4 November 2012
Nationwide: Harvick dominates in Texas
After 42 green flag laps, the tyre wear was starting to show and Cole Whitt and Danica Patrick were the first to decide on earlier pit stops than planned rather than risk a blow-out. Denny Hamlin was also in early, while the other leaders were keen to stay out in order to make this a one-stop race. Finally on laps 143 and 144 there was a flood of cars onto pit road, and after the sequence concluded it was Harvick and Logano back in charge and a full four seconds ahead of Kyle Busch, while Danica Patrick's early switch to fresh rubber had boosted her to fourth place ahead of Sadler and Hornish with a little over 50 laps to run.
A turn 3 spin for Joey Gase as he was running side-by-side with John Blankenship on lap 155 brought out the fourth caution of the night, and the leaders were all making a quick return to pit road with an eye to making a long run to the finish. Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgaier and Austin Dillon all stayed out while Ryan Newman pitted for fuel only putting him back out in fifth and demoting Harvick to sixth place ahead of Logano, Busch and Scott, with Sadler rounding out the top ten.
The race restarted on lap 159 and within three laps Harvick was blasting past Hamlin for the lead, with Kyle Busch in hot pursuit. It took the rest of the field another ten laps to follow them through, but by lap 170 Hamlin was back down to sixth having now also been passed by Hornish, Logano and Stenhouse.
A fifth caution on lap 176 for Joe Nemechek brushing the wall in turns 3 and 4 signalled that it was time for the other shoe to drop on the pit stop front: now it was the turn of Hamlin, Blaney and the others that had stayed out under the previous caution to come in for fuel and tyres, giving them the upper hand in terms of grip over the leaders but at the cost of track position with 19 laps to go at the restart.
Harvick and Buch went side-by-side for the lead, but it was soon clear that Harvick had the upper hand and he soon disappeared into the distance. Ryan Blaney emerged as the chief challenger among those who had just taken on fresh tyres and he breezed passed Busch with seven laps to go, but by then Harvick had already achieved a safe margin and he was able to finish 1.628s up the road from the 18-year-old at the chequered flag with Busch cruising home behind them in third place.
Busch had some glowing words of praise for Blaney afterwards: ""He's really showing what he can do," he said. "He's done a good job of doing it and being clean while doing it. He's got a lot respect for everybody out there, and he can finish top two, three, four, five week in, week out, and he does it without making a big deal out of it."
"I've been a fan of Kyle for a very long time and he's definitely one of the people that I look up to," responded Blaney, for whom second is a Nationwide Series career best. "As a rookie and a young kid when you see your idols congratulate you, that's pretty cool!"
Two of the other drivers on fresh tyres ended up having a fierce spat between themselves: Denny Hamlin was running low on the apron but still felt he was being aggressively crowded by Austin Dillon, and finally he'd had enough and let the #3 car know it with a hefty bump retaliation at the end of the race. That led to a pit lane confrontation between Hamlin and the ever-feisty Richard Childress Racing pit crew supporting the team owner's grandson: Hamlin wasn't cowed, and certainly wasn't backing down in his criticism of the youngster's immaturity, as he saw it.
With the matter of the race win settled, the focus of attention at the end of the race turned to two cars who were far apart on the track, but locked together in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler, who were having starkly contrasting fortunes in the final laps of the night.
Stenhouse had been battling his car all evening, but finally with his last set of tyres and a boatload of drastic set-up changes he found enough in the #6 to push and slide his way up into fourth place.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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