Chris Buescher only driver to eclipse 170 mph in Thursday’s second Nationwide Series practice at Darlington

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In his first full season on the Nationwide Series, Chris Buescher was the fastest in Thursday’s second NASCAR NNS practice session at Darlington Raceway for Friday’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 race.

The 21-year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver was the only driver to both exceed 169 mph and 170 mph, clocking in at 170.365 mph.

After failing to qualify for the NNS season-opener at Daytona, Buescher has finished 15th, 9th, 16th, 14th and 27th in his last five starts. He is ranked 11th in the Nationwide points standings heading into Friday night’s race at Darlington.

Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch was second-fastest at 168.758 mph, followed by Ty Dillon (168.469), Trevor Bayne (168.296) and last week’s winner at Texas, Chase Elliott (168.117).

Texas Sprint Cup race winner Joey Logano, who was the fastest in the first practice session Thursday afternoon, was seventh-fastest in the second session.

Here’s how Thursday’s second Nationwide Series practice session played out:

1 Chris Buescher 170.365 mph

2 Kyle Busch 168.578

3 Ty Dillon 168.469

4 Trevor Bayne 168.296

5 Chase Elliott 168.117

6 Brian Scott 168.031

7 Joey Logano 168.025

8 Kyle Larson 167.705

9 Matt Kenseth 167.442

10 Kevin Harvick 167.197

11 Elliott Sadler 167.072

12 Regan Smith 167.010

13 Cole Conley 166.862

14 Ryan Reed 166.721

15 Brendan Gaughan 166.309

16 David Starr 166.259

17 JJ Yeley 165.531

18 Landon Cassill 165.275

19 Dakoda Armstrong 165.148

20 Jeremy Clements 164.948

21 Ryan Sieg 164.948

22 Dylan Kwasniewski 164.749

23 James Buescher 164.689

24 Mike Wallace 163.936

25 Mike Bliss 163.664

26 Tanner Berryhill 163.132

27 Josh Wise 162.883

28 Kevin LePage 162.485

29 Eric McClure 162.292

30 Todd Bodine 161.694

31 Matt DiBenedetto 161.524

32 Jeffrey Earnhardt 160.769

33 Tommy Joe Martins 160.318

34 Carlos Contreras 160.151

35 Derrike Cope 159.652

36 Matt Carter 157.889

37 Blake Koch 157.303

38 Joey Gase 157.252

39 Mike Harmon 151.199

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Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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