Ryan Blaney captures first career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory

It wasn’t a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor that the NASCAR Nationwide Series field had to worry about at Kentucky Speedway. Instead, it was a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standout in Ryan Blaney who stole the show and won Saturday night’s Kentucky 300.

Crafton, the current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader, tied his best career finish (third) in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. Ironically, the driver of the No. 33 Rheem / Menards Chevrolet Camaro also finished third in the triple-header weekend at the Sparta, Kentucky-based track in June. “We were tight, tight, tight, for most of the race until the last stop. I then got loose, but went back to tight, but I can’t thank Menards, Rheem and RCR for the opportunity. A good night.”

Nationwide ends NASCAR series deal

Nationwide ends NASCAR series backingNASCAR is seeking a new title sponsor for its second-tier championship in 2015 after Nationwide decided to end its backing of the series in favor of programs in Sprint Cup.

The insurance company took over from Busch as the feeder series’ title sponsor in 2008. Nationwide will retain a NASCAR involvement through new associate programs in the Cup series, as well as sponsoring the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.

Nationwide’s chief marketing officer Matt Jauchius compared the move to a driver graduating to the premier championship.

“The NASCAR Nationwide Series is a great proving ground not only for drivers and crew members, but for sponsors too,” said Jauchius. “It’s a natural evolution for Nationwide Insurance to move our marketing investment to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and we’ll continue to put tremendous effort behind all of our NASCAR marketing platforms in the years to come.”

Kyle Busch dominates Chicagoland Nationwide to set up another weekend sweep chance

Chalk up another win from the pole for Kyle Busch. And give the driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota two legs up on a weekend sweep at Chicagoland Speedway.

In Saturday’s Dollar General 300, Busch won his 10th NASCAR Nationwide Series race in 20 starts this season, leading 195 of the 200 laps in claiming the record 61st victory of his career.

Busch became the first driver to win from the pole in NNS competition at Chicagoland, though he’s certainly no stranger to winning from the top starting spot. In Saturday morning’s time trials, Busch won his eighth pole of the season. He has converted seven of those into victories.

Joey Logano was second, but no other driver proved a threat to Busch’s dominance. Sam Hornish Jr. finished third and extended his lead in the series standings to 17 points over Austin Dillon, who came home fourth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth, followed by Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Parker Kligerman, Kevin Harvick and rookie Nelson Piquet Jr.

Having won Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland, Busch will go for the second three-series weekend sweep of his career in Sunday’s GEICO 400 Sprint Cup race at the 1.5-mile track. That won’t be an easy task. During Saturday’s practice, the handling on Busch’s Cup car wasn’t optimal.

“We tried a lot of stuff (Saturday) in the Cup garage and couldn’t really find the feel I was looking for, couldn’t really find the grip I was hoping to have that would produce fast lap times and be comfortable for me,” Busch said. “It’s going to be a bit of a challenge (Sunday).

“I think we’re a top-10 car right now. That’s a little further off than where I’d like to start going into (Sunday), but we’ll just have to work through 400 miles and push hard and see if we can’t achieve the trifecta.”

Penkse Racing teammates Logano and Hornish agreed that they needed to find a little additional speed to compete with Busch on a regular basis, but they also defended their own records. Four Penske drivers have combined for 10 NNS victories this season.

“We’re not far behind – we’ve won quite a few races this year,” Logano said. “But the 54 car is obviously our main competition every weekend. Where it’s at is hard to pinpoint. It’s probably a little bit of body, it could be some motor, it could be some of our chassis setups.

“We have to look in every little area to find a little bit of speed. It’s not like he’s a half-second quicker than us. He’s a tenth better, all day today… It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it’s at, because he drives away so fast you can’t figure it out quick enough.”

Having led 153 of the first 158 laps, Busch held a lead of more than three seconds when Brett Butler plowed into the back of title contender Elliott Sadler’s No. 11 Toyota as Sadler was slowing to enter pit road.

Lead-lap cars came to the pits on lap 160 four tires and fuel, leaving them with enough gas to finish the race comfortably. Busch was first off pit road for a restart on lap 164, but one circuit later, a caution for debris slowed the field for the fourth time.

Busch pulled away after a lap 170 restart and stretched his lead until Kyle Larson blew a left-rear tire and smacked the outside wall in Turn 2, spewing debris throughout the corner.

