21 October 2012
Nationwide: Stunning comeback win for Stenhouse
Menard secured the lead again at the restart on lap 166 ahead of Dillon, Whitt, Hornish and Busch, but those drivers who needed more cautions were relieved to see Mike Bliss get loose and go skimming over the grass infield on lap 171 to bring out the 11th caution - equalling the all-time record for yellows at Kansas. At the restart on lap 175, there was a rare poor getaway from Menard at the front that held back Hornish and Dillon and instead allowed Kyle Busch to claim the lead at the stripe.
The race threatened to go green to the finish, with Menard slowly reeling Busch back in and looking set to mount a final challenge to reclaim the top spot, when a 12th caution materialised with just three laps to do till the scheduled end of the race: Hal Martin and Scott Lagasse had squeezed together on the white line, collided and ended up wrecking up on the wall in turn 2.
"We were just racing hard at the end, trying to learn all I could out there," said Martin afterwards. "When I got underneath the #8, we got pinched down and lost the air off the right side and spun out."
By the time the debris was taken care of, the race was already in overtime and there would be a green-white-chequered finish - disastrous news for those cars already on a knife-edge when it came to fuel. Many of them accepted the reality of the situation and dived onto pit road for an emergency splash-and-dash - among them Dillon, Sadler and Patrick, putting them back into 12th, 14th and 15th position respectively.
Others tried toughing it out but then ran dry before the green flag could even come out for the restart attempt: Hornish crawled to a halt on the infield apron, while Kenny Wallace needed to be pushed round the track by his brother Mike after running dry. And all the time this was going on - delaying the GWC restart attempt - more time and laps were being added onto the race distance making it even more critical for the remaining drivers like Menard and Busch who hadn't stopped in over 60 laps. Meanwhile, Stenhouse was rising up the running order almost by the second, and took the restart in third place.
Third became second as the green flags waved: Menard put his foot down on the accelerator only to find that his tank was dry, and he had to drop down to the apron and watch on from the sidelines as the race ended. Busch initially seemed to have enough left in the tank, but then after the white flag on the final run down the backstretch the #54 started weaving frantically from side to side in the hopes of getting just a few more drops of gas into the fuel pick-up. But there were none to be had: Busch was also out of gas and could only coast the remaining distance to the line under what was left of his previous momentum.
"Ran out in the middle of three and four - but that's our year, man. Nothing else to it than that, you know," signed Busch, who has still to win in the series for his new Kyle Busch Motorsports outfit. "What a frustrating defeat. Oh well, you get defeated sometimes."
"I saw Kyle and he was really shaking it down the back straightaway trying to make sure it had a lot of fuel," described the man with the best seat in the house - Ricky Stenhouse, in the car right behind. "I thought it was good to go but right in the centre it ran out and I was able to sneak by him on the outside and get the win. That was exciting!"
Stenhouse was across the line first, followed by Austin Dillon and then by Joey Logano, who was still smarting from that mid-race collision with Stenhouse and who reminded the race winner about it with another firm impact on the rear-end of the #6 after the chequered flag. "That was just like a, 'Hey, good job,'" insisted Logano afterwards.
Not that Stenhouse much cared either way, he was too busy celebrating over the team radio and carrying out his victory burnouts: "I thought it ruined our day but we were able to bounce back from it," admitted Stenhouse about that mid-race clash, adding that all the credit for the car's recovery from that low-point to win the race went to the pit crew and in particular to crew chief Mike Kelly.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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