The NASCAR Nationwide Series raced in Loudon on Saturday afternoon, and it was a thriller to watch with Brad Keselowski starting on pole. After the green flag dropped, Kyle Busch, who started second, quickly took the lead. The caution came out soon after the start of the race, however, when Trevor Bayne hit the wall due to tire troubles following contact with Dylan Kwasniewski.
During the caution, Jeffrey Earnhardt, who’s been nursing a shoulder injury, pitted for a driver change with Matt DiBenedetto jumping in the car for Earnhardt. The race restarted on lap nine but the green flag period didn’t last long as the yellow came out again on lap 12, when Josh Wise stopped on the back stretch.
After the restart, it was green flag conditions for seventy-nine laps. However, there was still plenty of action as Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch battled for the lead. Busch’s cause was not helped when he started hearing a chatter or rattle from his tires but was able to keep up with Keselowski. However, the pride of Rochester Hills, MI seemed like a man on a mission as he got to two and then three seconds ahead of Busch at one point. Keselowski also eventually had at least one lap on those who were running positions tenth on back.
His three second lead, however, disappeared when the caution came out on lap 91 for debris in turn two. There were two more cautions in quick succession after the restart. It started with a caution on lap 101, when there was debris in turn two after Paul Menard made contact with the wall. Then, on the restart on lap 107, the race went back to caution immediately as Elliott Sadler, Brian Scott, and James Buescher got involved in a crash in the second corner.
Following that dust-up, it was green flag racing until 61 laps were remaining, when there was debris in turn three. After the restart, Keselowski and Busch fought for the lead with each other, with Busch catching up and then slowing down mostly due to lap traffic. At one point, Busch made contact with James Buescher, who was a lap down, but both were able to continue. Despite James Buescher and Austin Theriault slowing down in the waning laps, Chris Buescher utilized pit strategy to place fifth.
Busch had made up some ground on Keselowski but inside the final 10 laps, lap traffic and a slip up in the waning laps essentially decided the race. Keselowski took the checkers while Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five.
Keselowski was focused on closing out the race perfectly, attempting to minimize any mistakes in the waning moments at Loudon. It seemed like with each lap, either driver gained or lost ground on each other, bearing resemblance to a cartoon chase.
"I didn't see if (Busch) he made a mistake," Keselowski said. "I definitely thought he was a little faster than we were and we had a little track position on him which is a credit to Jeremy (Bullins) and the guys and how they executed. That was part of the cat and mouse game and that's part of what makes the racing so much fun."
About the only driver that mustered a challenge against Brad Keselowski was runner up Kyle Busch, who tried his hardest to duplicate his 2013 efforts at "The Magic Mile" in his No. 54 Monster Enegry Toyota. When asked if he could catch Keselowski in the waning laps, Busch was candid.
"No, probably not," Busch said. "He was getting by traffic which would kind of bring him back to me. I'd get through the traffic OK and keep my distance to him and close in a little bit sometimes when I was in clean air. We'd then get to traffic again and I'd get screwed up or he'd get screwed up. If it was just clean and green all the way through the end, I don't know if I could have done anything with him."
Third place finisher Matt Kenseth kept digging for the win in his No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota. While coming up short, he certainly realized that the heat was on for a podium finish.
"Well, I had the fourth place car kind of breathing down our neck with about 20 to go," Kenseth said. "I was working hard to try find some grip to get away from him and still finish as far as we could. Once I got away from him, honestly, I just kept running as hard as I could. You never know what's going to happen in these races. You never know if the leader's going to have a problem and you have to keep your eye on it, hoping for something good to happen."
Chris Buescher and his No. 60 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang team gambled for track position late in the race, taking the lead in the waning laps. Although relegating to fifth place, it was a brave pit strategy that put him in position to compete for the Dash 4 Cash at Chicagoland for next Saturday night's race.
"I guess the fact that we were on older tires was definitely concerning," Buescher said. "Everyone behind us had been fast all day. It was a very risky move that worked out really well. We lost a couple of those spots pretty quick but we were able to hold on and maintain it. We were actually able to pick up some speed being in a little bit better air. It's always a little nerve wracking but it was a lot of fun."
Author's Note - Post-race conference comments contributed by Rob Tiongson, thanks Rob!