The Frontstretch: Nationwide Series Breakdown: Aaron's 312 by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday April 18, 2011

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Nationwide Series Breakdown: Aaron's 312

Bryan Davis Keith · Monday April 18, 2011


As Saturday’s race went green during its second attempt at a green-white-checkers finish, every storyline of opportunity imaginable was present at the front of the field. Underdog and underrated drafter Mike Wallace was on the front row, Justin Allgaier had climbed back into position after earlier contact with the wall, Elliott Sadler remained the hottest driver on the circuit, a top 5 finish all but a certainty.

It ended in a manner that Nationwide Series fans are sick of seeing; Kyle Busch went to victory lane, with underdog Wallace on his roof in turn 3 after trying to make a last-lap charge, a stellar afternoon gone to waste on the final lap. Busch rebounded from crash damage of his own and benefited from Wallace’s flip, which ended the final circuit in turn 3 before any of the pairs behind the Gibbs duo of Busch and Joey Logano could mount a final charge. Logano, Joe Nemechek, Brad Keselowski and Sadler rounded out the top 5.

The race was much like the one seen earlier this season at Daytona, with the two-car drafting pairs seen from the drop of the green flag. The Nationwide COT however proved much more difficult to bump draft with, as the vast majority of incidents seen on Saturday were direct results of pushes entering turn 3.

Incoming points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. found trouble on lap 69 and finished 38th, his worst finish and first DNF of 2011. His struggles yielded the points lead to Jason Leffler, who, following Talladega, enjoys a two point lead over teammate Allgaier.

*Worth Noting_

The Good

Justin Allgaier’s debut with Turner Motorsports turned out to be a lackluster 27th place result back at Daytona, a result far removed from a top 5 qualifying effort. Talladega was looking to be more of the same, as Allgaier slapped the backstretch wall exiting turn 2 early after contact with Clint Bowyer. However, avoiding much of the attrition that would plague the field for the second half of Saturday’s event, Allgaier delivered a clutch seventh place finish that was not only a career-best and his best finish at any level of stock car racing at ‘Dega since he won the track’s 2008 ARCA race, but a clutch result that allowed the 2009 Rookie of the Year to capitalize on points leader Stenhouse’s troubles. Allgaier now sits a mere two points out of the lead heading into Nashville, a track where he won a pole and scored two top 5s in 2010. Who says escaping Talladega unscathed is as good as it gets?

Scott Wimmer rebounded from falling out of the top 30 in owner points last weekend to score a season best 12th place finish that locked him back in as the Nationwide Series heads to Nashville, the site of his last series win back in 2008. Elliott Sadler scored his fourth consecutive top 5 finish for the first time since 1997, moving up to third in points.

Sam Hornish Jr. was involved in just about every incident that Talladega had in store for the Nationwide field this weekend, including being spun by his teammate less than 10 laps from the finish, and yet he still dug a top 15 finish out for his No. 12 car. Driving a machine back through the pack that by race’s end did not even have a rear bumper for competitors to push on, Hornish scored a career-best finish at any level of NASCAR on the plate tracks, and his best finish in a Nationwide car since 2008. Hornish was fast and stubbornly refused to go away all day Saturday…exactly what he needs to be doing to preserve any hopes of a career in stock cars.

The Bad

Promising days for all three Wallaces in Saturday’s field all went out the window over the course of 300+ miles. Steve Wallace proved to be a potent drafting partner along with teammate Michael Annett, but was caught up in the big one on lap 88 as 20 other cars were involved in some capacity. Kenny Wallace led laps and was a top 10 fixture for much of the race, but that result went up in smoke as Wallace reported, well, smoke, in his cockpit. The final results page listed electrical failure as the culprit, but regardless a top 10 finish ended outside the top 25 for the No. 09 team. And then’ there’s Mike Wallace. The eldest of the Wallace trio is no stranger to underdog finishes in restrictor plate races (winning in Nationwide competition at Daytona for the Biagi Brothers in 2004, along with top 10 finishes at Daytona in Cup for Morgan McClure Motorsports and Phoenix Racing), and was in position to score another one, leading as the field went green for its second GWC attempt. Wallace, however, ended the afternoon on his roof, getting flipped entering turn 3 as he tried to shift from the bottom to top lane. Wallace finished 18th and garnered more TV time for his No. 01 squad in one afternoon then they had enjoyed all season, but this race was very close to being so much more.

Tri-Star Motorsports had problems beyond Jeff Green start-and-parking yet another unsponsored No. 44 car. Mike Bliss, who led the race at one point as Kyle Busch’s drafting partner, not only was spun by Joey Logano on lap 55, but also got caught up in the big one on lap 88. The same can be said for teammate Eric McClure, who in trying to dodge the wreck went to the outside on the backstretch and came within a car length of dodging the wreck entirely…but ultimately was sandwiched into the wall by spinning traffic. Both drivers finished outside the top 25.

The Ugly

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enduring a 38th place finish, his first DNF of the season and losing the points lead seems injury enough. But to add insult to it was the nature of his wreck; following drafting partner Justin Allgaier, Stenhouse drove across the nose of teammate Trevor Bayne seemingly blind to the fact that he was racing around other cars, slamming hard into the backstretch wall. It was perhaps the first time this season that Stenhouse looked in 2010 form, following his partner with no awareness of his on-track surroundings. A compelling illustration of just how stupid this whole two-by-two racing nonsense is, Stenhouse now heads to the track that nearly ended his career last season, Nashville, needing to prove just how far he has come as a driver.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Timmy Hill The current points leader for the Nationwide Rookie of the Year crown is in challenging situation to put it lightly: racing unsponsored for a backmarker team as an 18-year-old with only a handful of even ARCA starts to his credit. Not only did Hill finally garner a mention on ESPN this Saturday, avoiding wreck after wreck to finish in the top 15 for the first time as a Nationwide Series driver. Bringing home his car in one piece was an accomplishment in itself for a driver that’s about as green as they come in major stock car racing.

