One shouldn’t be fooled by the nine lead changes that show up on the scoresheet. Or that the pass for the win occurred inside 15 laps to go. In reality, this race was over almost as soon as it began. In leading 173 laps, Brad Keselowski delivered the most dominating performance the Nationwide Series has seen in recent memory, winning at Kansas Saturday after passing Carl Edwards (who was on four fresh tires) despite having only scuffs for the final run. Keselowski averaged a lead between eight and 11 seconds for much of the afternoon, with Edwards, Elliott Sadler, Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounding out the top 5.
Third-place driver Reed Sorenson secured a ride in the 25th hour after being unexpectedly released from Turner Motorsports earlier this week, but effectively found himself out of the title hunt after struggling to a 26th place result driving a second car for MacDonald Motorsports. Apart from that, the event proved to have scarce impact on the championship standings, with Sadler making up two points on leader Stenhouse after narrowly holding off teammate Menard during the final green flag run to the checkers.
Joey Logano finished seventh driving the No. 18 car in place of Kyle Busch, a significant result in that it allowed Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 car to close within seven markers of the lead in the owner point standings.
Elliott Sadler needed to make up more ground on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. than he did by race’s end this Saturday, but the third-place showing the No. 2 team did deliver was a huge shot in the arm coming a week after the team’s disastrous showing at Dover (they won the pole, but dropped like a rock and were a non-factor in their sponsor’s title race). In being the top finishing Nationwide Series regular and making up some (albeit a little) ground on the No. 6 team on an intermediate track that favors the Roush camp, Sadler did very well to keep his title hopes alive. Problem is, the majority of the rest of this season will be contested on similar race tracks, and two positions a race isn’t going to get it done.
Speaking of Stenhouse, the points leader did exactly what he needed to on Saturday, delivering a quiet top-5 performance. And it could have been more…or a disaster. Stenhouse’s No. 6 Mustang showed all the strength one would expect of a Roush Fenway entry on a 1.5 mile oval, but a mid-race speeding penalty on pit road put Stenhouse back in the pack. Climbing back to the top 5 was impressive on its own right, but more than anything else, Stenhouse took about as good a shot as KHI and the No. 2 squad could deliver, and lost next to no standing doing it. They’re still clearly the favorites with four races to go.
Ryan Truex finished 10th, his third top 10 finish in his last four starts with Joe Gibbs Racing. His average finish since taking the wheel of the No. 20 has been a solid 9.2, with no results outside the top 15.
This is one trip home to the Midwest that the Wallace family will soon want to forget. Kenny Wallace finished 19th and was a non-factor all day. Steve Wallace was just as insignificant over the course of the afternoon en route to finishing 20th. The No. 66 team is showing few signs of life at a critical point in their season; sponsor 5 Hour Energy is leaving after 2011 to sponsor Clint Bowyer at the Cup level, leaving Rusty Wallace, Incorporated’s flagship team and driver with no backing heading into next year. They’re going to have to start showing something, and fast, to help with that venture. The only Wallace to actually make some sort of waves on track this weekend was Mike Wallace, and his came when he lost the back end of his car entering turn 1 less than 10 laps into the event. Mike was able to keep his No. 01 off the fence, but triggered an accordion behind him that sent Eric McClure into the wall; the smoke cloud also blinded Derrike Cope, who suffered significant left front damage after hitting McClure in the aftermath. Wallace finished 24th.
Rick Ware Racing had three of its four cars park early as is their custom, but Timmy Hill joined start-and-park teammates Matt Carter, Johnny Chapman and Carl Long in the garage well short of the finish; the motor blew up in his No. 15 over 100 circuits short of the finish. Hill finished 34th, losing more ground in the Rookie of the Year battle to both Blake Koch and Truex.
Reed Sorenson was certainly lucky to land a ride in MacDonald Motorsports’ No. 82 car for this weekend after his release from the No. 32 team, but reality quickly set in that Sorenson’s chances at winning the 2011 crown, or even holding off Aric Almirola for third in the standings, are done. Driving a car that was originally meant for Scott Wimmer (Sorenson remarked post-race that the seat did not quite fit him correctly for the entire 300 miles on Saturday), driver and team were able to make significant strides with their car…but significant strides translated into a 26th place run, multiple laps off the pace.
Both Derrike Cope and Eric McClure waded through long days after their involvement in Mike Wallace’s early spin, finishing seven laps down in 30th and 12 laps down in 31st, respectively.
While Danica Patrick continued earning accolades as the Second Coming for her 15th place run, the other woman in the field didn’t have such a pleasant drive in the country. Angela Cope was woefully off the pace in the No. 23 car until a wreck inside of 30 to go that saw her lose the rear end of her machine and back into the turn 2 wall. The extensive damage to the rear end of her car was enough to end her day in 32nd.
Saturday certainly wasn’t a banner day for Key Motorsports. Tim Andrews failed to qualify in the team’s No. 42 car, Charles Lewandoski and Chase Miller were both parked by lap 10 or so, and the team’s primary driver,Josh Wise, suffered a terminal engine failure of his own scarcely 40 laps after Timmy Hill’s. Wise finished 33rd in yet another disappointing chapter of life after JR Motorsports; he’s fallen victim to mechanical failure in his last four starts behind the wheel of the team’s No. 40 car.
Underdog Performer of the Race: David Stremme Qualifying sixth marked Stremme’s best time trial effort in the series since starting fifth in the fall race at Texas…way back in 2008. It also marked the best qualifying result for ML Motorsports since Shelby Howard started fifth at Talladega last spring. What’s more, Stremme translated that speed into a strong showing at Kansas, finishing 14th and on the lead lap. The 2003 Rookie of the Year has posted three top-15 results in his last five races driving for the team, continuing a multi-year stretch of the Indiana-based team proving to be among the class of the independents in Nationwide competition. This is still a team to watch. With sponsor dollars still drying up on the NNS circuit, part-timers are likely going to become more commonplace. That or they’ll disappear entirely.
Start-and-parkers occupied 9 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s field, taking home $125,318 in purse money.
Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored 6 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 8 of the 43 starting positions in the field, and took home $276,351 in purse money.
395 of 1,281 starting positions occupied (30.8%)
$8,440,556 dollars won
26 of 30 trophies collected (86.7%)
Who You Didn’t See
Jeremy Clements, Kevin Lepage and Joey Gase all ran the distance on Saturday and were not mentioned in any capacity during ESPN’s telecast. In addition, Steven Wallace, Michael Annett, Mike Bliss, Blake Koch and Morgan Shepherd were mentioned only as lap traffic or in passing.
The Final Word
- This column tries to avoid discussing Cup drivers and issues, but there is something gravely wrong with any purse structure that can pay second-place finisher Carl Edwards more money as runner-up than Brad Keselowski won for leading 173 laps and scoring the trophy.
- Anyone else disappointed/annoyed to hear Elliott Sadler chastising teammate Paul Menard over the radio in the closing laps for actually racing him hard to the finish? Who the hell cares if you are racing for a championship, it’s not Paul Menard’s job to run obstruction and back off. Teamwork in that form has no place in motorsports.
- It was a shame to see Scott Wimmer lose out on a chance to race this weekend in the No. 82, but a tip of the cap to MacDonald Motorsports for fielding a car for Reed Sorenson.
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