Reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series Ricky Stenhouse Jr went to the top of the 2012 standings, after claiming victory over Kyle Busch on Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday afternoon.
"This is cool," Stenhouse said in victory lane, recalling the near-miss last time that the series ran here. "I felt like we should have been here last time. It is good to get redemption after a dominating performance last time."
Stenhouse had started the race off the second row alongside Sam Hornish Jr. behind a front row line-up consisting of Joey Logano and Austin Dillon, who came close to knocking each other out of the race at the very start which allowed Hornish to nip past Dillon for second spot shortly before Dexter Stacey spin in turn 4 on lap 3 to bring out the first caution of the 200-lap race.
Logano cruised away at the restart taking Kyle Busch with him in second, leaving an indecent scramble for third to be played out between Dillon, Stenhouse, Hornish and Elliott Sadler which was finally won by Stenhouse as the race finally started to settled into some organised green flag laps through to lap 40 when a half spin from Brad Sweet brought out the second caution of the night.
That allowed the leaders to pit under yellow, and the caution flags were back out within seconds of the restart when Cole Whitt spun with a flat tyre while trying to get back to pit road on lap 47. When the race resumed properly on lap 51 it was Logano leading Stenhouse and Dillon at the green flag, but Kyle Busch doing all the charging from fourth place as he made it three-wide with Stenhouse and Dillon to claim second place and then hunted down Logano for the lead on lap 60.
Dillon had followed Busch through, and within seconds of having taken the lead Busch had lost it again, this time to the series rookie. Dillon put his foot down and started to pull away, demonstrating that surging to the front had been no fluke, and he was able to pick up the lead again even after a cycle of green flag pit stops around the midway point of the race.
After 73 laps the green flag stint came to an end with a mechanical problem for Benny Gordon bringing out the fourth caution of the afternoon. That allowed the leaders to come back onto pit road under yellows, albeit somewhat earlier than they would have liked if they were going to make it all the way to the finish from here, at least another 73 laps even assuming no green-white-chequered extensions.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. probably wished he hadn't even bothered to pit at all, after stalling on pit road and the crew going the wrong way on a wedge adjustment leaving him well out of shape, dropping seven spots fourth to 11th in the process. Meanwhile Joey Logano had beaten Austin Dillon off pit road, and at the restart Dillon was further demoted by a newly-enlivened Kyle Busch wanting another shot at a turn in the lead which he finally got when he got under Logano on lap 135.
Logano was now going backwards at about the same rate Stenhouse was intent on regaining his earlier lost ground: with 50 laps to go, Busch's lead over Dillon was edging toward the two second mark while Stenhouse had just claimed third from Sadler and Logano was bumping along back in fifth place, his chances of a victory quickly fading despite having led a total of 67 laps to that point which no one else would be able to top.
A fifth and final caution on lap 166 for Jason Bowles slowing with a blown engine allowed the leaders to come in under yellow for that last pit stop after all, and handed the lead briefly to Elliott Sadler who was first off pit road ahead of Busch, Paul Menard, Hornish and Stenhouse. Busch and Hornish quickly broke away into the clear air when the green flag came out, leaving Sadler, Stenhouse and Dillon tussling over third place which Stenhouse won with a three-wide move out of turn 4.
Stenhouse hadn't looked this good all afternoon, and he was quickly past Hornish and setting his sights on the back of the Kyle Busch #54. He made his move around the highside on lap 179 and made it stick, to take the lead for the first time save for a solitary lap during the midrace cycle of green flag pit stops. He would not lose it again, with Busch almost pushing too hard trying to counterattack and doing well to save the car from launching into the wall. By the time the chequered flag signalled his Chicago victory, Stenhouse had pulled out an impressive 2.4s over Busch who was never able to recover his momentum to get back on terms with Stenhouse.
"I cost us a lot of spots there when I stalled it on pit road so we had to drive back up through the field," said Stenhouse afterwards in victory lane. "Then that last restart I felt like we would catch Kyle but thought it would take a little longer. He jumped out a little quicker in the runs before and then kind of fell off there towards the end but we were able to catch him pretty quick and take our Mustang to victory lane.
"We didn't have a dominating car until that last run," Stenhouse admitted, thanking his crew chief Mike Kelley for getting them back on course after that penultimate pit stop fumble. "Mike kept making good calls and I put us a little behind stalling it on pit road. We had to drive up to the front but Mike gave us a Blue Bird Mustang that could do it."
Dillon came home in third place, despite late race troubles with overheating and problems with his radio communication that made it difficult to talk with his pit crew.
Brad Keselowski made a late run up from the outer edges of the top ten where he'd been running for most of the day to clinch fourth place ahead of Paul Menard, while Sam Hornish Jr. fell back to sixth place just ahead of Michael Annett by the finish.
Joey Logano held on to claim ninth place, putting him just behind Elliott Sadler who'd had real problem with his car in the final laps and even declared the #2 to be "absolute junk" in that final stint. Dropping so many positions to Stenhouse at the end means that he falls 9pts behind the reigning champion in the 2012 NASCAR points standings.
"We knew if we won coming in here to Chicago that we would leave the points leader and that is what it is all about," said Stenhouse. "It is going to be tough as you can see. Elliott was up front as well and he runs good at every race track we have left as well.
"It is going to be a lot of fun all the way to Homestead," he added.Full race results, plus qualifying and practice
speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings