"OFF" NIGHT FOR HAMLIN AND BUSCH AT RICHMOND Z-Line Designs Drivers Finish Top-10 in NASCAR Nationwide Series Race Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are used to winning. Together, they have 50 victories in the NASCAR...
"OFF" NIGHT FOR HAMLIN AND BUSCH AT RICHMOND
Z-Line Designs Drivers Finish Top-10 in NASCAR Nationwide Series Race
Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are used to winning. Together, they have 50 victories in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, 10 of which Busch has scored this season alone. So, when the two drivers finished sixth and ninth, respectively, in Friday night's Virginia 529 College Savings 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, it was considered an "off" night for the JGR duo.
Hamlin started fifth in his No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry and ran quietly between third- and eighth-place throughout the night. Busch fared a bit better, at least initially, running third or second for the first half of the 250-lap race and even took the lead after a quick, four-tire pit stop on lap 145 put him in first-place when the race restarted on lap 149. The 2009 Nationwide Series champion held the top spot for the next 14 laps around the .75-mile oval, but was eventually caught by those who had proven strong earlier in the race, namely Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
Still, Busch and his pink No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry was a constant among the top-three, that is until a lap-206 pit stop where the top of the fuel can broke off in the side of his car's fuel opening. That misfortune led to a NASCAR penalty, as Busch left his pit stall with the end of the fuel can still attached to the car. He was forced to come back into his pit box on the following lap, whereupon his crew removed the remnants of the fuel can and sent Busch back on his way, albeit in 20th place. It was a deficit Busch could not fully recover from, but he did manage to pick up 11 spots before finishing ninth.
"At the start of the race, the car was good enough to run top-five, but it looked like we were really going to have to work on it to get it back in the top-three. Who knows what we would have had there at the end if we wouldn't have had the incident," said No. 18 crew chief Jason Ratcliff, whose pink Z-Line Designs Toyota resembled the "sponsafied" Camry seen in Busch's widely-seen Toyota commercial. "It's just unfortunate. When we lost our track position, we were done. It would've been nice to see what we had there at the end. I thought we were making the car better and Kyle was doing a nice job of letting us know what he needed to go faster. I think we could've run with those guys at the end and possibly had a shot at winning."
"I thought it was about where we were going to finish when we started the day. I kind of knew that was where we were going to be," said Hamlin after running only his fourth Nationwide Series race of the season, but first with the series' new-generation car. "We feel like we're a little bit behind with our Nationwide new car program and the team has got to work to get better. It definitely needs some work, but really, it drives better than what our Sprint Cup car did when we first drove it. They've come up with so many good things to make those Cup cars drive better, and once they do that with this car, it should be fine."
Despite not running the full Nationwide Series schedule, Busch remained third in the championship standings, 583 points behind Keselowski. Busch sat out a string of standalone events in June at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, Kentucky Speedway in Sparta and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., as well as the series' July stop at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., and the August race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
While Busch is not running the full Nationwide Series schedule, JGR's No. 18 Toyota is competing for the owner's title. It maintained its spot atop the standings, but its advantage was cut to 51 points over the No. 22 car of Penske Racing. JGR has won the past two Nationwide Series owner's championships.
Harvick won the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 to score his 37th career Nationwide Series victory, his third of the season and his fifth at Richmond. Brad Keselowski finished .256 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Reed Sorenson rounded out the top-five. Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Busch and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 30 laps, with four drivers failing to finish.
The Nationwide Series takes a weekend off before returning to action Sept. 25 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway for the Dover 200.