BUSCH/HAMLIN DUO FINISH 31ST AT FONTANA Hamlin Fills in for Busch Early, but Late Accident Costs Z-Line Designs Team Victory Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., is located about an hour drive east of Hollywood, a city known for producing...
BUSCH/HAMLIN DUO FINISH 31ST AT FONTANA
Hamlin Fills in for Busch Early, but Late Accident Costs Z-Line Designs Team Victory
Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., is located about an hour drive east of Hollywood, a city known for producing many memorable and interesting movie scripts throughout the last century. Despite the proximity, it's hard to believe Hollywood could have produced a story with as many twists and turns as the one the Z-Line Designs team endured in Saturday's Copart 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series at Auto Club Speedway.
Kyle Busch started the race, Denny Hamlin finished it and the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) finished a disappointing 31st. In between, the story of the race featured a plot akin to a Hollywood suspense thriller.
The story started earlier in the week when Busch, the full-time driver of the Z-Line Designs car, began feeling ill. His sickness continued throughout the weekend and Hamlin, his JGR teammate, filled in for much of Friday's Nationwide Series practice while Busch attempted to get well via rest and time spent inside the track's infield care center.
During Saturday morning qualifying, Busch was able to post the second-fastest time in the Z-Line Designs Toyota, but JGR officials alerted Hamlin that he would need to be on stand-by in case Busch was not able to complete the full race distance.
Busch started the 152-lap race and stayed in the car for the first 38 circuits around the 2-mile oval, leading laps 3-38 before making the difficult decision to get out of the car and turn it over to Hamlin.
On lap 39, Busch came to pit road under caution and climbed from the car. Hamlin took over in the cockpit, all while the Z-Line Designs crew changed four tires and filled the car with fuel.
"It's just temperature," Busch said. "When I get in the car and I get hot, I start not being able to see exactly straight. The car was really good though. The Z-Line Designs Toyota was awesome. Unfortunately, I didn't feel it was in my best interest, or the team's best interest, to keep going and try to win this race. I probably could have. More laps and getting hotter in the seat probably would have diminished my performance a little. Fortunately, we've got Denny Hamlin who's a great relief driver that can drive for me."
The No. 18 car did not lose a lap during the exchange and despite falling to 24th due to the extended time in the pits, Hamlin quickly began making up time. He drove up to seventh and was charging toward the lead when he pitted a second time under caution on lap 73. There, the story took another turn.
Rear-tire changer Jake Seminara's air gun, which loosens and tightens the lugnuts on each wheel, did not work properly and the Z-Line Designs crew lost precious time and several positions in the pits while they quickly found a backup air gun to change tires.
Despite falling to 17th, Hamlin fought his way back up to the front once more and finally took the lead on a lap-107 restart. He then battled Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle during the next 38 laps until the story took yet another turn.
While the trio battled for the lead in turn four on lap 140, Hamlin and Biffle made contact, which resulted in Hamlin's car nosing into the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall in turn four.
With the Z-Line Designs Toyota suffering heavy damage to the front of the car, Hamlin drove the wounded mount to the garage area with his day done 11 laps from the finish.
"We were running right in the middle there and I throttled up off the corner," Hamlin said. "The 88 (Keselowski), I guess was having a push, and he was coming into the left-rear. So, I was looking in my left side mirror, making sure he didn't get into us, and I was keeping my foot on the gas and the 16 (Biffle) got a big run. Evidently, he got up high on us late right there. He was there. We just came up and I was trying -- if I hold my line low the 88 (Keselowski) ends up wrecking us anyway off the corner. Either way, it was going to be a bad situation."
Because Busch started the race in the No. 18 car, he received the championship points, despite Hamlin driving the majority of the race. However, the disappointing finish cut Busch's lead from 245 points over second-place Carl Edwards to 155 markers with five races remaining in the 2009 season.
Hamlin and Busch's JGR teammate, Joey Logano, won the Copart 300 to score his sixth career Nationwide Series victory, his fifth of the season and first at Auto Club Speedway. It marked the first time Logano has won consecutive Nationwide Series events, as he won last weekend at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City
Brian Vickers finished .514 of a second behind Logano, while Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Keselowski rounded out the top-five. Michael Annett, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, David Ragan and Jason Keller comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The race featured a race-record 10 caution periods for 37 laps, with 13 drivers failing to finish the event, which was extended two laps beyond its scheduled 150-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.