrilo/Pilot Travel Centers Toyota (No. 15) and Kevin Conway’s ExtenZe Toyota (No. 87) got together going into turn 1 to bring out the first caution on lap 69. When questioned as to who’s ‘performance’ was lacking, Conway was unsure.
“I don’t know. We were inside the No. 15 and he just turned down on us. I guess his spotter just didn’t tell him we were inside. We’d already passed him three or four times already, but I guess that’s just all part of it. We didn’t have a top-five or top-10 car by any stretch, but we never got a chance to make any adjustments to it.”
The rest of the race was dominated by the usual suspects of Harvick, Busch, Edwards and Keselowski, who shared 10 lead changes amongst them, despite a few minor cautions midway through the contest. The second-longest green run of the night, laps 130 through 176 proved to be Harvick’s undoing as he tried to stretch his Sunoco racing fuel just a bit too far before sucking only fumes on lap 171, handing the lead back to ‘The Shrub.’
Caution flew for the last time on lap 177 (debris, go figure!) during which Busch and Sorenson opted for two tires while Edwards chose four, leaving him to restart eighth on lap 181. Despite the four new tires, Edwards found himself rapidly running out of the required laps to catch Busch as the race drew to a close.
“We gave it all we had, but we were just a bit off all night, especially down in [turns] 3 and 4,” said Edwards, on his third-place finish after the race. “There in the end, Dan (Stillman, crew chief) made the right call. I was really hoping for a green-white-checkers ‘cause I really thought we had the fastest car there in the end.”
Busch seemed almost dismissive of second- and third-place finishers Sorenson and Edwards in his post race comments as he lamented over Harvick’s 17th place finish.
“I feel for him but I had no point in going up there and racing him because we were racing our own race to make it until the end,” said Busch of Harvick. “If I would have went up there and passed him and wasted fuel, it would have been for no point.”
The ever present ‘Wallace contingent’, consisting of brothers Mike, Kenny and nephew Steven finished 22nd, 29th and 24th respectively on this pleasantly cool, Illinois night.