In a Nutshell: Again, Kyle Busch dominated the Nationwide Series field; but this time, there were no mid-race mishaps. Busch took the lead for the fourth and final time on lap 158 and was never seriously challenged down the stretch as he scored his first series win of the season in the O’Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“This feels so good, because this place is so hard to win at,” said an ecstatic Busch after taking the checkered flag. “For me, it’s extra special to bring DLP their first NASCAR victory, and to bring Toyota here to victory lane at Texas [DLP is a Dallas-based company].”
Busch, who started 31st after qualifying was rained out Thursday, sliced through the field, cracking the top 10 by lap 30. Busch’s only minor scare came on lap 190 when the fourth and final caution of the race came out; Busch elected to stay out on old tires while a number of the leaders pitted. Nevertheless, he still ran away from the field on the last restart.
The only two cars that seemed strong enough to challenge Busch never got the chance. Kevin Harvick, who sat on the pole and led all but one of the first 56 laps, suffered a broken axle on his first pit stop and finished the race 21 laps down. The other – Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart – was forced to pit under green on lap 71 for a tire problem. Stewart rebounded to finish 10th, but was never a factor in the closing stages of the race.
Who Should Have Won: Busch. Runner-up Jeff Burton said it best during his post-race interview: “The fastest car won today. He [Busch] was just remarkably fast. He was just rolling.”
Jason Keller and his entire CJM Racing team have a lot to celebrate after this week. After signing America’s Incredible Pizza Company as a primary sponsor through 2013, Keller delivered on the racetrack, scoring a lead-lap finish of 12th for the No. 11, the team’s best finish of the season. Since a wreck in the season opener at Daytona, Keller has scored six consecutive top-20 finishes for his underdog race team, and sits 13th in the series standings. It’s amazing to see how far the program has come since 2006, when it was simply trying to field-fill at the Sprint Cup level. This is one of the feel-good stories of the year thus far.
Jason Leffler scored a quiet ninth-place finish, his third top 10 in the last four races, to get off to a strong start with new crew chief Paul Wolfe. Wolfe replaced Stewart Cooper prior to the race at Texas. Leffler’s finish moved him up two spots to eighth in the Nationwide Series points standings and capped a great day for Braun Racing that saw both of its cars finish well (Brian Vickers came home sixth in the No. 32). Leffler was also the lone Nationwide Series regular to finish in the top 10 of Saturday’s race.
Steve Wallace had, coming into Saturday, never even scored a top 20 at the Texas Motor Speedway. That all changed in a heartbeat; Wallace ran a clean and more importantly, patient, race all day, scoring a 16th-place run, a career-best in four starts at Texas. ESPN commentators have dubbed Wallace’s sophomore season the “race smart tour,” and Wallace definitely is showing more patience behind the wheel, finishing six of the seven races he’s entered so far this season. Wallace also maintained his 15th-place position in the championship chase, equaling his standing from this point in 2007.
Better Luck Next Time
Mike Bliss made his debut in the No. 1 car this weekend, and the finish was a far cry from what Bliss had been producing in the No. 22. Though the No. 1 was more competitive than it had been early in the race, Bliss ended the day with a 24th-place finish, three laps down. As a result, he slid from fifth to seventh in the series standings, only 54 points ahead of 11th. Bliss made the move to Phoenix Racing for stability’s sake. Here’s hoping he lasts longer than most veterans do in the No. 1.
David Stremme raced at Nashville two weeks ago because sponsor Atreus Homes wanted the No. 64 team to keep its momentum. Well, any momentum from Stremme’s top 10 at Nashville departed on Saturday, as mechanical troubles on a restart left Stremme with a 35th-place finish, 37 laps down. The finish broke a streak of top 10s for Stremme and the No. 64, dropping him to 14th in the series standings.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Keller. There is no driver in the Nationwide Series garage doing more with what he’s got these days; but with momentum and a new primary sponsor in tow, Keller and his No. 11 team may not be underdogs for much longer. This weekend, it was luck that proved on the teams’ side; after falling two laps down during the event, a timely caution during a sequence of green-flag pit stops put Keller back on the lead lap and in position to capture a solid top 15.
“Purse Snatcher” Watch
16 of 43 starting positions in the O’Reilly 300 went to Sprint Cup regulars.
92 of 301 starting positions in Nationwide Series races this season have gone to Sprint Cup regulars.
Nine Sprint Cup regulars finished in the top 10 of the O’Reilly 300.
Six of seven Nationwide Series races have been won by Sprint Cup regulars this season.
Six of the top-10 in Nationwide Series points are Sprint Cup regulars.
“Kyle’s car was really fast. He was really fast on old tires. That said, holding the [second] spot was probably good enough. I don’t think we could have gotten past him.” – Jeff Burton on his runner-up finish
“We finished. A new crew chief. We’re pretty pleased with that. It wasn’t stellar, and we were loose in all day, but with our direction I’m really excited and feel confident. The racing just got away today.” – Marcos Ambrose on his 18th-place finish
Up Next: The Nationwide Series will race under the lights Friday night, April 11, at the Phoenix International Raceway. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and 9:45 p.m. ET on PRN.
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