Just like the spring, Joey Logano emerged victorious in Nationwide competition at Dover. The only difference was this race was devoid of the close battle to the finish between he and teammate Ryan Truex. This one was never in doubt, with the No. 18 team leading 184 of the 200 laps run en route to his seventh victory of the 2012 season. Paul Menard, Michael Annett, Elliott Sadler, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 5.
Look at the headlines this week, and you might think they tell the story of the early weeks of this year’s Chase. First Brad Keselowski and then Denny Hamlin grabbed attention for their winning efforts at Chicago and New Hampshire, respectively, and each was touted as the title favorite after the victory. And then, of course, there’s Jimmie Johnson, the five-time Chase champion who is the overwhelming favorite to win this weekend at Dover and who also happens to have the points lead.
And then there are the drivers on the opposite end of the spectrum: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick…and the speculation about what has gone wrong, why they’re done and why they think they’re not. Throw in a couple of props to the Michael Waltrip Racing team and how they’ve flown in under the radar and are poised to make the team one of NASCAR’s elite. That about sums it up, right?
Hearing the news of Kurt Busch’s arrival at Furniture Row Racing next season might cause one to recall the path that the team has traveled to get to 2013 — from Jerry Robertson to a former Cup champ. But, aside from the fanfare of a superstar driver’s big announcement, it also elicits a worthwhile question: what happens to Regan Smith?
Smith, who’s been within the NASCAR ranks since 2002, came to Furniture Row, a Denver, Colo.-based, single-car organization, in 2009, when the team was running on a part-time basis after failing to qualify for multiple races from 2006-2008. After switching back to full-time status in 2010, Smith and the No. 78 team scored a popular victory in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington. Just this past off-season, Smith moved to Colorado to be closer to the rest of the organization, expecting his future to lie with the Denver-based race team.
*Did You Notice?…* Kurt Busch’s pick of Furniture Row was based on finances more than future success? Yes, he had offers from plenty of other programs, and Richard Petty Motorsports in particular would have loved to add him. But after a year with Phoenix, in which sponsorship has been near impossible to come by, Busch knows the obstacles at stake in NASCAR today. There are no new companies waltzing in for a 36-race schedule, and the ones remaining know all about the 2004 Cup Series champ and his personal _Days Of Our Lives_ history with the fans, media, NASCAR officials … you name it. You don’t erase that “bad boy” image up at corporate in less than ten months, no matter how many touchy-feely statements people make before you enter the boardroom. Let’s not forget, this “recovery period” included a one-race suspension for swearing and personal misconduct, applied after a postrace interview at the same track we’re headed to this weekend: Dover.
Denny Hamlin called his shot, and hit it out of the park when it mattered. Hamlin dominated New Hampshire for the second straight race, but did something he wasn’t able to do the first time around — close.
On Sunday, Hamlin led 193 laps and never even came close to relinquishing the lead down the stretch on the way to his fifth victory. The win moved him within seven points of series leader Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin made a statement by closing the deal at New Hampshire, but he could make an even bigger statement by stringing together consistent finishes like the top two in points have, Keselowski and Johnson.
*Key Moment* – Kyle Busch had another motor issue which relegated him to also-ran status and allowed Denny Hamlin to pass him for the lead with 206 laps to go. From that point on, barring a major mechanical failure or strategic blunder, Hamlin was just logging laps until he did a tremendous burnout.
*In a Nutshell* – Hamlin’s crew forgot to add extra air to his tires before he went out for qualifying on Friday which resulted in him starting the race from the 32nd position. From the drop of the green flag, Hamlin was on a mission to get to the front. Once he got there, he just drove away with the race.
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.
As fast as the news came of AJ Allmendinger’s suspension for a failed drug test, it seems only fitting that the news that suspension is already lifted was equally as quick.
No, seriously. Not two months after the news broke in July, Allmendinger, the former driver of Penske Racing’s No. 22 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is already “back,” or at least could be back, in theory. The news comes as a shock not in the sense that Allmendinger completed NASCAR’s Road to Recovery Program; I don’t think anyone who knew the driver on even the most basic of levels would peg him as a bad guy whose problems were only going to worsen.
*ONE: They Lied…Neither Keselowski, Johnson “Showing their Hands” After Round 1*
OK, it’s taking the statement a bit out of context. When Brad Keselowski was asked immediately after winning at Chicago whether or not he and Johnson were showing their hands, the question was posed as to whether either of them were sandbagging during the race’s final green-flag run. But in a larger sense, despite Keselowski’s insistence that both he and Johnson were giving it all they had (Johnson’s own post-race comments were in concurrence, as he noted the No. 2 simply outran them to the checkers) both drivers weren’t telling the whole story. They were both rather… subdued.
It’s hard to believe that Roush Fenway Racing entered the weekend without a win to their credit at the Chicagoland Speedway, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took care of that on Saturday. Running down Kyle Busch in the closing laps with a car that was unstoppable on the high side of the track, the defending Nationwide Series champion scored his fifth win of the 2012 season… and took the points lead back for his troubles. Busch, Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski, and Paul Menard rounded out the top 5.