The Nationwide Series has been plagued by buzzkills and unexciting races in 2013, but at Saturday’s Alliance Truck Parts 250, the series put on one of, if not the best race of its season.
Regan Smith became the first Nationwide regular to win two races, pacing the field for the final 14 laps en route to the victory. He held off a strong charge from rookie Kyle Larson, who finished second for the second time this season and will almost undoubtedly become a first-time winner in the near future.
The final battle for the lead was fantastic and featured two regulars of the series, with Paul Menard lurking in third in his first Nationwide race of the season, piloting Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33. Kyle Busch led no laps during the day and could only manage fourth, while last week’s winner Trevor Bayne came home fifth.
Brad Sweet, Chris Buescher, Elliott Sadler, Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Brian Scott rounded out the top 10.
Austin Dillon won the pole and led a race-high 61 laps, but faded to 20th after late-race issues within the final few circuits. Brian Vickers also struggled after an accident, finishing a disappointing 33rd. Fellow championship contender Sam Hornish, Jr. came home just one spot better, running 32nd after an engine failure caused by debris hitting underneath the car.
Smith’s win and Hornish’s misfortune extends the JR Motorsports driver’s championship lead to 58. Justin Allgaier, meanwhile, now sits 59 behind in third after a solid 12th-place finish.
Man, how about Regan Smith? After losing a Cup ride and leaving many to wonder if his best days were behind him, the JR Motorsports driver is tearing up the Nationwide Series this year, with two wins and top 10s in all but two races. It’s certainly tough to call his points lead insurmountable; after all, Sam Hornish, Jr. had a sizable cushion early in the season that has since disappeared considerably. But seeing Smith finally excel and become the star of a series feels very rewarding.
125 laps, and only 30 were led by a non-Nationwide regular. Joey Logano paced the field for 30, but otherwise, the series regulars took over and went to town. Two straight weeks of this dominance? I could (but probably won’t be able to) get used to it.
What was actually bad about this race? I guess, besides feeling super short, Sam Hornish Jr. and Brian Vickers having problems is disappointing. It’s obviously part of the game, but Hornish and Vickers remaining in the championship hunt helps the series; if the Cup dominance comes back, the battle for the title is going to be the big thing to watch (as if it wouldn’t be already, but still). The more in contention until the end, the better. We’ll see how the next few weeks go. Hornish is still very much there, but Vickers is now a distant 100 points behind after some very bad mechanical and on-track luck.
I’m not gonna lie — this race didn’t have anything truly horrible going on with it, at least by my vantage point. Best race of the season? I’d say yes, eclipsing the Talladega race a few weeks back. The winner there? Regan Smith.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Brad Sweet isn’t exactly a major underdog given his (part-time) employment at JR Motorsports, but a sixth-place finish isn’t too bad at all, especially considering it was his first top-10 result all season, after a previous best of 12th. Moving to a new team (from Turner Motorsports) is probably tough, but Sweet may have finally figured it out in the No. 5 Chevy.
Start-and-parkers occupied five of the 39 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $64,472 in purse money.
Cup regulars scored two of the top-10 finishing positions, occupied four of the 40 starting positions, and took home $67,841 in purse money.
The Final Word
Regan Smith and Kyle Larson put on a show during the closing laps at Michigan, showing for the second week in a row the kind of circuit the Nationwide Series could be… if Cup regulars were limited to less races. But that’s just beating a dead horse, isn’t it?
The series might be getting good. After a few months of asking, “Do I even need to watch this?” I think Nationwide might be regaining a few scorned fans here and there, as long as it can keep up this current trend of solid competition. Plus, Regan Smith, a fairly likable driver, is the new king of the series (for now). Sam Hornish, Jr. is second. Justin Allgaier is third. All are within 60 points of each other.
The Nationwide Series has been OK if one can look for the beauty in certain things. Now, that beauty might be coming out in fuller force.
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