Phoenix International Raceway
Bashas' Supermarkets 200
FRIDAY NIGHT – UNDER THE LIGHTS!
Friday night brought hot temperatures and even hotter action as the Nationwide series headed to the one-mile superspeedway in Phoenix for the Bashas' Supermarkets 200. Team ABF Racing headed into this weekend with a lot of anticipation. Jason Leffler, pilot of the #38 Camry, has been strong at this track in the Nationwide series, and has won on it in several other racing series. 18-year-old James Buescher made his Nationwide Series debut in Phoenix in the #32 car.
Both James and Jason had solid cars in practice, but neither burnt up the speed charts. James had to go out pretty early for qualifying, so a pole run for the rookie looked unlikely due to the less favorable track conditions than were present toward the end of the session. He qualified on the provisional pole though, besting the half-dozen drivers that went out before him. He ended up starting in the 17th position. Not a bad entry in to racing's #2 series.
Leffler had a later draw, and with one pole already at the track, he hoped to make a very strong showing. His first lap was conservative, placing him in the 21st starting spot. Unfortunately, during the second lap, the rear of the #38 Toyota took its own line around the track, and Jason went for a spin. Thankfully, he was able to work the wheel and the throttle enough to keep the car off of both the outside and the inside wall.
When the green flag fell, it seemed that each car was on a different agenda. Jason, disappointed with his qualifying effort, worked to move to the front of the field as quickly as possible. He was inside the top 10 before lap 50. James had to make sure that he kept his car clean, but still stayed in contention for a good finish. At the 50 lap mark he moved back slightly to the 20th position. Hey, to finish first, you must first finish.
When the third caution of the race came out on lap 63 for debris on the track, Crew Chief Paul Wolfe decided to keep the #38 out on the track in order to pick up track position. This moved Jason up to 2nd from 9th. Trent Owens brought the #32 in for new tires and adjustments, which sent James back out in the 20th position.
Hindsight is 20/20
It appears that the play for track position didn't help the #38. By the time everyone was back on the same pit sequence, Jason was back in the 11th position, but James had moved up a bit to 18th. Then, as the laps wound down, Jason saw a hard fought top ten finish slip away. With just 10 laps to go, he brought out the race's 8th caution with a flat tire-induced spin. He brought the #38 home to a solid, but disappointing 14th. James, just a few weeks removed from his 18th birthday, was able to finish inside the top 20 with an 18th place finish. We just may see a new winner in the Braun Racing Stable very soon.
Next up for the Nationwide series will be a trip down south. Way South. They will spend Sunday, April 20th in Mexico, as they try their hand at road-racing for the first time this season in the Corona Mexico 200 at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Brian Vickers will be in the ABF U-Pack car next on May 24, at Lowes Motor Speedway.
(Photos Courtesy of TheHotLap.com)