Musical chairs atop Busch standings By Brett Borden NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Apr. 5, 1999) With NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers Mark Martin and Jeff Burton sitting out Saturday's BellSouth Mobility 320 at Nashville Speedway USA, the game of musical...
Musical chairs atop Busch standings By Brett Borden
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Apr. 5, 1999) With NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers Mark Martin and Jeff Burton sitting out Saturday's BellSouth Mobility 320 at Nashville Speedway USA, the game of musical chairs at the top of the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division saw those two NASCAR Winston Cup regulars shuffled out of the picture in the Music City. There to seize the day was a six-pack of NASCAR Busch Series regulars, each hoping to be in the catbird seat when the music stops at the end of the year.
Sitting there currently is Mike McLaughlin. "Magic Shoes" reached into his bag of magic tricks on a couple of occasions Saturday to get his points across.
As the defending champion of the race, McLaughlin qualified 13th on Friday. A bad omen on Good Friday? Not really, as he had qualified 21st in 1998 before going on to hold his Gibson guitar in Victory Lane.
In this year's race, one of two lucky breaks for McLaughlin occurred on lap 106. With race leader Sterling Marlin bearing down on him to put him a lap down, Brad Loney spun directly in front of McLaughlin. McLaughlin dodged the spinning Loney, then dodged a lost lap when the caution flag came out. McLaughlin had dropped to 20th before the caution, but exited pit road in 14th place following strong pit work from the Goulds Pumps crew.
After another 60-65 laps, McLaughlin found himself in the same predicament, with new race leader Jeff Green looming large in his rearview mirror to get him down a lap. Another timely caution came out and McLaughlin beat Green back to the start/finish line to remain on the lead lap. With another strong pit stop, McLaughlin exited pit road in 16th place.
McLaughlin got a handle on his car and began picking off cars one by one, the last of which gave him the points lead he currently enjoys. He passed Elton Sawyer with five laps to go for seventh, moving him five points ahead of Sawyer as "King" of the NASCAR Busch Series mountain.
"I have to give the guys a lot of credit for improving the car as the race went along," McLaughlin said. "Over the last 25 laps, we might have had the fastest car on the track. It's exciting to take the points lead, but we aren't going to worry about points right now, we want to win races and the points race will take care of itself."
BellSouth Mobility 320 winner Green would more than likely have a comfortable lead atop the standings if a missed race hadn't rained on his parade. With a new team this year, Green was hung out to dry at Rockingham when rain forced the field to be determined by last year's standings, leaving his Progressive Motorsports Kleenex Chevrolet on the sidelines. He says he still considers himself a viable contender for the crown, even with that handicap.
"We're one race behind, but I really think if we can stay up there with some good top finishes, that we'll catch up and actually be in the hunt of things for the championship," said Green, who presently sits 55 points behind McLaughlin in fifth. "That's what I want for this Kleenex team. Things are just coming together and the team is feeling strong."
Don't look now, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. is within striking distance of the lead. After a 14th-place finish at Daytona and a 35th at Rockingham to start the season, Nashville's Bud Pole winner's average finish is 5.6 in the five races since. Bringing a top-10 car home in the top-10 has kept him within 16 points of McLaughlin.
"We're disappointed we didn't run better than we did after qualifying so well," said Earnhardt. "We struggled with the setup a bit. Worked on it during the race, but we were so far behind and the car was not competitive enough to run up front. So we just rested in a role of running in the top-10. I guess that's pretty good considering how bad the car was driving at first. So we can go home satisfied -- not happy, but satisfied -- and go on to Bristol. We run pretty good there."
Source: NASCAR Online