Underdogs have a way of hitting emotions. Brendan Gaughan was the underdog of underdogs on Saturday evening. After Ty Dillon dominated much of the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway, multiple late-race cautions gave his Richard Childress Racing teammate the advantage.
Gaughan, 39, running his first full year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series since 2010, visited to Victory Lane for the first time on an oval in NASCAR’s second-tier division. Dillon led 156 of the 200 laps, but the driver of the No. 62 Chevrolet pulled away in the final seven laps as Brian Scott took away the second position from Dillon. In doing so, the RCR organization had their first one-two-three sweep in the team’s Nationwide history. However, the team did have a one-two-three finish in the Sprint Cup Series when Jeff Burton won at Bristol in 2008.
Throughout the race, Dillon was clearly the car to beat. With four cautions spanning the final 31 laps, the No. 3 car was not able to capitalize on winning the pole and having the first spot on pit road. Instead, Gaughan not only scored his second career victory, but earned his second top five and sixth top 10 of the 2014 season. He now joins Chase Elliott, who finished fourth after leading 20 laps, as the only full-time Nationwide Series drivers to win multiple times this year.
The race lasted approximately two hours and 27 minutes. With nine lead changes between six different drivers, this race had one more swap for the top position when compared to the first race at Kentucky this year. However, the nine lead changes is also down from 14 at Chicagoland Speedway from the preceding race.
Elliott extended his championship lead over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. He now leads the driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet by 20 markers after entering Kentucky 18 points ahead. Dillon sits in third-place; 38 points behind Elliott. Scott took over the fourth position from Elliott Sadler as they round out the top five, but are both more than 50 points behind Elliott. Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher, Gaughan, Ryan Reed and James Buescher round out the top 10 in the standings with six races left in the season.
Richard Childress Racing had their strongest race of the year. Besides Dillon’s dominating effort and Gaugahn’s win, each of their four Chevrolet’s were inside of the top 10 for the duration of the race and every one of the team’s drivers battled for a position inside of the top five late in the race.
Gaughan took four tires during the first pit stop during the second caution after leading 16 laps early in the race. The decision by the No. 62 team forced him to drop outside of the top 10, yet he has able to take advantage of the late-race restarts to pass Dillon and Elliott for his second career triumph. Leading 22 laps was the most in any Nationwide event for Gaughan in 111 career starts. Scott was pushing hard for the win, and in the early part of the race was able to cut into Dillon’s lead while running in the runner-up position during some of the extended green-flag periods.
Sam Hornish, Jr. fought a loose condition throughout the event. After running in the top five early on, he fell outside of the top 10 after the half-way mark. On Lap 183, Hornish hit the wall hard after getting loose while battling Smith for position. He ended up finishing 30th.
As of now, he does not have a ride for next year. Although Hornish is rumored to take over Marcos Ambrose’s ride at Richard Petty Motorsports, the last thing he needed was to wreck during a solid run. In eight Nationwide Series races this year, Hornish has a win with four top fives. However, this is now his third finish of 30th or worse.
Austin Theriault made his third career Nationwide Series start on Saturday evening for JR Motorsports. After finishing no better than 15th in either of his first two races, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet continued to struggle at Kentucky. By the half-way point, he was two laps down; running in the 25th position. Although he has succeeded in lower divisions, it has been a tough road for the Maine-native in NASCAR’s second-tier division. He ended up finishing 18th.
Landon Cassill was having a solid performance for JD Motorsports. He kept the No. 01 car inside of the top 15 throughout the race. Unfortunately for Cassill his car blew a tire late in the race. After being able to make it to pit road without major damage, his Chevrolet experienced more issues – ending the day in the 29th position. Due to the poor finish, Dylan Kwasniewski took over the 11th spot in the standings as he finished 12th in the No. 42 car.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Cale Conley, making his ninth start of the year for RCR, was able to run well enough for his first career top-10 finish in the Nationwide Series. The No. 33 car was inside of the top five early in the race, yet fell back a few spots on the long run. However, the 22-year-old was able to finish seventh in a historic day for RCR.
Besides Conley having a career-best finish, Ross Chastain was able to do the same for Hattori Racing Enterprises. He the race with a 10th-place result in the No. 80 Toyota.
Making his Nationwide Series debut, Justin Boston finished ninth for Joe Gibbs Racing. Throughout the race, he ran around the 15th position until a few late-race cautions brought him into contention for a top 10 spot. At one point, the 25-year-old ran inside of the top seven, but settled for a solid, clean debut.
Double Duty and Start-and-Park Effect
Landon Cassill was the lone driver in the 40-car field that pulled double duty between New Hampshire and Kentucky as Cassill will be driving the No. 40 Chevrolet on Sunday at New Hampshire for Hillman Racing. Justin Boston also pulled double duty at Kentucky, as he ran the ARCA Series race for Venturini Motorsports.
Eight of the cars opted to start-and-park. The eight drivers to end their evening’s prematurely were Jeff Green, Ryan Ellis, Mike Harmon, Josh Reaume, Morgan Shepherd, Harrison Rhodes, Tanner Berryhill and Derrike Cope.
The Final Word
With a dominating performance, Dillon is gearing up to give Elliott and Smith a run for their money. Four of the final six races are at intermediate tracks, which have been RCR’s strength this season. However, they will also have to keep their eyes on Scott, who is extremely close to winning his first career Nationwide Series race.
Elliott Sadler finished 13th, and can just about be written out of the championship battle as he sits 61 points behind Elliott. This will be fourth year in a row that the Virginia-native has fallen short at winning a Nationwide Series title after finishing in the runner-up position in 2011 and 2012.
As the season is nearly complete, it is going to take a lot to beat the No. 9 team. Although Elliott’s crew chief Greg Ives, will be moving on in 2015 to work with Dale Earnhardt Jr., they have some unfinished business to do. He was visibly upset that he didn’t capitalize on winning his fourth race of the year following a poor restart during the final caution of the night, and that might give him the drive to keep on scoring top fives as Smith hasn’t been able to do so like his younger teammate.