NASHVILLE - Goulds Pumps Chevrolet driver Mike McLaughlin ventured to Nashville Speedway USA this past weekend with all thoughts centered on defending his race win at the famous short track last year. McLaughlin failed to repeat as the race ...
NASHVILLE - Goulds Pumps Chevrolet driver Mike McLaughlin ventured to Nashville Speedway USA this past weekend with all thoughts centered on defending his race win at the famous short track last year. McLaughlin failed to repeat as the race winner, but managed to grab the NASCAR Busch Series points lead with a 7th place finish in the BellSouth 320.
McLaughlin began the Easter weekend with a 13th place qualifying effort on Friday afternoon. After winning the race from 21st position last season, McLaughlin didn't let the qualifying effort dash his hopes for another win. Following a "happy hour" of practice under the lights at Nashville Speedway USA, McLaughlin felt like he was ready for battle. Following a brief strategy session, McLaughlin and his Goulds Pumps crew called it a night and headed to the hotel for a full night of sleep.
As Saturday arrived, the grandstands began to fill, racing excitement was in the air. Following an autograph session at the Goulds Pumps merchandise trailer, McLaughlin began to make final preparations for the 320-lap war. Following the command to start the engines, McLaughlin took the green flag and the race was on. McLaughlin held his own around the 13th position for most of the first 100 laps. One of two lucky breaks occurred on lap 106. With the race leader, Sterling Marlin, threatening to put "Magic Shoes" McLaughlin a lap down, Brad Loney spun directly in front of McLaughlin. After taking evasive action, the caution came out and McLaughlin headed to pit road for 4 fresh tires and gasoline. McLaughlin had dropped to 20th before the caution, but exited pit road in 14th place following strong pit work from the Goulds Pumps crew.
On the restart, McLaughlin became trapped in lapped traffic and dropped back to the rear of the field. McLaughlin regained his momentum and raced hard over the next 60 laps before receiving lucky break number two. As race leader, Jeff Green, pulled alongside McLaughlin to put him a lap down, another timely caution occurred 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.
Over the second half of the race, McLaughlin began to get a better handle on the #34 Goulds Pumps Chevrolet and worked his way past cars one-by-one. With only 25 laps to go, McLaughlin was in 11th place. At this point McLaughlin began to work his magic and moved up to the 8th position before passing Elton Sawyer with less than 5 laps to go and claim the 7th place spot at the checkered flag. With that pass of Sawyer, McLaughlin moved into the NASCAR Busch Series points lead, just 5 points ahead of Sawyer.
"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."
Jeff Green won the BellSouth 320 by holding off Casey Atwood and Jason Keller. The NASCAR Busch Series now heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Moore's Snacks 250 on Saturday at 1:00pm EDT. ESPN and PRN will provide live coverage of the event. Last season, McLaughlin finished 6th in the event.
1. MIKE McLAUGHLIN 927 2. Elton Sawyer 922 3. Matt Kenseth 918 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 911 5. Jeff Green 872