By Brian Smith
Most of the racing in NASCAR happens on the track. But in every race, on several occasions that last between 12 and 15 seconds apiece, racing takes place when the cars aren’t even moving – it’s racing between the pit crews to see who can get their car back out on the track the fastest. While many of the stops appear routine, they’re meticulously rehearsed and practiced during the week, because they can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing.
That’s exactly what happened in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Dover International Speedway on Saturday afternoon. At the race’s halfway point, the field came into the pits with Joey Logano leading and Kyle Busch running second. But Busch beat Logano off pit road by half a car length, and as such took the lead when the race restarted on lap 103.
And that’s all Busch needed to make it a winning day. Logano was never able to run Busch down and was about 2.5 seconds behind when Busch took the checkered flag for his record fifth win at Dover, and with it a sweep of the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule at the Monster Mile for 2014.
Not only are races sometimes won or lost on pit road, sometimes they’re won – and that win assured – through pit strategy. That was the case for Busch when a debris caution came out at lap 148, and his team made sure not to repeat a mistake of a year ago. In June 2013, Busch was leading Logano as the two came down pit road with 34 laps remaining. Busch took four tires and Logano planned to also, but the team changed its mind at the last minute and went with two. Logano ended up with the win in that race after leading off pit road. This time, Busch took two tires like the rest of the field, which enabled him to keep his track position.
“To get two tires there at the end, stay out front and keep the track position we had, that was a good call,” Busch said. “That was important. We’ve screwed up on that going the other way here before.”
Logano started from the pole and led the entire first half of the race, save for four laps he relinquished through a round of pit stops after an accident on lap 40 involving Tanner Berryhill and Kevin Swindell. He held it through an accident just 10 laps in that involved Jamie Dick and Derrike Cope.
During that run, Busch was hanging around in fourth place behind Logano, Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher. But while his car was good, it wasn’t good enough that he could pass any of them.
“I was really stuck behind those guys,” he said. “I couldn’t do anything with them. I was just biding my time waiting for them to slip off the bottom or for lapped cars to get involved. Once the pace slowed down to a certain speed, it allowed me to move one lane off the bottom and be able to pass them.”
Unfortunately for Elliott, lapped cars did get involved, and Elliott got involved with them. Elliott got caught up in the Berryhill/Swindell accident on lap 40 and smashed up the front corner of his car.
“I felt like we had a super-fast car from the get go,” Elliott said. “I made a mistake following those guys way too close – that was my fault – and drove into a wreck…fell behind, and could never get back up front.”
But Elliott’s crew taped the front of his car back into a fender-shaped configuration and he ended up finishing third, which was maybe the most impressive accomplishment of the day given the circumstances. Elliott drove from 24th position back to contention, and in doing so, he increased his lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings to 26 points over teammate Regan Smith.
“The guys did a fantastic job getting it taped back up in a way the fender wasn’t going to fly apart on us,” he said.
Officials had detected fluid on the track coming from the car of Matt DiBenedetto when they threw the yellow flag at lap 98, triggering the caution that resulted in the critical lead change. Logano felt that something changed with his car after taking four tires in that stop, and it bothered him the rest of the way.
“The first half of the race went perfect,” he said. “We came in and put four tires on, we lost the lead, and our car was really tight from there on. I don’t really know why yet. We’ll try to figure that one out. These Nationwide races are so short that when you put four tires on and it’s not quite right, when you put two on the next time you just don’t have time to figure it out.”
The later debris caution was the only other delay, resulting in a race that ran at an average speed of 116.148 mph. The only lead changes were the one between Busch and Logano at lap 99, the two during the lap 40 caution, and the one where Logano took it back at that point.
Busch’s win made it five years in a row that the same driver has swept both NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Dover. Logano did it in 2012 and 2013, Carl Edwards accomplished the feat in 2011, and Busch did it in 2010. Before the current stretch, the last driver to do it was Randy LaJoie in 1996.
Buescher finished fourth, followed by Elliott Sadler. Kyle Larson, Brian Scott, Smith, Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillon rounded out the top 10.