That wasn’t the last yellow. One circuit after a restart on lap 182, Justin Allgaier’s Chevrolet clipped the outside wall, bounced into Regan Smith’s Chevy and sent it spinning down the backstretch. Smith, who entered the race third in the series standings, stayed on the lead lap but restarted 18th when Busch led the field to green on lap 187.

Smith worked his way up to 13th by the finish but lost ground to Hornish, as finished Sadler, who ran 19th, one lap down.

With Smith and Sadler both having issues, dropping them to 36 and 44 points behind Hornish, respectively, the championship battle began to look more and more like a two-man contest.

“There’s still a long time to go,” Hornish said. “What, seven races? A lot can happen. We have to be smart about how we run it and all those things. One flat tire can lose you a bunch of points. I feel like I was pretty excited about where we were running at about lap 160, with how we were running.

“I think Austin was seventh, and we were running second and catching the leader a little bit. All of a sudden the yellow comes out, and we were running third, and he (Dillon) was second. We worked real hard to get back around there at the end, and I just wish we’d had a little more for the short run.”

Busch led the largest number of laps ever in a Nationwide Series at an intermediate speedway, eclipsing the 194 of 200 led by Dale Earnhardt at Charlotte in 1986.

Late pass gives Brad Keselowski victory in Richmond Nationwide

Keselowski takes the lead from Brian Scott on a late restart  (LAT photo)

Grabbing the lead for the first time after a restart on lap 240, Keselowski subsequently survived a seventh caution and a final restart to beat Brian Scott, the pole winner, to the finish line by 1.946 seconds in Friday night’s Virginia 529 College Savings 250, the 1,000th race in NASCAR Nationwide Series history.

With a dominant car and excellent work by his pit crew, Scott had led the first 239 of 250 laps before Keselowski grabbed the lead from the outside lane on the next-to-last restart and held it the rest of the way. The victory was Keselowski’s fifth in 12 starts this season and the 25th of his career. Regan Smith finished fourth, followed by Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne. Series leader Sam Hornish Jr. finished sixth.

“This was one of those nights where it just didn’t work out for him,” Keselowski said of Scott’s attempt to win his first Nationwide race. “The only thing that I can really tell him, with the experience that I have, is that sometimes in racing you do everything right, and you still don’t win. This sport’s very fickle like that.

“Things just didn’t fall his way. That yellow that came out (on lap 229) just put him in a position that didn’t suit his team’s strengths, and it did suit ours, and we were close enough to capitalize.”

Specifically, Keselowski cashed in on his knack for anticipating and controlling restarts. Scott had issues with the final two, the first of which cost him the lead and second of which sealed the win for Keselowski. Scott asserted that the 2010 Nationwide champion beat him to the line on the penultimate restart and took off early – before reaching the prescribed restart zone – on the last one.

“On the last restart, I was shocked,” Scott said. “We weren’t even to the entrance to pit road, and he started going, which was two or three car-lengths before the restart zone, and he had me cleared before we even got to the exit of the restart zone (indicated by a red line on the wall).

“One, it took away a possibility for our team and everybody at Richard Childress Racing to contend for that win, and two, it eliminated what could have been an exciting race for the fans, if we could have been side by side going into the first corner and racing the way racing should be at these short tracks.”

Understandably, Keselowski had a different view of the final restart.

“I think I just caught him off guard,” Keselowski said. “The restart box is a zone, and we went right at the start of it and didn’t give him a second to catch up. That probably wasn’t the key to the victory, but it sure didn’t hurt.”

Scott dominated from the outset while Keselowski worked his way toward the front. By the time Keselowski cleared Busch for the second position on lap 195, Scott held a lead of more than 1.5 seconds over the No. 22 Ford. But slowly, inexorably, Keselowski began to close on Scott’s No. 2 Chevrolet.

By lap 210, the margin was 0.823 second. After Scott worked traffic on lap 217, his advantage shrank to 0.428sec, roughly three car lengths. But Scott pulled away to a lead of more than a second before caution for Hal Martin’s brush with the wall slowed the race on lap 229.

Hornish expanded his series lead to 16 points over second-place Austin Dillon, who was 12th Friday, and holds a 26-point advantage over Smith in third.

