By Jerry Bonkowski
Special for NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
SPARTA, Ky. -- In the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race to be held during the day at Kentucky Speedway, Austin Dillon returned to the site of his first career NNS victory earlier this year to double up with what is now his second series win, capturing Saturday's Kentucky 300.
Dillon, who started the race from the pole, regained the lead on lap 152, slingshotting around Elliott Sadler to quickly grab a nearly two-second advantage that he continued to build upon, taking it to more than a three-second edge at one point.
Dillon dominated en route to his first career Nationwide Series win at Kentucky in late June, leading 192 of the 200 laps. He wasn't as dominating Saturday, but the most important thing is he took the checkered flag.
Perhaps the biggest key to Dillon's win came on lap 162 when Eric McClure spun, bringing out the caution flag. Sadler was instructed by crew chief Lucas Lambert to follow Dillon and do what he did in terms of coming onto pit road or staying on the racetrack.
Sadler did as told, but Dillon snookered him, turning back onto the racetrack before reaching the pit-lane commitment cone. Sadler didn't have enough time to react and was forced to pit for two tires and fuel while essentially also watching his chances of a fifth win this season slowly fade away. Sadler entered pit road in second place in the race and exited in seventh.
From that point, Dillon remained in command. While he did get some challenges from Sam Hornish Jr., Brendan Gaughan and Justin Allgaier, Dillon's car remained the class of the field for the remainder of the race.
He even had to endure an uncharacteristic gushing bloody nose during the second half of the race, but by the time he reached the checkered flag, his bloody nose stopped and presented a memorable birthday gift of sorts to team owner and grandfather Richard Childress, who turned 67 on Friday.
Much like James Buescher, who on Friday night won his second race of the season at Kentucky Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Dillon made it two for two in 2012 at the 1.5-mile Bluegrass State track.
Dillon was followed by second-place Hornish, who may have re-ignited what had been fading championship hopes, followed by Gaughan in third, Drew Herring in fourth and Sadler in fifth.
As it stands with six races remaining on the schedule, Sadler leads Stenhouse by four points and has a 19-point advantage over third-place Dillon. Hornish is now 46 points behind and Justin Allgaier is a distant 103 points back.
Sadler, who had led the Nationwide Series points standings for 21 of the first 26 weeks, came into Saturday's race looking to regain the No. 1 top spot from Stenhouse, who entered Saturday with a nine-point advantage over Sadler.
And while Sadler enjoyed a good run and regained the points lead by four points over Stenhouse, luck was definitely not in Stenhouse's favor as he finished 17th, three laps behind the leaders.
Dillon and Stenhouse earned the top two spots in qualifying, but when the race started, it was all Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide champion who was also making his 100th career start in the series.
But when NASCAR invoked a mandatory competition caution on lap 32 because of heavy rains late Friday night, Stenhouse crashed into the car of Eric McClure on pit road, causing damage to Stenhouse's Ford Mustang. Stenhouse brought the car back onto pit road two more times to have the damage repaired, and when racing returned to green flag competition, Stenhouse had fallen from first to 28th.
As for other drivers, Kurt Busch looked like he was shot out of a rocket at the start of the race. Doing double duty with Sunday's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire, Busch had Matt Crafton practice and qualify the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota 14th.
Busch was sent to the back of the 43-car field for not qualifying the car, but that proved to be more of an incentive than an obstacle as he quickly climbed an almost unheard of 28 spots in the first 20 laps of the 200-lap event.
And by lap 38, the elder Busch brother had made his way up to fifth place, nothing short of an outstanding job for a driver who literally jumped out of a helicopter 20 minutes before the pre-race driver's meeting Saturday morning and right into his race car for the green flag.
When Stenhouse suffered his pit road incident, Sadler was quick to take advantage, eventually taking over the lead. And as if to add insult to injury, Stenhouse smacked the wall on lap 50 when his right-rear tire blew out, prompting another pit stop and a further drop in the field to the point where he exited pit road after repairs two laps off the lead.
Gone was his lead in the race, his hopes for a win in his milestone Nationwide start and his lead in the Nationwide points standings, as Sadler regained his edge over Stenhouse, albeit slim, but still in the lead.
Stenhouse, who won at Chicago last weekend, came into Saturday's race with two wins and two runner-up finishes in his last four starts.
To his credit, Stenhouse never gave up. At one point in the race, he had fallen 23 points behind Sadler in the in-progress series standings. Even with being three laps down, Stenhouse continued to move forward, ending the race a lot better than he could have wound up behind Sadler.
Danica Patrick qualified 11th in the first race with new crew chief Ryan Pemberton but struggled through the first third of the race, dropping to as far as 20th place by lap 75. Patrick fell back further when she pitted under green on lap 78, dropping her to 28th position, one lap down and one spot ahead of Stenhouse.
But the driver of the No. 7 GoDaddy Chevrolet stayed tough and rallied to finish 14th.
At the halfway point of the race, Sadler held a slim lead over Dillon, with Kurt Busch continuing his charge toward the front, right behind the two leaders.
Unfortunately, Busch may have pushed his car too hard, too fast as on lap 130. He brought his car -- which had been emitting smoke for the previous laps -- to pit road with gear problems within the transmission. The team pushed the car to the garage, ending what could have been a storybook finish had he been able to get to Victory Lane. Busch ultimately finished 28th.
It was just another in a long list of misfortune that has hampered the struggling Kyle Busch Motorsports team this season.
NOTES: The two youngest drivers on the Nationwide circuit, 18-year-old Ryan Blaney and 19-year-old Alex Bowman, had strong runs, finishing ninth and 25th, respectively. Of note for Bowman, it was only his second career Nationwide Series race, but his car suffered mechanical issues late, relegating him further back in the pack than what appeared to be a potential top-15 finish.