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BRISTOL, Tenn.—Jeff Burton led a Richard Childress sweep in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol’s Thunder Valley. Following Burton across the stripe were Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
“Obviously, Harvick and Stewart got together there at the end, and that opened the door for me,” Burton said. “Then Denny Hamlin on the last restart, just quit, and we kept going.
“Without a caution we were not going to win. We didn’t have the best car out here today. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. Today they worked out for us.”
With 14 laps remaining in the 500-lap race, Tony Stewart was leading Harvick, when Brian Vickers hit the wall bringing out a caution.
Stewart, his teammate Hamlin, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were the only lead lap cars that remained on the track. All the others, including Harvick, Burton and Bowyer pitted for fresh tires.
On the restart, with five laps to go, Stewart, Hamlin and Earnhardt were the leaders. Hamlin shot by Stewart on the outside for first. Within another lap, Harvick was able to move by Earnhardt and attempted an inside pass on Stewart, but his No. 29 car slid up the track and into Stewart.
“I just lost it,” said Harvick. “I mean I got up on the inside and lost it. I was trying to win the race. I hate it, but I know Tony and I can work it out.”
Harvick was able to continue, but Stewart spun and brushed the outside wall.
Burton took advantage of Harvick and Stewart’s bump and slide to move into second, behind Hamlin.
The restart on lap 504 brought out a green/white/checkered finish.
Hamlin got a good start, but his Toyota slowed going down the backstretch, and Burton zipped by and went on to his first Bristol victory in 29 tries.
It was also the first win of 2008 for Chevrolet.
Greg Biffle, Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, David Gilliland, and Matt Kenseth finished out the top-10.
Bristol brought an end to Dale Jarrett’s 24-year career in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“The sport has obviously done a lot for me and my family,” said Jarrett. “This week has been a lot more different than what I’ve thought all season. I’ve always been able to say, ‘I’ve got a few more weeks,’ or ‘I’ve got a couple of months before that comes.’ It was easy to say at that time, but we’re here. This is it this week.”
Jarrett will run one more race, the non-points “All Star” race at Charlotte. But he isn’t leaving racing altogether. He will soon be in the broadcast booth as a commentator for ESPN.
Top-12 Chase contenders after 5 of 36: 1. Kyle Busch-776, 2. Biffle-752, 3. Harvick-749, 4. Burton-745, 5. Earnhardt-686, 6. Kahne-674, 7. Stewart-656, 8. Newman-635, 9. Bowyer-606, 10. Kurt Busch-605, 11. Kenseth-604, 12. Truex-595
Top-10 Nationwide Series drivers after 5 of 35: 1. Harvick-751, 2. Bowyer-702, 3. Edwards-701, 4. Ragan-671, 5. Reutimann-668, 6. Bliss-627, 7. M. Wallace-603, 8. Keselowski-591, 9. Leffler-579, 10. Kyle Busch-568.
A NATIONWIDE DILEMMA
Ask any track owner whether Cup drivers should be allowed to compete in the Nationwide Series, and their reply will be a loud “yes.”
Almost half the field for many of this season's Nationwide Series races, including the Nicorette 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday March 8, was filled by Cup drivers.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and other well-known Cup drivers help bring fans into stadiums that are usually less than half full.
Fans and track owners love seeing these well known drivers in a Nationwide race. Fans can get into a Nationwide race for less than half it costs to watch a Cup race on Sunday. The more fans, the more money for the track.
For years the debate has raged as to whether the Nationwide Series was a feeder program for the Cup Series or merely a Saturday playground for the drivers that have already made it to the top.
Clint Bowyer was a contender to win last year’s Cup Championship. He credits his days in the Nationwide Series as the springboard he needed to become a Cup superstar.
NASCAR has said they are considering a new policy where full-time Cup drivers will no longer be eligible to collect Nationwide Series championship points.
Should that rule be implemented, Cup regulars would have little incentive to run the entire Nationwide Series schedule.
Bobby Labonte, the 1991 Nationwide Series champion, is concerned over how the sport's future stars are forced to battle Cup drivers in Cup equipment on a weekly basis.
“It's obviously a strange time for that series,” said Labonte, who drives a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet on a limited basis in the Nationwide Series. “Cup drivers would own their own (Nationwide) car that they raced years ago. Kevin Harvick does now, but that's only one.”
Earnhardt Jr. has run in three of the first four races of the season, and I’m sure the promoters and track owners are happy.
The teams with Cup drivers are usually better funded.
Jason Keller, one of the veterans of the Nationwide Series is doing good, but with much less money behind him. He doesn’t even have a full sponsorship, but battles it out each week with some of NASCAR’s best. Last week he finished 14th.
There aren't as many Nationwide regulars as there were a few years ago. Will this eventually hurt the younger drivers that are trying to work their way up through the ranks?
On the surface, I would say, “Yes,” because the number of small independent teams has dwindled in the past few years. As Cup teams sign more major sponsors for their Nationwide cars, the lesser known teams are coming up short handed.
I don’t think there can be a level field as long as the Cup drivers dominate. And since the Nationwide Series is seen as a development series, more needs to be done to help the small teams with their up and coming drivers.
Next Week: Are Tony Stewart’s comments helpful or harmful to racing.
The Sprint Cup and Craftsman Truck series have the Easter weekend off. The Nationwide Series is at Lebanon, Tenn. for the Pepsi 300.
Saturday, March 22: Nationwide Series Pepsi 300 at Lebanon, Tenn. TV: ESPN2 at 2 p.m.
Question: Robby Gordon switched car manufacturers at the beginning of the 2008 season. What make car did he switch to?
Last Week’s Question: Only once has NASCAR’s “All Star” race not been held at Charlotte. Which track hosted the 1986 NASCAR “All Star” race? Note: E-mail, or send us the correct answer and we will send you a photo of the winning driver in victory lane. Answer. The “All Star” race was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986. The winner was Bill Elliott.