23 September 2012
Nationwide: Dillon completes Kentucky sweep
Green flag pit stops were looming when the fifth caution of the afternoon came out on lap 87. Elliott Sadler had just put Taylor Maslem and Mike Wallace a lap down when he had to pull up the track to avoid a slow car entering pit lane: that forced Maslem to brake, and Wallace couldn't react in time and got into the back of the #19, sending Maslem spinning through the infield grass off turn 4.
That meant that the majority of the field got to pit under yellow. Exceptions to the rule were Justin Allgaier (who had pitted very early under green complaining of loose handling) and Danica Patrick, who had been suffering from spiking oil and water temperatures as the result of a totally clogged grill and needed to come in a few laps before the caution. Allgaier got the wave-around to get back onto the lead lap, but Patrick was still a lap down.
"The one thing that threw us off was the grill got covered," confirmed Danica after the race. "I felt like it was dipping in speed. We had to make a stop like 15 laps early. It's a bummer, I was hoping for a good day."
Dillon beat Sadler in the race off pit road to lead at the restart, but Sadler got the better restart on lap 93 to resume the lead again. Behind them, Sam Hornish yielded third place to Kurt Busch after just managing to survive a scary moment that could easily have ended in disaster, and Brian Scott ended up scraping the wall coming off turn 2 and dropped out of the top ten - but both Hornish and Scott were able to continue and no caution was required as the race passed the halfway point.
There was also no caution required when the #54 started to smoke heavily on lap 129, which forced the team to being Kurt Busch onto pit road and take the car behind the wall to the garage for a seized rear gear, the latest of a series of frustrating glitches for the fledgling Kyle Busch Motorsports Nationwide team in its maiden year of competition. Busch's retirement left Sadler still out on front with a one second lead over Dillon and then a five second gap back to Hornish, Cole Whitt and Drew Herring with only 13 cars now showing on the lead lap.
Just when the die was looking well and truly cast, Sadler was on the radio reporting to his pit crew that his steering was starting to lock up. Under the next round of green flag pit stops, Sadler came in on lap 146 and the team confirmed that the power steering was leaking fluid and failing as a result: there was nothing that could be done in any reasonable time and so he was told he would just have to tough it out for the remaining quarter of the race. Sadler could be seen beating the steering wheel with frustration as the realisation sank in that the win at least was slipping away from him.
"We just can't buy any luck," he said after the race. "We gave up some points today, six or seven points. We had a tyre [problem] last week [when I was] leading the race, and then leading the race this week and the power steering went out."
Dillon leapfrogged Sadler during this cycle of pit stops and was in front on lap 160 when Eric McClure went for a spin through the infield grass. Sadler was one of a very few number of cars to come back onto pit lane under the ensuing caution to take on new right side tyres in the hope that the fresh rubber would give him some small compensation for the problematic power steering. Coming in dropped him back to seventh place, and it was clear when the race went back under green that the effort of regaining those lost positions was agonisingly slow hard work with his steering in the state it was in.
With 20 laps to go, Dillon held a 1.5 second lead over Hornish who had seen off a push from Brendan Gaughan for second place; Drew Herring was holding on to fourth place ahead of Sadler, who had finally managed to pass Cole Whitt and Michael Annett. Further back, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had managed to recover his way back up to 17th place with his damage limitation push, even though he was now three laps off the lead.
While Hornish tried one final push over the closing laps of the race to close down the gap to the leader, the situation did not change over the concluding laps and Dillon duly crossed the line over a second ahead of the #12 to claim the victory. Only ten cars finished on the lead lap by the finish.
Tagged as: Nationwide , Danica Patrick , Kurt Busch , Brendan Gaughan , Kentucky , Elliott Sadler , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , Austin Dillon , Brian Scott , Drew Herring
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