The first of the inevitable titles to be handed out in the Nationwide Series for 2010 was decided on Saturday. With Joey Logano winning from the pole after a last-lap push from Brad Keselowski propelled him ahead of teammate Kyle Busch, Toyota clinched their third consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series manufacturer’s championship at Kansas. Never before has a combination of Sprint Cup regulars and a big-dollar car company working together to win the biggest stock car racing title that didn’t involve toppling Chevrolet’s dominance of the Cup Series come to fruition so perfectly.
But while Logano took the checkered flag, it was yet again teammate Busch who led the most laps and for the early parts of the race appeared to be the class of the field. That changed on lap 90, when Busch spun on his own while leading the event. Though the No. 18 team staged a valiant comeback effort that saw them running second with two laps to go, a bumpdraft from Brad Keselowski on the final restart pushed Logano to the front for good. Keselowski, Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top 5.
For Keselowski, the day not only marked an opportunity to deprive Busch of a win (remember, the duo had a heated tangle at Bristol in August), it also allowed the No. 22 team to capitalize in the points race. Carl Edwards also was involved in a self-induced spin on lap 67, an accident that damaged the left side of the No. 60 car enough to take him out of contention. With Edwards finishing 14th, Keselowski’s points lead now stands at 374. Justin Allgaier finished seventh to remain the highest ranked Nationwide Series regular, 793 markers back, fourth in the standings.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. really couldn’t have chosen a better time to have a stellar run. Finishing sixth at Kansas was the best result of 2010 for the Roush Fenway development driver on a downforce track, as well as the best result posted by a Nationwide Series regular at Kansas on Saturday. Perhaps most important, though, is that Stenhouse carried the banner for the Roush camp on a Saturday that saw Trevor Bayne make his debut with the team. It’s no secret that Bayne is a hot prospect, that Jack Roush is hot on his prospects, and that Stenhouse’s rookie season has been challenging, to put it lightly. With Bayne reportedly all but guaranteed to be running full-time in 2011, both Stenhouse and Colin Braun have got to be wondering if the future of Roush actually has a seat for them. Runs like this one for Stenhouse are assuredly going to give him a leg up in that race.
Stenhouse wasn’t the only one to deliver a timely result. Justin Allgaier finished a solid seventh, the fifth consecutive top-15 result of a stretch that’s seen Penske’s development driver showing more of the form he showed early in the spring, when the No. 12 team was keeping pace with Keselowski, Edwards, and Co. in the points.
Rusty Wallace, Incorporated saw Brendan Gaughan and Steve Wallace finish ninth and 11th, respectively, on the Saturday that Toyota clinched the manufacturer’s title. While RWI’s move to Toyota hasn’t been quite the magic wand the team may have expected or hoped for, Saturday was a solid result for both drivers as well as for the team, which as a unit performed far more consistently than Toyota counterpart Braun Racing.
Ryan Truex delivering a top 15 on a 1.5-mile track the week after he clinched his second consecutive East Series championship is, well, good news for his prospects as Diamond-Waltrip Racing and the MWR organization shop sponsorship for the 2011 season.
Speaking of Braun Racing, hats off to Jason Leffler delivering a top-10 finish that the No. 38 has sorely deserved more of this season. But…
…As for the rest of the Braun camp, it can hardly be described as the day the team was shooting to have for new owner Steve Turner’s debut. Ricky Carmichael’s 18th-place result was solid, but not spectacular. James Buescher’s return to Nationwide Series competition did little to aid the No. 11 team in their first race without Brian Scott; Buescher stalled out during green flag pit stops on lap 57 and lost a ton of time on pit road, en route to finishing seven laps down in 35th. Reed Sorenson, meanwhile, also stalled out on the same lap during the same cycle of stops, the stable’s best-performing driver as of late struggling to 16 laps down in 36th. Not the proudest first day for the youth movement over at Braun.
In addition to Carl Edwards’ struggles, Roush Fenway Racing’s development program fell short on Saturday. Though Stenhouse had perhaps the best run of his season, Trevor Bayne finished a disappointing 30th after qualifying a sluggish 33rd in his debut with the team. And Colin Braun had his shot at a top-15 finish go down the tubes on the final lap, getting spun out in the chaos that resulted from Parker Kligerman and Steve Wallace making contact in turn 1 (Braun ended up with a 23rd-place result after all the chaos). Though the poor results were as much the product of accidents as anything else, seeing Roush’s Nationwide program nowhere near the lead practically all day on Saturday reminded us of how far RFR’s cars have fallen in recent years inside this series.
Parker Kligerman had another stellar result with Team 42 going…for 199 laps. But late-race contact with Steve Wallace entering turn 1 on the final lap gave the 11th-place finishing position to Wallace, sending Kligerman hard into the wall with a 24th-place result for his troubles. A bad day for Penske’s other development prospect, but still one that showed how much talent the team has waiting in the wings. Now, about talking Brad out of this whole running Nationwide full-time bit…
Underdog Performer of the Race: Mike Wallace. After being a top-20 staple for much of the early spring with the No. 01 car, the results haven’t been as easy to come by for Wallace and the No. 01. Fortunately, Saturday was different for the team. Wallace finished 12th, on the lead lap, and led 10 circuits attempting to play fuel strategy before Trevor Bayne’s spin on lap 189 brought out the yellow… and his team to pit road. Still, the time at the front and the solid performance on the track have to be welcome for JD Motorsports, and Saturday was a solid homecoming to the Midwest for Wallace.
The Final Word
- 70,000 may have been an exaggeration for attendance on Saturday. But 50,000+ isn’t an exaggeration, and that’s nothing to complain about for a 2010 Nationwide Series race. With Kansas going to two race weekends for 2011, at least the fans appear to be ready to turn out.
- Say what you will about money buying rides, but it was good to see Brian Scott in the No. 09 this weekend. The RAB Racing team needs sponsorship, and Scott’s raced well enough to deserve a full shot at the 2010 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year title. The 21st-place result on Saturday was not miraculous, but it got the job done for both sides (though Stenhouse may well take the rookie standings lead after finishing sixth). Frankly, I hope to see the partnership continue for the rest of the season.
- Seeing the Truex brothers in the No. 99 car for the rest of 2010 is going to be an interesting case study for the Nationwide Series. For one, the exigency Diamond-Waltrip Racing faced was not unique; they can’t guarantee that they’ll be able to race a full schedule in 2011. But more so, it’s the latest example of a partnership between a Cup driver and a development driver in Bayne’s place sharing a ride in an attempt to secure results and much-needed sponsor dollars. Both men raced for the organization on Saturday, and both scored solid top-15 results. The cars are obviously there. So is the talent. But will the dollars DWR need for 2011 materialize? Whether they find funding will go a long way to tell the tale of just how dire the state of the Nationwide Series field for next season will be.
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