In a Nutshell: Last week at the Glen, Brad Keselowski served Clint Bowyer notice that he was in for a battle for the Nationwide Series title. This weekend, Carl Edwards joined the dogfight. After scoring the pole Saturday morning, Edwards dominated the Nationwide Series race at Michigan, leading 71 of 125 laps to convincingly score his third victory of the season in this series over Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart. Edwards’s win marked the first Nationwide Series victory for Roush Fenway Racing at MIS since Jeff Burton in 1998. And besides his usual backflip, Edwards also made a classy move following the event, giving his trophy to the race’s grand marshal, Make-a-Wish kid Eric Wright.
The race was the first in which the true effect of NASCAR’s limitations on Toyota motors was visible. While Toyota drivers Stewart, Vickers and Joey Logano all enjoyed stellar runs, none of these drivers were able to drive away from the field as had been seen throughout the earlier parts of the Nationwide season. Toyota drivers Vickers and David Reutimann each made remarks during and after the event speaking as to the influence the loss of horsepower was having on their efforts.
The points chase in the Nationwide Series also grew closer after Saturday’s race, as Edwards’s win moved him into second in the standings, only 113 points behind leader Bowyer. Bowyer finished one position ahead of Keselowski in Saturday’s running order, and now sits 132 markers ahead of the No. 88 driver. Full-time competitors Reutimann and David Ragan both lost ground after finding trouble during the race; Reutimann was wrecked by Bowyer, while Ragan spun into the turn 2 wall on his own midway through the event.
Who Should Have Won: Edwards. The fastest car won the race on Saturday. New crew chief Drew Blickensderfer has led the No. 60 team to three wins in his short time with the team, and has Edwards well in contention for a second consecutive series title.
Mike Bliss has been all but Mr. Consistency since taking over the No. 1 of Phoenix Racing. Bliss has taken the Miccosukee Resorts team from a mid-pack entry to a fixture in the Nationwide Series top 10, and with his sixth-place run on Saturday, Bliss moved into fourth in the series points standings, ahead of Cup regulars Reutimann and Ragan. Bliss, currently second among Nationwide regulars, has now scored 10 top-10 finishes in the No. 1 car this season.
Cale Gale’s 19th-place finish was in no way indicative of how the Alabama short-track ace ran on Saturday. After starting on the outside pole, Gale ran in the top 10 throughout the early and middle portions of the race, running clean and competitively with a plethora of Cup regulars. The only thing that kept Gale from scoring a top 10 in his first MIS run was an untimely caution during green-flag pit stops that put his No. 33 team a lap down. Still, Gale was the first car to finish one lap behind, and good finish or not his run showed just far this prospect has come with regard to speedway racing.
JTG Racing followed up their first Nationwide Series win in years with a solid outing on the oval of MIS. Marcos Ambrose, eager to show that he’s talented on more than road courses, used the high side of the track to come from behind late and score a 12th-place finish for his No. 59 team. That maintained his top-10 points position, while teammate Kelly Bires also enjoyed a strong run and earned a finish to match – bringing his No. 47 Ford home ninth. Bires’s top 10 moved him to within 33 points of Steve Wallace and 13th place in the Nationwide standings.
I try not to mention the Cup drivers in this column, but Bowyer’s post-race comments have got to be brought to light. After fading late in the race and finishing a disappointing 10th, Bowyer was noticeably frustrated when interviewed. But his utter refusal to take responsibility for his contact with Reutimann that severely damaged the No. 99 Toyota was more noticeable. Bowyer, who earlier this season bashed David Stremme at Nashville for having the nerve “to touch the points leader,” lashed out at Reutimann, even though video made it clear that Bowyer’s No. 2 hiked up the track while Reutimann’s No. 99 held its line. According to Bowyer, when racing side by side, it’s the job of the guy on the outside to move up the track to give the guy on the bottom room – not the responsibility of the driver passing low to make sure they can clear the car on their outside.
How depressing is it that a guy with this attitude towards the Nationwide Series and its competitors may well be its champion? And what does this pouting say about Bowyer as a driver, who in both Nationwide and Cup is now in the longest slumps of his career? One has got to wonder when Bowyer will actually accept that NASCAR’s second-tier series is not going to simply roll over and give him a title.
Better Luck Next Time
After running much of the early part of the season with Jay Robinson Racing, Robert Richardson left to drive for his father’s R3 Motorsports team. Richardson made his debut with the No. 23 car at Charlotte, and while they were much more competitive than the No. 4 team at Jay Robinson Racing, Richardson found trouble early in the race and finished near the back. Saturday at MIS was the same story for the R3 organization. Richardson was again more competitive than his previous ride, but found the wall 57 laps into the event. Richardson’s 35th-place finish was not the run this unsponsored team was looking for.
With an ARCA victory under his belt at MIS, Steve Wallace and his No. 66 team had MIS circled as a venue to shine at. By the end of the first lap, those hopes were gone. Coming out of turn 2 during the race’s first circuit, Wallace was tagged from behind by Bliss and was unable to keep his car off of the inside wall. The front end of the No. 66 was heavily damaged, requiring 2/3rds of the race for the team to fix it. Wallace still managed to complete 40 circuits but finished a distant 38th.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Despite having few cars and no sponsors, Brian Keselowski again turned in a solid performance in Nationwide Series competition – this time on his family’s unofficial home track. After racing his way into the event, the older brother of standout Brad Keselowski managed to complete all but one lap of the 125-lap race, scoring a solid 24th-place finishing position despite fighting handling problems all race long. In his limited starts this season, the elder Keselowski has continually emphasized running clean and getting noticed, and while his break has yet to come, there’s no doubting that he and his crew are getting everything they can out of their limited resources. Watch for this team as a sleeper to run well at Bristol next weekend… the elder Keselowski has scored top 15s with the No. 92 at both the ORP and Memphis short tracks.
“We ran great today. There were a couple of cars that were really fast. Tony [Stewart] was real fast and Brian Vickers was extremely fast. The changes my crew made were great and they made our car real fast for the final run, and Tony was having that trouble on pit road or whatever happened to him. It was sure a lot easier to pass him there [on pit road] than it would have been on the racetrack. We came out first, our guys did a great job, and it went green the rest of the way.” – Carl Edwards on his third Nationwide Series win of the season
“There’s no secret I love the big ovals. That’s where I’m comfortable; that’s where we’ve been the strongest. We came here looking to run in the top 10 all day, and we did that. It was a flawless day for this Clorox team.” – Kelly Bires after a stellar top-10 run
“I think we had a better car, but with the new Toyota restrictor plate NASCAR put on us, he [Carl Edwards] definitely had us beat on power. There’s not a lot we can do about that.” – Brian Vickers on his second-place run in the No. 32 Toyota
Up Next: The NASCAR Nationwide Series next heads to Thunder Valley and the Bristol Motor Speedway. Coverage under the lights of the Food City 250 begins at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN and 8 p.m. on MRN.