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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2008 Federated Auto Parts 300 at Nashville

In a Nutshell: Saturday’s race was dubbed the “Opportunity 300,” the first of numerous standalone events for the Nationwide Series this summer – and a number of drivers took advantage, making runs at their first career wins. But while Joey Logano was untouchable in the early going, and David Stremme ran up front all race long, it was Brad Keselowski in the No. 88 who cashed in, scoring his first career NASCAR victory on the 1.33-mile speedway. Stremme, David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer all stayed out on the track trying to stretch their fuel to the end, but a late-race caution allowed Keselowski – who took four tires later in the race – to run down the leaders and score JR Motorsports’ second series victory this season.

Keselowski was able to celebrate in victory lane with much of his family, as brother Brian Keselowski was also in town after attempting to qualify for Saturday’s event (he spun on his qualifying lap and DNQ’d). Meanwhile, the second leg of a vaunted “tripleheader” weekend didn’t go so well for Kyle Busch; he finished three laps down in 20th after dealing with a flat tire. Bowyer’s strong fourth-place finish allowed him to retain the series points lead, which now stands at 166 points over second-place Reutimann.

Who Should Have Won: Nationwide Series regulars. While Brad Keselowski’s team was well due for their first win, the regulars of the Nationwide Series performed extremely well on Saturday as a whole, and one from their camp definitely deserved the victory. Besides Keselowski, who was by far the fastest car at the end of the race, numerous other series regulars ran up front. Logano won the pole and led 64 laps. Stremme ran with Bowyer and Reutimann to race’s end, bumping Bowyer out of his way to score a runner-up finish. Mike Wallace finished sixth, his best run of the season with his new Germain Racing team. Even development drivers enjoyed a strong outing, with Kelly Bires, Landon Cassill and Chase Miller finishing eighth, ninth and 11th. The Nationwide Series field shone brightly on a Saturday night where the track truly was theirs, and they all deserved the guitar that Brad Keselowski brought home.

Worth Noting

Mark Green has markedly improved the performance of ML Motorsports’ No. 70 effort since he took the helm, and that improvement continued to show on Saturday. Attempting their first race as a team since Richmond, Green and his No. 70 crew qualified in the top 20, stayed on the lead lap the entire race and scored a 14th-place finish for the night. This part-time team has already posted impressive results this season, including qualifying fourth at Richmond and finishing fifth at Talladega. You have to wonder what some sponsor dollars could do for this group.

Stremme has become a fixture in this column, and with Keselowski now off the victory snide, all eyes have to turn to the No. 64 team and Stremme as the Nationwide Series’ next first-time winner. Stremme has taken RWI’s upstart team and turned them into a contender week in and week out, also improving his confidence as a driver himself in the process. This weekend, while running third, Stremme put a bumper to series points leader Bowyer on the last lap of the race to score a runner-up finish – his sixth top 10 in the last seven races – and moved up two spots to eighth in the driver standings. Steve Wallace was a contender in RWI equipment at Kentucky last year, so look for Stremme to be among the favorites there next week as well.

Mike Wallace and his No. 7 team said that they stumbled upon something at the Charlotte test that improved their cars as a whole, and if the last two weeks have been any indication… it was a big something they found. Wallace and his Germain team ran in the top 10 nearly all race on Saturday, scoring a season best sixth-place finish, and each week are looking more and more like the team that has dominated the Craftsman Truck Series. This improvement couldn’t come at a better time for Wallace, either… his best track, Daytona, is just a few weeks away.

This certainly isn’t a positive, but the arrogance of Sprint Cup regulars taking part in the Nationwide Series has been rampantly demonstrated over the last month and needs to be addressed. At Darlington, Busch chewed out Brad Keselowski because Kyle tried to drive full speed on the turn 1 apron. At Charlotte, Denny Hamlin whined that Brad Keselowski wouldn’t roll over and play dead for him, a Cup regular interloping in the series. Then at Dover, Busch referred to Jason Leffler as a teammate who couldn’t handle being number two. But Nashville may have been worst of all. Greg Biffle whined that Nationwide regulars had the nerve to put him in the middle of three-wide action, while Bowyer was busy chastising Stremme. “There is a reason he is back in the Nationwide Series,” said Bowyer after finishing fourth. Why was Bowyer so upset? Because Stremme had the nerve to “bump the points leader.”

It’s bad enough that Cup regulars are still raiding the series week in and week out of its trophies and purse money, but to see the stars of stock car racing sound like male Danica Patricks because their fellow drivers on the playground are actually racing them is sickening. Can’t handle the heat of the Nationwide Series? Get out.

Better Luck Next Time

Baker-Curb Motorsports has struggled this season, and their performance at Nashville was not what they were hoping for at their home track. Brad Coleman, whose No. 27 carried the race title sponsor’s colors this weekend, qualified extremely well, but found himself falling back immediately following the green flag. A blown tire sent Coleman into the wall hard and early, and he ended up with a 35th-place finish. Coleman now sits a disappointing 17th in the points standings. Meanwhile, the team’s second, unsponsored car managed to finish 18th, but was a moving chicane all race long with Burney Lamar behind the wheel. On the plus side, this was the first race in awhile that the No. 37 actually ran the distance.

Braun Racing saw both of its cars find trouble again this weekend, with Busch and Leffler both victims of multiple tire failures. Busch struggled home to finish three laps down in 20th, while Leffler wound up six laps down in 26th. Leffler, once among the strongest of the Nationwide Series regulars, has fallen to 10th in points and is losing ground to a consistent Jason Keller in the standings. This weekend also marked the third in a row where the Braun team found itself with at least one mangled racecar to fix.

Underdog Performer of the Race

Earlier in the week, there was a question mark as to whether Kevin Lepage and his No. 61 team would even be at the racetrack. The team, which has run without sponsorship all season, landed some sponsor money from Nashville-based Core Solvents, and managed to keep their streak of attempted races in the series alive. After qualifying 36th, Lepage and his team found themselves behind the wall early, but this hardship didn’t prevent the team from returning to the track nearly 20 laps down and running the race to the checkered flag. Lepage finished in 29th, 23 laps down, but maintained his top-20 position in the driver standings. The No. 61 team has been the model that underfunded teams in the Nationwide Series should be following, and it was a pleasure to see them find the money they needed to contest Nashville. Here’s hoping they make it to Kentucky.

Quotables

“I don’t know if it’s a monkey off my back. I don’t know that I’ve been here that long. It’s not like I came into this sport winning. I feel like I paid some dues. I did some stuff with lower-level teams. When you’re doing that with lower-level teams and you’re breaking down every week and you’re blowing up or whatever it is that happens, you always question yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and then, when you catch that break like I did to drive for Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. and the U.S. Navy Chevrolet, that kind of validates or vindicates you. I’ve got a team that keeps getting better every week, and I keep getting better every week to go with it. I felt like this was just a matter of time.” – Brad Keselowski on his first career Nationwide Series win

“The good thing is, our bad luck is still leaving us in the top 10. That’s a lot better than having bad luck and not finishing.” – Kelly Bires on his eighth-place finish

“I just wanted to tell him his driver did an awesome job.” – Bobby Hamilton Jr. after a verbal confrontation with Landon Cassill’s crew chief after a wreck on the racetrack

Up Next: The Nationwide Series heads to Kentucky this Saturday night for the Meijer 300. Coverage from the Bluegrass State begins at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN2 and 8:30 p.m. on MRN.

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