Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Breakdown: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

In a period of five races spanning from April 2008 to April 2010, Kyle Busch was unbeatable in the Nationwide Series at Texas Motor Speedway. In April 2013, the trend potentially began again.

Busch led 91 laps Friday night (April 12) on the way to victory in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. It was his sixth Nationwide victory at the track, the most of any driver in the series, and his third straight win in 2013.

The Las Vegas native continues to impress in his return to Joe Gibbs Racing for his Nationwide entries in 2013, after competing for a year in his own equipment. Busch now has four wins in six races this season, inciting restlessness for fans who have already grown tired of the Cup regular racing and winning in the Nationwide Series.

Fellow Cup driver Brad Keselowski managed his second runner-up finish of the year, after finishing second to Busch at Phoenix in March, leading 33 laps. Austin Dillon was the highest finishing Nationwide regular, placing third, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick completed the top five. Rounding out the top 10 was Matt Kenseth, Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Justin Allgaier.

Eight cautions flew throughout the 200-lap event, accounting for 42 laps total under yellow. The race did not manage its longest green flag run, 29 laps, until the very end of the race, when the drivers were able to avoid wrecks of mechanical failures after the final restart on lap 171.

Despite coming into the race with a sizable point lead, points leader Sam Hornish Jr. leaves Texas with a mere two point lead over Regan Smith after an incident with Jeremy Clements that left his No. 12 mildly damaged and in the garage. The top five drivers in Nationwide points are now at most nine points separated from each other, with Dillon, Allgaier and Brian Scott rounding out the top five.

The Good

While it was cool to see Sam Hornish Jr. stretching out to such an early lead in the series’ first five races, it’s kind of nice to see the points race condensed to just nine points separating the top five in driver points. If there’s anything the Nationwide Series needs during yet another period of Cup domination, it’s an intriguing and entertaining points race that keeps fans interested as the weeks press on. It’s almost certain that someone or someones of the group will fall off here soon, but for now, it provides an added sense of excitement going into the April 26 race at Richmond that might not have been there if Hornish had kept or even extended his previous points lead.

Though he dropped in position late in the race, Alex Bowman continued to exert himself as one of the series’ bright young stars with a pole position and four laps led at Texas. His RAB Racing team is running arguably the best it ever has thus far this season, and with an average finish of 13.7 through six races, Bowman could be on the verge of even better results. Kyle Larson may be the more visible rookie, but don’t pin the Rookie of the Year title on him just yet.

The Bad

Texas wasn’t the homecoming Robert Richardson Jr. probably would have preferred. The part-timer, whose R3 Motorsports team welcomed Willbros.com onto its car this weekend, collected the hat trick Friday night, spinning three different times in the race, though he never sustained a substantial amount of damage. Though the third was a spin to avoid Dexter Stacey’s crippled vehicle, three in one night can’t be seen as a positive evening. Perhaps Texas will be kinder to one of its sons next time around.

Seven Cup regulars entered the Nationwide race at Texas. One won the race. One finished second. Two more rounded out the top five. The other two finished sixth and eighth. The final one was Joe Nemechek, who many don’t even count as part of this group because of his underdog status. Still, yawn.

The Ugly

Prior to its final restart, green flag conditions for more than 24 laps, twice. The O’Reilly Race Parts 300 completed its last 29 laps under green, but before that, the race tended to be fairly stop-and-start, disallowing any chances for major green flag runs. Who knows — perhaps certain cars would have been better on longer such runs, creating a totally different makeup for the race as a whole.

Eric McClure can’t seem to catch a break. After starting off the season with the first top-10 finish in his series career, the Nationwide veteran has had some poor luck, culminating so far in having to step out of his No. 14 Friday night due to illness. Jeff Green took over for McClure, finishing 30th, six laps down.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Kevin Swindell — again. For the second straight race, Swindell and his No. 98 Biagi-DenBeste team turned in a solid finish, this time in the 16th spot, on the lead lap. It’s not a top 10, but I’m sure this small team will take that kind of finish graciously.

Ill-Gotten Gains

Start-and-parkers occupied two of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $29,545 in purse money.

Cup regulars won the race, scored six of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied seven of the 40 starting positions, and took home $259,490 in purse money.

The Final Word

One can look at the Nationwide Series following Texas two ways. First, one could see the series as a continuing platform for Cup drivers, mainly Kyle Busch, to have some fun and test out strategies for their usual series, possibly winning a race or four along the way.

But on the other hand, the points race is tighter than ever. With Sam Hornish Jr.‘s difficult day after contact with Jeremy Clements, he leads Regan Smith by a mere two points going into Richmond in two weeks. and Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier and Brian Scott also have the points lead within their sights, trailing Hornish by single digits.

It’s a shame the series is heading into another off-week after just getting out of a two-week respite, but hey, at least it’s not the Truck Series schedule.

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