At the halfway point of tonight’s season finale for the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Sam Hornish Jr. had a narrow lead in the driver’s championship as Austin Dillon – the points leader going into the race – dealt with handling problems that was preventing him from charging to the front.
Hornish, the pole sitter for today’s race, led the opening lap and was able to gain a critical bonus point on Dillon, who started 11th at the green flag. The Penske Racing trio of Hornish, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano (who is competing for the NNS owner’s championship today in the No. 22 car against the No. 54 of Kyle Busch) quickly settled into the top three spots early, while Busch and Kyle Larson followed in pursuit.
Larson and Busch managed to both get by Keselowski around Lap 15, while Dillon was only able to make minimal progress in the opening laps (moving up one spot to 10th by Lap 20) before falling back several positions with a loose No. 3 Chevy.
Meanwhile, Larson continued his rise as he passed Logano for second at Lap 33 before setting his sights on Hornish for the lead a few laps later. And on Lap 39, the future driver of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Sprint Cup car proceeded to take that lead away after clearing Hornish off Turn 2.
Larson quickly built a considerable lead, while Hornish promptly slid back to fifth behind Busch, Logano and Matt Kenseth before the first caution came out at Lap 47 for debris. On the subsequent stops, Busch was able to take the lead with Kenseth following in second to set up a Lap 52 restart.
Kenseth leaped ahead of the pack off the restart, but the run was short-lived as the yellow came out again for Corey Lajoie’s spin off of Turn 4. Lajoie, who was running 21st and is making his NNS debut today, then bounced lightly off the inside front-stretch wall before coming to a stop.
Under caution No. 2, Dillon opted to come to the pits at Lap 57 for more chassis adjustments to try and cure his car’s handling issues. The decision cost him track position, however, and he had to line up 23rd when the green came out again at Lap 61.
With Hornish lurking in third, Busch and Kenseth dueled for the lead before the former won out at Lap 63. However, Keselowski made a charge for the lead and was ahead of Busch by another debris caution at Lap 66; farther back, Dillon had peeled off five positions to move into 18th at that point.
The race resumed at Lap 70, and Keselowski pulled away as Busch, Logano, Hornish, Larson and Kenseth had it out amongst themselves behind him. When everything shook out after a few laps, it was Logano that had emerged with the runner-up position, and on Lap 83, he shot past Keselowski down the backstretch for P1.
Logano was ahead by about two seconds over Keselowski when yet another debris caution came out shortly before Lap 100 of 200. However, he was able to keep the lead after pit stops, with Busch, Kenseth, Larson and Hornish behind him. Dillon took the Lap 102 restart in 12th position.