Much has been written, to the point you can almost recite word-for-word, about how much Cup drivers have “taken over” the Nationwide Series. But if past races at Bristol are any indication, this Saturday should offer a sigh of relief. Two of the past four Spring events in NASCAR’s second-tier division were won by Nationwide Series regulars. And last year? Young Kyle Larson came within a whisker of unseating Kyle Busch. While second place was indeed the first loser, the finish was definitely the best of the weekend.
Maybe this time around, some young and hungry driver will look to employ the bump-and-run to Thunder Valley perfection. Looking at the entry list, it might not even get to that point. Only five Cup regulars are attempting the race: Busch, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Larson, and Joe Nemechek. With Nemechek running an underfunded operation, chances are someone new is at least going to make a cursory appearance inside the top 5, forcing the TV cameras their way after hours upon hours of focus on Cup veterans.
Let’s take a quick look at a few who should finally make their presence felt after an up-and-down start:
Brian Scott – OK, so maybe he’s a veteran. But Scott has yet to record a win in Nationwide Series competition. That’s important, because last time we saw him on a short track, he dominated last Fall at Richmond, leading 239 laps from the pole only to be victimized by a late-race caution. 10th in last year’s Spring race, Scott is clearly gearing up for a run towards a full-time Cup schedule in 2015. But to make that a financial reality, some victories would help convince sponsors. The short tracks are his best chances to win on the year.
Chris Buescher – Considering this rookie didn’t even qualify for the season-opening race at Daytona, Buescher’s run in the No. 60 Ford has been impressive. With an average finish of 12.0 in the two starts since, Buescher now returns to Thunder Valley, a track where he has some limited experience. Seventh in the race here last Spring, also driving for Roush, their Fords have shown some strength in Nationwide at these smaller ovals. If Buescher is going to have a breakout weekend, I’d expect it here or at a track like Richmond in a month.
Chase Elliott – Three races, two top-10 finishes, one solid start. That’s the story for this JR Motorsports driver who is paving a reputation that amounts to more than being “Bill’s son.” Still known for aggressive contact, the key for him at Bristol is to make sure a few extra nudges don’t get him in trouble. Remember Canada? Chase now sits a series above, where drivers may be slightly less hesitant to pay him back for “rookie” mistakes.
Ty Dillon – This rookie, like his brother Austin is more likely to contend on the intermediate ovals. But so far, in three starts at this level in 2014 he’s yet to run worse than 11th. Keeping the fenders on it at a place like Bristol is one of the best recipes to ensure you’re put in a position to win down the stretch. Ty also specializes in keeping it clean… can he keep the No. 3 car up front?
Around The Series
– Three Nationwide Series teams were penalized this week, although none of them came with a loss of points. Elliott Sadler’s No. 11 (P3 penalty) was the worst, with crew chief Chris Gayle fined $10,000 and placed on probation for a “weight attached in an unapproved location.” Sadler’s car chief, Todd Brewer, has also been hit with probation – both terms run until December 31st.
The other consequences, both P2 penalties, were more limited. Chase Elliott’s crew chief, Greg Ives, was placed on probation (Dec. 31) for the car exceeding the minimum front height. Meanwhile, crew chief Jeremy Bullins, for Brad Keselowski’s No. 22 was fined $5,000 and placed on probation (Dec. 31) for a P2 penalty, resulting from a shock absorber exceeding maximum gas pressure.
Note that Keselowski, last week’s winner, was one of the three hit with post-race inspection violations. That immediately makes me think, “Why is this penalty not a big deal in comparison to an oversized engine?” It’s not like the fine was for a penalty being too low; it was an improper shock, which one could assume is a “trick shock” designed to give the car better handling.
If people who follow this sport regularly are confused, I think NASCAR fans in general still need a primer on the P1 – P6 penalty system. They’ve done a great thing, attaching direct consequences to rules violations but right now, P2 is about as foreign to most people as Portuguese. With all that television does focusing on certain drivers, wouldn’t you think they’d do a full primer on the rules so fans could understand what’s happening here?
– Condolences to the Gaughan family, who lost their patriarch Jackie this week at the age of 93. At one point, Mr. Gaughan controlled up to 25 percent of the Las Vegas’ gaming revenue and actually lived in one of the city casinos, El Cortez, in the final years before his death. The family’s South Point casino helps back grandson Brendan’s racing efforts, not only this season but for much of the past decade.