Ryan Blaney passes Kyle Busch on final restart, hangs on to win Nationwide race at Bristol

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Ryan Blaney caused a late-race crash that took out Kyle Larson and Dylan Kwasniewski, and then rallied off the final restart following a subsequent caution to steal away the win from Kyle Busch in Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The younger Busch brother was looking to set Nationwide Series history, hoping to earn a fourth consecutive win at BMS.

But the 20-year-old Blaney got a great restart with six laps to go while Busch appeared to have the rear of his car up in the air after being hit from behind by Regan Smith. That allowed Blaney to get a bit of a lead coming to the green flag and he never looked back.

“I have to apologize to Kyle Larson,” Blaney said of the earlier wreck. “I got loose and I’m real sorry about that.”

As for his duel with Busch in the closing laps, Blaney, who led just seven laps in the event, added, “Kyle didn’t go on that last restart. He said his tires were jacked up. … I was just driving my guts out (that he wouldn’t be caught by Busch).”

Busch tried to close the gap and came within about a car length of catching Blaney with two laps to go, but the Team Penske driver was not to be denied, earning his second career NNS win in 24 series starts (he also won in Sept. 2013 at Kentucky Speedway).

Needless to say, Busch was not happy afterward. TV replays showed Regan Smith got into the back end of Busch’s Toyota and lifted it up

“My rear tires weren’t on the ground and I couldn’t go anywhere,” a dejected Busch told ESPN.

It’s understandable that Busch would be miffed. He started from the pole, dominated the 300-lap event by leading 161 laps, only to fall short.

Later in the BMS media center, Busch expounded on his frustration at both losing the race and the potential record.

“(In the latter third of the race) I couldn’t get by (Kyle) Larson on a single-lane race track – it’s pathetic,” Busch said. “But you know, once I did get a position on him, kinda sorta, I just – you gotta try to move the guy out of the way, so I forced him high and got clear of him. And then that was gonna be the race until the last restart, when my rear tires weren’t on the race track and I couldn’t accelerate forward.”

“… The 22 was, I don’t know, 5 mph faster than me going to the first double-yellow stripe. And I didn’t go, because I didn’t want to go. But everybody behind me is trying to go because they’re following the 22. I’m trying to wait for him to stop so I can go by the single red mark on the wall. It’s stupid. NASCAR doesn’t police it and so everybody keeps jacking around on it and you know – one of these days, I’m just gonna lock all four down and stack the whole field up.”

When asked how many more laps he might have needed to potentially catch Blaney, Busch became miffed once again.

“I don’t know if I could have,” he said. “It’s a single-lane race track. You can’t (expletive) pass here. It’s pathetic.”

Chase Elliott finished third, followed by Ty Dillon and Smith, who had words with Dillon after the race.

“I just don’t like the way he (Dillon) raced all night,” Smith told ESPN. “He ran into me three or four times all night. Everybody else out there is able to give room and he doesn’t. He said he got tight. That seems to always be the excuse, when you get tight, you lift off the gas pedal. Next time I run him over, I’m going to get tight, too.”

Dillon countered Smith’s claims by saying he had to be aggressive.

“We just got a little too tight,” Dillon said. “It’s Bristol, man. That’s why I was upset. We were going for all we can. Nobody got tore up. It’s racing. I had a lot of fun. … I’m not going to give anybody anything when I’m trying to run for the championship.”

Brendan Gaughan finished sixth followed by Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, James Buescher and Chris Buescher.

Larson appeared to be the best chance of catching Busch, but was involved in a wreck 20 laps from the finish with Ryan Blaney and Larson’s Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, Dylan Kwasniewski, suffering heavy rear damage. The other cars suffered less severe damage.

“We went in side-by-side into (turn) one,” Larson said about battling for position with Blaney. “I thought he was going to chase me up the track and instead he sent me into the wall. This really sucks.”

Blaney went up heading into a turn and took out Larson. Blaney accepted the blame for the incident, saying over his team radio, “Sorry, I got loose. I’m sorry.”

When told about Blaney’s apology, Larson seemed understanding.

“Ryan’s a good kid,” Larson said. “I know it wasn’t on purpose. This is Bristol. It’s short track racing.”

Championship contender Elliott Sadler was collected in a spin by Timmy Hill on Lap 184. While his crew tried to repair the damage several times while keeping Sadler on the lead lap, he eventually went one lap down to the leaders.

Then, just moments afterward, Sadler wrecked into the outside retaining wall. His team got him back out onto the track, only to be involved in another wreck on Lap 264.

Sadler’s struggles put a serious dent in his title hopes, not to mention dropping him from third to fourth, and from 11 points back to 28 points in arrears to series leader Elliott in the Nationwide Series standings.

Smith remains in second place while Dillon passed Sadler and into third place.

Rain threatened to shorten the scheduled 300 laps near the end of the event, but stayed away long enough to get the entire race in.

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Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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