May 2009                    Dale Wilkerson

Saturday night at the Lowe’s motor Speedway, folks couldn’t help but think of rain songs. Kyle Busch was probably singing “Blame it on the Rain”, as he appeared to be on his way to victory before his last pit stop.

                The souvenir vendors were probably singing “Here’s that Rainy Day” as they began to pull out poncho’s and rain coats that sold faster than Mickey Mouse hats at Disney World. The rain made the vendors happy, but not as happy as Mike Bliss and the Phoenix Racing Team of Spartanburg.

                Bliss, and team owner James Finch may have been singing “I love the Rainy Nights” as their call to run as many laps as they could on their fuel before pitting turned to be the winning call Saturday night.

                Bliss had to fall to the rear at the start of the race. He passed six cars on lap one, and steadily worked his way into the top ten.

                As the race unfolded, teams began to make the final scheduled stops between lap 140 and 150, of the scheduled 200 lap distance. The Phoenix team left Bliss on track as all other cars on the lead lap made their stops. Just as Bliss was preparing to make his final stop, caution waved for a single car crash in turn three.

                By staying on the track, Bliss had lapped the entire field. Due to the lucky dog rule, Brendon Gaughan received the free pass and he restarted the race on the lead lap with Bliss.

                Bliss had a dozen cars ahead of him on the final restart. Since these cars had pitted under green, they stayed on track with put them on the tail-end of the lead lap.

                The traffic was ferocious for Bliss as drivers fought to stay ahead of him, hoping for a caution flag so they could line up behind the leader. Gaughan, driving for Rusty Wallace, was able to work his way through traffic and passed Bliss to take the lead.

                After a few laps, Bliss got a good run at Gaughan, powered by him to take a seven car length lead. Not long after that pass, turn two was blanketed by rain. The rain poured for a short period, stopped, and then the bottom fell out. The NASCAR track observers made the call, and Mike Bliss handed James Finch his first Nationwide victory since Johnny Sauter’s 2005 win at the Milwaukie Mile.

                 Just a few weeks ago, driver Brad Keselowski gave Phoenix Racing their first Sprint Cup win with a last lap pass at Talladega. Bliss, the 2002 Camping World Truck Series Champion, now stands in ninth place in the driver points for the season. His win at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway was his first win since 2004 in the Nationwide Series. Bliss has two wins in the series and both of those came at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

                For Phoenix Racing, Saturday’s win was their 12th Nationwide win. Along with Sauter and Bliss, other Nationwide race winners for Phoenix racing have included Jamie McMurray, Jimmy Spencer, Randy LaJoie and Jeff Purvis.

                The end result Saturday night was very nice for Spartanburg, as we were able to see a local team back in the Winner’s Circle. Earlier Saturday afternoon, Jeremy Clements qualified for the race. Clements, who is only running a part-time schedule, does not have a guaranteed  starting spot, so he had to be among the fastest of the group known as the ‘go or go-homers.’

                His team put a good car under him, and Clements hit his marks, earning the 26th starting position. With the in-flux of Sprint Cup drivers for this event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, earning this starting spot was like winning the race for Clements.

                As we look back at the mark left in the NASCAR record books by teams and drivers from Spartanburg, it is good to know that that history is being added to by drivers, owners, and crew chiefs like Mike Bliss, Jeremy Clements, Steve Addington, Donnie Wingo and James Finch.


                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo Courtesy of Nascar Images

Mike Bliss sits in his #1 Miccosukee Chevrolet on Pit Road at Lowes Motor Speedway as the track crew dries the track, moments later the bottom fell out and NASCAR called the race for his first win since 2004.