After Saturday night’s race, even I am willing to put aside the fact that yet again the Nationwide Series ended a race with a 1-2 dose of Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch (though this time, Edwards came out on top). Why? Without a doubt, the Kroger 200 was the most exciting race of the 2009 …
For the sixth week in a row, Kyle Busch was the dominant car in a Nationwide Series race. That’s it, no tricks to this story. His pit crew perfect, his laps fast, his nose clean, Busch led 173 of the 225 laps run Saturday night to score his long overdue fourth win of the Nationwide Series season. While Busch’s race was clean, his unorthodox celebration was far from it (read on to hear this writer’s take).
For 198 laps, it was business as usual for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing, as the No. 18 and No. 20 Toyotas put an absolute smackdown on the NNS field – combining to lead 195 laps and holding the top-two spots when the race’s final green flag restarted the event with two laps to …
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.
Carl Edwards soft-pedaled 113.5 miles out of a tank of gas to cruise across the finish line first at half throttle.
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.
Carl Edwards’s win at Atlanta barely closed the gap between he and points leader Jimmie Johnson. Is the championship battle officially only between these two? And what has to happen for Edwards to win?
On lap 29, a handful of drivers came in for fresh tires and adjustments at Memphis… and it turns out that made all the difference. A caution on lap 126 after over 90 laps of green flag racing left less than 10 cars on the lead lap, including Carl Edwards, whose No. 60 Ford was the class of the field. Edwards was never seriously challenged for the lead throughout the rest of the race despite multiple late-race cautions, and made coming from the back of the pack look easy, scoring a relatively easy victory. Defending race winner David Reutimann got his No. 99 Toyota to second with a few laps to go, but he refused to use the bump and run to move Edwards out of the way, a decision Reutimann later questioned himself for making.
While Bobby Hamilton Jr.’s performance in the No. 25 this season has gone largely unnoticed on ESPN broadcasts and in larger publications, he has done a considerable amount with little this season. Hamilton is currently riding a streak of 12 consecutive top-20 finishes, a stretch of races that has included everything from the high banks of Daytona to the high banks of Bristol, the sweeping left turns of Michigan to the hard right handers of Watkins Glen. Yet, despite doing everything right in 2008 on and off the track, fans likely won’t see either Team Rensi’s No. 25 or its driver on the Nationwide Series circuit next season. Smithfield will discontinue its sponsorship after 2008, and unless the team can pull another last-minute deal out, the No. 25 car will likely be parked for 2009.
Did You Notice? Jamie McMurray’s crash at Dover was not just caused by Robby Gordon’s recklessness… but by missing the playoffs? Let me explain. After the regular season finale at Richmond, Roush Fenway Racing GM Robbie Reiser made a number of pit crew switches to benefit the RFR teams set to contend for the championship. “There were some members on the No. 26 car that were proven veterans,” explained Greg Biffle’s crew chief Greg Erwin at Loudon. “And both our team and the No. 99 has had some issues with one guy in particular on each squad. Reiser stepped up to the plate and decided, ‘Look, this is our best foot forward. These are what we think are our most experienced, under-the-gun-type players,’ and made the decision and allowed each of our teams to get some guys from the No. 26 car – and it’s helped. Without a doubt it’s helped.”
Team Rensi Motorsports is facing a December shutdown if new sponsorship cannot be found, but Nationwide Series driver Bobby Hamilton, Jr. says he is not ready to quit driving just yet. But, said one anonymous insider, “The main obstacle he faces is that, in the Cup Series, most owners have — just as do most theme parks — minimum ride height requirements.”
The Nationwide Series took to a short track for the second time in three weeks and, also for the second time in three weeks, Clint Bowyer dominated the race. And nonetheless, for the second time in three weeks, Bowyer failed to score the win. Despite leading 195 of the 250 laps run, Bowyer’s car went to the loose side late in the running, allowing fellow title contender Carl Edwards to sneak by late and score his fourth Nationwide victory of the season. Bowyer finished third, after he was passed by Scott Wimmer with less than 15 laps to go.