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NNS: Kyle Busch wins; Dillon up eight points on Hornish with one race left

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Kyle Busch earned his 12th NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the year today at Phoenix International Raceway, while Austin Dillon’s lead in the NNS driver’s championship is now at eight points over Sam Hornish Jr. going into next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Dillon finished third after losing the runner-up spot to Justin Allgaier on the final lap, while Hornish held off Sprint Cup title contender Matt Kenseth for fifth after battling an ill-handling car for much of the afternoon.

After the race, Dillon had a talk with Allgaier about their racing over the final laps but later demurred about the subject.

“They’re gonna race hard, it’s just in the nature of race car drivers,” Dillon said to ESPN. “I can’t get too upset. It’s just we’re running for a championship…I’m happy with our guys. They made a great call during the race and we kept up the track position all day.

“We had a great car, just not good enough to run with Kyle. It was a good day other than that.”

Meanwhile, Hornish was pleased to be within striking distance to Dillon with one race remaining.

“We had the opportunity to go down to [Homestead] and test, so I feel like we’ve got that on our side,” Hornish said. “I like Homestead, it’s been really good to me in the past. We’re gonna go out there and do it to the best of our ability.”

“Eight points is a [bigger deficit] than what we want, but it is manageable and we can go there and race hard. We lead a lap, lead the most laps, and we’re gonna have a shot a it.”

Busch’s win from the pole position also enabled the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing team to pull within four points of the No. 22 Penske Racing team in the NNS owner’s championship.

On Lap 143, contact between Brian Scott and Brad Keselowski (in the No. 22) sent the latter spinning into the Turn 3 wall. Keselowski recovered to finish 19th, keeping the owner’s title battle tight heading into South Florida.

“I hate it that he had trouble when both of us are racing well and racing potentially for a win together,” Busch said of Keselowski’s incident in Victory Lane. “But all in all, that’s just what this sport is all about – last week, we had bad luck and it wasn’t any of our doing. We just stayed out and got too loose on the long run, wore the right-rear out and spun into the fence. But the guys turned the car around, tried to salvage it as best we can and the 22 did that as well today.

“You go into next week, you push hard, you do the best you can, try to come out of there with as many points as you can, and see where it all tallies up in the end.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.

His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.

But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.

Williams maximizes wet setup work despite limited running in Sochi

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With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.

Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.

Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.

“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.

“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”

Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.