Coming to the checkered flag a mere car length behind Kyle Busch in the spring race at Charlotte, Brad Keselowski was rather profane in remarking “motherf****er, I’ve got you next time” as Busch drove off to victory lane.
How prophetic those words were.
Though it didn’t come down to a last lap battle between the two, Keselowski lurked as Busch led 84 laps in the race’s midsection and appeared well on his way to a 13th Nationwide victory in 2010. But when the caution flag flew on lap 183, pit strategy ended up making all the difference. While Busch pitted for four tires, Keselowski and Kevin Harvick elected to stay on track. And has been the case in recent Charlotte races, the tires gave up next to no grip, Keselowski maintained track position, and with a hard push on a lap 193 restart from teammate Justin Allgaier, was able to clear Martin Truex Jr. en route to his fifth win of the 2010 season. Truex, Allgaier, Joey Logano and polesitter Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 5.
The first race for the Nationwide Series’ new car on a 1.5 mile oval, side-by-side racing was seen throughout much of the evening in what was an entertaining race. However, the track with it’s smoothed asphalt remained treacherous, with a high rate of attrition early in the event. The race saw four accidents occur in the first 72 laps.
Keselowski’s victory allowed him to stretch his lead in the standings to a whopping 450 markers over second place Carl Edwards, who finished 13th. Keselowski now can clinch the 2010 Nationwide Series crown by finishing better than 26th in each of the last four races. Justin Allgaier was again the top finishing Nationwide Series regular and remained the highest ranked in the standings, fourth in points, 851 behind his teammate.
Lee Spencer astutely tweeted in the media center following Justin Allgaier’s post-race presser that the most popular question in the media center was “how can we get this guy a ride?” After a third place run on Friday night that saw the No. 12 driver rebound from handling issues early on to challenge for the win (and prove to be again the only Nationwide regular capable of running in the top 5 with the Cup brigade), the question certainly has merit. Allgaier, who is now riding a stretch of four consecutive top 10 finishes, has proven to be an absolute shining star on the Nationwide side in 2010. The only Nationwide regular to win a race this year. A consummate professional with the media. A prospect that has soaked up the respectability and class of the Penske Racing organization like a sponge. And all of that in a package that gets it done behind the wheel. How this latest, greatest, saddest example of how impossible it has become for a driver without family money or a Cup ride to simply keep a job in the Nationwide ranks doesn’t wake up anyone, including Allgaier’s teammate Brad Keselowski, to the fact that the Nationwide Series is borderline totaled is beyond me.
Aric Almirola didn’t have quite the result that Allgaier posted on Friday night, but he, like his fellow driver, rebounded from early handling woes to turn in a top 10 result. Listening to the radio communication between he and Pops Eury, the dynamic is one of quiet, limited communication. And it’s one that seems to be working. Eury Sr. had no problem cracking the whip on his new development project for 2011, and Almirola responded to it. The No. 88 team is clearly not to the form they were in last season with Keselowski behind the wheel, and these next few races are going to be vital to determining how the team jumps into 2011. The way the No. 88 went nearly two laps down was cause for concern for the JR Motorsports camp but being able to persevere through it and deliver an eighth place result is the stuff title-contending seasons are made of. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a solid night for a developing driver/crew chief pairing.
Speaking to Shelby Howard earlier on Friday, Howard noted that while the results haven’t shown it, the few COT races his ML Motorsports team has run have been valuable learning experiences for the operation. And he was eager to get on track for Friday, for even though the results weren’t going to be flashy, his team was going to be 300 miles closer to figuring out the Nationwide Series’ new car. Unfortunately, the event lasted only 11 laps for the No. 70 team, as Howard was caught up in a wreck involving Michael Annett and Joe Nemechek. The No. 70 crew would eventually get their machine back on the track…minus the front end they had hoped to learn about over the course of Friday’s race. The 39th place result dropped the No. 70 to 30th in owner points as well, only 68 ahead of MacDonald Motorsports for the final locked-in spot to the Nationwide Series field.
Ryan Truex’s spotter came on the radio immediately prior to a lap 71 restart reminding his driver to use caution, that he didn’t trust his driver’s surroundings and was concerned something would happen. More prophetic words weren’t heard at Charlotte this Friday evening, as within a few laps of the restart Truex found himself collected after Robert Richardson spun on his own in turn 2. The heavy damage done to the No. 99 Toyota relegated the team to a 37th place result, a surefire disappointment given how strong both Ryan’s brother Martin, and the Michael Waltrip Racing organization as a whole, ran in NASCAR’s backyard this weekend.
As for Parker Kligerman, he endured the shortest bad night of them all. After turning in a stellar eighth place qualifying result, Kligerman lasted only two laps before an unassisted spin in turn 4 destroyed the rear end of his No. 26 Dodge, damage the team proved unable to repair. Kligerman’s exit was so fast, even the start-and-parkers were unable to complete their dirty deed before his team retired from the race. The 43rd place result was the worst of his Nationwide Series career.
Brian Scott had a bad enough start to Friday by being one of two drivers to wreck in the afternoon’s qualifying session. Charlotte Motor Speedway, unfortunately, wasn’t any kinder to the rookie contender under race conditions either. Scott spun out on lap 64 to bring out the yellow flag, and then pounded the turn 4 wall on lap 182 hard enough to knock the rear decklid off his machine onto the track. Scott struggled home to finish 28th while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. turned in a 14th place run. Suddenly a rookie of the year title that was Scott’s to lose is beginning to appear lost.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Josh Wise Driving in a one-off deal, headed by a former tire changer, with an all-volunteer pit crew, Wise came home on the lead lap in the 17th position Friday night, even outrunning the No. 7 team that he’s considered a contender for as a companion to Danica Patrick. Being able to perform in such a way in one-off circumstances such as this deal is impressive. Doing so in his first full-length race in the new Nationwide car (he parked a COT after four laps at Michigan with transmission troubles) is even more impressive. If that’s a sign of how Wise can handle this NNS COT, he may be just the driver to keep Danica in the top 30 next year.
The Final Word
- NASCAR estimated that 47,000 people attended Friday night’s race. After further review, it was concluded that they reached this number by adding the fall crowd numbers to the spring crowd numbers.
- NASCAR threw a caution on lap 156 to rectify a scoring error that it made by penalizing Brian Scott for a missing lugnut that wasn’t missing. A number of drivers, most vocally Kevin Harvick, who saw his pit strategy go out the window as a result of the competition yellow, were irate about the decision to stop the race and alter its running to fix a scoring error. And he’s right to be upset. Stopping an event to fix a previous mistake may work in stick-and-ball sports, but not here. Adding another caution and pit stop cycle is a drastic alteration to a race. And while Harvick may or may not have challenged for the win without the caution, he’s right that in throwing a yellow because they screwed up officiating their own race, NASCAR screwed up many of its competitors as well. Unacceptable.
- The NNS COT put on a halfway decent race yet again this weekend. Now if we can only find some Nationwide regulars to run them…
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