No one or nothing could stop Kyle Busch on Friday evening. After multiple races full of disappointment, Busch set sail at Richmond International Raceway for the Virginia529 College Savings 250. Leading each of the 250 laps, he won his 67th career Nationwide Series event.
Busch held off Chase Elliott late in the race, but he was no contest for the driver of the No. 54 car. None of the other 39 drivers came close to him throughout the race as he led wire-to-wire for the second time in 289 career starts in NASCAR’s second-tier division (Busch also accomplished the feat at Phoenix in February, 2011). Before Busch, the last driver to lead each lap of a Nationwide Series contest was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Daytona in July, 2003.
During the race, the Joe Gibbs Racing team was able to stay ahead of everyone’s strategy and it paid off. Kevin Harvick ended the race in the third position after being Busch’s strongest challenger throughout the evening. Ryan Blaney had a solid race as his Team Penske Ford Mustang and ran inside of the top 5 throughout the race. By finishing the race with a tenth-place effort, Chris Buescher now has ten top 10s after missing the season-opener at Daytona for Roush Fenway Racing.
The race lasted approximately two hours and three minutes with the extended green flag runs. With no lead changes throughout the event, it was the second straight Nationwide Series race that has had fewer than two passes for the top position. Busch’s dominating effort was also the second time that there were no lead changes in 62 Nationwide events at Richmond; the previous one came in a 150-mile event with former champion Tommy Ellis going to Victory Lane.
Elliott extended his lead in the championship standings over his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith with a 19-point gap now. Ty Dillon remains third in points, but is now 42 points behind his fellow Rookie of the Year competitor for the title lead. Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott are fourth and fifth in points, yet sit more than 50 markers back of Elliott’s impressive tally. Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed and James Buescher remain as the rest of the top 10 in points.
Joe Gibbs Racing showed that their equipment is capable of winning once again. Busch had not won an event for eight straight races, and none of their cars have been exceptionally quick. Although they have run inside of the top 5, each of their drivers has had some struggles.
Elliott Sadler ran inside of the top 5 on Friday evening, but he fell back on the final restart to the eighth position, costing him several valuable points after having a shot to earn his first top-5 finish since Iowa in May. Matt Kenseth also showed some speed during the 187.5-mile race. However, he finished the evening with a 12th-place effort, and that is just about how the team has been this year. But with Busch’s win, they now have momentum. That momentum could be a key for Sadler, who might be out of a ride with several young drivers joining the team’s Nationwide Series stable next year.
Trevor Bayne failed to perform once again. Bayne finished 15th in the race, and now he is nearly 100 points behind Elliott in the title battle. In a year that he was considered one of the championship favorites, he has struggled mightily for RFR. Going without a win has certainly hurt Bayne’s confidence, but he is moving up to the Sprint Cup Series next year.
Brendan Gaughan ended the evening in the 18th position. Since his victory at Road America, he has just two top-10 finishes. Albeit the No. 62 team has shown speed, they have not been able to seal the deal. Richmond proved just that as he finished one lap down with two of his three RCR teammates finishing inside of the top 10.
The race itself was indeed ugly. There was very little passing within the 250 laps. However, the race wasn’t completely dull. The night started off with Jamie Dick and Kevin Lepage getting together, but the only other major incident was when Jeff Green and Jeffrey Earnhardt collided. The lack of passing for the second consecutive week is a major concern for a division that just signed a $200 million title sponsor.
It was also another ugly evening for James Buescher. The 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion finished two laps down in the 19th position on Friday. He has just 11 top 15s this year, and had high expectations for Richmond after earning his first top 10 of the year in the first event at the 0.75-mile track. His abysmal season has continued, even after swapping crew chiefs when Chris Rice moved over to NTS Motorsports and former JGR crew chief Matthew Lucas took over for Buescher’s team.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Dakoda Armstrong earned his second career top-10 finish on Friday evening. Earning a career-best finish, he took his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford to the seventh position after gaining several spots following the final caution. Now tied with Mike Bliss for 13th in points, Armstrong is looking for some momentum in the final stretch of the season.
Kelly Admiraal and Ryan Ellis also earned career-best results at Richmond. Admiraal, driving a second car for RAB Racing, finished in the 22nd position. Ellis, who was piloting a car sponsored by his fraternity, ended the day in the 24th spot for JGL Racing. Although both drivers finished three laps down, they were running times capable of racing inside of the top 15 late in the race.
Double Duty and Start-and-Park Effect
Six of the 40 drivers entered in the race are full-time drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Five of the cars opted to start-and-park. The five drivers that chose to end their race early were Matt Frahm, Blake Koch, Morgan Shepherd, John Jackson and Josh Reaume.
The Final Word
After what many have called a “boring race,” fans are going to be looking forward to Chicagoland, which has been one of the most exciting 1.5-mile tracks on the circuit. The division has had an extreme lack of passing over the past two weeks, and that is not what they need. However, the championship battle is getting extremely exciting to watch.
Elliott extending his lead was no surprise as he has now finished inside of the top 5 in 12 races this year. For a driver that never competed in a Nationwide Series race prior to this season, his accomplishments are remarkable. Moreover, if Busch weren’t so dominant during the race, he would’ve been able to learn more about how to catch the leader and take that vital position away at one of the most difficult tracks in NASCAR.
Besides the points leader running well, other young guns did the same. Blaney, coming off of wins at Mosport and Bristol, showcased his talent once again. He ran inside of the top 10 throughout the race, and showed why he might be Elliott’s biggest competition if he were to get a full-time ride next year. But Dillon and Chris Buescher each had solid runs as well. They are showing why the Nationwide Series is great for developing talented drivers, but they do need to even the level of competition between the Cup Series drivers, most of whom race for their Cup Series teams with the same pit crews they use in NASCAR’s premier division.
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