The Frontstretch: Nationwide Series Breakdown: Drive4COPD 300 by Bryan Davis Keith -- Sunday February 26, 2012

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Nationwide Series Breakdown: Drive4COPD 300

Bryan Davis Keith · Sunday February 26, 2012


After a Truck Series race Friday night that went down as one of the most destructive, unpredictable endings the sport has ever seen, the Nationwide Series came in and one-upped John King’s unlikely win. Over the course of the race’s final 17 laps, three wrecks collecting 23 cars devastated the field. And when an ill-timed block pinched Tony Stewart into the fence, setting off a melee coming to the checkered flag, James Buescher came from 11th place entering turn 4 only to emerge unscathed down the frontstretch, taking his first career NASCAR victory less than 18 hours after his Turner Motorsports Truck team saw a dominant evening go sour late. Brad Keselowski, Elliott Sadler, Cole Whitt and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 5.

In a departure from the other races of Speedweeks so far, tandem drafting was the story of the day Saturday afternoon, with the leaders running two-by-two at the front while a larger pack ran at the back. This package did absolutely nothing to reduce the wrecks that have plagued racing at Daytona for the past week, though, with only 17 cars finishing this event on the lead lap (and at least six of those were crash-damaged coming to the checkers).

Elliott Sadler will leave Daytona as the points leader, since James Buescher has declared for the Truck Series championship race in 2012. By the way, polesitter Danica Patrick finished 38th after spinning out early drafting with teammate Whitt.

Worth Noting

James Buescher came from outside the top 10 through this wreck to score his first career Nationwide Series victory on Saturday.

The Good

For James Buescher, Friday and Saturday could not have been more different days. Driving the No. 31 Truck that he came so close to winning a title with a year ago, he, along with teammates Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Miguel Paludo were the class of the field, leading well over half the race before falling victim to a myriad of crashes that ended the event. Saturday was a far different story. The No. 30 car was, at best a mid-pack entry throughout 300 miles, spending much of the day simply struggling to land a top 15. But this time, when the wrecks came, Buescher got to play the role of John King and take his first career NASCAR win at the world’s center of racing. It’s no secret that Buescher has benefited from his status as the son-in-law of team owner Steve Turner. However, between showing real muscle in his truck and this win, Buescher has demonstrated considerable development as a driver over the course of this Speedweeks.

Richard Childress Racing’s return to the Nationwide Series they used to dominate showed that old habits die hard. Right out of the box, Elliott Sadler and Austin Dillon both scored top-5 finishes to start their 2012 campaigns, with Sadler proving to be one of the strongest cars in the field all afternoon long. With Sadler having come as close as he did to winning the Nationwide crown a season ago and Dillon coming off a Truck Series title of his own, it’s not too early or unreasonable to say that this year’s title chase may well go through RCR’s shop.

Tayler Malsam’s return to NASCAR racing after losing his Truck ride with Randy Moss Motorsports early last year went about as well as he could hope for. Carrying the flag for the four-car Tri-Star Motorsports operation, Malsam was the only one of the organization’s three full-time race teams to bring his car home in one piece, scoring a career-best sixth-place result for his troubles.

Here are some other notable, underdog results worthy of some shout-outs. Benny Gordon equaled his career-best finish of 12th after narrowly making the field; Danny Efland scored his career best in 13th despite having only one and a half set of tires in his pits for the 300-mile race; and Josh Wise finished 14th with no sponsorship after his three teammate cars at Key Motorsports all failed to qualify for this event on Friday.

The Bad

Jason Bowles’ first full-time campaign in the Nationwide Series got off to a short and sour start, with the No. 81 car parked after only 28 laps with a blown engine. Motor problems also ended up plaguing a number of Nationwide Series regulars past and present. Joey Gase’s day ended 12 laps short of the finish when the No. 39 Ford saw its power plant expire, and though J.J. Yeley is a full-time Cup driver for 2012, it is worth noting that what will currently be the last Nationwide Series race for longtime owner Jay Robinson ended in a puff of smoke after only 43 circuits.

Mike Bliss absolutely shocked the field in the early going when teamed up with Joe Nemechek, shooting out of nowhere to lead six laps with his unsponsored No. 44 Chevrolet and having the horses to keep up with the fastest lead tandems in the field. The powerhouse duo ended up being kryptonite for Bliss when it counted, though; on lap 60, Bliss had to check up approaching turn 4 on the backstretch, leaving Nemechek to plow into the back of Bliss’ Chevrolet. The damage was too much for the No. 44 team to repair, leaving them a disappointing 39th.

