Back when the deal was first announced that ESPN would be returning to NASCAR broadcasting, and would also be giving the Nationwide Series a steady, permanent home, I was absolutely thrilled. What could go wrong here: a network whose Wide World of Sports coverage was largely responsible for NASCAR’s ascension from a niche to a national pastime and a mainstream TV home for NASCAR’s second-tier series? How could I have been so naïve?
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR and all of our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members and car owners themselves. This week, here’s a special Nationwide Series peek at what the drivers were thinking following the Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Overcoming early problems with lugnut glue on pit road, JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano managed to conquer Concrete Carl, changing the lead multiple times at the front over the last 100 laps before Logano took control for good on lap 216, en route to scoring to his second career Nationwide Series victory. Carl Edwards, who led 45 laps, surrendered the lead on lap 135 after his tire changer reported that he had failed to tighten enough lugnuts on the previous pit stop. The mistake mired Edwards back in 25th, a gap he never recovered from.
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.
Joey Logano made a strong bid early, but Kyle Busch again dominated the Nationwide Series field, leading 137 laps to score a relatively easy win in Friday’s Dollar General 300 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Busch was briefly challenged in the race’s final laps by Jeff Burton, who, unlike the other leaders, opted for four tires on his final pit stop. Burton, however, was unable to make up enough ground on the high side to clear Busch’s No. 18.
For the first half of the race, it looked as if the Nationwide Series may have a different storyline to follow, as Kevin Harvick led 88 of the first 93 laps and appeared to be poised to score his first career series win in his own equipment. However, a lengthy pit stop to change a defective battery took Harvick out of the running, and the race became another Joe Gibbs Racing romp after that. Denny Hamlin, driving the No. 18 predominantly occupied by Kyle Busch this season, looked just like his teammate behind the wheel, leading the last 43 laps (99 total) and handily winning the 300-mile race at Kansas. Hamlin’s triumph also allowed Toyota to capture the Nationwide manufacturers’ title well over a month prior to season’s end.
For the 23rd time this season, a Sprint Cup driver proved that they had the awe-inspiring mettle to dominate NASCAR’s AAA series. For the eighth time this season, Kyle Busch proved to race fans that he is indeed deserving of a full-time ride in the Cup ranks, because he’s such a darned good Nationwide Series driver. And for the second time in the four races since Joe Gibbs Racing was “penalized” for its involvement in a cheating scandal at Michigan, its No. 18 team and their “substitute” crew chief dominated the field. Though several drivers had excellent race cars, Mike Bliss’ car took too long into a run, while Brad Keselowski had repeated issues on pit road that lost him valuable track position, allowing neither to challenge Busch, who led 157 laps.
Kyle Busch won the pole for this race and led every lap, sans the few he fell behind during a cycle of green-flag pit stops. By the end of the race, Busch had led 144 of 150 laps and went virtually unchallenged, scoring an easy seventh victory of the Nationwide Series season for his No. 18 team. Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers also fielded strong entries throughout the night, though neither driver had anything remotely in the same ballpark as Busch.
Last week at the Glen, Brad Keselowski served Clint Bowyer notice that he was in for a battle for the Nationwide Series title. This weekend, Carl Edwards joined the dogfight. After scoring the pole Saturday morning, Edwards dominated the Nationwide Series race at Michigan, leading 71 of 125 laps to convincingly score his third victory of the season in this series over Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart. Edwards’ win marked the first Nationwide Series victory for Roush Fenway Racing at MIS since Jeff Burton in 1998. And besides his usual backflip, Edwards also made a classy move following the event, giving his trophy to the race’s grand marshal, Make-a-Wish kid Eric Wright.
Marcos Ambrose led 27 consecutive laps and built an eight-second lead over Max Papis, maintaining the lead even after slipping off course under green. Pit lane, however, snakebit Ambrose and the No. 59. Ambrose nearly spun in the pits while leading, and then received a speeding penalty to boot. That handed the lead to Ron Fellows, who had short-pitted earlier in the event, allowing the native Canadian to lead until the race was finally red-flagged for heavy rain and a lack of visibility. For Fellows, it was his fourth career Nationwide Series win, and the first at any level for him on the Montreal road course named after his racing hero Gilles Villeneuve. Fellow road-ringers Patrick Carpentier and Boris Said scored top-five finishes.