Carl Edwards did everything he could to try and steal his second consecutive Nationwide Series crown. Qualifying on the outside pole, Edwards ran in the top five all race long and led a third of the race (66 laps). Edwards also managed to pass Kyle Busch’s vaunted No. 18 Toyota with 34 laps to go on an intermediate oval, scoring his second consecutive win and seventh of the season. But it wasn’t enough.
1. Monkey See… Monkey Do – The nip and tuck championship battle between Ron Hornaday and Johnny Benson Jr. continues after the two squared off at Phoenix Friday night in the Lucas Oil 150. The fact the two Craftsman Truck Series drivers continued their points fight was made more remarkable after Hornaday incurred significant damage to his Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet on the first lap of the race. Repairs to Hornaday’s truck took 29 laps to complete, and he wound up finishing 25th, 34 laps down. However, a lap 87 wreck with TJ Bell sent Benson behind the pit wall for extensive work on his Bill Davis Racing Toyota. The current point leader did return to the track to salvage a 26th-place finish in the final running order – winding up one position behind Hornaday.
Carl Edwards talked all week about how his No. 60 team had to be perfect the next two weekends if they had any shot of scoring a second consecutive Nationwide title. And while there were minor hiccups, the No. 60 group did everything they could, leading the most laps and dominating the second half of Saturday’s event to score Edwards his sixth win of the season.
A long-time team member remarked “I’ve been with James [Finch] every race, I met James years before, he had no money when I met him. Been with him the whole time. He told me, I’m going to stick it out or quit. So, we talked about it, and we made this deal.” The deal was with Mike Bliss, and it was one that I as a writer criticized. Bliss was in the top five in Nationwide points driving for Fitz Motorsports’ No. 22 car, while Phoenix Racing was struggling. And in his first race in the No. 1, Bliss finished much like Marlin, three laps down in 24th at Texas. But the struggles ended there. Since that first race in Fort Worth, Bliss has posted 12 top-10 finishes for the team, including a runner-up finish at Dover in September. Riding this momentum, the No. 1 team has also climbed from 22nd to ninth in the Nationwide Series owner standings, while Bliss remains at fifth in driver points.
If things are grim in the Cup garage, things in the Nationwide garage border on apocalyptic. The litany of bad news arriving from that side of the fence makes recent issues of the Wall Street Journal look like Mad magazine. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is cutting back from two cars to one full-time effort and a part time team due to lack of sponsorship. His driver, Brad Keselowski, is currently highest in the Nationwide Series among full-time competitors. If the biggest name in NASCAR can’t secure sponsorship, that doesn’t leave a lot of hope for the smaller teams.
In the midst of another year of Cup domination in the Nationwide Series, former Cup driver Mike Bliss has put together some impressive credentials. Despite running for two different teams, the 43-year-old veteran is the second-highest Nationwide-only regular in the standings, with 14 top-10 finishes in 33 starts to land himself fifth in points, 567 behind championship leader Clint Bowyer. After six starts in Fitz Motorsports’ No. 22 Dodge, Bliss moved over to his current ride at Phoenix Racing, where he’s lifted the No. 1 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet to its best year in the series since Johnny Sauter drove the car in 2005. Bryan Davis Keith sat down recently with Bliss to discuss his season, the continuous Nationwide vs Cup driver saga, and how the current economic crisis might affect NASCAR’s second-tier division.
Q: Hey Matt! For the Texas race results, I noticed that Joey Logano was not awarded points. Instead, in that column it reads “PE” even though he finished 40th. What the heck does that mean?
Carl Edwards’s win on Sunday cut his points deficit to 106 with two races to go. Too little, too late, or is there an upset in the making?
2. Look Before You Leap – Before the Teresa Earnhardt-bashing crowd warms up their vocal chords to declare that DEI would be in better shape had Dale Earnhardt Jr. been handed the reins of those race teams, they may need to consider the latest developments from Earnhardt’s race team itself. In a statement released by Kelley Earnhardt, general manager of JR Motorsports and sister of Earnhardt said, “We’ve been working aggressively to secure funding to continue with two teams in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The economic climate is difficult, as everyone is aware, and that is affecting every company’s ability to spend. The 2008 season will be ending in less than three weeks, and preparations for next season are already underway. We do not anticipate getting the funding required to field two teams after the end of this season, and we need to make adjustments now to prepare JR Motorsports accordingly. We are reducing our workforce and budgets to comply with a new plan for 2009, which at the present time is to field the No. 88 team full-time with driver Brad Keselowski and the No. 5 team on a limited basis with a select group of drivers.”
The results at Texas Motor Speedway were exactly what anyone who’s followed the Nationwide Series in 2008 would expect. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas were untouchable. Cup regulars dominated the finishing order, taking six of the top-eight finishing positions. And Kyle Busch led early and often, leading 174 of 200 laps to score his 10th win of the Nationwide season. He’s fast become the Florida State of NASCAR, beating up on the lower ranks in much the same way the Seminoles opened the college football season with back-to-back games against I-AA teams.