Despite the best efforts of his pit crew, Kevin Harvick still managed to wheel his way into Las Vegas’s victory lane Saturday, overtaking Denny Hamlin late to score his first win in Sin City since 2004.
And if that statement sounds contradictory, it should.
Harvick got out front to lead the first lap of the race, quickly establishing himself as the class of the field. However, not one, but two lengthy pit stops left the owner/driver mired in traffic, and fuming at a pit crew that he has spent lots of time and money revamping after years of continuous struggles. Harvick’s crew was notably subdued even after taking the checkered flag; instead of jumping up and down celebrating, the team rallied in a circle, vowing to get their act together for the series’ next race at Bristol… assuming they’re all asked back to pit the No. 33.
Hometown driver Kyle Busch was the lone driver in position to make a run at Harvick, only to slap the wall in turn 2 with less than 20 to go. The resulting damage relegated Busch to finishing a disappointing 16th. Busch was last seen sulking back to his hauler alone, pouting about being unable to secure a Nationwide Series trophy at LVMS after winning the Cup race at the same venue one year ago.
Cup regulars dominated the show again, taking every spot in the top five. Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski were third and fourth, respectively, as they currently sit 1-2 in the NNS points. The highest-finishing Nationwide regular was Justin Allgaier, who had another tremendous performance and currently sits fourth in the standings, third among the drivers actually running for the title.
As for Danica Patrick, she finished 36th after getting into a wreck with the already damaged car of Michael McDowell. It was her last race in the series before a four-month break; she’s next scheduled to appear at Loudon the end of June.
One year ago, Allgaier surged onto the Nationwide Series scene in this very race, leading his first career laps and running with the class of the field before late-race contact with the wall upset his No. 12 just enough, relegating him to an eighth-place finish. Apparently, Penske Racing kept meticulous notes from that day, because right from the drop of the green, Allgaier picked up right where he left off… racing with the stars at the front. The sophomore driver ran as high as second, and was running down race leader Hamlin before a late caution bunched up the field and brought Allgaier, who was on older tires, into the clutches of those with fresh rubber. Still, the seventh-place finish he brought home was his third consecutive top 10 to start the season, and a convincing one at that. Plus, it was awful refreshing to see a Nationwide regular able to keep up with the Buschwhackers on a mile-and-a-half.
Imitating Allgaier’s 2009 performance, Trevor Bayne had himself a Vegas coming out party of his own this year. In a race where a plethora of younger prospects found themselves embracing LVMS’s concrete walls, Bayne looked very much like Allgaier did in this race a year ago, catching the guys at the front off guard with his willingness to make three-wide passes and to tackle both the high and treacherous low sides of the high speed circuit. Bayne’s sixth-place finish was easily a career-best, and a sign that this driver has put the bitter disappointment he endured to start the season at Daytona behind him.
Steve Wallace scored his third consecutive top 10 of 2010 and his fifth straight dating back to last November, but the bigger shout-out has to go to his uncle Mike Wallace, who finished 11th driving his JD Motorsports entry. Running the team’s No. 01 car full-time this year with piecemeal sponsorship, Wallace currently sits 12th in Nationwide Series points. Not too shabby a place for this team to be in, especially before they hit what should be a strong point for them at the short track in Bristol.
It was a really, really bad day for NASCAR’s superteams. Joe Gibbs Racing wasn’t dominant on an intermediate for the first time in a long time. But their “struggles” paled compared to those of Roush and Hendrick. Both of Roush’s rookie drivers, running white unsponsored cars, were involved in accidents (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. endured his third consecutive wreck, slapping the wall on the frontstretch, while Colin Braun got punted by Steve Wallace in turn 2 on lap 170). Meanwhile, JR Motorsports endured two wrecked racecars for the second time in three weeks to start 2010, with Patrick pile-driving McDowell’s damaged Dodge and Kelly Bires lasting only six laps before hitting the wall after apparently losing an engine. Count them up… Roush and Hendrick development projects destroyed four racecars on Saturday.
