Nashville for the Pepsi 300
For what seemed like the first time this season, the weather actually cooperated as the Nationwide Series headed to the concrete superspeedway in Nashville, Tennessee. Both Jason Leffler and Denny Hamlin of Team ABF Racing were looking to bring home one of the coolest trophies on the circuit; a custom Les Paul designed Gibson guitar. Leffler already has one guitar from his first win in the 2004 Nationwide Series in Nashville. Hamlin has finished as high as third at the track, but has yet to visit Victory Lane.
A Fast Start
Things started off promising for the #38 and #32 teams, with both drivers near the top of the charts in both practice sessions. Things didn't go completely smoothly for Jason though - during final practice the #40 car driven by series rookie Bryan Clauson slowed abruptly to try to let the faster #38 Toyota Camry by. Jason wasn't expecting the change in speed, and the two cars made contact. The Braun Racing Crew repaired the #38 and quickly got it back on the track. Both Denny and Jason posted among the top 10 fastest times in final practice. Qualifying didn't go quite as well, and both drivers started outside of the top 20, with the #32 starting 21st and the #38 taking the green from 23rd.
(Jason Leffler and Mike Bliss discuss who has the best haircut (left) and the best RaceCar (right).
Team ABF Racing started the Pepsi 300 heading toward the front. They were both inside the top 20 by lap 4 and continued to move forward. On lap 61, the second caution flag fell due to debris on the track, and the cars headed to pit road. Jason pitted from the 11th position, and due to quick work on pit road, returned to the track in the top 10. Denny came onto pit road in 10th, but during the pit-stop the tire-changer dropped a lug nut, and the #32 returned to the track in the 16th position. It didn't hold him back for long though, as he quickly rejoined Jason among the top 10 competitors.
Fast On and Off the Track
On lap 122, green flag pit-stops began. The #32 was the first Team ABF Racing car to come to pit road when Crew Chief Trent Owens brought Hamlin in on lap 123 to fix a tight condition and get new tires and fuel. Leffler brought his Camry in on the next lap for air pressure changes to fix a loose condition and a track-bar adjustment. Both stops were exceptional with Hamlin in 5th and Leffler in 8th after leaving pit road.
. Is Anyone There?
On lap 155, the third and final caution of the race fell, and NASCAR once again had to clean debris off the track. As the leaders pitted, the #32 crew realized they had a radio problem with their car. While Denny could hear them, he couldn't talk to them; so in addition to tires and fuel, they had to pass him a backup radio! While Jason had a solid stop and came back onto the track in 8th, Denny was 11th out of the 12 cars still on the lead lap.
Running on Fumes
As the laps wound down, so did the fuel. Some leaders thought they could make it to the end before running out, others were certain that they couldn't. Stewart Cooper brought Leffler down for a splash of gas, but Trent Owens left Hamlin out on the track to stretch it to the end. Hamlin was able to make it, finishing 7th, but because Leffler had to pit, he fell back to 13th. Even though neither driver got to take home the coveted Gibson guitar, both had solid finishes, and Jason was able to hold his spot in the top 10 in the season point standings.
The NASCAR Nationwide series has the first off weekend of the year next week, but will head to Texas Motor Speedway on April 5th, when Brian Vickers in the ABF U-Pack #32 will join Jason Leffler in the #38 in pursuit of another victory.
(Photos Courtesy of TheHotLap.com)