Austin Dillon must wish the Nationwide Series tackled the Kentucky Speedway 30 times a season after Saturday. Cruising unmolested in the latter parts of the race, Dillon had no trouble scoring his second win of the 2012 season and sweeping the 2012 campaign’s races in Sparta, KY. Sam Hornish Jr., Brendan Gaughan, Drew Herring, and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 5.
The championship chase took a dramatic turn in this one after a red-hot start by incoming points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Having led the first 32 laps, a trip down pit road turned treacherous for the No. 6, which had its right front fender caved in after contact with Eric McClure’s car exiting his stall. Ensuing work to repair the damage mired Stenhouse in traffic, and led to handling woes that saw the defending champ pound the turn 4 wall on lap 48. Cutting down a tire, the No. 6 team was forced down pit road under green and limped around the rest of the afternoon, eventually coming home 17th, three laps down.
Meanwhile, RCR’s Nationwide teams brought their A-game, with Dillon and Sadler proving the class of the field in leading a combined 158 laps. Brendan Gaughan finished in the top 5 despite running setups solely meant to complement that which the Nos. 2 and 3 were trying.
As a result, Sadler retook the points lead by four markers over Stenhouse, with Dillon closing to within 19 points of the lead as the series turns to Dover.
There’s a very big difference between a top 5 finish and a top 10 finish. Yet despite the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing’s equipment, the majority of their development drivers fail to cross that threshold. That can’t be said for Drew Herring, who in making his first start of 2012, recovered from a lap 39 spin after contact with Michael Annett to finish fourth. Being able to race that far up front and stay there, as well as to prosper on a weekend where the JGR Cup drivers were off in Loudon (Joey Logano had to coach him over the phone), speaks very well as to Herring’s ability behind the wheel.
As previously mentioned, Richard Childress Racing was on fire at Kentucky. Austin Dillon won the race. Elliott Sadler led the most laps and finished fifth. Brendan Gaughan finished third. Both Dillon and Sadler were able to capitalize on the biggest mistake Stenhouse has made in four months, while Gaughan delivered his best finish of 2012 and best since Road America in 2010. Nothing to explain here… the results speak for themselves.
Cole Whitt was largely left out of the discussion during a week that saw massive shake-ups at JR Motorsports. But on Saturday, he was the only sure thing the operation had going for it. The No. 88 didn’t get up front by accident this weekend in a race that saw cars lapped early and often, as Whitt was a top 10 fixture and lightyears ahead of teammate Danica Patrick. Whitt’s sixth place finish was his best on an intermediate oval since Michigan in June.
Brad Sweet scored his first top 10 finish since Fontana, thanks to astute coaching from his spotter that had him starting backing off the gas earlier in the corners… Jeremy Clements managed to stay on the lead lap for a good portion of the afternoon en route to finishing 15th… Jamie Dick finished 19th driving the No. 23 car for the 12th time this season, a career best finish and his first ever top 20 result.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could have used more help from his crew chief and spotter to avoid the contact he made with Eric McClure under pit stops during the competition caution, but the ensuing contact he made with the wall on lap 48 was entirely on the driver. Though Stenhouse was in a hairy situation mired in traffic that was showing no qualms with going three-wide, it was clear that the No. 6 car was overdriven when it hit the wall… damage that cost the No. 6 the points lead. Rebounding to finish 17th minimized the damage, but it also snapped a four race top 2 streak for this team.
Tri-Star Motorsports had a weekend to forget. Eric McClure was involved in the incident on pit road that damaged Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and ended up in another spin on lap 160 that brought out the sixth and final yellow of the day. Tayler Malsam was also involved in a spin on lap 87 after getting sandwiched between Elliott Sadler and Mike Wallace exiting turn 4; Sadler had moved up the track to avoid a car coming to pit road. Both drivers finished outside the top 20.
Alex Bowman saw a promising performance in his debut with RAB Racing disappear in a cloud of smoke late…Sadler’s in-car camera showed fluid coming from the machine on lap 141 and while no updates were provided later in the going, the No. 99 went from a lead lap machine to finishing six laps down in 25th.
Danica Patrick finished a disappointing 14th and enjoyed no spike in performance courtesy of the recent shake-ups at JRM.
This feature may have to be re-titled for start-and-parking, because it keeps getting worse. Thirteen of 43 cars parked early, and a 14th may well be heading down that road. Just look at the notes; three teams that started the 2012 season racing parked (SR2 Motorsports’ No. 24, Morgan Shepherd’s No. 89 and MAKE Motorsports’ No. 50), while Rick Ware Racing regular Timmy Hill made it only four laps past halfway before parking with “handling issues.” Specialty Racing’s No. 61 team did the same thing for a number of races… before they fell off the circuit entirely.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Johanna Long. With Danica Patrick treading water, looks like the broadcast crew has found a new girlfriend. This Saturday was a big step forward for Long, who had easily her most convincing showing to date on an intermediate oval. That run the team put together at Richmond has finally put both driver and the No. 70 team on the radar of big-time NASCAR, and that’s already yielding results… Long’s success this weekend was partially attributed to sharing a test track at Nashville with RCR earlier in the week.
Start-and-parkers occupied 13 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $136,169 in purse money.
Cup regulars occupied 3 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $48,441 in purse money.
323 of 1,161 starting positions occupied (27.8%)
$6,575,011 dollars won
13 of 27 trophies collected (48.1%)
The Final Word
* Remember when standalone Nationwide Series races at Kentucky Speedway drew 60,000+ fans and were among the marquee events on the schedule? Fans probably could have heard pins drop in the infield when the engines weren’t fired this weekend. 23,000 as the stated attendance is insulting viewers’ intelligence, and along with the start-and-park fleet speaks volumes as to the current health of NASCAR’s AAA.