23 September 2012
Nationwide: Dillon completes Kentucky sweep
Austin Dillon won the Kentucky 300 Nationwide Series race after problems hit his main championship rivals Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Saturday afternoon.
Austin Dillon might not have enjoyed the same domination that he did in the previous Nationwide visit to Kentucky Speedway when he claimed his maiden series win with victory in the Feed the Children 300 night race in June after leading 192 of the 200 race laps, but a problem-free run or the #3 put him on top at the same time that his rivals succumbed to accidents and technical gremlins.
"We weren't the best car, but we were able to fight, fight, fight and get out in front there at the end," said Dillon on victory lane. "When we got the chance to take the lead, I just took it."
Stenhouse had got the better start to the Kentucky 300 on the inside line in the Saturday afternoon sunshine, managing to pull up in front of pole sitter Dillon right before a rapid first caution came out for Joe Nemechek spinning on the backstretch. Even though less than two laps had passed under green, Kurt Busch had already improved to 27th place after having been forced to start from the back of the 43-car grid because of having missed qualifying while heading up from New Hampshire where he is also competing in this weekend's Sprint Cup race.
Stenhouse kept the lead at the restart on lap 6 - although he was warned by officials for being too slow to the green flag - while behind him Sam Hornish Jr. gave a light tap on Austin Dillon's shoulder and helped himself through into second place. Then another rapid caution materialised, this time for Brad Sweet spinning in turn 3 and being lucky not to be collected by either the wall or the oncoming pack of traffic.
Stenhouse, Hornish and Dillon fell into line again at the restart on lap 13 with Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier immediately behind them. Hornish and Dillon resumed their debate over which of them deserved second place, which enabled Stenhouse to start to stretch out a comfort margin over them both as there was finally a sustained period of green flag running through to lap 30. That's when the pre-scheduled competition caution was brought out to allow teams to check how their cars were performing on the 'green' track, following the overnight rainstorm that had blasted over Kentucky Speedway after the Friday evening Truck Series race.
The pit stops proved a disaster for race leader Ricky Stenhouse, who was hustled out of his stall only to collide with Eric McClure who was just pulling into his own pit box several slots again. The impact was hard enough for Stenhouse's crew to drag him back to check the #6 over for any potential punctures or tyre rub issues relating to the damaged right front quarter panel, and as a result Stenhouse dropped all the way back to 28th position.
That left Dillon in charge of the race for the restart on lap 36 with Hornish, Allgaier and Joe Gibbs Racing duo Brian Scott and Drew Herring (the latter in his first outing in a Nationwide car this season) rounding out the top six, but Herring was sent for a spin through the grass with the help of a bump from Michael Annett. Although Herring recovered and was remarkably unharmed - albeit dropped back down to 28th place by the time he got back into line - it triggered the fourth caution of the afternoon on lap 39.
Hornish got the jump on a sluggish Dillon at the next restart on lap 44; Dillon also got passed on the inside by Sadler and the outside by Allgaier, but a little bobble for Allgaier enabled Dillon to recover the third spot. Sadler was another matter altogether, as the #2 car took off to successfully challenge Hornish for the lead. Behind Dillon there was also Kurt Busch arriving on scene, moving up into the top five and looking impressively strong after having started from the back.
Ricky Stenhouse had been hoping for the same sort of forward momentum back up through the field after his pit lane mishap. Instead, he ended up pushing it too hard and on lap 48 he lost the backend of the car into the wall at turn 4, doing more damage with this hit than the original incident with McClure had done. His right rear tyre was shredded and he was forced to crawl onto pit road under green, and the amount of sorting out the crew had to do with the now-crumpled right rear of the #6 put Stenhouse two laps down and in 31st place by the time he resumed. The race win that had appeared so possible early in the race was emphatically out of the question: now it was just about damage limitation in the Nationwide championship points standings, especially with main rival Elliott Sadler now leading the race by over two seconds from the other major title contenders, Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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