Lopez wins at Nashville Already the 2006 NASCAR Mexico champion, Lopez took a monumental step forward in his progress with a victory Sunday night in the Busch East Series' Music City 150 at the historic Music City Motorplex. He became just the...
Lopez wins at Nashville
Already the 2006 NASCAR Mexico champion, Lopez took a monumental step forward in his progress with a victory Sunday night in the Busch East Series' Music City 150 at the historic Music City Motorplex. He became just the second Mexican-born driver to win in Busch East and the first to do so on an oval.
"This means a lot to me," said Lopez, who held off series points leader Joey Logano on a green-white-checkered finish. "It's not the same as winning on a road course. That's what NASCAR means: oval courses.
"This means a lot to me and the Mexican guys."
Ruben Pardo was the first Mexican-born driver to win on the Busch East with his victory last year on the road course at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.
"I'm really happy about it," said Lopez of Sunday's win, "because we have worked so hard for three years to move up."
Logano settled for the runner-up spot, while his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Marc Davis used a last-turn surge to edge Jeffrey Earnhardt for third. Bryon Chew finished fifth.
The victory earned Lopez, in his first year running full-time in the Busch East, an automatic spot in the starting lineup for the postseason NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway Oct. 19-20. It also gave him one of the most unique trophies in auto racing: a custom-designed Copley Guitar.
"I think I'm just going to hang it on the wall," Lopez said. "Everyday I wake up, I'm just going to look at it hanging there."
It was also a notable win for Lopez's sponsor, Telmex. It was the Mexican telephone company's first NASCAR victory as a sponsor.
Lopez's previous best finish was a fourth overall at Elko (Minn.) Speedway.
He started the season with three straight top fives and was second in points after the fifth race of the season. A fire on lap 15 ended his race early at New Hampshire International Speedway, though, and he was 26th last week at Thompson.
"It was just a rough bunch of weeks," said Fred Skaff, Lopez's crew chief. "He's matured unbelievably this year. Everybody put their heart and soul into it.
"He just did an awesome job."
At Nashville, Lopez led twice for 40 laps, taking the lead for the final time from Jamie Hayes on lap 132. Logano moved past Hayes on a lap 138 restart. A caution two laps later slowed the field and several drivers began running low on fuel. A restart was aborted with five to go when several cars stalled on the track, setting up a two-lap dash for the win.
"I started shutting my motor off," Logano said. "They told me to conserve fuel, I said 'oh boy.' ... (On the restart), I grabbed fourth gear and it started sputtering and spitting."
Jamie Hayes, Jeff Anton, Tim Andrews, Jerry Marquis and Richard Gould rounded out the top 10.
Misfortune for several of the top points leaders allowed Logano to stretch his lead to 147 points over second-place Matt Kobyluck, who finished 12th. Mike Olsen, who had entered the race second in points and 90 behind Logano, made contact with the wall on lap 23 after blowing a tire. He finished 30th and dropped back to third in points, trailing Logano by 147.
Peyton Sellers, fourth in points, led five laps early before also cutting a tire. He lost several laps in the pits and finished 16th. Sean Caisse, who won his fourth Busch Pole Award, got caught up in an early wreck while running in the top 10 and finished 18th.
Meanwhile, Lopez, who qualified 15th, steadily worked his way to the front.
"We were really easy on the tires at the beginning," Lopez said, "and it paid back in the end."
The Busch East Series will race Adirondack International Speedway in Beaver Falls, N.Y. next Saturday.