The Frontstretch: Nationwide Series Breakdown: NAPA 200 by Bryan Davis Keith -- Monday August 20, 2012

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Nationwide Series Breakdown: NAPA 200

Bryan Davis Keith · Monday August 20, 2012

 

It took more than a year, but Justin Allgaier finally found redemption for his fuel mileage shortcomings at Road America a season ago. In yet another Montreal race dotted with late-race yellows, Allgaier capitalized when leader Jacques Villeneuve got complacent in turn 6 trying to save fuel, bumped the No. 22, and took the lead for good. It was his third career Nationwide Series win, scoring a Sunday sweep for Turner Motorsports (Nelson Piquet Jr. had scored the Truck win at Michigan earlier in the day). Sam Hornish Jr., Villeneuve, Elliott Sadler, and Ron Fellows rounded out the top 5.

Justin Allgaier, in the No. 31 car, won his third Nationwide Series race on Sunday, though he only led in the final lap.

Being out front proved to be treacherous throughout the day, as Allgaier led only the final lap. Danica Patrick led a career-high 20 circuits early before suffering mechanical troubles with the rear suspension; ESPN cameras indicated that the No. 7 car ran over debris thrown from a fan prior to suffering issues, though it was never resolved as to whether the debris in fact caused the car’s issues. That handed the lead for the majority of the afternoon to Villeneueve, whose No. 22 team opted to stay out and stretch fuel. The decision led Villeneueve to take a conservative line on the final lap, handing the win to Allgaier.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was running as high as second during the first green-white-checker attempt before spinning himself trying to pass for the lead. He ended up 12th, allowing Sadler to maintain the points lead heading to Bristol. Sam Hornish Jr. is tied for second with Stenhouse at 22 markers back, with Austin Dillon 35 back in fourth after a quiet ninth place finish.

Worth Noting

The Good

Justin Allgaier’s win still left him 68 markers out of the points lead and behind four other drivers as the summer stretch winds down. But even if it doesn’t catapult him into late title contention, this victory was a big deal for both driver and the No. 31 team, who have officially shaken off their ugly start to the 2012 campaign. The win marks the third consecutive season with a victory for Allgaier. More importantly, the win represents the team’s only full-time Nationwide competitor on the board in a season that’s already seen Truck regulars James Buescher and Nelson Piquet, Jr. score trophies. Getting the W, and with sponsor Brandt on board, will go a long way towards ensuring that driver and team will get another go at the title in 2013… no matter how disappointing 2012 has been.

Penske Racing was undoubtedly the class of the field north of the border, as Jacques Villeneuve and Sam Hornish Jr. finished 2-3 and led 47 of the 81 laps contested. Villeneuve showed no signs of slowing after taking a beating in the press following a well-publicized run-in with Danica Patrick at Road America back in June, doing a masterful job in saving enough fuel to finish the race, much less finish third doing it (equaling his career-best). Hornish, on the other hand, rebounded after getting bowled over by Michael McDowell mid-race, shaking off right-rear fender damage to further close the gap in the title race.

Road ringer Ron Fellows turned in a fifth place effort, making him the only driver outside of Hornish to score top 5 finishes in all three road course events in 2012. Hats off to Roush Fenway road racer Billy Johnson as well, who finished eighth but was challenging for the win before being forced to pit road late for fuel.

Mike Bliss finished 13th despite crash damage… Tayler Malsam responded to being pulled from his ride a week ago at Watkins Glen with a 14th place result, his best finish since the season opener at Daytona… Erik Darnell finished a solid 16th despite running off course late in the event to avoid one of the countless melees… Eric McClure* came home 19th even after stopping on track earlier in the race.

The Bad

Polesitter Alex Tagliani had moments of brilliance over the course of the afternoon, but faded when the race was decided, finishing a distant 22nd getting knocked out of the way after making a dive-bomb move for third on a late restart.

Brian Scott’s hard luck campaign this year continued on multiple fronts. Scott got spun mid-race but recovered to storm back into the top 10 as the laps wound down. It proved all for naught, as despite his crew chief stating confidently that his driver was among the best at saving fuel, the No. 11 came up dry well short of the finish line. A top 10 car resulted in a 24th place day.

Danica Patrick deserved better than 27th. But since at least 50% of the TV broadcast was about the No. 7 car, there’s little point wasting redundant ink to describe it.

