Superior fuel mileage got Mike Bliss out front late in Saturday night's Carquest Auto Parts 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Rain did the rest.

Three laps after Bliss took the lead from runner-up Brendan Gaughan on lap 167, NASCAR red-flagged the race because of rain and made Bliss' win official by calling the event 30 laps short of its scheduled distance of 200 laps.

Bliss' only other win in the series also came at Charlotte, on Oct. 15, 2004. The second-place finish was a career-best for Gaughan.

Where Kyle Busch charged to the front after changing an engine, Bliss used fuel mileage to compensate for his engine change. He and Gaughan were the only two drivers who remained on the track during a cycle of green-flag pit stops that started on lap 144.

"We stayed out as long as we could, and it paid off," said Bliss, who gave team owner James Finch his second unlikely victory in a month. Brad Keselowski won the Sprint Cup event at Talladega in April driving a car owned by Finch and powered by a Hendrick Motorsports engine. "I knew we had a pretty good car in practice and kind of worked our way into the top ten. We stretched our fuel mileage quite a bit, and that's why I'm here, I guess."

Asked whether he felt as if he had stolen the race, Bliss chuckled, "Yeah, I did - but from a guy who wins too much (Busch) - and nobody likes him."

Gaughan felt he had an eighth-to-twelfth-place car but wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"The only thing that could have been better for us was for (the rain) to come about three laps earlier, after we passed Mike Bliss," said Gaughan, who got past Bliss in traffic on lap 165 but surrendered the lead two laps later.

The two best cars in the race, the Toyotas of Busch and Brian Vickers, finished third and fourth. Busch led a race-high 98 laps after streaking from the rear of the field to the front in the first 41 laps. Joey Logano was fifth, followed by Jason Leffler, David Ragan and Keselowski.

Jeff Burton and polesitter Carl Edwards completed the top ten.

Busch made short work of the rest of the field as he motored up to eighth in the running order before Michael Annett's spin in turn two brought out the yellow flag on lap 23.

Eleven laps after a restart on lap 30, Busch passed Edwards for the lead and held it until he came to the pits under green of lap 86. Busch regained the top spot after the cycle of stops and remained out front until Vickers overtook him on lap 140.

Vickers came to the pits under green on lap 146, returning the lead to Busch, who stopped for tires and fuel three laps later. When caution flew for the fourth time for Kevin Hamlin's spin in turn two on lap 153, Bliss was the only driver who hadn't stopped for service, and as such, his #1 Chevrolet was the only car on the lead lap.

Busch was third, at the tail end of the lead lap, for a restart on lap 161, with Bliss in the lead but restarting twelfth in the order behind eleven tail-end cars. That left Bliss and Gaughan to battle for the lead, with Bliss regaining the top position two laps before rain caused the fifth caution of the evening on lap 169.

Busch expanded his lead over Edwards in the Nationwide Series standings from 37 to 73 points.

"You could say it was a good points day, but we want wins," Busch said.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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