Even as a single-car operation, Roush Fenway Racing didn’t miss a beat after two weeks off. Overcoming a slow mid-race pit stop, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed polesitter Paul Menard and held off a furious charge from Denny Hamlin on the race’s final restart to score his second win of the 2012 campaign. Menard, Kasey Kahne, Hamlin and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 5.
For Stenhouse and the blue oval brigade, the evening could best be described as bittersweet; while a huge points surge for the defending champion (points leader Elliott Sadler faded to 12th by race’s end), it also marked the first time since midway through the 2003 season that the No. 60 car didn’t take to the track. Unable to secure sponsorship, RFR and driver Trevor Bayne did not contest Friday night’s race despite entering the weekend fourth in points.
Speaking of points, the gap between Stenhouse and Sadler is now only four markers out heading into the first Kansas outing of the season. Austin Dillon’s strong evening was good enough to keep the No. 3 third in points, only 20 markers behind last season’s title challengers.
While seeing a Roush car win on an intermediate oval is never a surprise, this was a statement weekend and victory for both *Stenhouse and the No. 6 team*. Facing a tremendous challenge for the 2012 title in the form of a rejuvenated and powerful Richard Childress Racing operation, the only Roush Ford on track stormed to a come-from-behind victory despite having no teammates and the very visible reminder of sponsorship troubles all around them (driver Trevor Bayne was even interviewed during the race watching from pit road). Spoiling the party after RCR’s No. 33 team won the pole and led 100 laps was far more significant than emerging the Texas winner, and a vital shot of momentum heading into another race on a cookie-cutter next weekend.
Michael Annett came through with another solid top 10 weekend at Texas, and in doing so added another notch in what has been a consistent 2012 so far. Despite running with an operation at Richard Petty Motorsports that literally came together in the 25th hour, the ninth place run allowed the No. 43 team to capitalize on Trevor Bayne’s absence and move to fifth in points; in his career, Annett has never been that high in the Nationwide Series standings.
*Steve Arpin’s* first Nationwide Series race since the summer of 2010 went about as well as the former JR Motorsports driver could have hoped for, producing a top 10 finish that was a career-best for the Ontario-native on a non-plate track. Arpin obviously knows how to wheel a car around Texas (he won an ARCA race at the track in 2010), but it was still both surprising and a credit to the driver to score a top 10 finish in the No. 30’s first race without James Buescher behind the wheel. Arpin’s only got one more race on the books as it stands with Turner Motorsports this season…results like Friday’s could make that change.
*Austin Dillon* and *Justin Allgaier* each were fixtures in the top 10 all night, finishing fifth and seventh respectively.
Tire strategy late in the going allowed *Danica Patrick* to charge all the way to eighth by the time the checkers flew, as the No. 7 team ended up carrying the flag for JR Motorsports.
*Ryan Truex* brought some vitally needed sponsorship to RAB Racing’s No. 09 team and actually had the performance to boot (a top 15 finish was not out of the question for the team) until the motor expired less than 20 laps from the finish. The 32nd place result was the younger Truex’s worst of the season.
*Brian Scott’s* ugly start to the 2012 campaign got even uglier at the very track where he announced his move to Joe Gibbs Racing at two years ago. The No. 11 car also succumbed to an engine failure only 61 circuits in, leaving the Idaho-native to finish 37th. His third DNF in the last four races, Scott sits ahead in the standings of only of Blake Koch, TJ Bell and Jeff Green as drivers that have competed in every race this season.
*Jeremy Clements* was at one point in Friday’s 300-miler among the top 3 drivers in terms of improving positions from their qualifying start, but that was before the No. 51 had to duck behind the wall while banging on the door of the top 20. Losing time behind the wall with an unknown mechanical ailment, Clements ended up finishing 12 laps off the pace in 29th, his worst result since Charlotte last fall.
*Eric McClure* was visibly off the pace from the drop of the green flag on Friday, and by the first caution was being pulled out of the No. 14 in favor as he was suffering from what was reported as flu-like symptoms. Tri-Star Motorsports’ start-and-park driver *Jeff Green* admirably filled in, bringing the No. 14 home to a 24th place result, albeit eight laps off the pace.
*Blake Koch* had to deal with enough of a PR drama in NASCAR’s extended off-weekend after tensions between ESPN and his sponsor Rise Up and Register became the headline story of the Nationwide Series. Then, to top it off, with RWR driver Timmy Hill returning to the Nationwide Series and taking over the No. 41, Koch had to race his way into the field on Friday (he did successfully, but will be fighting the top 30 battle for the remainder of the season it appears). Unfortunately, the same No. 15 that Hill won the 2011 Rookie of the Year award in didn’t treat its new driver so kindly; Koch got dumped by Kurt Busch exiting turn 2 on a lap 95 restart, tagging the inside wall and finishing 36th, his second DNF in the last three races.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Mike Bliss* On a night that Tri-Star Motorsports found its share of struggles (as mentioned, Eric McClure had to exit his ride early due to illness, while Tayler Malsam ended up a disappointing 25th after slapping the turn 2 wall and heavily damaging the rear end of the No. 19 car late in the race), veteran Mike Bliss came out of nowhere to score a top 10 qualifying effort, and then backing that up with a 16th place finish. Having finished with five consecutive top 20s after a wreck in the opener at Daytona, Bliss is 10th in points heading into Kansas.
Honorable mention to *Jason Bowles* with an 18th place finish in the No. 81.
Start-and-parkers occupied 6 of the 43 starting positions in Friday’s race, taking home $88,584 in purse money.
Cup regulars scored 4 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 11 of the 43 starting positions, and took home $272,308 in purse money.
75 of 258 starting positions occupied (29.1%)
$1,897,472 dollars won
1 of 6 trophies collected (16.7%)
*Who You Didn’t See*
Start-and-parkers and Cup regulars occupied 15 of the 43 cars that started the O’Reilly 300. Of the 28 remaining cars, *Tayler Malsam, Brian Scott and Eric McClure were involved in incidents or driver swaps, leaving 25 Nationwide regular entries. Of those, Benny Gordon, TJ Bell, Robert Richardson, Tim Schendel, Kelly Bires, Timmy Hill, Danny Efland, Mike Wallace, Kyle Fowler and Johanna Long* ran the distance and were not mentioned in any capacity during the telecast. In addition, *Clements* was not followed-up on upon returning to the track after the broadcast crew noted he had gone to the garage, *Bliss* was only mentioned for receiving a lucky dog, and *Erik Darnell* was only mentioned as lap traffic without TV time. That leaves 13 of the 25 Nationwide regular entries without incident uncovered, or *52% of the field*. And that was with a red flag period for the lights in turn 3 failing.
*The Final Word – Who You Didn’t See*
• Kelly Bires made his first Nationwide Series start since start-and-parking for Go Green Racing at Dover last fall, the first time in 2012 that Joey Gase was not behind the wheel of the No. 39. Bires finished 22nd, the team’s best result this season.
• Timmy Hill made his first Nationwide Series start of the season after it was announced that Rick Ware Racing’s Cup efforts were being put in hiatus; he finished 28th.
• Johanna Long qualified in the top 15 and finished in the top 20 (20th). How a female driver does that and scores no TV time on ESPN is beyond comprehension.
*The Final Word*
• Why exactly does this race have to be run on a Friday night? The cooler temperatures and lights didn’t make for a very entertaining show…take away the late-race yellow and this one was settled more than 20 laps from the finish.