Just another Friday night Nationwide Series race in 2009… or so it seemed. Kyle Busch took the lead early, ran away from the field, and stunk up the show at Darlington, leading all but 10 of the laps run in the 200-miler. But despite his best efforts, the 24-year-old did not take one step closer …
When the question “what is the biggest news story of 2008” came up, plenty of things came to mind in the short time provided for answers. Easily, Jimmie Johnson’s third straight title was the winner, but there were other memorable moments, including: the mess at the Brickyard; the meteoric rise and fall of Kyle Busch; a winless season for Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth; and Johnny Benson and Clint Bowyer winning titles in the lesser series. However, after our chat I got to thinking (always a dangerous thing). Memory is short, and we tend to forget things at an astonishing rate. Most of us couldn’t remember what we wore two days ago, unless we had set clothes for each day of the week. With that in mind, there are some memorable moments in the 2008 season that we’ll have most certainly forgotten by 2013.
Fast forward 10 years. With co-owner Charlie Shoffner and the same driver that scored him his only career win as an owner, Doug Taylor returned to full-time Nationwide Series competition in ’08 under the banner of Specialty Racing. And while the No. 61 car is not contending for wins, or even top 10s just yet, the season can’t be considered anything short of a success. After failing to qualify for the season opener at Daytona, the team has qualified for every race since, racing its way into the Top 30 in owner points and a “locked-in” starting spot in the Nationwide field. That’s an impressive record for a single-car team with no sponsors. More impressive? They’re ready to go full-time again, sponsor or no sponsor, in 2009. In a period of economic turmoil that has seen far better-funded Nationwide teams closing their doors, this relatively unknown team has no qualms talking about being at Daytona this coming February.
Unlike last weekend at Montreal, Marcos Ambrose did not have the best car in the field. But unlike last weekend, Ambrose capitalized during Saturday’s race at Watkins Glen, scoring his first career NASCAR victory with a win in the Zippo 200. Ambrose ran in the third position for most of the event’s second half, stalking a furious battle between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton that saw both Cup stars forced to pit with less than 10 laps to go for fuel. Ambrose then cruised to an easy win, which also catapulted his No. 59 into the top 10 in Nationwide Series points.
It seems the rest of the manufacturers have yet to find themselves a solution that’ll allow them to remain competitive. JGR dominated a very uneventful race once again Friday night, with Kyle Busch leading 101 laps and scoring an easy fifth win of the season in his No. 18 Camry. But JGR didn’t just lay waste to the field Friday night… Toyota did. Sure, JGR ran strong, but so did Michael Waltrip Racing and Braun Racing. In all, five Toyota Cup drivers scored top-10 finishes, including four of the top five spots in the final running order.
In a Nutshell: Saturday’s race was dubbed the “Opportunity 300,” the first of numerous standalone events for the Nationwide Series this summer — and a number of drivers took advantage, making runs at their first career wins. But while Joey Logano was untouchable in the early going, and David Stremme ran up front all race long, it was Brad Keselowski in the No. 88 who cashed in, scoring his first career NASCAR victory on the 1.33-mile speedway. Stremme, David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer all stayed out on the track trying to stretch their fuel to the end, but a late-race caution allowed Keselowski — who took four tires later in the race — to run down the leaders and score JR Motorsports’ second series victory this season.
Richmond is a great track. Steeped in history, yet progressive enough to keep it a state-of-the-art facility, this jewel in the capital of the South provides can’t-miss racing year in, year out. One of my most vivid racing memories as a child was watching Dale Earnhardt spin Darrell Waltrip after the two staged an epic battle in the race’s waning laps at the Richmond Fairgrounds; my NASCAR passion has been alive and well ever since. Luckily, the green flag for this one set to fly at 7:45 in Richmond on Saturday night, because there is another race that has my full attention as well. The lighting-fast 1.25-mile Churchill Downs has a little A-Main of its own that’s set to post at 6:04 pm; this is dirt track racing at its finest, folks, dirt trackin’ with a $2 million purse. The Kentucky Derby’s two-minute adrenaline rush tops just about anything the stock cars can throw out there; about the closest I can figure is Ricky Craven v. Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003, or the 2007 Daytona 500 dash, which may have been the most heart-stopping finish I’ve ever seen in my life.
While the “out-of-bounds” rule was designed to make racing safer on restrictor plate tracks, enforcement of the rule has been a crapshoot at best. In fact, many complained that Kyle Busch’s winning pass came with two wheels below the yellow line, although definitive video and photos have not yet surfaced. Is there a way to make this rule work consistently, or does it need to be scrapped completely?
10. He’s almost 46, you know.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 team continued its utter dominance of the Nationwide Series in 2008; this time, it was with Tony Stewart behind the wheel. The marquee driver in the JGR stable stayed out of trouble and held off good friend Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Saturday afternoon. The win was Stewart’s third of the season and the fourth for the No. 20 team, both of which lead the series in 2008.
Considered a preseason favorite for the Nationwide Series championship, Clint Bowyer officially established himself as a contender on Saturday. With a little bit of luck and a whole lot of skill, the driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet led 122 of 171 laps run to score the win in the rain-shortened Sharpie Mini 300 at Bristol. A jubilant Bowyer said afterwards, “It feels awesome [to be in Victory Lane]. I’ll take it any way you can get it.”
In the 17th race of the season, the Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire, Lepage achieved his best start and finish of a difficult 2007. Lepage timed his way into the race, putting down a lap of 30.125 seconds and a speed of 126.433 mph to place 37th on the starting grid. Although he ended the day six laps behind the leader in 35th, Lepage finished better than some more notable and better-funded competitors to bring in a $69,500 payout.