One of the fastest races in recent Nationwide Series memory saw Brad Keselowski all but untouchable on Saturday afternoon, leading 158 of 200 circuits in cruising to an easy win, his third of the season. Keselowski, despite stroking it the final 10 laps or so, finished over eight seconds ahead of Carl Edwards. Polesitter Brian Scott, Aric Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top 5.
The race was stopped by caution flags only three times, with the final 131 laps of the afternoon run under green; only 10 cars were on the lead lap by race’s end. In terms of the title chase, the contenders largely held serve, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson all scoring top 10 finishes (eighth, sixth and 10th respectively). As a result, the standings changes were minimal; Stenhouse left Chicago with a 14 point lead, as the field comes to six races to go in the 2011 season.
Though it was a minimal gain of two points, it was still a victory for Elliott Sadler to gain ground on Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. this weekend for two reasons. One, with his second consecutive top-10 finish, Sadler and his team have all but put to rest the notion that their uncertain future with the demise of KHI is going to be any sort of distraction during this final run to Homestead. Two, to see the No. 2 beat the No. 6 on an intermediate oval has been a rarity in 2011…and something that Sadler is going to have to do more than once given there’s multiple races to go on the 1.5-mile circuits before the season is over. Two points isn’t huge, but incrementally, two points a race, give or take here and there, will have Sadler right up there with Stenhouse when the Nationwide guys head to south Florida.
Brian Scott has had about as disappointing a 2011 as anyone in the Nationwide ranks, but still is reportedly going to be back at Joe Gibbs Racing for 2012. If runs like Saturday are any indication, Scott may have learned enough this year to make some noise in his sophomore campaign with the organization. With Kyle Busch out of the No. 18 seat, Scott not only won the pole, but capitalized on mid-race tire strategy to get into back into the top 5 after an early fade and stay there. Finishing third, Scott was by far the best performing JGR entry, and gained a spot in the point standings for his trouble on a career day.
Sam Hornish Jr.‘s fifth-place finish was impressive enough, but the former Cup regular has to be wondering what could have been; Hornish was even further up in the top 5 before a dropped lug nut during the final cycle of green flag stops led to a 22+ second visit to pit road, and an immense amount of lost track position. Still, the aggression Hornish showed storming through traffic after that bad stop, coupled with yet another composed performance all afternoon, shows just how much talent the forgotten driver at Penske really has honed in his time in stock cars. ESPN’s broadcast noted that sponsor Alliance Truck Parts was considering a full-season run in 2012…they may well be on to something with that idea.
Aric Almirola finished fourth, put more ground between himself and Justin Allgaier for fourth in points, and now has a realistic shot at overtaking Reed Sorenson for third by year’s end. Considering how the No. 88 team was all but a non-factor early this year, that’s quite the finish to the 2011 campaign.
David Stremme can’t be expected to be a miracle worker for the small-time ML Motorsports operation, but a five-laps-down performance that results in a 26th place finish is not what the No. 70 team is capable of. An organization that’s made a habit of stealing top-15, top-20 results whenever they take to the track was decidedly out of form this Saturday; the result was the worst for the team in 2011 that didn’t involve mechanical failure, and was a big step back from the two laps down, 19th place effort Scott Wimmer recorded for the team at this same track earlier in the summer.
Speaking of Scott Wimmer, though it’s always good to see the longtime Nationwide regular find a ride he can run the distance in, his debut with MacDonald Motorsports’ No. 81 team was less than impressive. Not only was Wimmer’s 30th place result 20 laps off the pace, the worst for the team on an oval since regular drive Blake Koch had an engine fail at Charlotte way back in May, Wimmer also failed to outrun the same Koch, who took the wheel of Jimmy Means’ No. 52 car this weekend to make way for Wimmer. It was Wimmer’s worst result in a race he didn’t start-and-park since Fontana back in the spring.
Derrike Cope didn’t end up finishing too much better than the growing list of start-and-park cars the Jay Robinson Racing organization fielded at Chicago, as an engine failure parked the No. 28 after completing only 131 circuits. Cope finished 32nd, his worst result since another engine failure back at Texas. Between that and Angela Cope‘s DNQ, it wasn’t much of a weekend for the Cope clan.
Ten cars were parked by the time they had completed 22 circuits on Saturday. Not a single one were a victim of crash damage or engine failure.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Mike Bliss It was more of the same for the longtime veteran, another solid result that brought home equipment in one piece and carried the flag for a Tri-Star Motorsports operation that has managed to keep a second car running all season long with minimal sponsorship. By the numbers as well, Bliss has now scored three consecutive top-15 finishes, the first such streak of 2011 for the No. 19 team and the first for Bliss since posting three top 10s to close the 2009 season driving for the now defunct CJM Racing operation.
Start-and-parkers occupied 10 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $139,808 in purse money.
Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored 4 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 7 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s field, and took home $222,320 in purse money.
360 of 1,195 starting positions occupied (30.1%)
$7,730,982 dollars won
24 of 28 trophies collected (85.7%)
The Final Word: Who You Didn’t See
- Blake Koch finished 27th driving the No. 52 car for the first time in his career; no word as to whether or not this is more than a one race deal to give Scott Wimmer a shot or if the Daystar-backed driver is shopping his sponsor dollars around. Frontstretch earlier reported in an interview with Koch at Daytona that while he would be back in the NNS for 2012 with the Daystar sponsorship, the team that he’d race for was undecided.
- 2010 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Kevin Conway ran his seventh NNS event of the year Saturday, finishing 24th for the third time in 2011.
- JJ Yeley start-and-parked the No. 27 car under the Go Canada Racing banner; the No. 27 car was last seen at the track back at Fontana early in the spring. Though Baker/Curb Racing never officially folded, to see the No. 27 showing up under a different banner and start-and-parking without a sponsor shows that the longtime NNS organization may well be the latest to join ppc Racing, Lewis Motorsports and others as former regulars in the sport that just didn’t make it.
The Final Word
- This in no way meant to be a knock on Ryan Truex, who should be racing full time at this level now and in 2012. But ESPN has got to stop making a big deal of Joe Gibbs Racing’s NNS entries storming from the back of the field to the front in the hurry. Face it, cars that have Cup drivers in them the majority of the time and operating budgets of $150,000 a race damn well better pick off the backmarkers in a big time hurry. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano did this for years when they were jetted in to run standalone races on Cup weekends, it’s nothing new, and it’s nothing to be unexpected.
- Anyone else notice how the first words out of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s mouth during pre-race remarks today were to stress how jacked up he was to have won the Nationwide Dash for Cash at Richmond last weekend? Funny, because last weekend at Richmond, his remarks after winning that same Dash were a lot more subdued…because he won a bonus despite not winning a race. Get the feeling that someone at Roush proverbially smacked him upside the head and told him to be more sponsor-friendly?
- Add Jay Robinson Racing to the list of teams fielding multiple start-and-park cars on a given weekend. Look, it makes sense to add numbers if a team is already taking the haulers out there; Key Motorsports, for example, is fielding three start-and-park cars because the team already owned two haulers and built over a dozen cars for 2011 anticipating sponsorship that never materialized. But again, there are now three teams in the Nationwide field that combined are filling nearly 20% of the field with these cars. It’s hard to put a positive spin on that, especially considering that two entries that were planning to race the distance went home on Saturday afternoon.
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