Jeremy Clements had some horses under the hood as well this Saturday, as both he and Wise were able to crack the top 10 in the draft before mechanical issues forced an extended pit stop for the No. 51 team. Clements was able to avoid crash damage, but ended the day five laps off the pace in 25th.

Defending NNS champion Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished 19th after being collected in the final crash with victory in sight. Not bad in the grand scheme of things, but the Roush Fenway organization has to consider that a disappointing effort, especially with how strong the Fords have run during Speedweeks.

Sam Hornish, Jr. looked less like the Phoenix race winner of last fall and more like the greenhorn open-wheeler he was early in his Cup career when he triggered a massive crash on lap 113, coming down on David Ragan’s nose after scraping the wall in turn 4. The damage wasn’t terrible, as his No. 12 team finished 20th but that’s still not an inspiring start for Penske Racing’s lone title contender.

Bump drafting gone wrong ended Danica Patrick’s full-time Nationwide Series debut well short of the finish.

JR Motorsports may have had Cole Whitt finish fourth, but it came with a price. All three of the team’s cars suffered some form of crash damage over the course of 300 miles. And Whitt will have to deal with the wrath of the team’s new flagship driver in Danica Patrick, who was absolutely irate with the Californian after being bumped entering turn 4 and sent into a spin that destroyed the front end of her car. Danica finished a distant 38th after winning the pole… and based on her tirade on the radio after the incident, there may well be more tension in the shop this week than they’d like to admit.

The Ugly

23 wrecked cars in the final 17 laps of competition. At a minimum, that’s over $2.5 million in damage for Nationwide Series teams to account for. And that’s not even counting crashes earlier in the race. Speaking to Jeremy Clements Friday, the owner/driver noted that an acute shortage of equipment in the Nationwide Series “is always in your mind when you race. We have five cars now (the team ran the entire schedule in 2011 with only three) but we can’t afford to just go out there and wreck them.”

That storyline holds true for a ton of teams in the garage that were not as lucky to avoid crash damage this weekend. And there is no “magic button” solution to the issue. The wreck coming to the checkers was the result of a Cup regular in Joey Logano throwing a banzai block indicative of a driver that doesn’t have repairs to worry about. The crash on lap 113 was triggered by driver error on Sam Hornish, Jr.’s part, getting out of line on the high side in turn 4 and then swiping across David Ragan’s nose. The “Big One” before that was an accordion effect, with Benny Gordon being the catalyst that slammed both Kenny Wallace and Justin Allgaier into the fence after Trevor Bayne nearly lost it up front.

The Cup guys weren’t all to blame. Nor was inexperience. And it certainly wasn’t plate racing’s fault, either. Let’s not forget that the ARCA Series managed to run their season opener without a single “Big One.”

Underdog Performer of the Race: Timmy Hill. This time a year ago, eventual NNS Rookie of the Year Timmy Hill was watching this race, too young at the time to tackle the high banks of Daytona. Now, with a sponsor on board, Hill returned to the superspeedway, avoided the carnage, stayed on the lead lap with or without the crashes… and ended the day with a career-best seventh-place finish. There’s no doubting that Hill improved by leaps and bounds after being thrown into the deep end with Rick Ware Racing last year, and with the addition of teammate Blake Koch (who finished a solid 17th) RWR is poised to make noise they typically haven’t at this level of racing.

Ill-Gotten Gains

Start-and-parkers occupied 2 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $81,531 in purse money.

Cup regulars scored 4 of the top-10 finishing positions in Saturday’s race, occupied 11 of the 43 spots in the field, and took home $542,982 in purse money.

13 of 43 starting positions occupied (30.2%)
$624,524 dollars won
0 of 1 trophies collected (0%)

The Final Word

• James Buescher’s win marks the first time a non-Cup driver has won the season opener at Daytona since Randy LaJoie took the checkers in 2001, driving Ed Evans’ No. 7 Kleenex Pontiac.
• Not to rub salt in wounds… but there’s a lot of drivers that were on the track Saturday that could have saved the car Danica Patrick ended up crashing in turn 4. Cole Whitt is certainly not as guilty as the GoDaddy girl’s wrath would suggest.
• Anybody arguing that the return to pack racing is bad because it causes the “Big One” needs to silently fade away for awhile after Saturday’s race. It’s a form of racing that’s boring to watch, takes control out of drivers’ hands and has the same net destructive potential as the dreaded packs.
• One story that for some odd reason stayed silent for all of Speedweeks in the Nationwide Series garage was an offseason move by NASCAR that increased entry fees for NNS competitors by some 25% over 2011. Over the course of a 33-race schedule, that’s going to translate to almost $10,000 in additional costs for NNS teams even before they take to the race track. “Everything NASCAR’s doing…there’s no sponsors, teams are falling out, and then they raise the f***ing price on entry fees and for people to get in and everything else. What are they thinking?” exclaimed one driver when asked about the change. “It infuriates me. It infuriates a lot of people. [But] as long as they’ve [NASCAR] got Hendrick, Roush, Childress, they’ll keep doing it.” Here’s to 2012, ladies and gents.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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02/26/2012 06:03 AM

