Joey Logano emerged victorious yet again in Nationwide Series competition Friday night, capitalizing on a strong qualifying effort and off-sequence pit strategy en route to score his sixth trophy of 2012 and his first at Bristol. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 5.
The story of the night emerged with less than 10 laps to go after a lap 242 caution that saw Austin Dillon slip up and slam polesitter Trevor Bayne into the fence. With points leader Sadler in position to challenge for the victory, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. executed a textbook bump and run on the lap 249 restart, driving off to a runner-up finish. Stenhouse went to Sadler’s car immediately post-race to try and clear the air, but Sadler in his post-race remarks noted that the move would open the door for the rest of the season in terms of racing aggressively with the championship on the line.
With both Dillon and Hornish finishing in the back of the top 10 after each found the wall late in the event, Sadler leaves Bristol with a 19 point lead over Stenhouse heading into Atlanta. Hornish and Dillon fell to 28 and 35 markers back respectively.
Though the night race on the Cup side was arguably the most lively event that’s been seen since the Chase was created in 2004, the Nationwide race was a quieter affair…and that bode well for the title contenders. Tension from a bump-and-run or not, both *Stenhouse and Sadler* combined to lead 71 laps and score top 5 finishes even on the more treacherous Bristol layout, and both had cars strong enough to justify the finishes. *Sam Hornish Jr.* did scrub the wall inside of 50 to go, but managed to hang on for a 10th place finish nonetheless. And of the four, *Austin Dillon* looked more a rookie than he has all season long, making contact with Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, and others throughout the 250-lapper. Dillon still finished ninth on a night where the No. 3 was the No. 4 car among the leaders… meaning the mixing bowl did anything but to the championship race.
*Ryan Blaney’s* return to Tommy Baldwin Racing on the Nationwide side translated into better results than his debut with Penske Racing did. In only his sixth career start, Blaney maintained his streak of qualifying in the top 20 (six-for-six on his career) and scored his third top 10 in as many short-track starts with a seventh place run under the lights. There may not be too many more races that TBR fans will see this prospect behind the wheel of the No. 36. Penske would be foolish not to run him full-time in 2012.
*Danica Patrick* rode out the race all night long and was never a factor for the win, but conserved enough car and stayed out of trouble to finish ninth, her first top 10 finish since Texas back in April. *Michael Annett’s* eighth place result was also of note as his ninth top 10 finish of the season (a career-high), continuing a season long stretch of top-15 finishes on short tracks. *Tayler Malsam* finished 12th, marking the first time he’s scored back-to-back top 15 finishes in the No. 19 car all year long and a career-best Bristol result.
Any chance *Justin Allgaier* and the No. 31 team had of turning their Montreal victory into a wave of momentum went out the window less than two minutes into Friday’s race. Lap 7 saw the No. 31 car in the fence after pulling a slide-job in front of Elliott Sadler, damage the likes of which that had last week’s winners out of competition even before the start-and-parkers completed their deed. Though the car managed to return to the track, Allgaier ended up bringing out the third yellow flag of the event 26 circuits later, losing control of his wounded machine and pounding the wall a second time. Allgaier finished the event eight laps down in 30th place, his worst finish since Fontana in April and snapping a 17-race top-15 finish streak.
*Jeremy Clements* saw his shot at a decent Bristol finish gone even before Allgaier’s wreck triggered the first yellow flag of the night, as the No. 51 car was parked on pit road when the race went green. Radio communication issues had Clements and his team parked for a number of laps before the team was able to establish communication with their spotter and take to the track. The No. 51 team completed 213 laps and finished 33rd, derailing their first night as a partner with St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital (though the parked car on pit road got the team more TV time than they usually do running top 20).
*John Wes Townley* actually had a decent race going before a loose wheel reared its ugly head on lap 228, to the point that the center of the wheel fell apart and the tire only stayed on the car because it was wedged under the fender. Townley still finished 23rd on the night, his best career-result in a Nationwide event.
*Trevor Bayne’s* pole-winning run at his home state track was his first Nationwide start since Fontana back in March, but was derailed late after Austin Dillon put his Volunteer-themed Ford into the fence, finishing 16th. *Nelson Piquet Jr.’s* hot streak didn’t translate over to Bristol, as he finished 21st in his first race in the No. 30 since winning at Road America. *Erik Darnell* completed only 173 laps before bowing out with an electrical issue. *Rick Crawford* did manage to run 55 laps in the No. 74, the furthest Mike Harmon’s team has run in any event all season long, but still ended up parking early in his first Nationwide Series start since Chicago last spring.
*Brian Scott* finishing 34th with a wrecked race car despite qualifying third on a night where Joe Gibbs Racing proved to have the field covered is ugly enough. When that wreck happens courtesy of corporate teammate Kyle Busch, and for no good reason, well… though Busch was heard over the radio apologizing, the reality was undeniable; the No. 54 car had every opportunity not to run over the No. 11, and did it anyway. Scott’s run of bad luck continued, though this time he had nothing to do with it.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Kevin Lepage* For only the third time this season, Kevin Lepage got to run the distance in a Nationwide Series race, and brought home a 20th place result that was by far the best finish to date for the new Deware Racing Group No. 86 team. The result was Lepage’s best of 2012 and his best result on a short-track since the Bristol spring race of 2008.
*Start-and-parkers* occupied 8 of the 43 starting positions in Friday’s race, taking home $131,761 in purse money.
*Cup regulars* won Friday’s race, scored 2 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 8 of the 43 starting positions on Friday’s field, and took home $183,119 in purse money.
269 of 989 starting positions occupied (27.2%)
$5,495,131 dollars won
12 of 23 trophies collected (52.2%)
*The Final Word*
• Yes, it ended up costing Sadler a shot at the win and a few points in the title chase, but come on… what was so out of line with Stenhouse’s bump and run? It’s Bristol, for crying out loud. And while the latest “new” Bristol is certainly not the old bullring, it’s still short-tracking. Stenhouse didn’t wreck him, he moved him. Though what he was thinking rushing over to the No. 2 car 30 seconds after the race was over to try and clear his name?
• On another championship front, the 2013 battle may well have seen its first salvo fired in the late race battle between Bayne and Dillon that saw both drivers damaged and unhappy. This whole Childress/Roush competition may become a rivalry yet.