NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Breakdown: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge

The sun was shining at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon for the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ 31st race of 2014. But it was bright as ever on the Monster Energy Toyota after its driver won the Camping World Truck Series event on Friday night and followed it up with another win the next day.

Kyle Busch piloted his No. 54 car to Victory Lane in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway by approximately one and a half seconds over Joey Logano.

Busch captured his seventh win of the year for Joe Gibbs Racing, and ever so slightly closed the gap in the owner points between the Nos. 22 and 54 teams. The triumph marks Gibbs’ 100th career win as an owner in the Nationwide Series, now 33 victories behind Roush Fenway Racing for the series lead.

After leading 116 laps at Texas, Busch has 70 career wins in NASCAR’s second-tier division. In 18 Nationwide Series events at Texas, he now has seven victories, which ranks as the most at the 1.5-mile speedway over Kevin Harvick, who has five wins at the track.

Logano took charge for 59 laps, including holding the lead with less than 40 laps remaining in the race. However, Busch drove around the No. 22 Ford with 31 laps to go. With green-flag pit stops occurring late in the race, the leaders came down at the same time, but Logano wasn’t able to keep up with his fellow Sprint Cup Series competitor.

The race lasted approximately two hours and 15 minutes, which was five minutes longer than the April event at the track. With 13 lead changes between five drivers, the race had one fewer swap for the lead compared to the last event at the track. However, the 13 lead changes is also above Texas’ average of 11.21 in 28 events at the track.

Chase Elliott, who finished the day in fourth place, now holds a 54-point advantage over teammate Regan Smith entering Phoenix – the second to final race of the year. Brian Scott sits third in points, 15 markers behind Smith, with Elliott Sadler fourth and Ty Dillon fifth. Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed and Dylan Kwasniewski round out the top 10 in the point standings with two races left in the year.

The Good

Chase Elliott was racing outside of the top 10 for the majority of the race. However, after major changes to his No. 9 car, he was able to work his way into the top 10, and eventually the top 5. He was able to extend his championship points lead over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith in the process with a 54-point advantage entering Phoenix. But Elliott and crew chief Greg Ives showed exactly why they are leading the standings heading into the final pair of races in the season with 15 top-5 results on the year.

Ryan Blaney, running his 13th Nationwide Series event of the year, finished the day with a third-place finish for Team Penske. Although the No. 54 team closed the gap on the No. 22 in the owner’s standings, Blaney was up there all day long as he attempted to keep Busch behind Logano. It was Blaney’s ninth top-5 result of 2014, yet it was the first time since Chicago that he has not led a lap in a Nationwide Series race (he’s run two races since then).

The Bad

Trevor Bayne led 15 laps early in the race, appearing as if he was going to be one of the cars to beat during the 300-mile spectacle. However, on lap 48, Bayne blew a right-front tire. When he hit the wall in turn 1, the No. 6 car caught fire, which forced Bayne to pull his car onto the apron on the backstretch. After the incident, he said that it was the best Nationwide Series car he has ever driven. Prior to Saturday’s race, he has led just 62 laps this year, which is his lowest since leading 34 laps in his rookie season in 2009.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Despite a strong start, Trevor Bayne’s Texas race met a fiery end. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

The Ugly

Elliott Sadler suffered from food poisoning throughout the day. Clint Bowyer qualified for him in the No. 11 Toyota. Prior to the race, Sadler went to the infield care center, receiving treatment, but it wasn’t enough to get him better for the race. On lap 10, Bowyer took the helm of the Joe Gibbs Racing car. Although he went on to finish ninth, it disabled Sadler from racing with a team that he is departing at the end of the year.

Ryan Sieg was running in 21st when he spun out. He was on the low side of Corey LaJoie, causing his car to get loose. Sieg’s left-rear tire flew off of the car onto the backstretch. As he went back up the race track, the No. 39 car slammed into the left-rear of LaJoie’s car. Both drivers were fine after the wreck, but their cars were not. Sieg ended up finishing 33rd, while LaJoie ended the day one better in 32nd.

