Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Pepsi 300 at Nashville

Editor’s Note: Matt McLaughlin took the weekend off… so Editor-In-Chief Tom Bowles filled in for his usual Monday column for Nashville.

The Key Moment: Scott Wimmer ran down, then passed teammate Clint Bowyer with 21 laps to go for his first Nationwide Series win in five years; both benefited from a lap 163 incident in which Kyle Busch took himself out of contention.

In a Nutshell: See Kyle. Run, Kyle, Run! No, no, Kyle, what were you thinking! See teammates. See teammates play nice. Yawn. Race over!

Dramatic Moment: Busch’s dash through the grass was some high drama, especially when it occurred in front of the whole field. Also, Wimmer and Bowyer were close on fuel towards the finish, so it was a bit of a nailbiter to see if they ran out of gas.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

After finally scoring his first win in RCR equipment running a part-time schedule, should it be Wimmer, not Bobby Labonte, who gets the nod to drive the organization’s fourth full-time Cup car in 2009? I still think Labonte’s the frontrunner, but don’t count this guy out.

Moving over from Hendrick Motorsports to Joe Gibbs Racing certainly hasn’t made Busch any less aggressive, at least in both feeder series. Perhaps the bad luck in this series is a result of trying too hard, it’s the only one of NASCAR’s top-tier divisions (Cup, Nationwide, Trucks) in which Busch isn’t leading the points, and I’m sure he wants to hold that distinctive record in a bad way.

Please, please, will no one make a mountain out of a molehill with Kyle’s post-race interview. Yes, the man was curt and perhaps slightly rude in tone to ESPN’s Vince Welch, but he’d also spent upwards of 60 laps stewing over the fact that he wrecked away his chance to win the race. If it were me, I’d need some more time to cool off, and anyways, isn’t raw emotion all we really want from drivers, anyway? Give me a driver who’s not that pissed after losing a race he should have won, and I’ll give him the keys to a local school bus, not a racecar.

I will give the Busch detractors one thing. No matter how upset he was after his accident, Busch should have never, ever blocked the battle for the lead by notching himself in between Bowyer and Wimmer for the amount of time he did after his pit stop. Busch shouldn’t take out his problems by blocking an innocent man like Wimmer; at one point, it looked like those moves would cost Wimmer a shot at the win.

OK, whose hairbrained idea was it for the first Nationwide Series standalone race to be on Easter weekend? Not only is that equivalent to a sacred weekend in the South – a time for both church and family – but there’s not even Truck or ARCA Series support races to beef up some extra crowd. Add in a little thing called the NCAA Tournament, and the race was lucky it wasn’t moved to ESPN8, the Ocho – as it is, qualifying wasn’t televised by any network. So much for giving this series the love and affection it deserves.

Along those same lines, I’ve decided upon the following competitive tier system I’m going to assign to Nationwide teams this year. It’s a very hard line, let’s put it this way, if you’re finishing above your tier, you had a Herculean effort during your race day:

Tier A: The We Shouldn’t Be Here Division: Composed of top-notch equipment and top-notch Cup drivers who get more practice at the track per weekend than anyone else , as well as possess the most experience. Seriously, under the current setup how could anyone below Tier B have a shot at a win? This tier includes Carl Edwards, Bowyer, David Reutimann, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth.

Tier B: The Right Place, Right Time and Maybe We’ll Get Lucky Division: Top-notch Nationwide equipment provided by top-level Cup teams, driven by Nationwide drivers that can only get part-time gigs to fill in for Cup veterans. Also, Cup youngsters that are in Nationwide purely because they don’t have enough experience, period, go here. Included in this tier is David Ragan, Wimmer, Stephen Leicht and Dario Franchitti.

Tier C: The We’re as Good as We Can Get With 25 Cup Drivers Invading and Monopolizing Our Series Division: Nationwide Series teams that have at least a reasonable amount of money to compete, but aren’t aligned with the Cup Big Boys. They pull a valiant effort each week, but they’ll never catch up to their veteran counterparts the way the rules are designed. See: Kelly Bires, Jason Keller, Mike Wallace and Marcos Ambrose as examples.

Tier D: We Don’t Have a Chance in Hell but at Least We Try for the Whole Race Division: Drivers and teams who have no business being on the track in the equipment and talent level they’re at; but to their credit, at least they try and finish the race each week in their underfunded operations. This group counts Robert Richardson Jr. and Eric McClure among its members.

Tier E: We’re Stealing Money Because Our Plan Each Week is to Start and Park Division: Drivers and teams taking full-bore advantage of the short fields in the Nationwide Series to simply collect a check and park it – sometimes the whole team, sometimes an extra backup car. Members include the Nos. 90/91 teams, the No. 52 team, Morgan Shepherd for the umpteenth year in a row doing this in one of the feeder series, the No. 0 team. You get the idea. That’s not what racing should be about.

Here’s the moral of this story, when you can clearly separate all the teams in your series into Tiers, parity isn’t really something you have going for you right now. Especially when Tier E is usually a quarter of your field.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune and the “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

See our own Bryan Davis Keith’s Nationwide Series Breakdown for similar categories and explanations.

Worth Noting

  • The top-10 finishers drove five Chevys, three Fords and two Toyotas. Mike Bliss was the highest finishing Dodge in 11th place.
  • The Nashville race was run without a single caution flag for a wreck; just three caution flags overall set a new low record for the track.
  • Wimmer scored his first victory for the No. 29 car of Richard Childress Racing and his first win since Pikes Peak on July 26, 2003.
  • Brad Keselowski (fourth) and Kelly Bires (fifth) enjoyed their best ever Nationwide Series finishes. The same goes for Cale Gale (eighth).

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one three bottles of generic. With teammates racing at the end, it wasn’t as dicey up front as it could have been; and no contenders ran out of fuel, making things somewhat anti-climactic. However, there were times when this race had its moments.

Next Up: The series takes a week off, then returns for Texas on April 5.

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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