Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nationwide Series regulars get Busch-whacked again at Fontana

Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

If you're a NASCAR fan, and you're not watching the Nationwide Series, then you need to get up on the wheel. Saturday's race at Auto Club Speedway provided some of the best racing the broad two-mile track has seen since I started watching NASCAR in 1998.

Kyle Busch beat Sam Hornish, Jr. by 0.834 seconds to take his third win in five NNS races, extending Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide series dominance at the California track to nine races, with six of those victories belonging to Busch. The last time a non-JGR car won, it was Jeff Burton back in 2007 when it was still the Busch Series (the beer, not the driver.)

As good as his car was, Busch still had to work for the victory. Regan Smith, Parker Kligerman and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five. Any of about five other drivers could have been in those positions, but the win came down to Busch against Hornish.

"Everybody works well together and I am proud of everyone on this Wurth Ford Mustang. We just didn’t have enough to beat Kyle (Busch) today," said Hornish. "We ran hard and got the lead on the restart a couple times. He would run real hard on the first 50 to 75 percent of the run and slide the car around and wear it out and we would catch him the last 25 percent. We were doing it again on the last run and I just got within about 10 car lengths of him and got greedy and drove it in too hard and got into the wall. We want to win races as bad as we want to win the points."

Busch said, "It's fun to come out here and race with these guys. Sam (Hornish Jr.), he's put on a whole new game this year -- these guys better watch out for going after the championship. He's done a great job," Busch warned. "Today, I don't think we were the best car, but got up on the wheel there at the end and just chased down that 12 -- he was really, really good today. Didn't want to see him win here in front of our hometown crowd of Monster Energy folks that were in the stands today, and of course the Toyota folks that are here as well."

When green flag dropped, Brad Keselowski pushed Elliott Sadler out in front of polesitter Busch, who fought back. Sadler barely led the first lap from there, the race was ON.

Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Since the track is wider than many interstate highways, the drivers were able to race three- and four-wide from the very beginning -sometimes even five-wide! Within a few laps, Hornish challenged Busch up front, flashing back to their battle at Vegas and giving a preview of the race end all at the same time.

The JGR triumvirate of Busch, Sadler and Brian Vickers bumped and slid all over the worn track, with Penske's Hornish and Keselowski keeping pace in the top five. Sadler is credited with leading the first 18 laps, but Busch and Hornish didn't make it easy for him and those were the only laps he led. Sadler dropped from contention when the ignition box in the No. 11 OneMain Financial Toyota caught fire and he had to go to the "B" box. He wound up finishing seventh after a late-race skirmish with Austin Dillon.

Busch took the lead and swapped point with Hornish through the whole race. The box score shows 17 lead changes among seven drivers, but only one of the other four were under the green flag. Joe Nemechek claimed Laps 82-84 while Jeremy Clements, Brian Scott and Keselowski all led under caution.

It seemed less one-sided during the race, but since the lead change is only measured at the start-finish line, the advantage was Busch's, leading seven times for 93 laps to Hornish's five times for 28 laps.

"We got up on the wheel like I said and tried to push as hard as I could and run the top side there for a little bit. Ran him down and got there, was able to do a draft move by him and sort of kept running the top to keep the momentum going, but was still trying to search around to find a lap time that was good for us," explained Busch.

"It seemed like we were back and forth a little bit. Sam could run a good lap, I'd run a good lap. We were battling each other there on the stop watch, not necessarily on the race track, but still felt like it was a great race. Halfway through, two-thirds through us and the 12 (Hornish) were putting on a good show up front, trading the lead back and forth a little bit, side-by-side, he'd go inside, I'd go inside. It's pretty neat."

Yet as dominant as that battle seems on paper, on the track at almost any point during the first 250 miles, positions three through 10 seemed as if they were poised to challenge the leaders. Vickers could have contended but mechanical problems sent him to the garage on Lap 56 and the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota was done for the day.

Brian Scott came home eighth and Trevor Bayne ninth, but they joined Dillon, Kligerman, Alex Bowman (12th), Smith and Kyle Larson in staying close enough to take advantage of any slip from the front-runners at any time.

Larson showed no fear in launching the Turner-Scott Motorsports' No. 32 Eveready Camaro around those in his path, much as he did to win a World of Outlaws race at Stockton, CA, Friday night. (Click the link. Ro Cowan provides ALL the details.) Larson wound up sixth, his second top ten of the season. The top-finishing rookie moved up two spots in the points to seventh in just his fifth Nationwide start.

Kevin Swindell, who would normally have been at Stockton in a winged sprint car, instead nabbed a tenth-place finish in the No. 98 Carroll Shelby Engines Ford in his first Nationwide start of the season.

Also notable was the performance of X-Games star Travis Pastrana. So far this season, Pastrana has shown he's serious about his NASCAR career, coming close to a third top-ten finish this season, ending up in 13th.

“It is just wild that you could really make the car do a lot of different things by how you positioned it and where you put the bumps and seams. If it was a little bad and you hit the wrong one then you were real bad, real fast," Pastrana said. "It is just frustrating to half see the front but never really get there where we want to go. The crew did a good job and I had a great car. I could see Trevor a few times and he ended up in front of us in ninth so we definitely have something to learn from him. On restarts he would just pull away and I kept thinking that we had the same car, so what was he doing that I am not doing?"

For the full results, visit NASCAR.com here.

The points standings after five races:

1. Hornish Jr. 210; 2. Smith 182; 3. B. Scott 179; 4. Allgaier 178; 5. Dillon 172; 6. Bayne 163; 7. Larson (rookie) 156; 8. Kligerman 154; 9. Sadler 154; 10. A. Bowman (rookie) 152.

The next Nationwide Series race is the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. If the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise, I'll be there representing Skirts and Scuffs, so stay tuned!



Janine, aka Lisa or LJ, Cloud, a fifth-generation Texan, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track.

She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.

Follow her on Twitter @ljc777.


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