Tensions are rising as the NASCAR Nationwide series heads to race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, and it’s for a good reason. Only eighteen points separate the top five in the point standings, and it may be in jeopardy come Sunday
Points leader Austin Dillon is pulling double duty this weekend, filling in for an injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 at Michigan International Speedway. He will miss Saturday’s qualifying session, so he will start at the tail end of the field. This presents an opportunity to gain ground on the No. 3 team, but it won’t be easy.
Two extra practice sessions on Thursday allowed Dillon to shake down the car before Jason Bowles put laps on the car Friday afternoon. Aside from him, two other drivers -Trevor Bayne and Marcos Ambrose- are doing the same thing, Chris Buescher and Ryan Truex substituting for them in practice.
Overall, four practice sessions gave teams chances to figure out the new racetrack a lap at a time. Topping first practice was Michael McDowell, his fastest lap coming on lap 17 at 94.853 mph. He is running the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing. Sam Hornish Jr. ranked second, and road course ringer Max Papis rounded out the top three.
Second practice ended with AJ Allmendinger topping the board with a slightly faster speed, 95.550 mph. NASCAR Nationwide series regular Parker Kligerman impressed, first car slower that Allmendinger, and fresh-faced Owen Kelly wheeled the No. 54 to third.
Championship contender Brian Vickers was fastest in the third installment, running 96.069 mph early on. Nelson Piquet Jr. made an appearance on the score board, four-tenths behind the leader. Third place in this round was Allmendinger, showing his expertise yet again.
At 96.553 mph, Sam Hornish Jr. flexed his muscle, consistent and threatening in the final practice. Vickers popped up again in second, and road course master Ron Fellows got a flow going to end up third.
Here are the top five championship contenders’ ranking throughout all four sessions.
First practice Second practice Third practice Final
A. Dillon 12th 14th 19th* 15th*
S. Hornish Jr 2nd 5th 5th 1st
R. Smith 19th 10th 10th 5th
E. Sadler 10th 15th 14th 13th
B. Vickers 8th 10th 1st 2nd
* -indicates another driver practiced in the car.