Kevin Harvick holds off Kyle Busch for Atlanta Nationwide win

Kyle Busch wins at Bristol for 60th Nationwide victory

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Allmendinger completes Nationwide road racing double at Mid-Ohio

AJ Allmendinger spent most of Saturday afternoon in front, then held on for an extra few laps to earn his second career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

He had a comfortable lead over pole winner Michael McDowell but had to sweat out a green-white-checkered finish after Kenny Habul triggered a course-wide caution on the penultimate lap. It was no problem as Allmendinger sprinted away on a lap 93 restart and stayed in front for the final two laps.

McDowell was second and Sam Hornish Jr. assumed the series points lead after finishing third. Max Papis and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five.

Allmendinger lost the lead after a lap 58 pit stop and took it back five laps later. He kept his No. 22 Ford Mustang in front of the pack after a lap 67 restart and cruised to his second NASCAR Nationwide road-course win in as many tries this season.

“The car was just amazing,” said Allmendinger, who won for the same team in his only other start June 22 at Road America. “It was so good those last 20 laps.” 

Allmendinger started second and needed just eight laps to take the lead after the green flag. He led 27 straight laps midway through the race and was in front for the final 29. He also won the June 22 Johnsonville Sausage 200 Presented by Menards at Road America, his only other NASCAR Nationwide start this season. He led 73 of the race’s 94 laps. McDowell led the next most with eight.

Allmendinger isn’t competing for the series title but those that are saw all sorts of changes at the top.

Hornish started the race three points behind series leader Austin Dillon but left Mid-Ohio with a 13-point lead with 11 races remaining. Dillon, who finished 21st, dropped into a tie for third with Regan Smith, who spun early in the day and fell out of contention.

Elliott Sadler jumped ahead of both of them to take over second in the standings. He’s two points ahead of the duo. Brian Vickers remained fifth in the standings; right where he started.

The top five are separated by 18 points.

McDowell led the first eight laps from the pole but gave way to Allmendinger, who dominated large stretches of the third and final road race on the NASCAR Nationwide schedule.

Michael McDowell, in just his fifth NNS start of the season, secured his second career Coors Light pole with a fast lap of 96.256.

Keselowski picks up fourth straight Nationwide Series win at Watkins Glen

Four-for-four is a great day on the baseball diamond. It’s an even better day on the race track. Just ask Brad Keselowski, who won his fourth straight NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Watkins Glen International.

Keselowski’s 1.418-second victory over Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. in the Zippo 200 was his fourth in his last four NNS starts this season (though not in consecutive events) and the 24th of his career. Brian Vickers was third, followed by Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler. Hornish cut the series lead of 12th-place finisher Austin Dillon to three points as the drivers head for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the second straight road-course venue, next weekend.

Given the strength of his No. 22 Ford Mustangs, Keselowski feels he can win any time he gets behind the wheel, and Saturday’s result bore that out.

“You know they’re going to be fast, and it’s just a matter of getting through all the drama of the race weekend to try to persevere for a win,” Keselowski said. “We did that today.”

Keselowski also felt fortunate to hold off Hornish in the closing laps.

“I thought he was going to beat me,” said Keselowski, who had never driven a road-course race until he came to NASCAR. “I’ll tell you what, he’s a hell of a road course racer… I made a couple of little mistakes. I thought he would get me, to be quite honest. I was just trying not to make any huge ones, and it all came together.”

Hornish, the pole winner, got close to his Penske Racing teammate in the final five laps but, despite applying consistent pressure, never got close enough.

“I actually got him either (to) wheel-hop or lock up a little bit into (Turn) 1 a couple of times but just was never close enough to where I could take advantage of anything,” Hornish said. “And then with about three laps to go, I got really sideways through the bus stop (inner loop)..
“It was a great day for the Penske organization, for sure—a 1-2. We’ve done quite a bit lately, and one of these times we’ll get turned around where I’m the leading end of it.”
NASCAR called the fifth caution of the race on lap 58 because of debris in the inner loop, and that deprived frontrunners Joey Logano and Justin Allgaier of a 20-second advantage they held before the yellow, with pit stops looming for both drivers.
Allgaier brought his car to pit road under the caution, but Logano stayed out, needing another yellow to make it to the end of the race on fuel. After the restart on lap 62, Logano led a three-car train of Penske Racing machines until both Keselowski and Hornish out-braked their teammate in Turn 1 on lap 66 to take over the top two positions. 

With Logano saving fuel, Keselowski and Hornish streaked away to a lead of more than eight seconds and ran in that order to the finish. Logano ran out of gas on the final circuit at the 2.45-mile road course and finished 21st.

