The next time you’re wishing to become more patient, watch a NASCAR Nationwide Series race. If it’s anything like the TreatMyClot.com 300 on Saturday, you’ll get what you hope for, because you’re going to learn to wait for the good stuff.
To be frank, this race was really boring through 130 of 150
scheduled laps.But that was all erased by an amazing last 20. Choose any cliché
you want—nail biting, hair raising, goosebump-causing. They’d all be right.
Here’s what happened.
Forty cars took the green flag, but before long, it was
clear some were there simply to fill the field. Four dropped out early, leaving
three dozen, of which maybe half were competitive. That’s not to say that there
wasn’t some good battling going on in the 20-30 spots, but wait a moment for
To back up to the green flag, Elliott Sadler was on pole.
His career in this series now stretches to 235 races, and he’s been on point in
16 of those. It was his third top-ten start this year, and it came in a
two-mile lap of 176.991mph. That’s about 40.68 seconds around the oval. On lap
one, he lost his top spot to Kevin Harvick, but behind them, a car hit the wall
and brought out a caution. That car was Jamie Dick, who would fight on
valiantly all day and end up in 34th place. Sadler would be fifth at
The restart saw Matt Kenseth up front to challenge, but Joey
Logano took the lead. Ty Dillon was also there, but he started sliding back
almost immediately. As the next few early laps went by, it was Logano, Kenseth,
and Harvick. Meanwhile, way behind them but charging was Kyle Busch, who had
failed tech and been forced to start at the end of the field. By lap 17, he was
fourth. By twenty, third.
So where’s the boring part? Well, after this early bit of
intrigue, the race went caution-free for about 60 laps (until lap 68), and the
cars got strung out in a long line. The drama of whether Busch could overcome
his poor starting spot was over, and the only battle was the back in the pack
one between Dakoda Armstrong and Kevin LePage for 24th. That went
away around lap 40, when Armstrong reached his high of 17th place
and LePage faded to a steady 30th, where he ended the race long
The top teams pitted around lap 40, and this gave Busch a
chance to grab the lead, but the real race was for third behind him, with
Harvick and Kenseth challenging each other for that.
The restart at lap 71 did produce some excitement, with
Harvick pushing Logano outside and Busch hanging inside. They got past Busch but
the caution waved again because Dylan Kwasniewski got into Chase Elliott and
knocked him off-kilter enough that he hit the outside wall. More like scraped
it. It was more blessing than curse, as he said after the race ended, “It
actually fixed what we were fighting. Flattening out the right side actually
helps things sometimes.” He was sixth at the end of the afternoon.
So after this third caution, things once again returned to
riding around, nobody even all that close to each other. Like I said above—boring.
Sure, Elliott was moving steadily up, surprising everyone. Sure, Kenseth was
chasing Busch for second. Sure, the top five were separated by just 2.5
seconds. But after about lap 90, things spread out further. There were only 16
cars on the lead lap. The top ten were 8.6 seconds front to tail, and if that
doesn’t sound like a long time, consider this: the track takes about 40 seconds
to circumnavigate. It’s two miles long. That means that eight seconds
translates to about .4 miles. That’s a long way when you’re wishing cars were
So things rolled on, and on, and on. But then there was
another caution, for Josh Wise putting fluid on the track in the front
straight. (So no, conspiracy theorists, not another NASCAR debris caution for
dust that even a Hoover salesman couldn’t see.)
And that’s when the game was on. At 130, it was Logano, Larson, Harvick, Elliott, and Busch. You already know the result, so it doesn’t hurt to cite the familiar stat right now: Larson had been runner-up in this series five prior times. He’s from California. Nobody from here has ever won this race. Still boring, right?
Okay, so get this: Harvick was outside, Larson inside. He jumped in front of
Harvick, and right then, Kyle Busch jumped down inside going past the
start-finish line and came out of turn four second the next lap. So it was
Larson, Busch, Harvick, Logano.
On lap 136, Busch dove low on Larson in turn two. On 137, he
went way low into turn four. And Larson took the challenge and went inside and
held the lead past the line. The next lap, it was Larson with Harvick
challenging and Busch low through four.
On 141, Harvick went way low, almost to the apron through
three and four, and tried to scoot past Buschinto second, but he didn’t get it.
Again on the next lap, he did it, but Busch did a crossover move and got him
back at the line. On 144, Busch brushed the wall on turn four, and he, Larson,
and Harvick were within inches of each other.
