21 October 2012
Nationwide: Stunning comeback win for Stenhouse
A new caution was out on lap 60 when Nationwide new boy Nur Ali spun in turns 3 and 4 and crumpled the rear of the #41 against the wall. This time there was a more concerted move to pit road, with Stenhouse taking a long time getting four tyres which put him down into 20th. Kyle Busch also needed extra time in the pits to allow his crew to sort out the damage from that scrape against the wall. Sadler was also delayed as his pit crew looked into worsening rear grip issues on the #2. That put Paul Menard back into the lead at the restart on lap 73, with Justin Allgaier and Austin Dillon soon duking it out for second place ahead of Joey Logano and Danica Patrick.
Despite Jason Bowles hitting the wall hard in turns 1 and 2 on lap 82, the longest green flag run of the day so far meant that drivers who had opted not to pit under the most recent cautions had to come in under green around the midway point of the race: Danica Patrick came in from sixth place on lap 96 while Allgaier came in at the halfway point of the race and Sam Hornish Jr. was in next time by, all of them going off the lead lap as a result. All of them would be badly caught out by the seventh caution of the day on lap 112 which was the result of a blown tyre on the #70 of Johanna Long that sent her car into the wall at turn 4, just before Austin Dillon could mount a challenge Paul Menard for the lead.
Before that, the most significant incident of the afternoon had taken place between former race leaders Stenhouse and Logano. Stenhouse had worked his way back up into the top five thanks to a combination of assertive driving and others coming into pit: he was closing up on the back of Logano when his engine temperatures started to spike because of some debris on the front grille. He tried closing up on the back of the #18 to use the air turbulence off the back of the car in front to dislodge the debris, but Logano slowed unexpectedly and Stenhouse ended up sliding up too high and into the side of Logano's car instead, sending Logano into the outside wall.
"We had a lot of debris on the grille and we were 300 on water and oil and I thought we would have to pit to come get that off before we blew up," explained Stenhouse after the race. "I was trying to get behind him to get the debris off and he checked up at the last second and I turned and just drove right into the side of him ... That wasn't much [Logano] could do about it."
Logano was clearly unhappy: "I just got put in the fence. What are you going to do? That's a racing thing," he said. "It's just a little early in the race for fencing each other
"I know he's behind me trying to clean his grill off, so I didn't know what he's trying to do and then he got underneath me and started running me up the race track and then we ran out of real estate and he just 'smushed' us in the fence," he added. "I knew I was going to hit the wall because he ran me up so high. I think he just couldn't turn and when you get in that pocket — right here around the car there's a pocket of air and you really can't turn when you're there and I think he was right there."
Anytime that fate subsequently put Logano behind the #6 either on track or on pit road, he made sure to give Stenhouse as many nudges as he could without actually spinning him out. He made it clear after the race that he wasn't going to entirely let it drop in future, either: "I guess that's the way he's going to race, so we'll look for that in the future."
The two cars had both been forced to pit for repairs and gone off the lead lap before the caution for Long's blow-out came out: this was potentially disastrous for Stenhouse's Nationwide championship hopes, given that Sadler was still circulating well inside the top ten. All the young driver could do was get his head down and pick up any scraps that a damage control strategy presented him with.
Menard cleared Austin Dillon for the lead at the restart on lap 117 but the race was back under caution on lap 129 for clear pieces of debris in turn 4. This was good news at least for one of the cars a lap down, Sam Hornish, who claimed the lucky dog to return to the lead lap. Another caution on lap 138 was similarly good news for Danica Patrick, while other cars on the lead lap including Menard, Dillon, Busch and Sadler all came into pit road for tyres and fuel with an eye to running a fuel conservation strategy from here to the end of the race.
Menard retained the lead at the restart on lap 142, until a tenth caution - this one for debris in turn 3 - came out on lap 161. This was excellent news for Stenhouse, who had already reclaimed one of his laps by staying out during a previous round of pit stops and who now was in the lucky dog position to get back onto the lead lap in 17th place; even better, once that was done he still had time to come in, pit, and take a full load of gas and tyres. If the cars ahead started to hit problems with their fuel strategies then Stenhouse would be in prime position to benefit. Suddenly, that mid-race disaster was looking like he could at least finish within touching distance of Sadler and minimise the loss in championship points after all.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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