It was another Nationwide Series race at Bristol that featured a late battle between the No. 22 and the No. 54 – only this time, the former bested the latter with someone other than Brad Keselowski behind the wheel.
Ryan Blaney aced the final restart of the night with six laps to go, taking the lead from the dominant Kyle Busch. It was the only laps he led all night on the way to his second career Nationwide Series victory in the Food City 300 and first of the season.
Busch, as expected, was not pleased with the breakdown of events.
“The leader is at the biggest disadvantage on restarts. I know when I want to go but everybody else is pushing me,” Busch said afterward. “My rear tires aren’t on the ground and you can’t go anywhere.”
The 300-lap event started one hour, seven minutes after its scheduled green flag time of 7:44 p.m. after a rain shower moved in following driver introductions. When the race did start, Busch led the first 63 laps before losing the lead on pit road under the competition caution.
Kyle Larson, who finished second to Busch in the spring, assumed control and played a large part in the engaging battles of the leaders. Larson had taken on Busch, Chase Elliott and Blaney before the latter got the best of him on lap 282 while racing for fourth place.
Blaney then used the race’s final two cautions to put himself in a position for the eventual win. Point leader Elliott wound up third after scraping the wall early but still managed to lead 59 laps.
Behind Blaney, Busch and Elliott, the rest of the top 10 were, in order, Ty Dillon, Regan Smith, Brendan Gaughan, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, James Buescher and Chris Buescher.
The 1-hour, 56-minute race featured ten cautions – including a red flag for seven minutes – and nine lead changes among seven drivers. The final pass for the lead between Blaney and Busch came on the final restart with six laps to go.
The top 10 in points heading into Atlanta Motor Speedway are Chase Elliott, Regan Smith, Ty Dillon, Elliott Sadler, Brian Scott, Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed and James Buescher.
James Buescher was never a factor on Friday night, but the RAB Racing team left Bristol with its second top-10 finish of the year. Buescher’s ninth-place finish perhaps felt like a win following the team’s season-long struggles in 2014 in trying to find any form of consistency.
A big off-season story following his promotion from the Camping World Truck Series, the 24-year-old failed to find traction or chemistry with crew chief Chris Rice. As a result, the team switched crew chiefs before the 15th race of the season at Kentucky. The hard work finally paid off – and the bad luck stayed away – for a worthy finish since Richmond in April.
Not too far behind Buescher was another driver who found a desperately needed night in Thunder Valley. Jeffrey Earnhardt has been a topic of conversation in recent weeks due to an injury, not being able to compete and a wild ride last weekend in Mid-Ohio.
Friday he went down a lap early but received the lucky dog award on the lap 43 caution. After that, the No. 4 team from JD Motorsports ran in the top 20 and stayed under the radar as they climbed the leaderboard. Earnhardt wound up 12th in the finishing order, making it not only a season-best, but a career-best for him.
The championship picture took another big turn Friday night a week after one contender saw his title mountain get steeper. Last week Ty Dillon faltered in Mid-Ohio whereas Bristol reached out and bit Elliott Sadler.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has had much of his NASCAR success on the short track, but Friday night couldn’t catch a break. He was in the right place at the wrong time when Timmy Hill spun and caught the right front fender of the No. 11. The damage ruined the rest of the night for Sadler, who had a solid top-10 car and night going. Sadler capped the night off by bringing out two more cautions and being credited with a 29th-place finish.
Hermie Sadler was just looking for a little fun on Friday night, away from his broadcasting duties with Fox Sports 1. Instead, Sadler – much like his brother – left the Tennessee bullring with a destroyed car and disappointment
It started in qualifying, when Sadler was the innocent victim of a Carl Long spin. Long got loose off turn 4 and spun down the frontstretch, where the No. 19 of Sadler was creeping along after finishing his lap. Long slid into Sadler and crunched the rear deck lid.
The 300-lap event didn’t go much better. Sadler got into the wall on lap 86 to cause more damage to his Toyota. Thankfully for Sadler, more attrition throughout the night helped him salvage a 24th-place finish.
Underdog Performer of the Race
As a company, TriStar Motorsports gave it its all last weekend on the road course of Mid-Ohio but left with nothing to show for it. Friday, Mike Bliss led the way for the little team by starting 22nd but quickly making his way into the top 20 and finding a comfort spot.
Bliss even ran as high as 13th on a few different occasions with the likes of Ryan Sieg, Chris Buescher and Brian Scott. With less than 50 laps to go it looked as though Bliss might pull off a top 10 but faded to a 17th-place finish.
Double duty and start-and-park effect
6 of 40 drivers in Friday night’s race will run the Sprint Cup race on Saturday night.
3 of 40 drivers in Friday night’s race chose to start-and-park.
The Final Word
The racing lines at Bristol might be different, but the temperament was the same as there were those who left with hurt feelings. Between road courses and a short track, the Nationwide Series has had an eventful few weeks, but now they return to a wide-open 1.5-mile track in Atlanta.
Point leader Chase Elliott heads home with teammate Regan Smith still chasing him. Mistakes have been limited on the part of JR Motorsports, but the season is far from over. The only problem is the gap is getting bigger and bigger.