18 November 2012
Nationwide: Stenhouse wins back-to-back titles
The benefit of fresh rubber was clear to see at the shortlived restart, Busch ducking underneath both Sadler and Stenhouse to effortlessly retake the lead. Another caution was soon out for a spin out of turn 4 by Robert Richardson Jr. on lap 73, which ended with the nose of the #23 tapping into the inside retaining wall. The car also dropped a lot of debris as it limped away down the frontstretch, causing a delay before the race could resume on lap 81.
Busch and Sadler were safely away at the front, but Stenhouse was looking sluggish and got caught up among a pack of chasing cars that included Regan Smith, Justin Allgaier, Sam Hornish and Brendan Gaughan. Stenhouse allowed them all to pass, dropping him back to seventh place but secure in the knowledge that he still had plenty of points in hand over Sadler in the title battle; in any case, Sadler's decision to stay out on old tyres was having its own effect, with Sadler himself dropping places to Smith and Hornish on the way down to fourth place.
Smith and Hornish themselves were on a definite charge, and with Busch looking less dominant in the encroaching night conditions they surged past the #54 for the lead on lap 92, just before Richardson performed a repeat spin to bring out the third caution of the evening. That allowed everyone to come in for a new round to pit stops under caution just before the midway point of the race: Stenhouse and Sadler needed their deferred four tyre stop this time around and duly fell back down the running order, Stenhouse to 13th while Sadler fell to 19th at the back of the lead lap after he was recalled to pit road for a missing lugnut.
Danica Patrick stayed out to lead at the restart but her old tyres were a liability and she quickly fell backwards at the restart. The top spots were resumed by Hornish, Smith and Busch, but all three quickly fell victim to Austin Dillon who had the newest set of tyres of the bunch which together with a slew of set-up changes helped propel him into the lead for the first time of the race on lap 105.
"Good job boys, we got a race car here!", Dillon jubilantly radioed to his pit crew as he flew into a big lead over the field.
Stenhouse and Sadler also had the same fresh tyre bonus, and 12 laps into the green flag stint Stenhouse was back up into third and Sadler was already running up in eighth, immediately behind Kyle Busch whose handling continued to drop off the cooler the after-dark conditions became.
Those trends continued over the next 45 laps of uninterrupted running until Regan Smith became the first time of the leaders to come in to pit under green on lap 146, after which there was a steady stream of visitors to pit road over the next half dozen laps including Elliott Sadler, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon. Stenhouse among the last of the leaders to pit with 50 to go to the chequered flag, despite having lost positions in the most recent laps after overusing his tyres early in the stint in order to recover positions lost during the previous stop.
The penultimate round of pit stops of the night over with, Dillon was back in a three second lead over Smith, Sadler, Hornish and Brendan Gaughan, with Stenhouse in sixth ahead of Ryan Blaney and Brad Sweet. Stenhouse was not having a fun time of it, however: his car was visibly getting dangerously out of control, and all sorts of strange noises and quirks were starting to rattle his nerves the closer the end of the race and a second consecutive Nationwide Series title got. Providing he managed to bring the car home in one piece at the end of the evening, that is.
"Weï¿½ve had loose race cars before [but] I think we went a little too far [with adjustments," he admitted. "It got a little too tight to have a run at [winning the race]."
A debris caution after 74 green flag laps allowed everyone to come in for some by-now seriously needed adjustments: everyone took tyres, and Dillon won the race off pit road ahead of Smith, Sadler, Gaughan, Stenhouse and Blaney. Smith and Sadler pinched Dillon out of the lead at the restart on lap 178, but Sadler immediately found that the latest changes to the #2 had adversely affected his handling and he was screaming over the team radio that the car was "absolutely junk, absolutely" as he quickly fell back again to fourth place, re-passed by Dillon and also by a now-rejuvenated Kyle Busch.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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