Nationwide Series rookie finishes 15th at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn.- NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie driver Cale Conley finished 15th in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Camaro in the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway Friday.

Conley qualified his Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America sponsored entry 10th for the race. He was running in the top 20 most of the race, but “our handling became an issue on older tires in late runs,” said Conley. “The team worked on the handling issues most of the race to keep us running with the leaders.”

He debuted in NASCAR’s second tier series earlier this year at Bristol and recorded an 11th-place finish. He will run a total of 11 races this year.

Conley will see action in the RCR car on Sept. 5 at Richmond International Raceway, Sept. 20 at Kentucky Motor Speedway, Sept. 27 at Dover International Speedway and Oct. 10 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney bolted past Kyle Busch on a restart with six laps remaining and won the race for his second career victory.

It was a surprising finish after Busch, seeking to become the first driver to win four consecutive races in the series on the 0.533-mile oval, had dominated for much of the night, especially on restarts.

Battling at various times against the youngest and brightest stars in the series, Busch generally made quick work of them. He led 161 of the 300 laps and seemed poised for his record 67th victory in the series.

But on the final restart, he was holding back, as was his prerogative as the leader, until Blaney suddenly darted to the lead from the inside line, cleared Busch’s car and sailed off to the victory.

“Kyle didn’t go on that last restart,” Blaney said, referring to the marked area on the track wall inside which the leader is supposed to accelerate, with the rest of the field following his lead.

“He said his tires were jacked up and we got to the second line and we just went,” Blaney said.

Busch managed to get close to Blaney’s bumper, but that was it.

“I was driving my guts out trying to stay ahead of him,” Blaney said.

Busch, meanwhile, seethed like he had something taken away from him.

“My rear tires weren’t on the race track and I couldn’t accelerate,” he said, suggesting Regan Smith, restarting behind him, had lifted Busch’s car off the track to eliminate his traction.

“NASCAR doesn’t police it and so everybody keeps jacking around on it and one of these days I’m just going to lock all four (tires) down and stack the whole field up,” Busch said.

Chase Elliott, who finished third, saw it differently.

“I saw Kyle make a rare mistake,” Elliott said, adding that Busch was spinning his tires.

Elliott finished third and remained the series leader by 13 points over Smith.

Ty Dillon finished fourth, followed by Smith.

Conley was in Vienna earlier this month to participate in the Thundering Bison of the Mid-Ohio Valley Inaugural Indoor Golf Tournament. He spoke about his latest experiences with his RCR teammates.

“Paul Menard and Ty Dillon have helped me learn 1.5 mile tracks this year,” Conley said. “Our team has been running well and shown speed.”

“One of the difficult issues is learning how to run tracks with mechanical- grip instead of aero-grip,” Conley said. “Cars with aero grip are more comfortable for me to drive and explain to crew chief Nick Harrison. My seat-time on the larger tracks helps me learn more about the mechanical grip side of these cars.”

Conley was accompanied at the event in Vienna by Nationwide Series driver Chad Boat. Boat drives the No. 84 Chevrolet Camaro for Billy Boat Motorsports. Boat has competed in seven Nationwide Series races this season with several mid-pack finishes.

Conley was able to enjoy some laps in a RCR Sprint Cup car at Nashville Super Speedway.

“Running these cars is a treat due to the regular drivers dislike the idea of testing and spend their off-time on vacation,” Conley said. “The power in the Cup car feels overwhelming and getting back into the Nationwide car I want to put the power to the track and come up short.”

“The power ratio is vastly different, but to get these laps is a great chance to learn.”