Three drivers have won Nationwide races in five straight starts (though not in consecutive events): Ryan Newman, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Keselowski will attempt to tie that mark when he races the No. 22 car Aug. 23 at Bristol.

Kyle Busch wrecked in the first corner of the first lap and finished 24th, five laps down. As a result, Keselowski trimmed the lead of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to five points over the No. 22 Ford in the owners’ standings. Both cars are raced by multiple drivers but are battling for the owners’ championship.

Keselowski overcomes penalty to win Iowa Nationwide race

Brad Keselowski made a busy weekend well worth the trouble.

The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was the lone driver making frequent trips between Central Iowa and Pocono Raceway, where he’ll compete in Sunday’s premier series event.

Keselowski will be toting a gas pump trophy back with him after winning the Fifth Annual NASCAR Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 Saturday night at Iowa Speedway. He has won the last three Nationwide starts he has made for Penske Racing, despite not having a Sprint Cup victory this season.

“Flying back and forth is definitely work, but the work is worth the reward,” Keselowski said. “That’s having a fast race car and a great team to be able to come here to come here to Iowa Speedway and win this.”

Keselowski said that might grab more attention than it should, and that is the triumphant effort of everyone working with the No. 22 car Saturday.

“What should get publicity is having a fast car,” Keselowski said, “and executing through some adversity,”

The key moment of the race came after the third caution of the race, starting seventh with less than 50 laps remaining. As Trevor Bayne and Brian Vickers were battling side-by-side for the lead, Keselowski made his move.

He shot through the leaders, moving quickly to the front and grabbing the lead on lap 216. The choice to take four new tires proved to be a winning strategy, despite slipping a spot in order.

“It was hard-fought to make it happen,” Keselowski said. “Certainly, that yellow was a turning point in the race for us.”

Crew chief Jeremy Bullins may have been at the heart of the decision, but he credited Keselowski for taking advantage of the situation.

“He took care of the rest of it,” Crew chief Jeremy Bullins said. “He did a great job all night.”

Not only did Keselowski overcome the other 39 drivers in the field, but he persevered through a number of issues during the race. He received an early penalty, after running in the top five with a shot to jump a spot or two during a pit stop under caution. Keselowski, however, was assessed an outside tire violation, falling to the rear of the field for the restart. He also suffered an overheating problem that hindered him midway through the race. He remained patient before taking the lead and pulled away from the field.

While all the mishaps prevented him from contending early, he had to maintain focus. It was a struggle at times.

“As a driver, those are probably some of the most difficult moments, knowing you have a fast racecar and circumstances are playing against you,” Keselowski said. “There are two ways you can react to that. You can let the moment define you or you can define the moment.”

It was Keselowski’s first win at Iowa Speedway since 2009. He noted the similarities to that victory to his most recent one. His team fought troubles that day, using different strategies and beat Kyle Busch’s team, which he called one of the best at the time.

“It was very much a defining moment,” Keselowski said. “Especially with it being the inaugural race here. It was a win that, at that time, was the biggest of my career.”

Penske Racing managed to sweep the top two spots with Sam Hornish Jr. placing second. Vickers was third, which is his first top-three finish at Iowa Speedway.

Hornish started 14th and came away with his fourth runner-up finish of the season. This one was a little different than his second-place finish to Penske teammate Joey Logano two races ago in Chicago. Hornish said being the top Nationwide finisher was a boost for points, making second easier to accept.

“I felt we had maybe a third or fourth-place car and we finished second,” Hornish said. “I’m pretty proud of the way the guys did a great job on pit road for us (Saturday). I’m actually pretty happy with it.”

For the second straight race at Iowa Speedway, Austin Dillon led the majority of the race but failed to seal the victory. He led 116 laps, but fell back to fifth for the final restart. It resembled his performance in June’s DuPont Pioneer 250 where he led 207 of 250 and was runner-up to Bayne.

Dillon decided to take four tires when many of the leaders — including Vickers, Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler and Bayne — took two tires to move ahead of him. Dillon put the No. 3 Chevrolet in the points lead for the first time since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2003, and his fourth-place finish kept him in front of the season points standing. Dillon owns a 14-point lead over Smith.

Drew Herring claimed his first NASCAR Nationwide Series pole in 11 career races Saturday afternoon, joined in the front row with Regan Smith. He posted the top speed, coming in at 135.367 miles per hour.