Patrick Carpentier’s decision to retire lasted exactly one year; he returned to contest Saturday’s home event. Retirement apparently wasn’t ready to let him go though; Carpentier was penalized early after missing turns 13 and 14 and not coming to a complete stop, and had mechanical woes set in soon afterwards. The No. 99 team would fix the car and return to the track, but Carpentier’s return to racing ended 12 circuits short of the lead lap.

Jason Bowles saw his streak of top 20 finishes on the road courses snapped after finding a date with the gravel trap in turn 10, finishing 26th… Alex Kennedy’s two-race stint in the No. 87 scored a top 15 finish this Saturday, but proved costly for NEMCO Motorsports, with both cars suffering significant damage at Montreal and the Glen… Team namesake Joe Nemechek finished 30th driving the No. 70 entry filling in on an off-weekend for ML Motorsports, allowing him to maintain 10th in the point standings… Andrew Ranger quietly disappeared in 32nd with suspension issues despite a strong run earlier in the day in the Canadian Tire Series event… Timmy Hill finished sixth in the Canadian race as well, but lasted only 21 laps in the big race after suffering transmission failure that appeared to stem from a missed shift, finishing 36th… Jeremy Clements was visible in the top 10 on multiple occasions throughout this event, but had to settle for 25th after finding the wall in the same spin that collected Tagliani.

The Ugly

Danica Patrick had arguably the best race of her Nationwide Series career going before suffering mechanical woes mid-event that took the No. 7 out of contention. But having said that, one competitor—and the second-place driver at that—does not deserve to have 20+ consecutive minutes of television time dedicated solely to them and breaking down every single square inch of their race car. Between the aggressively harsh tone taken towards Jacques Villeneuve for his actions at Road America and the all-but-equivalent of the broadcast booth slobbering all over the idea that the No. 7 driver actually looked like a stock car racer for once in her career threw objectivity—and the notion of providing race coverage—to the wind. ESPN’s staff ought to be ashamed of themselves; this was easily their worst race broadcast effort since the Carl vs. Kyle Phoenix race a few seasons back.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Mike Wallace Though the majority of his time on camera saw the No. 01 either getting spun or beat up on, Mike Wallace delivered in one of the most unlikely circumstances for the No. 01 team, scoring his first top 10 of the season on a road course. Then again, it’s not really all that unlikely, seeing as how the last top 10 for the No. 01 before Montreal was Road America last season. Prior to that, Wallace hadn’t scored a top 10 in road course racing at the Nationwide level since 1993.

Ill-Gotten Gains

Start-and-parkers occupied 5 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $98,142 in purse money (the No. 08 team ran only 14 laps before parking with suspension issues, no word on whether they in fact start-and-parked or had an issue, as Louis-Phillipe Dumoulin has run this race in the past).

Cup regulars scored 1 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 2 of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, and took home $51,128 in purse money.

Year-to-Date

255 of 946 starting positions occupied (26.9%)
$5,213,237 dollars won
11 of 22 trophies won (50.0%)

The Final Word

• It cost him a ton of points, but kudos to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for having the guts to race for the win, championship considerations be damned. That type of aggression being seen on the track was refreshing, especially after listening to Ricky Craven’s vomit-inducing broadcast analysis of how Elliott Sadler might want to consider letting Jacques Villeneuve ride off into the sunset because of Villeneuve having nothing to lose in terms of points.
• Speaking of Villeneuve analysis, it was hard not to be torn when considering the case of the 1997 F1 world champion and his latest venture into stock car racing. On the one hand, ESPN made it clear from the drop of the green that in the eyes of the broadcast, this man was the evil bully that screwed Danica over at Road America, a reckless wrecking ball that treated the race course as a demolition derby. Never mind the fact that Villeneuve had the exact same thing happen to him at Road America courtesy of Michael McDowell that Danica had happen to her courtesy of Villeneueve. The man is about as accomplished of a racer as they come, and has never been one on the track that needs to be demonized. It’s hard not to root for a guy like that when the deck is stacked, no matter the sport.
• On the other hand, Elliott Sadler seemed to hit on something in his taped segment where he remarked of Villeneuve that “he doesn’t get it,” not being a regular stock car racer. That very truth surfaced at the end of the event, when Villeneuve obstructed race winner Justin Allgaier from celebrating, apparently angry that Allgaier had moved him out of the way despite the fact that Villeneuve had all but stopped on the racing surface entering turn 6. There’s nothing wrong with the way Villeneuve handled himself on the track, but there was nothing wrong with the way Allgaier won either.

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