The goings on at the Royal Purple 300
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Published on Sun, Mar 24, 2013
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story and pictures by Brian Kennedy Let’s play the “what’s fun about racing” game. Before we begin, I’ll give you a clue as to how to win. Don’t name the winner of the race, unless that person came from behind in a miraculous last-minute finish. The winner, in fact, is often not the most compelling person in the race. He (or she) often leads many of the laps, as the saying goes, “running away with it.” That’s just not that interesting. No, what’s fun about racing, and it’s why you go see it live (because TV usually just focuses on the front runners) is what happens back in the pack and what takes place as the race develops through its ebbs and flows. The duels that go on from lap to lap as guys who have no honest shot at taking home the big trophy battle for just one more position and the few extra points that go with it are interesting, as is what’s happening behind the leader, rather than just what he is doing. That’s how I watched the NASCAR Nationwide race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday afternoon. Just to cover the basics, though, Kyle Busch won from the pole in a Toyota. But because he’s a regular on the Sprint Cup circuit, he was not eligible for points in this race. The regular (Nationwide full-timer) who finished the highest was Sam Hornish, Jr., who was second overall after starting seventh. He was followed by Regan Smith, third overall. The top rookie was Kyle Larson, in sixth. Seven of the drivers in the field were regulars on the Sprint Cup series.
Busch led seven times for 92 laps of the 150-lap, 300-mile race. Hornish led five times for 28 laps, and there were seven leaders overall, including Elliott Sadler, who was up front for 18 times around the two-mile track. To take care of a little more business, this puts Hornish in the lead for the points, and Smith second. Hornish is the only one of the regular series drivers who has won a race. Three of the five thus far have gone to Busch, with Tony Stewart winning the other one. If you’re thinking that that’s all kind of a drag, a lot of others agree. But that’s not the point here. Back to the action. By lap ten, five drivers had gone behind the wall. In the early going, Josh Wise, Mike Bliss, and Brad Sweet battled one another for 19th place. A couple of laps later, Sweet had gotten by Bliss. Then he and Bliss jumped Wise. As the day went on, Bliss was 18th, Wise 20th, and Sweet 22nd. That’s pretty far down in the 40-car field, but they probably worked hard to sort out their positions than any three other cars in the field. Up front, Busch and Hornish were dicey, but the action was right behind them. On lap 52, after a caution, they were side by side, but then Hornish started running a low line while Busch hugged the wall on the top side. Austin Dillon snuck up to them while they fought it out, and by lap 75, it was Busch and Hornish with Sadler in third. All the cars pitted under green, and after the stop, those four cars were sorted in that order again. Twenty-one cars were on the lead lap. On lap 89, Busch recorded a time of 42.1 seconds, about a second and a half slower than the fastest practice time (by Dillon), but actually only a second back of his own fast practice time.
But I promised you I’d talk about the guys back in the pack. Well, on lap 90, Mr. Sweet and Alex Bowman, a rookie, were fighting for tenth. The next time by, Bowman had the spot. But Sweet dove inside to take it back. Then it was Bowman ahead. As the day would end, Bowman was ten spots ahead of Sweet in 12th. Another caution saw the three cars working for fourth place tight together, they being Brad Keselowski, Trevor Bayne, and Sadler. Sadler jumped from sixth to fourth, and by lap 105, that spot was solidified. The eventual outcome of the race would see him in seventh, Bayne in ninth, and Keselowski in 19th, which is perhaps why he said afterwards, “Our day was long . . . . We just missed it at the start of the race and didn’t get it close to being right until the end and at that time it was too late.” Bayne himself commented, “We got it way too free there at the end. We were fine for a little while and drove up to fifth but we put fuel in and loosened it up at the same time, and I don’t know if that was the best thing to do.” Another caution was to be the last, and on lap 116, Larson was up underneath Busch, but obviously, he didn’t hold that spot. Because of their pitstops, Busch and Hornish were third and fourth, with Keseloswki second. Busch dismissed him with a move inside and Austin Dillon ducked inside also to take third. At lap 118, then, it was Hornish, Busch, Dillon, Keselowski, and Sadler. Meanwhile, for fifth place, Parker Klingerman was challenging Smith. The race, really, at that point was for fifth place back, with Keselowski also getting involved with these two. But as you can surmise, that also means that he was steadily falling back, and the afternoon was drawing to its end.
With about 25 laps to go, the top six were in three pairs, each separated by a gap. A few laps later, at 129, they were strung out in a line. The best fight, at this point, was Smith closing on Klingerman, who was fourth. Dillon was in between them. As that sorted out, Busch opened up a 1.2 second lead, and Smith ended up jumping up to third after Klingerman hunted him down and used a low line to try to pass. Smith, in fact, made one of the more remarkable moves in the last few laps, going from 10th to third. At 140, he was fifth. Klingerman started 16th and was ninth at lap 110, but he ended up fourth. Dillon had perhaps the most disappointing day, as he was fifth, where he had been in the early going. But all through the middle of the race, he was second, third, or fourth. And points is points, in NASCAR lingo. So you can see that every lap matters in an auto race, and that often, looking back in the field, or analyzing moves made in the course of the event is more exciting than simply going “woo-hoo” for your favorite lap after lap. I hope this entertained you, and that when you watch the Sprint Cup boys on Sunday (oh, and Danica), you can do so with a more open mind to looking deep in the field and following the fortunes of a variety of the drivers, because over the course of a race, a heck of a lot of stuff happens. More tidbits: 20 cars finished on the lead lap. Hornish said afterwards that he had gotten close to Busch at the end, “but I just got greedy and drove it too hard and got into the wall. We want to win races as bad as we want to win the points. When there was still smoke in the car halfway down the back straightaway I was worried we would end up with a flat tire and I would end up looking real bad. I am glad things worked out the way they did.” Busch commented in the press room after that he thought, “I don’t think we were the best car, but I just got up on that wheel and chased down that 12. . . . . I run the top side for a little bit, and run a draft move that got him.” About the transference to Sprint Cup, he said, “The biggest challenge is going to be temperature. It’s going to get hot and it’s going to get slick. It’s going to be magnified because the cars are faster, so the rear tires are going to get hurt worse. . . . Some of the things that we learned today, some air pressure adjustments and so on to make sure that your front tires last longer, making sure that your car turns throughout the whole run, but it seems like you start a little loose here, and then you go tight.”
Wh is really good for tomorrow, and we’re pretty good, so hopefully we can change that.” This is Toyota’s third win in the series this year. They also have two poles. Busch previously won the 2009 Nationwide series driver’s points championship, which was the marque’s first NASCAR title. The other wins this year, by the way, were by Busch, at Bristol and Phoenix. Follow me on Twitter @growinguphockey. Read Brian Kennedy’s “NASCAR QUALIFYING – The Calm Before the Storm” Read Brian Kennedy’s “NASCAR WARS – A New Hope” Read Brian Kennedy’s “NASCAR’s ENTIRE HISTORY in less than 1000 words” Read Brian Kennedy’s “NASCAR at Auto Club Speedway”