It was just his second top-10 start of the season for the 26-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He started ninth here for Nationwide’s DuPont Pioneer 250 in June. He finished 11th in that race.

Herring paced the field for the first 26 laps, surrendering the lead to Smith and dropping back. He spun out on lap 55, bringing out the race’s first caution and ending the longest green-flag stretch to start a race this season.

Rookie Kyle Larson placed fifth, which was the best showing by a rookie. He had to leave shortly after the race to compete at Knoxville Raceway later Saturday night.

He experienced a rough start, but some in-race adjustments made a big difference, allowing to move through the field.

“I’ll take it after the way our day started,” Larson said. “I’ll go to Knoxville tonight and try to win the sprint (car) race.”

Ryan Gifford made his series debut memorable. He posted a ninth-place finish in his first time behind the wheel of a Nationwide car.

“I just tried to run the wheels off it and put in position,” Gifford said. “We finished the laps and ran top-10.”

Kyle Busch rolls on at Indy Nationwide

Even with a car that was clearly the class of the field, Kyle Busch had some anxious moments in closing laps of Saturday’s Indiana 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That Busch beat runner-up Brian Scott to the finish line by 2.141 seconds belies the difficulty Busch experienced on the final restart on lap 95 of 100, when Joey Logano squeezed Busch into Turn 1 and allowed Scott to take the lead.
After harrying Scott for nearly three laps, Busch finally made the winning pass, putting an exclamation point on a dominant performance that saw him lead 92 laps.
The victory was Busch’s eighth of the NNS season in 15 starts and the 59th of his career, extending his own series record. Earlier in the day, Busch had won his 31st NNS pole, breaking a tie with Mark Martin for the all-time lead in that category.

“I had no friends around me on the restart,” Busch said of the final run. “On the restart before, I had (Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt) Kenseth behind me, and he pushed me and got me clear of the 22 (Logano). There on that final restart, (Kevin) Harvick was hanging back a little bit trying to get a run…
“I got down into (Turn) 1 and just lost all grip. I just slid. I was turning left, turning right, trying not to get into Logano. I got into him and we chased up the race track. I was watching my mirror at the same time, trying to see if anybody was coming, and here comes the 2 (Scott) out of nowhere, and he got by us there. It made it tough to pass him back.”
Eventually, Busch got Scott loose and seized the opening, leaving Scott to second-guess his approach to the last six laps.
“I feel like he was able to get by me because I was a little too cautious on corner entry,” Scott said. “I was really focused on making sure I got as low as I could and not give him any clean air. I thought that was going to be more beneficial.
“I over-slowed just a little bit into (Turn) 1 and allowed him to get up to my bumper and hit me and get me loose and get me up the race track and get back by me, unfortunately. But it was a lot of fun leading here at Indianapolis there toward the end, and I would give anything to be able to rewind, go back and do it over again.”
Scott’s second-place run was the best of his career in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Logano came home third, followed by Brian Vickers and Harvick.
As the highest finishing Nationwide regular qualified for the fourth leg of Nationwide’s Dash4Cash, Vickers claimed the final $100,000 bonus and won an additional $100,000 for Pam Nabors of Santa Cruz, Calif., the fan who was paired with Vickers in the Dash4Cash finale.
Nabors is a second cousin to actor Jim Nabors, who is a fixture at the Indianapolis 500 with his rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
Busch was on pit road on lap 65 when NASCAR called the second caution of the race because of fluid from Sam Hornish Jr.’s overheating engine.
Busch, however, stayed on the lead lap and regained the top spot when all the lead-lap cars ahead of him came to pit road for service under the yellow. With many drivers who came to pit road under yellow opting for new right-side tires only — among them Trevor Bayne, Vickers, Harvick and Paul Menard — Busch, on four new tires, led the field to a restart on lap 71 with a tire advantage over most of the competition.
Logano, who had come to pit road under green on lap 64, kept pace with Busch for two laps after the restart, but by lap 75, the driver of the No. 54 Toyota had opened an advantage of more than one second. Busch’s lead had grown to more than two seconds by lap 84, when Nelson Piquet Jr. brushed the wall and dropped debris on the track to cause the third caution.
A multicar incident on lap 89 caused the final caution and set up the six-lap run to the finish.
Hornish’s engine woes led to a 34th-place finish and cost the former Indy 500 winner the series lead. Austin Dillon, who ran 12th, took over the top spot in the standings by six points over Regan Smith, who came home 19th.

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