On lap 145, Busch got Larson for the lead, but the
youngster, at 21, got it back into turn two. That allowed Harvick to sneak by
for second, though. Through turns 3-4 of that lap, Harvick was low again to no
avail, but then Busch did a slingshot move on him for second at the line. So
with three to go, it was Larson, Busch, and Harvick, and any of the three might
have won it.
The same banzai moves by Harvick were repeated in the next
two laps, and he almost cleared the others for the lead on lap 148, but it
didn’t stick. The pass did work on the last lap, however, and so in the end it
was Larson, Harvick, and Busch. Next Logano, and then Elliott Sadler and Chase
To repeat, the first 130 laps were a parade. A very fast and
noisy one, granted, but a strung-out lizard of a pack, and the fans were
sitting listening to the scanner and sipping the Buds but not showing a lot of
interest in the race.
Around the time that Baby Busch got invigorated, people were
on their feet, and the last ten or so laps were about the closest, most
thrilling, and most dangerous ones you’ll ever see. In the end, then, a classic
was had. Good thing race fans aren’t like some hockey fans I’ve observed,
leaving before the end of the game to beat the traffic. This was one of those
that the large crowd will remember for a long, long time.
After, the youngster Larson, who will drive his NASCAR Cup
car Sunday to reprise the win, had a lot to say about what he felt.
“I’m probably more excited than I thought I would feel
because we’ve gotten close five other times to winning a Nationwide race, but
the way we got it done beating Kyle and Kevin and Joey was awesome. I was
surprised that we got the jump on that last restart. Starting on the bottom, I
thought the #22 [Logano] would try to sneak underneath me. I thought the #54
[Busch] was behind the #5, and I thought that would put us close to four wide
coming off two, but I was able to get ahead enough to clear them guys. From
there, I just made sure I hit my marks.”
But then he kind of contradicted that. “I had to change my
line up a little bit. I was a bit too loose to run the line that I had been
running, that I’d been really fast in. Kyle was making a lot of ground up
against the wall, and I probably slowed him down a little bit there, which
It got better. He talked about his victory celebration,
where he takes the steering wheel off and does donuts. The history is that the
Outlaw drivers do them when they win. But nobody was doing it in stock cars, so
he did a couple of them—when he won the K&N championship, and when he won a
truck race at Rockingham. “Then NASCAR did have a talk with me about not doing
it, but I was like, ‘I just won my first Nationwide race, I’ll do whatever I
want.’ If I win the Cup race, I’ll probably do the same thing.” Sassy.
Asked about his thoughts as he went through the final few
laps, thinking about having been second so many times before. “That last
caution, I never noticed a TV screen [prior] in the middle of [turns] one and
two, and I saw my face, and next to it it said, ‘Five second-place finishes in
the Nationwide series,’ and I said, ‘I am not getting another one.’”
But he wasn’t all that sure about that, either. “Those guys
were running really hard with me, and I was like, ‘Enh, we’re going to get
second again,’ but luckily, it all worked out and we were able to stop that
streak and get a win, finally.”
He was later asked about the intimidation factor when being
attacked by Harvick and Busch, two of the most aggressive guys in the Cup
garage, and he said, “I think it’s good that I gained the experience that I
needed in the first five or so races that I’ve been close to winning, to keep
my nerves down late in the race. I’m just as aggressive as they are, maybe not
as much I guess, but I was definitely a bit nervous when I saw the #54 behind
me, and then when I saw Kevin coming into the picture, I thought it was going
to be really interesting.” He was running a lane that put him in danger of
hitting the wall, he said, though he didn’t indicate that that would have
wrecked him, just slowed him down. “They ran me so hard, but they left me an
inch or so each time they got close to my door.”
He also said that his car-owner, Chip Ganassi, was not
there, and that that perhaps, brought some luck, so that, “Maybe we can talk
Chip into staying at the hotel tomorrow,” for the Cup race that Larson also
will compete in. But of course, he
quickly retracted that one, too.
So Saturday in Fontana provided a lot of late thrills, no
spills, and a good tune-up for what’s to come on Sunday, when the Sprint Cup
goes at noon. The tickets for that race are sold out, according to a late-day
press release, but they have standing room space if you’re interested in being
a part of something big.
The writer is the Editor-at-Large for LA Car. To view more photos from the event, go to LACar.com or Facebook.com/lacarcom.