The Drive4COPD 300 was the first race for the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and it had a dark aura surrounding it; this event last year ended with a horrific crash that injured 28 fans. In a sense, the race had some redeeming to do. A main point about the race? No tandem drafting allowed. NASCAR announced it was illegal, and teams found to be tangoing would be penalized.
Because of the rain, practice speeds determined the lineup, putting rookie Dylan Kwasniewski on the pole. Unfortunately, he never led a lap; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular and Friday night’s winner Kyle Busch took over that duty, doing what he does best. Kwasniewski rebounded for an eighth-place finish in his NNS debut.
As for the race, it lacked overall. Dale Earnhardt Jr. got off the pit cycle and fell behind on lap 42, struggling for a majority of the event due to a bad pit stop. Busch ruled the front, leading one of the two distinct lines that formed. A caution on lap 73 let Earnhardt Jr. back on the lead lap, allowing Junior Nation to breath a sign of relief. When they went green, one of JR Motorsport’s drivers, Regan Smith, soared to the lead with a bit of help from Brad Keselowski.
Shortly after, NASCAR handed a penalty to James Buescher for tandem drafting on Keselowski. It was the first penalty of its kind to be given during the race. This somewhat shook the drivers’ spirits, making them even more nervous. Cautions came and went, not causing much of a stir. Johnny Sauter was in trouble for losing his rear window, an issue that was seen before the NCWTS race and that definitely needs to be monitored.
Keselowski caught the lead with ten to go, the caution flying six laps later. This set the field up for a Green-White-Checkered. Heart rates shot up as fuel levels and strategy were questionable. As the dance began, Smith fought with the No. 22, getting some assistance from fellow NNS racer Trevor Bayne.
Coming to the line, Smith crossed the line first, winning by a neck over Keselowski. The two were competing for the win last year, resulting in that dangerous pileup. In the defining hour, the No. 7 proved himself and created a great comeback story.
After the checkered flag flew, Earnhardt Jr. caused a large wreck when Kyle Larson slowed down too soon on the cool down lap. Calamity by mistake.
Point Standings after the Drive4COPD 300
1. Regan Smith (–)
2. Trevor Bayne (-6)
3. Elliott Sadler (-8)
4. Brendan Gaughan (-9)
5. Ty Dillon (-10)
6. Dylan Kwasniewski (-11)
7. Joe Nemechek (-15)
8. Mike Wallace (-16)
9. Chase Elliott (-18)
10. James Buescher (-19)
11. Brian Scott (-20)
12. Ryan Reed (-21)
FAN REACTION: The consensus is that NASCAR’s “no tandems” rule killed the excitement of the race, many fans defending Buescher after the penalty. Without the love bug style, the race was as dry as a saltine cracker. It also brought NASCAR and judgment calls into question. Grades ranged from a ‘B’ to ‘C’s, ‘D’s, and even ‘F’s. Ouch.
After the opening race, the NASCAR Nationwide Series has redeemed itself for last year’s issues. Regan Smith can say the same.