Bliss Leads Laps and Battles for the Win Before Finishing Second in the Final Race at Gateway International Raceway
MADISON, Ill. (October 24, 2010) - Entering Gateway (Ill.) International Raceway, every driver had one goal: Win the last scheduled NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the 1.25-mile track. With that goal in mind, Mike Bliss and the No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) Mad Croc Energy team ran in the top three for both practice sessions, qualified fourth, led 10 laps and came up one spot short to finish second in the 200-lap race.
"I had him (winner Brad Keselowski) in turn three and four, but just got a little loose," said Bliss following the race. "Man, I really wanted that win, but all in all, it was a good race. I appreciate having this opportunity and the guys did a great job. Thanks to everyone at KHI for the ride. We weren't as good during the race as we were in practice, but it was a good call at the end to take two tires and have a chance to win the race. We were a top-five car all race. Everyone did a great job and I had a lot of fun."
Starting the race in the fourth position, Bliss was up to second by the end of lap one and soon reported to crew chief Ernie Cope that the car was too loose. Continuing to run in the second spot and pull away from the third-place car by over a second, Bliss continually updated Cope on the handling, asking to be a little tighter on the entry into the corners.
Taking advantage of the first caution of the race for debris on the track, Bliss brought the No. 33 car to pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments to help with the handling of the car. With a solid stop, Bliss won the battle off of pit road and restarted the race as the leader on lap 51.
Losing the lead on lap 55 to polesitter Justin Allgaier, Bliss let the team know that the car was still loose, and the more laps Bliss ran, the looser the car got. The caution again waved on lap 74, allowing the team to bring Bliss back down pit road for another round of adjustments. Cope called for a four tire stop, fuel and an air-pressure and wedge adjustment. The race restarted on lap 79 with Bliss in the fifth position after several teams opted for two-tire and fuel-only stops.
A quick caution three laps later and with the decision to stay out, Bliss restarted the race on lap 86 from the third position. Slipping a few spots, Bliss was scored sixth when the caution flag waved on lap 95 for the fourth time of the race. Bliss reported that the car was a still a little loose, and as the leaders decided to stay on track, Bliss followed suit. The race restarted on lap 100 with Bliss sixth.
Several laps later, the caution was again displayed for a multi-car accident on the frontstretch that would also bring out the red flag for clean up. The team again opted to stay out when pit road opened and restarted the race from the fourth spot on lap 108.
In an exciting restart, Bliss drove around the outside of the leaders to take the lead on lap 109. Unfortunately, the car got a little too tight and Bliss began to slip back in the field, sliding back to fourth on lap 120. Continuing to fight a tight-handling car, the race stayed green for an extended period of time, forcing teams to make scheduled green-flag pit stops. On lap 153, Cope called Bliss to pit road for four tires and fuel with no adjustments. A slow stop by the team would drop Bliss several spots in the field. As the stops cycled through, Bliss was scored in the seventh position on lap 162.
With 15 laps to go in the race, Bliss was scored in the fourth position. Cope stressed to Bliss that he was too far behind the leaders to catch them should the race continue under green conditions, but to protect his equipment in case of a late-race caution. Maintaining his position, the caution waved on lap 190. Bliss radioed Cope that the car had been much better and was pretty neutral on entry. Cope made the decision to bring Bliss to pit road for two right-side tires and fuel. With varying pit strategies and a solid stop by the No. 33 team, Bliss won the race off pit road and restarted the race third on lap 196 as the top-two cars opted not to pit.
Battling for the lead with eventual race winner Keselowski, Bliss put up a solid fight before finishing the race in the second spot. Keselowski's teammate Allgaier finished third followed by Jason Leffler and Carl Edwards.