Underdog Performer of the Race

Dakoda Armstrong earned his third career top-1o finish at Texas. The No. 43 team was able to finish 10th after not pitting during the final round of green-flag pit stops. Armstrong’s team has notably struggled at intermediate tracks this year, recording a mere 10 top 20s. But the team was running outside of the top-15 throughout the day, and took a chance on strategy by having the risk of running out of fuel.

Along with Armstrong’s solid run, Brian Scott finished the day in the sixth position. After running third for a chunk of the race, Scott fell back during the final restart on lap 136. However, with Richard Childress Racing’s consistency at intermediate tracks this year, the No. 2 team was able to tally up their 21st top-10 finish, which is a career-high for Scott.

Double Duty and Start-and-Park Effect

Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth represented the Sprint Cup Series inside of the top 5 on Saturday afternoon. Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Landon Cassill, JJ Yeley and Trevor Bayne are also running the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday as well with Logano, Kenseth and Harvick fighting to advance to the final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Five of the 40 cars opted to start-and-park at Texas. The five drivers to end their day prematurely were Ryan Ellis, Blake Koch, Carlos Contreras, Joey Gase and Martin Roy.

The Final Word

Chase Elliott is closer than ever before to clinching his first career championship in a NASCAR-sanctioned division. He has been the most consistent driver in the field on a weekly basis, but what has stood out is his raw speed no matter what track the division has raced at. In order to clinch the title at Phoenix, he’ll need to be 48 points ahead of Smith. The No. 7 team will need to be eight spots ahead of the No. 9 if neither of them leads a lap. If Smith leads a lap and Elliott does not, he’ll need to be seven spots ahead of Elliott. However, if Elliott leads a lap and Smith doesn’t, Elliott will need to be seven positions ahead of the No. 7 car.

But with all this discussion about the championship, most have forgotten about what is going to happen next year. Elliott and Smith are each returning to JR Motorsports in 2015. They are expected to be just as competitive next season, but they have to work on their intermediate track program. Although Elliott has run rather well on those tracks, Smith has struggled, which has been the game changer in the championship race this year. With a possibly strong JR Motorsports, everyone else in the Nationwide Series field is going to be aiming to keep up with it in 2015.

Sadler is moving over to Roush Fenway Racing next year, but he has come short of the championship for the last few years. Dillon is going to likely be stronger next year, yet his team is going to need a drop more speed after being one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit with 22 top-10 results. There will be a few more drivers competing for the title next year such as Chris Buescher and Brendan Gaughan, but the outlook is amazing for JR Motorsports as it has the strongest equipment at the majority of the tracks.

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JohnQ

The honest ugly: The series is just Cup practice and no one is watching.

Ken

Oh, the stands were really packed yesterday! Not! Thank you Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske! And to a lesser extent, Junior Motorsports (call it honestly, it’s Hendrick Motorsports). And if you think it’s bad now, wait until next year when Elliott Sadler is driving for Roush and Coach Joe puts Edwards in the number 11 at every companion race. Might as well give The Coach yet another owner’s championship, since that’s all he cares about.

Unless there is a major announcement banning these egomaniac Cup drivers from the lower series’ within the next two weeks, when I renew any tickets I have for 2015, I will only renew for the Cup races. Screw the lower series’. And this isn’t hatred directed at Kyle Busch, although I cannot stand the little puke! He and Gibbs stand there so smug at being able to dominate a race and beat up on teams with significantly less financial backing, and they think they are Kings of the sport! Look at Ryan Sieg. Even Dale Jarrett made the comment about Gibbs, Penske, and (Hendrick) having far more financial backing, and teams like Sieg has to make do with what they have. For sure! How many rear end failures like Sieg had yesterday has Busch ever had? Enough! Maybe next time Gibbs gets up there with his phoney Christian attitude, he should be booed right off the stage. Maybe then he will get the message and start giving some of those struggling drivers a chance to see what they could do with equipment far superior to what they are stuck with.

Fred

Ken, JQ
I could not agree more. Screw this sham of a series. I honestly can’t understand why anybody pays to go see this mess. How the hell can this dominance be exciting to anybody? And all this baloney about owners points, i have never in my life heard anyone talking about or giving a damn about owner points. It means nothing!

racefangurl

Trevor had a car that looked like it could win. He was FAST! Too bad it had to end with a bang.:(

rascalmanny

Keep winning Kyle !!! LOL. I love it.

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