Watching the Kenny Wallace special on trying to make the 500, he mentioned that the cost of a Nascar license had gone up from $3k to $8k. Seems like Nascar is going to make their money no matter what the situation is for the teams and drivers.

02/26/2012 06:10 AM

Bryan you nailed it with the logano comment “bonsai block since he doesn’t have to worry about repairs”. This kind of crap has gone on for years now. These cup drivers with their mega million dollar cup teams using the busch series as their own personal playground, driving like reckless stooges. Why won’t any of the busch regular owners have the balls to speak out about this? By the way whatever happened to all the talk about less cup drivers in the minors this year? Sure doesn’t appear that way. Cup drivers please do us all a favor, you’ve made it to the big time, stay there dammit!

02/26/2012 06:16 AM

Yea we keep hearing about the superior car control these cup veterans possess. Then why is it, that they caused the biggest wrecks of the day? Or is it that they could care less about wrecking their car since they have 20 others in the shop to replace while the small budget teams only have maybe 2 or 3, but who cares about them, right? Remember everyone watches the NNS series to see the cup drivers, isn’t that what we’re told?

02/26/2012 11:19 AM

SB, Jeff, and Fred have good remarks to this article. It is a race to see which one destroyes itself. Nascar or Obamas destroying The USof A. After Obama destruction racing will not excist only someone racing to get a piece of stale bread. We need to enjoy racing while it is still here ever how flawed it may be.

02/26/2012 06:30 PM

Logano Blocked? Clearly you need to go back and watch the footage again because that did not happen. Kurt Busch moved up to block and forced logano higher up the track where stewart was, thus causing the cars to wreck…I am not a fan of any of those drivers either, but I just can’t believe you all actually agree on logano causing that wreck when he was pushed up the hill. If Busch stayed on the bottom, then there wouldn’t have been a wreck at that moment, but being the last lap their would be bound to have a wreck somewhere during that lap.

And yes Hornish did move up the track a little but so did a lot of other drivers throughout the day then came back down to protect position. That was just a case of plate racing and I can’t pin it on hornish too much as you could easily say ragan should know to not go 4 wide at daytona especially on the frontstrech. Only place you can possibly do that is the backstretch because of its length but we know disaster is lurking once you get to turn 3. And Ragan had little choice though because if he backed up he would of gotten run over and spun out and big one would have happened either way.

It’s exciting racing and great way to kick off the season as it get’s so much interest from so many people, but glad it is only a few times a year.

Hell we all know we need something to keep us interested after those boring races of the season like pocono, california, michigan, kansas, chicago, texas, and any other track that has been built in the last 20 years where cars barely have to break.

02/26/2012 06:44 PM

Two things:

1) Danica is not the ‘flagship driver’ at JR Motorsports, I certainly think that Whitt will do better.

2) There is no more ‘Key Motorsports’ it is now called The Motorsports Group.

02/27/2012 08:27 AM

Awesome article. You nailed it on point two under “The Final Word.” Hoping to see some reason to get sucked into Danicamania-not seeing it yet. Interesting about the increased entry fees. NASCAR sems to want to make it harder and harder for the (small) teams to compete, while sucking up every dollar they can for themselves. NASCAR management, especially the France family, suck.

Keep writing the great articles.

02/27/2012 10:21 AM

One point missed. Danica finished 38th and was 48-laps down. Johanna Long, in a car that’s no where near as well funded as Danica’s, finished 21st, and was only 1-lap down.

From the beginning of the year, I hoped that Johanna finished ahead of the Supermodel.

Matt L
02/27/2012 01:59 PM

Nice job Bryan. So far 2012 is off to a better start than 2011 in the Nationwide series.

02/29/2012 03:54 PM

Right out of the gate, Brian is taking shots at Danica. Picking up where you left off there Brian?

And to the person saying Joanna Long was a better driver than Danica, then I guess Jimmie Johnson is a terrible driver since he only lasted 2 laps on Monday. Comments like that show just how little you know about racing. Please educate yourself before you make a ridiculous comment like that.