The trials of Stenhouse Jr. and Braun have already been discussed, but it was a nasty day in general for the entire 2010 rookie class. Brian Scott was looking to repeat his top-10 showing, but racing hard with Paul Menard proved to be his undoing; Menard pinched Scott hard, but clean, entering turn 3 and took the air clean off his spoiler, sending the No. 11 Toyota hard into the wall on lap 145 (Scott finished 31st). Then, James Buescher endured what was probably the hardest wreck of the day 20 laps later exiting turn 3 after losing a tire. The resulting damage smashed the entire right side of the No. 1 car to the point that Buescher had a hard time even turning to get it behind pit wall (he finished 29th). And Parker Kligerman lasted only 92 laps before his No. 42 Dodge went behind the wall with mechanical failure.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Scott Riggs. Who would have thought that with no sponsorship, Riggs would take the same car that John Wes Townley drove last year into the top 10 in points?! Well, that’s exactly what happens when you hire a driver capable of finishing the race in one piece. Riggs had another quiet, solid outing, finishing on the lead lap in 14th for his third straight run of 16th or better. Riggs, who is undoubtedly one of the most deserving drivers that still needs a ride (how many other guys walk away from Cup cars because they refuse to start-and-park?), is suddenly beginning to rebuild his career where it once blossomed – the Nationwide Series. One can only hope RAB Racing keeps finding a way to keep the No. 09 on the track… because Riggs and the team are obviously clicking.
Who You Didn’t See: 43 cars started the Sam’s Town 300 on Sunday. Subtracting start-and-park entries, as well as cars that had to be shown on TV because they were involved in wrecks, there were 36 cars Saturday that needed airtime. But excluding passing references without camera shots, ESPN failed to give airtime to Shelby Howard, Willie Allen, Kligerman, Danny Efland, Stanton Barrett, Scott Lagasse Jr., Eric McClure, Kenny Wallace, Robert Richardson, Brian Keselowski and Josh Wise on Saturday (Wise and Lagasse were both top-20 finishers). 11 out of 36 cars not being shown during the race equates to 31% of the field not being represented during a 300-mile affair.
The Final Word
- As previously discussed, it was a welcome change to see a Nationwide regular in Allgaier able to keep pace on an intermediate with the Buschwhackers. And it was just as refreshing to see someone able to pass both Hamlin and Busch on the racetrack.
- Looking at how the Top 30 in owner points is currently shaping up, a number of full-time teams in the Nationwide ranks are in real danger of having to qualify on time. If the 2010 owner points kicked in for Bristol (they actually won’t until the sixth race of the season), Key Motorsports’ No. 40, Specialty Racing’s No. 61, and the Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 team would all be required to time their way into the field.
- It looks like, unlike Lowe’s Motor Speedway, that Bruton Smith may have gotten the repave/reconfigure thing right with LVMS. The aging asphalt is definitely showing now, as the bottom groove was a far more viable option for drivers on Saturday rather than a sure-fire way to spin and wreck. Though Menard certainly seemed to be trying to trap a lot of guys down there….
- During the Nationwide telecast, ESPN did make an astute observation that even deep in the field throughout the first three races of 2010, there’s been plenty of passing and good, hard racing. Congrats! It only took you all over two years to figure out what anyone that’s been to even one race has known. Keep showing us what’s going on back there… chances are, we’ll find it entertaining.
- Let me tell you what is not entertaining: listening to even the master pit reporter himself, Jerry Punch, reduced to kissing every square inch of Danica Patrick’s butt before and after her race was over. I can only hope that, just as ESPN’s corporate bigwigs forced Punch to “tone it down” in the booth last year, that someone was forcing him to read a script to Danica on Saturday. How any network that features “reporters” can justify lobbing the type of softball questions they have towards an individual that, for all her marketing appeal, has driven a wedge in the Nationwide Series fanbase and garage, I don’t know. All I can is it’s appalling from a journalistic perspective, and ESPN ought to be ashamed of themselves. Though seriously… when it comes to their coverage, what else is new?