Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Breakdown: ToyotaCare 250

Brian Scott has come close to winning at Richmond twice before. Starting on the pole Friday night made it look like he might be poised to get the monkey off of his back and grab the checkered flag. Unfortunately for Scott and the rest of the field, the race was longer than 47 laps. Scott led the first 43 circuits, surrendered the lead for two laps under caution to Jeremy Clements and then lost it to Kevin Harvick when the race restarted. Aside from one lap that Elliott Sadler led during a set of green flag pit stops, Harvick led the remainder of the race. A total of 202 of the 250 laps of the event were contested with the No. 5 out front, and contested doesn’t describe the majority of them. Harvick dominated the event and was only threatened at the end of one long green flag run. The victory is Harvick’s seventh Nationwide win at Richmond, his best track on the circuit by two wins over Bristol and Texas.

The start of the race was delayed by three hours thanks to rain in the Richmond area which also canceled Cup series qualifying. When the green flag finally flew the ceiling was so low over the track that the clouds could be seen moving across the light standards around the track. As the race neared the midway point the fog was so thick that it was difficult to see the scoring pylon in the center of the track from the middle of the corners. The wind picked up after halfway and the fog lifted before the end of the event and allowed everyone to see the victory lap for Harvick, who did not do one of his normal tire melting burnouts.

Chase Elliott was unable to win his third race in a row, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Elliott kept Harvick honest by contesting him on restarts and eventually caused the winner to alter his line into turn one and ultimately the adjustments that were made to his car. Third behind Elliott, but barely in the same zip code was Kyle Busch. Kyle Larson soldiered home to a fourth-place finish while Scott, the pole winner and early leader rounded out the top 5.

The Good

JR Motorsports certainly is on the top of the good ledger after the first eight races of the season. They have won four of the races with three different drivers. They are first and second in the point standings and scored their first 1-2 finish in the history of the company. Chase Elliott leads Regan Smith by 19 points after his second-place run. The garage and the folks at JR Motorsports all acknowledge that this is a cyclical business and they are the ones who are on top of the heap right now. They have changed many aspects of the company this off-season and the results have quickly surfaced.

Chris Buescher had an average finish in 2014 of 19.167 coming into Richmond. His best finish of the year was ninth at Las Vegas after not qualifying at Daytona. His last two races were finishes of 27th and 34th. To say the pressure was starting to ramp up was an understatement. Buescher started the race in seventh, slipped back to 13th but clawed his way back to the top 10 by midway before finishing the event in seventh place. It isn’t contending for a win but after the start to the season, it is a big step in the right direction.

The Bad

You are doing something right when a 14th-place finish lands you in the bad category, but for Ty Dillon, that is just where he is ending up. Prior to Richmond, the worst finish of the year for Dillon was 11th at Las Vegas, which was his only finish outside of the top 10. Dillon started the race in eleventh and quickly moved into the top 10. He had advanced all of the way to the top 5 before the halfway point, but slipped back to bounce around from 11th to ninth for the last half of the race. Adjustments at the end of the race actually caused the car to handle worse as the night came to an end, which landed the No. 3 in 14th. If that lands you in the Bad category, you are having a good season.

Brendan Gaughan is making his first stab at a full Nationwide season since 2010. To say it is off to a less than auspicious start would be an understatement. Two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 13.286 is now what Richard Childress Racing is used to. While Gaughan is a grizzled veteran in this business, he has to be feeling a little pressure. A start of 22nd and a finish of 20th without much of a sniff of the top 10 all day didn’t help the cause. Gaughan excels at intermediate tracks so things should pick up as they take over the meat of the schedule but this was certainly a bad outing.

The Ugly

The crop of young talent coming up into the national touring series is impressive, but how they race is coming under scrutiny. Dylan Kwasniewski was involved in a second incident in as many races, although he was on the receiving end this time around. Ryan Reed got into Kwasniewski in turn four on lap 189 and the No. 31 ended up in the fence. Kwasniewski didn’t seem quite as understanding as Chris Buescher was last week for being wrecked. It does look as though there is a history between the two that might need to be resolved soon before the totaled car count goes up.

The Nationwide Series has start and park drivers. It isn’t a secret and it keeps the fields fuller for television fees. Most of the S&P cars turn a handful of laps, even double digits. On Friday night Jimmy Weller pulled off of the track after taking the green. He was credited with one lap. His car was struggling mightily during practice and qualifying. There is a very real possibility that it was truly having engine issues. However, if a car isn’t going to be competitive at all, and you know up front that you aren’t going to race it, just qualify and then quit. The prize money should still be yours thanks to qualifying. Waiting out a three hour rain delay to run the better part of one lap just seems silly.

The Underdog Performer of the Race

JJ Yeley continues to race well for JGL Racing. Yeley has run five races for the company and has finished better than his qualifying in all but one of the races. He had another race finish in the teens, his fourth out of five. The JGL team isn’t competing for wins, but finishing races with the car in one piece goes a long way for the little team. Yeley gets that done every time he’s behind the wheel and Friday was no exception.

Double-Duty and Start and Park effect

*Seven drivers who are competing in Saturday’s Toyota Owners’ 400 raced in this event. They took home $163,330 in prize money. *Three of the Top 5 finishers are not running for Nationwide Series points. *Seven competitors opted to start and park Friday night.

The Final Word

The past two races have been about the changing of the guard in the Nationwide Series, as Chase Elliott outran two of the biggest Cup infiltrators in the sport in Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Friday night was a reminder that the old guard isn’t quite ready to just fold up tent and head home. Kevin Harvick didn’t just win the race, he dominated it. For the majority of the event he was in a different zip code from the rest of the competitors. Elliott challenged him at one point during the race, but in the end, no one was going to touch Harvick on his best track, historically, in the Nationwide Series. Harvick doesn’t infiltrate as much as Busch does anymore, but he still comes down and wins his fair share of races.

Once again, the story of the night began with rain. For all but two weekends this season, rain has impacted the events, and it did again Friday night. While some people in the media are blamed for their presence alone attracting rain, it very well may be the development of the Air Titan 2.0. Mother Nature appears to have taken it as a personal affront to her powers when NASCAR attempted to overcome her will.

While Harvick ran roughshod over the field, the action behind him was hot and heavy the entire night. Shooting pictures of the event, it was possible to get cars side-by-side on every lap that wasn’t under caution. There were three-wide moments frequently throughout the race as well. The beauty of short track racing is the up close and personal action and it was abundant at Richmond Friday night.

As Chase Elliott continues to impress, the other new drivers in the series are also showing they can wheel race cars. Two finished in the top 10, four ended up in the top 15 and five were in the top 20. The future of the sport is in great hands and the rivalries that are being established are going to excite fans for years to come. Putting them on tracks like Richmond just builds the excitement even more and faster.

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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