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Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2009 O’Reilly Challenge at Texas

The ESPN crew in the booth on Saturday made the claim that Kyle Busch was on such a rail that they ought to rename Texas Motor Speedway “Kyle Busch Speedway.”

That may be a little much, but Busch certainly made his fourth consecutive Nationwide Series victory look easy, leading 179 of the 200 laps run to score his eighth win of the year. Busch took the lead from polesitter Matt Kenseth on lap 11 and was seldom challenged from then on, though there were times throughout the race that Kenseth and Mike Bliss were able to match his lap speeds. The same could be said for Kevin Harvick, but he lost any shot of challenging Busch for the race win after his crew lost valuable spots in the pits during the final cycle of stops.

Besides Joe Gibbs Racing’s obvious strength all race long, both Roush Fenway Racing and Braun Racing enjoyed stellar days, scoring five of the top-10 finishing positions with Kenseth, Carl Edwards, David Ragan, Jason Leffler and Brian Vickers. Kasey Kahne ran in the top five for much of the day as well, and was a shoo-in for a top 10 himself before succumbing to suspension failure, finishing 30th.

Busch also left Texas with a 272-point lead over second-place Edwards, meaning that as long as he starts the next two races (considering the nine or so start-and-parks expected for each event), he will be the 2009 Nationwide Series champion.

Worth Noting

The Good

Leffler suddenly returned to early season form this weekend at Texas, qualifying in the top five and backing that up with a third-place finish, a result that allowed him to carry the flag for Braun Racing even with Vickers and Kahne also driving the team’s cars. Leffler’s run was easily the stoutest car he’s had in months, and the first time in a long time he was able to go toe-to-toe with the Cup drivers. If nothing else, he certainly gave Great Clips a timely reminder that for all their efforts to bring Kahne back into their car next season, they’ve had a good driver for the last few.

James Buescher made his debut with Phoenix Racing, driving the No. 1 car he will race full-time in 2010. Debuting at his home track (he grew up in Plano, Texas) this weekend, he delivered a rock solid performance that could foreshadow future success. Buescher climbed through the field after a disappointing qualifying run to be a fixture in the top 15, eventually coming home 11th. In addition to being an admirable effort for a driver who hadn’t raced in the Nationwide ranks since since Memphis last October, Buescher also proved able to handle and adjust his car’s setup on a temperamental 1.5-mile oval, and that bodes well for Phoenix Racing keeping their 2009 form heading into next season with an all-but-rookie driver.

Meanwhile, the driver that Phoenix released finished ahead of the No. 1 car… again. In the top 10… again. CJM Racing still hasn’t signed this guy, and they need a sponsor for 2010. Seeing as how the team has an alliance with JGR, that camp may want to start throwing some of the myriad sponsor dollars they have towards getting Bliss into their fold. With development drivers like Matt DiBenedetto coming through the ranks and a youthful Cup roster, that veteran presence may be worth more than they realize.

Finally, nice recovery by Brendan Gaughan, who finished 16th after heavy contact with the turn 2 wall halfway through the race.

The Bad

Steve Wallace earned some well-earned compliments throughout the broadcast for having learned how to finish races this season… but he unfortunately didn’t get to finish this one. Lap 180 saw Wallace get loose and tagged by Michael Annett, causing heavy damage to both machines and resulting in finishes outside the top 20 for both young guns.

Robert Richardson had a stellar Cup debut last weekend at Talladega, scoring the best finish in the history of Tommy Baldwin Racing (18th). However, that good luck ran out early and often at Texas. Richardson started his weekend out by wrecking his primary car during qualifying, and completed only 138 laps on Saturday before an engine failure sent his backup to the garage.

Mechanical woes also struck Shelby Howard and Johnny Borneman III, leaving both with finishes outside the top 30.

The Ugly

Morgan Shepherd and Jeremy Clements are drivers who can ill afford damaging their racecars, but both were involved in a lap 107 crash on the frontstretch after Joey Logano made contact with the No. 89 car, sending it into the wall and trapping Clements’s No. 0. For Shepherd, that leaves one of his two primary cars needing extensive body work minus a full-time crew, while for Clements his only Nationwide Series car, an old holdover from the now defunct McGill Motorsports, is also needing repairs it hasn’t had in awhile.

The ugliest wreck of the day, however, went to Justin Allgaier, who has suddenly found himself under fire for fifth place in NNS points and a head seat at the banquet, by Bliss. Allgaier’s No. 12 car was missing something from the drop of the green flag, hovering in the 15-20th place range until lap 121, where he triggered a destructive wreck that also heavily damaged Mike Wallace‘s No. 01 and Michael McDowell‘s No. 96. Allgaier is now only 13 points from falling out of the top five in points.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Kevin Conway. His ads were far more prevalent during the broadcast than his car, but Conway turned in a respectable performance in the ExtenZe No. 26 car for K-Automotive. Rewind back to the spring race, and the No. 26 failed to qualify. This time around, Conway qualified the car in the 31st position and delivered a top-20 performance, joining Brian Keselowski, Dennis Setzer, and McDowell as drivers that managed to do so for K-Automotive. Conway’s marketing background has definitely earned him opportunities to drive given the current economic crisis in the Nationwide Series… so it’s good to see there’s some performance to back it up.

The Final Word

Anyone notice how timely that first debris caution came out… right as Busch was running down Edwards to lap him early on? Desperation to keep what has been a decided title chase since the spring still alive.

John Wes Townley has had a disastrous rookie season, but a loyal sponsor has him driving full-time for Richard Childress Racing next year. Amazing what a sponsor can do, isn’t it? Townley deserves credit, though – he has run better of late, including an 18th-place finish at Texas on Saturday. Still, that’s not exactly the standard RCR has set in the past, is it?

The TV broadcast this past weekend was a marked improvement over that of the Texas spring race that saw the booth crew salivating over Busch. This weekend, there was more coverage of racing for position throughout the top 20, while a number of smaller-name guys such as Eric McClure, Bobby Hillin Jr. and especially Annett (who got snubbed in the spring) got their cars on camera. Still, there were a lot of cars (Richardson, Danny O’Quinn, Howard, Josh Wise) that were either not shown or only got on screen when they suffered a setback on the track. Note for 2010… every Nationwide sponsor that’s out there is one the Series needs to keep. Make this Series worth their investment, ESPN… or you’re not going to make any money yourselves peddling “Kyle Busch Speedway.”

Speaking of Busch, was anyone else sick of hearing about the “trifecta” like it was some Holy Grail that NASCAR drivers for the history of the sport have failed to reach? For crying out loud, it’s only been possible to achieve that for the last 14 years (the Trucks started running in 1995), and over those last 14 years it’s not like there’s been a ton of drivers that have preoccupied themselves trying to get to the top of the pylon across every NASCAR race out there, succeeding in the Cup ranks be damned. That’s proof positive that NASCAR’s media in general needs to work a bit harder in covering this Series… there are 43 stories out there every weekend. Go find one that actually does mean something.

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