Lap after lap of stalking proved to be of no avail for James Buescher, who despite a late move into turn 1 on the final lap, was unable to steal the win Saturday from Joey Logano. Logano scored his fifth win of the Nationwide Series season after holding off charges on a number of late race restarts, leading the final 24 circuits. Buescher, Kurt Busch, Cole Whitt, and polesitter Austin Dillon rounded out the top 5.
The tire issues that popped up during Saturday’s ARCA race were not noticeably present with NASCAR’s Goodyears on Saturday, as the repaved MIS surface proved to have little impact on the on-track action seen. Though the groove was seen to be narrower due to the new asphalt, the incident count was not noticeably higher. The engine strain caused by the high RPMs and speeds seen on Saturday did appear, as four more teams experienced motor failure over the course of what was otherwise a quick 250-miler.
The points race continues to spin after a third consecutive week of struggles for Ricky Stenhouse and the No. 6 team, who battled suspension issues all afternoon en route to finishing two laps down in 25th. Between Dillon’s top 5 and Elliott Sadler finishing a quiet 11th, Richard Childress Racing sits 1-2 in the standings heading to Road America, with Sadler leading Dillon by eight markers and Stenhouse 28 back.
*James Buescher* is still a Truck Series regular, but he’s making plenty of waves on the Nationwide Series front thus far in 2012. Having already won the season opener at Daytona, Buescher’s No. 30 car was the only one that proved to be able to keep up with Joey Logano on the restart, drafting with the No. 18 all the way around the Michigan International Speedway for laps, patiently waiting to make his move for the win. Though Buescher’s attempt to make the winning pass seemed hesitant and failed before it started, the second-place run was by far the best seen from the Turner Motorsports camp on Saturday.
Truck Series alumni had just as successful a day at MIS, dominating the top 10. *Cole Whitt* backed up his career-best qualifying effort (second) by equaling his career-best finish of fourth, validating the team’s strategy to go with splitter ears an inch lower than much of the field and producing his first top-5 outside of a restrictor plate race. *Austin Dillon* continued his emergence as a legitimate contender for the 2012 NNS crown by both winning the pole and proving a fixture in the top 5 all day long, leading all the Childress entries even with Cup teammate Paul Menard in the field. Lastly, *Brian Scott* was able to build off the momentum the No. 11 team built at Dover two weeks back with his second consecutive top 10 finish, a first for the Idaho-native since Chicago and Gateway in the summer of 2010.
*Sam Hornish Jr.* finished sixth in his title sponsor’s race, his best result since Darlington.
*Jeff Green’s* run as the super-sub for Eric McClure produced its third top 20 in five starts on Saturday, equaling Green’s best finish of the season (17th). It also marks the first time since the summer of 2005 (Loudon and Bristol) that the 2000 series champion has scored back-to-back top 20 finishes.
*Tony Raines* finished 23rd in the Randy Hill Racing No. 08 machine, the first race he’s run the distance in Nationwide competition since Fontana in the spring of last year (his best finish since the season finale of 2010 at Homestead).
Finishing two laps off the pace in 25th at a track that Roush Fenway Racing has long been successful at was bad enough for *Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*; but even more notably, this was the first weekend where operating as a single-car team proved to be a true problem for the No. 6 bunch. It was evident very early on that the Roush camp was nowhere close to the setup they needed, and though there was no shortage of pit stops and adjustments made to their Mustang, Stenhouse wasn’t even in the ballpark at any point this afternoon. Not having another squad in the pits to borrow notes from inherently exacerbated this shortcoming. Ford fans had better hope this was a fluke, rather than a sign of intermediate oval performance to come.
*Kenny Wallace’s* first start in Nationwide competition since Talladega was over before it began; Wallace was one of the myriad of drivers to experience engine trouble, lasting only 32 laps en route to finishing 34th in his return to RAB Racing. *TJ Bell* and *Jeremy Clements* also retired early with engine failures, and *Brad Sweet* had to limp to the finish after his No. 38 car exploded a lap short of the finish. Those three finished 32nd, 31st, and 24th.
*Danica Patrick* managed to finish 18th on the lead lap, but largely wasted a top 5 qualifying effort after spinning unassisted on the first lap in turn 4, and then again inside of 25 laps to go in turn 2 after Austin Dillon took the air off her spoiler.
The only harsh wreck of the afternoon came on lap 118, when *Jamie Dick* all but ran over *Josh Richards* and the No. 39 car in turn 3. Both driving for underfunded squads in R3 Motorsports and Go Green Racing, wrecked cars were the last thing either operation needed. But it was especially costly for Richards, who now has endured four DNFs in his six Nationwide Series starts in 2012 (this was the second wreck). Both drivers were fine, but what was left of Richards’ car nearly wasn’t; trying to move the machine, the safety crews ended up pushing the car down the banking to a point that it started rolling on its own accord, forcing both safety personnel and vehicles to scramble out of its way.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Johanna Long* It took nine starts, but Long finally scored her first lead lap finish driving for ML Motorsports on Saturday, delivering a career-best 16th place finish that snapped a three-race streak of finishes outside the top 20. The No. 70 car hasn’t quite been the factor it was with drivers Shelby Howard, Mark Green, and David Stremme behind the wheel, but Long has quietly kept them running competitively; she’s been the top-finishing female in four of those starts.
Start-and-parkers occupied 9 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $101,056 in purse money.
Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored 5 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 8 of the 43 starting positions in the field, and took home $153,211 in purse money.
164 of 559 positions occupied (29.3%)
$3,416,928 dollars won
7 of 13 trophies collected (53.8%)
*The Final Word*
• Everyone knew Austin Dillon was going to be good, but this soon? The defending Truck Series champion is suddenly the hottest title contender in the Nationwide ranks, challenging for the win while Stenhouse and Sadler were mired in mediocre races. The question becomes this: with the blood ties between driver and owner, who’s getting the A-equipment at RCR from this point forward? And before blowing off the notion of there being A-list equipment in a behemoth ship such as RCR’s, take a look at JGR’s Nos. 18 vs. 20 cars. On the Cup side, take a look at Hendrick Motorsports and just how much stronger Mark Martin was in 2009 versus 2010 and 2011. Austin Dillon’s about to make life very difficult for Elliott Sadler.
• Don’t look now, but Tri-Star Motorsports now has two drivers in the top 10 in the points (Mike Bliss in eighth, Tayler Malsam in 10th).
• Between a road course race and a restrictor-plate event in the next three races, its arguable that the title chase and any ramifications are going to be on hold for a few weeks; the wreck-fest that stock car road racing and plate racing always are will shuffle the points, but it will be awful hard to discern any lasting trends from the upcoming slate of races.