In a Nutshell: The tight confines of O’Reilly Raceway Park made for an exciting short-track shootout for the Busch Series on Saturday night. Aric Almirola ran away with the race early, leading 87 of the first 100 laps, but as the second half of the race unfolded, it was another Busch regular who found his way to victory lane.
After Almirola faded with problems on pit road, Jason Leffler was able to run down and pass Greg Biffle with three laps to go, bringing Toyota their first ever victory in the Busch Series in the Kroger 200. Up until the final stages, Biffle had dominated the race’s second half, but Leffler’s team decided to put on tires with 50 laps to go, and the fresh rubber ultimately paid off in a mad dash back to the front for the No. 38.
Speaking of mad dashes, Biffle was the only Cup regular able to make it over from Indianapolis Motor Speedway for qualifying; the rest of the Buschwhackers had to come from the back of the pack, affording the fans a huge amount of on-track passing throughout the entire event.
Who Should Have Won: Biffle. At one point, the No. 16 Ford was in another time zone, as the Biff led 94 of the final 98 laps. But when push came to shove, he simply ran out of tires at the finish, slipping just enough to give Leffler the opening he needed after a late caution. Almirola was also a candidate here; he was the class of the field for the first half of the race, leading 94 laps. But inevitably, his crew cost him a chance at his first “standalone” win; major adjustments made during the caution at the race’s halfway point cost him four spots. Once he was back in traffic, he simply couldn’t get back to the front of the pack.
Three Questions You Should Be Asking After The Race This Weekend
1) Has any other Busch Series race had the same sponsor for 25 years?
Nope. Kroger Grocery Stores holds a special place in series history, remaining the title sponsor for the Busch Series race at O’Reilly Raceway Park since its initial running in 1982. A quick review of the schedule from 1995 showed only one sponsor other than Kroger that comes even close in terms of longevity (Food City Grocery Stores, which sponsors the second Busch race at Bristol). However, Food City hasn’t sponsored Bristol for 25 years; Kroger is, by far, the longest contiguous race sponsor in the Busch series.
2) Is Toyota going to use this momentum to win a Cup race before the season is over?
Toyota snagged their first win in the Busch Series in just their 22nd race, raising eyebrows with their early success. However, Saturday night’s win followed a handful of top-five and top-10 finishes by several teams running in the top 10 in points; that’s a direct contradiction to the Cup Series effort, which has struggled to be competitive much of the year. But Toyota has been making strides as of late, and any momentum gained by a Busch Series win certainly won’t hurt their cause.
A win in the Cup Series before the end of the year is still probably an unrealistic goal, but the possibility is certainly there considering how far they have come in Busch in such a short period of time.
3) Why doesn’t the Busch Series run at the Brickyard?
The Busch Series race at O’Reilly Raceway Park was filled with tremendous short track action, and that race should always be on the schedule; but seeing the Busch cars on the big track of IMS would seem like a logical event as well. Originally, the Busch Series was not scheduled to be there because the Speedway said that there would only be two days of racing per year at the track.
However, in recent years they have run other support series for the open-wheel cars during May, as well as Formula 1… so the precedent appears to have been broken. As we head into the future, it would be great to see the Busch Series cars run at the Brickyard just like their big brothers do.
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
Saturday night’s race featured 10 lead changes, a new record for the event at ORP.
Leffler capped off a run of five top-10 finishes in eight races by winning the first race ever for Toyota in the Busch series. He continues to be the highest Busch regular in the point standings, moving up to third place.
David Reutimann continues to shine in the Busch Series despite his Nextel Cup struggles; he finished third for the second week in a row.
Behind Reutimann, Carl Edwards came home fourth in the race, maintaining his point lead over the Toyota driver at 852 points. Leffler’s victory moved him up two positions behind them to third; however, he’s still 947 points back of the lead. David Ragan maintained his fourth-place position in points, while Kevin Harvick did not compete and dropped two spots to fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 are Bobby Hamilton Jr. in sixth, followed by Blaney, another driver who wound up not competing after sub Mike Bliss ran so well in practice that the team decided to keep him in the car. Stephen Leicht, Mike Wallace and Marcos Ambrose finished out the top 10 in points; all of them retained their same position from the previous week.
Buschwhackers in the race: 5
Starting spots taken by Buschwhackers YTD: 385 of 899
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10: 3
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10 YTD: 159 of 220
Races won by Buschwhackers YTD: 19 of 22
Buschwhackers ranked in the Top 10 in Busch Series points standings: 5
“I’ve always considered Indianapolis to be like my second home – I’ve spent a lot of time here and I have a lot of friends here. I just can’t say enough about our whole team at Braun Racing and what it means to us to get Toyota their first win in the Busch Series. This is a team effort. These guys work hard and they play hard… I’m just really happy right now.” – Jason Leffler
“Running the Busch Series is fun. There is no pressure about points. You’re not running for a championship, you’re just there to win.” – Greg Biffle
“I’ve just got to thank everybody at the Weather Channel and my guys, but Travis Kvapil, for sure. That was a fun racetrack. I wish we ran 500 laps around this place twice a month. This is about as good as it gets. Congratulations to Jason Leffler. We were just too loose. I had an awesome race thanks to Travis.” – Carl Edwards
“It was pretty disappointing. We felt like we had a car that could’ve won. Starting in the back, you have to have a perfect night to get back to the front. After we got spun out there early on, it was an uphill battle all night. We couldn’t get gas in our car. We had to stop two extra times and lost a lot of track position. The car was beat up. It just wasn’t as good as it was earlier. Certainly, we felt like we could’ve finished in the top five if everything worked out. Back there in the back, things happen and it could’ve been a lot worse, but it could’ve been a lot better.” – David Ragan, who finished 18th
Next Up: The Busch Series makes its first ever trip north of the border to run a race in Canada next week. The NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge will be run at Circuit Gilles Villenueve in Montreal. The race will be on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 3 p.m. and can be seen and heard on ESPN2 and your local MRN affiliate.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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