Ill-Gotten Gains

Start-and-parkers occupied 4 of the 43 spots in Saturday’s field, taking home $57,434 in purse money.

Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored 5 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 9 of the 43 spots in the field, and took home $223,138 in purse money.


97 of 298 starting positions occupied (32.6%)
$2,520,008 dollars won
7 of 7 trophies collected (100%)

Who You Didn’t See

Frankly, with the number of incidents that marred Saturday’s race, it’s hard to say who was and wasn’t covered over 312+ miles. But a few names worth mentioning. Blake Koch was mentioned only in passing and never shown on TV despite having a sponsor and finishing a career-best 16th. Danny Efland wasn’t mentioned at all, despite driving for the same No. 52 team that somehow found a way to the track after wrecking at Texas one week ago. Dennis Setzer was running at the finish and never mentioned in any capacity. Morgan Shepherd fell out less than 25 laps short of the finish and fell out of the top 30 in owner points, and never was mentioned short of an unscheduled pit stop on lap 4. Tim George Jr. was only mentioned in passing as being involved in the lap 88 big one. And take away their involvement in wrecks, and Jennifer Jo Cobb, Derrike Cope and Eric McClure were never mentioned.

The Final Word

  • Here’s all that needs to be said about the new points system and what it’s done to the NNS title chase. Jason Leffler was scarcely even seen over the course of a three-hour broadcast despite starting in the top 10, finished third on his team in 15th, and took the points lead. Not much of a story to compete with the rest of the mayhem, and one that didn’t garner any TV time for the series regulars.
  • I said it after Daytona, I’ll say it again. At least when the plate tracks all produced big packs of cars, drivers could at least control their own destinies within the pack. Here, the vast majority of the afternoon’s cautions were the results of a pusher dumping their partner, and yet no one got angry for being dumped, instead shrugging it off because their competitors were so very necessary to having a prayer of being competitive. Joey Logano spun both Mike Bliss and teammate Brian Scott. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun Sam Hornish Jr., as did Brad Keselowski. Brian Scott spun Michael Annett. Cars communicating with each over the radio, absolutely dependent on each other until the very final pass to have a shot at victory, is not fun to watch.
  • If the choice is between packs and pairs, give me packs. If it’s between the pairs and not racing at Daytona or Talladega, pull them off the schedule. There’s plenty of bullrings out there for individual drivers and teams to settle their own fates on.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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04/18/2011 07:53 AM

Is it just speculation on my part, or could it be that the Richmond Nationwide race being shown on Speed is a sign that ESPN/ABC is getting ready to bail out of their contract and have all their assigned races (Cup and Nationwide) moved over to Speed?

Nick Doneilo
04/18/2011 10:55 AM

Are you kidding me? How can Joe Nemechek not be a part of “The Good” and the “Underdog Performer” This guy has 4 guys working on his car, was a lap down at one point, and if it went green until the end, would have won the damn thing. Come on, Front Row Joe deserves more than …Joe Nemechek, Brad K., and Sadler rounded out the top 5.

Bryan Keith,
04/18/2011 12:00 PM

It has been my policy writing this article since 2008 not to include full-time Cup drivers outside of the basic recap. Though Joe Nemechek declared for the Nationwide crown, he has run every single Cup race in 2011, and as such is not being considered for further discussion in this feature.

You’ll notice that Trevor Bayne was also not mentioned in this piece. Bayne was featured through the Breakdown earlier in the season, but with an expanded Cup schedule that so far has Bayne a full-timer in Cup, he is another example of the exemption that I choose to make in writing this feature.

Thank you for reading.

04/18/2011 04:39 PM

No real problem with your article, I agree with the biggest part of it. But to say Joe Nemechek has run every Cup race is WRONG he has started every race (with the intent of parking)and been the first or second car behind the wall more weeks then not.

phil h
04/19/2011 01:54 AM

I commend this writer to the degree of being true to the Nationwide Series regulars,no one else does.

Susan,you do have a point though to mention drivers whether liked or not.Case in point,in the 60’s when Bobby Allison won at Bowman Gray in a Ford Mustang(whick was a Grand American car in a Cup Series Race).That Ford was given the win on the manufactures list,but to this day a driver didn’t win guiding it (Bobby Allison).Thus,the argument in the wins column Allison 84 or 85?Funny how a car can win without a driver,but it did back in the day!

phil h
04/19/2011 02:03 AM

wasn’t the 60’s…gotta get my facts straight.
okay,it was August 6,1971 the Myers Brother 250 that Allison won in a 1970 Ford Mustang.That was the last Cup Series race ran at Bowman Gray Stadium.

04/21/2011 04:00 PM

If Nemechek is running for the NW championship (he checked that box), then he is in fact a NW regular. He has basically said he runs Cup so that he can fund his NW car. I beleive you are wrong to leave out Joe based on your reasoning.

I find it rather interesting that as beat up as Kyle’s car was, he was still fast enough to win the race. Isn’t aero dynamics of the utmost importance at this track? You can’t tell me that he doesn’t have a horsepower advantage and have me not laugh at that statement.