NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Breakdown: Royal Purple 300

Another Nationwide race, another Kyle Busch victory.

For the third time in five races this season, Busch emerged victorious in the second-tier series, leading 92 laps en route to his 54th career win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. It was a commanding performance from the Las Vegas native, who started from the pole and was substantially challenged by points leader and runner-up Sam Hornish Jr., who added 28 laps led.

His win continues a return to form for Busch, who returned to Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series in 2013 after driving for his own team in 2012. After being unable to secure any sort of win in the series last year, he’s already scored enough victories this year to compensate — and then some.

Following Busch and Hornish was Regan Smith, Parker Kligerman and Austin Dillon also in the top five. Kyle Larson, Elliott Sadler, Brian Scott, Trevor Bayne and Kevin Swindell rounded out the top 10.

The Good

Sam Hornish Jr. is quickly establishing himself not only as the series’ top regular competitor, but the lead guy at Penske Racing as well — an achievement considering his teammate, defending Cup champ Brad Keselowski. Hornish was dialed in during Saturday’s race, often getting by Kyle Busch on restarts to lead a few laps before giving way to the eventual winner. These days, anyone who can successfully challenge Busch in a Nationwide race tends to have had a fairly commendable race.

Five races, five top-10 finishes for Brian Scott. Looks like Scott and Richard Childress Racing are meshing fairly well, and though he has yet to get a finish inside the top five, let alone a win, it looks like such a thing is right around the corner. At the very least, he’s incredibly consistent.

The Bad

Brian Vickers was expected by many to challenge for the 2013 championship, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is simply not having the kind of luck teammate Busch is so far this year. An engine problem relegated Vickers to 34th at day’s end, dropping him from fifth to 11th in the overall points standings. There’s obviously still time for the No. 20 to improve, but things really need to start getting together in order for Vickers to be taken as a serious contender again.

The Ugly

SR2 Motorsports

Regan Smith cut down a tire early on in the race but recovered to finish in third place and moved up to second in points. Not a bad race by any means, but certainly not a pretty way of getting to where he finished.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Kevin Swindell. After missing the team’s first race of the year due to a rain-out, Swindell and the Biagi-DenBeste team picked up where they left off in 2012 with another top-10 finish. As far as part-time partnerships with smaller teams go, the No. 98 probably has the best thing going right now.

Ill-Gotten Gains

Start-and-parkers occupied five of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $71,630 in purse money.

Cup regulars won the race, scored one of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied three of the 40 starting positions, and took home $117,505 in purse money.

The Final Word

Same as last week, really. Busch wins, but didn’t do it in a fashion that was wholly unbearable to watch. But a Kyle Busch win in the Nationwide Series is still a Kyle Busch win in the Nationwide Series. It might be vaguely exciting at the time, but you still feel unfulfilled afterward.

Still, seeing Sam Hornish with a strong car was encouraging, as is his continued great runs that see him 28 points ahead of Regan Smith in the points. So though we didn’t see a championship contender take the victory, a driver who’s likely to be in contention at season’s end continued to show why he’s one of the series’ best at this very moment.

Big ol’ break from now until the next race, which is happening April 12 in Texas. Think you can handle it?

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