Brian Vickers dominated from the pole on Saturday, and when he didn’t lead, Kyle Busch did.
Neither of them won.
Racing hard with two laps to go, Vickers got loose in the exit of turn 3 and broke the momentum of second-place Busch catching the car, allowing none other than the hometown hero, Brad Keselowski, to shoot to the outside. Though Busch and Vickers managed to keep up with Keselowski down the backstretch on the final lap, Keselowski’s position on the high side of the track provided him with enough momentum to steal his third Nationwide victory of the 2009 season.
And while the No. 88 driver celebrated a popular win with a smoky burnout, the real fireworks occurred on pit road after the checkered flag flew. Unhappy with how Vickers had raced him hard down the track on the final lap, Kyle Busch made contact with Vickers’ No. 32 on pit road, proceeding to exchange heated words with Vickers before onlookers separated the two.
Despite Busch’s disappointment in losing the race, it was another stellar points day for the No. 18 team. Second-place Carl Edwards finished 40th after completing only two laps when he pinched Trevor Bayne in turn 1, sending the No. 99 car into a spin that collected his own No. 60. The early wreck left Edwards 339 points behind leader Busch, with Keselowski 389 markers back.
What a day for the Keselowskis. First of all, Brad’s win was far more than simply a dramatic finish, it was a culmination of just how far this driver, and family, have come in the last two seasons (a trek that was highlighted in a fantastic feature on ESPN’s pre-race show for the Cup race Sunday). To see the same driver who only two seasons ago was filling the field with Keith Coleman Racing after his family team went bankrupt able to position himself to overtake two Cup stars with dominant cars to win was nothing short of impressive. And while Brad’s victory was the headline, K Automotive’s No. 26 team had a great outing as well, with Michael McDowell finishing on the lead lap in 17th position. McDowell has an average finish of 17.3 since joining up with the No. 26 squad… get this guy a sponsor already!
Being in the Midwest, NASCAR was in ARCA’s stomping grounds this weekend… and a number of ARCA products came to play. Rookie Justin Allgaier made something out of nothing after qualifying 28th, moving forward the entire afternoon and finishing seventh, one of only two Nationwide regulars to crack the top 10. Michael Annett was another top 15 fixture all day, scoring a 13th place finish that marked his third consecutive top 20 run. And Justin Lofton, who is currently competing for the ARCA RE/MAX title (he’s second in points), put forward a solid effort in the No. 14 for CJM Racing, qualifying in the top 20 and finishing 16th on the lead lap despite a late race spin.
Several of the full-time operations had a rough outing in the Irish Hills. Scott Wimmer lasted only 42 laps before his engine expired, relegating Key Motorsports’ No. 40 car to a 35th place finish. Another driver that struggled with mechanical issues was Tony Raines, whose handling problems were so pronounced that he parked the No. 34 car after 74 laps, one of the rare times that Front Row Motorsports has failed to complete a Nationwide event. And while Brendan Gaughan only finished two laps down, a blown left front tire rendered him uncompetitive for the final push to the checkered flag; he finished 29th.
Trevor Bayne started Saturday with a bang, qualifying on the front row for his first start on a two-mile race track. Unfortunately, his chances at a solid performance ended with a bang only two laps in. Racing with Carl Edwards, Bayne was pinched in the exit of turn 1, got loose, and spun trying to catch the car. The spin sent Edwards hard into the turn 2 wall and left Bayne to struggle home to a 30th place finish, three laps down.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Mike Bliss. I know, I know, the eighth place driver in the standings being considered an underdog? And for a 27th place finish? Saturday wasn’t pretty for Bliss at all, but it was a worthy episode to mention. For one, it kept him racing in the Nationwide Series instead of start and parking like he ended up doing at Watkins Glen last weekend. And further, it was a class move by Joe Nemechek to hand the reins of the No. 87 to Bliss, allowing him the chance to maintain his Nationwide campaign. The last team that did something similar was K Automotive with Michael McDowell, and that marriage is paying off… so here’s hoping NEMCO gives Bliss enough time behind the wheel to do the same thing.
The Final Word
There’s 50 million articles out there already that have highlighted how dramatic Brad Keselowski’s win at home was, and I’ve got nothing to original to add. Keselowski has earned nothing but praise in this feature all season for his maturity, his performance on the track, and his genuine appreciation for the opportunity he’s earned. All I’ll say is congratulations.
Now, as for the race’s headline moment, again involving a squabble between Cup drivers…come on. Seriously, Kyle? Brian Vickers races hard for the win, and that’s cause to get angry? Vickers said everything that needed to be said both post-race on TV and in the media center, noting that he identified the No. 18 car, not the No. 88, as the primary threat to his shot at the checkers and that he was a racer in the Nationwide Series, not a cast member of the “Kyle Busch Show.” Though that’s not to say I think Vickers was entirely in the right… his decision to confront Kyle Busch with his helmet still on was nothing short of a cream-puff move. If you’re going to get in somebody’s face, have the guts to show your own doing it.
So, there’s my take. Vickers raced hard, Busch couldn’t overcome his block, Keselowski won the race. Busch whined and complained (just like he admitted to in his own post-race comments), but Vickers did nothing wrong. In the end, though, Brad Keselowski won. And contrary to what Busch remarked (that the driver of the No. 88 “didn’t deserve to win,”) he deservedly took home the trophy. Keselowski did what any driver running third should… he got into position, drove the wheels off his car, and pounced when the leaders screwed up. That’s racing, and Keselowski raced to perfection on Saturday.
If the Cup guys have to race Nationwide, I could get used to finishes like these… the Cup regulars left to fight it out with each other as the Nationwide regular pulls away at the finish.
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