Expect an announcement in the very near future that Kevin Harvick will be running for a third Nationwide Series crown.
Why not? This Saturday in Nashville, his No. 33 was the class of a very stout field in what’s turning into a regular occurrence for 2010. And this time, everything, be it fast pit work or a two-tire gamble during the race’s final cycle of stops, went just right for the Kevin Harvick Inc. operation. Harvick stormed to his second win in the last three Nationwide Series events, holding off a hard-charging Reed Sorenson by a matter of car lengths.
Despite the weekend marking the first standalone race for the Nationwide Series in 2010, Cup regulars dominated the event with Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano leading all but 20 of the laps run. Keselowski had the fastest car over the race’s final 20 circuits, but a pit road penalty mid-race left the No. 22 car out of sequence with the leaders, mired too far back in traffic to make a serious challenge for the win. The same could be said for Logano, who also found himself off sequence late and finished eighth after leading a race-high 122 laps.
Edwards wound up sixth and maintained the points lead, though the Penske Racing duo of Keselowski and Justin Allgaier closed the gap down to 16 and 21 points behind, respectively. Further back, a number of notable teams, including MacDonald Motorsports’ No. 81 car and the Nos. 6 and 16 of Roush Fenway Racing, fell out of the Top 30 in owner points after wrecks and will have to qualify on time at Phoenix this coming Friday.
Welcome back to relevance, Sorenson. Following a solid top-10 effort at Bristol two weeks ago, Sorenson had the No. 32 team running at the front much as they’ve been accustomed to with Brian Vickers behind the wheel, putting on a great show for hometown sponsor Dollar General. Sorenson was consistent all race long, and in the closing laps charged to second, running down leader Harvick. Only lapped traffic kept his Toyota from reaching the back of Harvick’s machine… and had Sorenson done so, chances are he would have had his first Nationwide Series win since way back in 2005. Still, Sorenson’s was an impressive runner-up result.
Scott Wimmer‘s out of the seat with JR Motorsports and the No. 7 team for the next four races to make room for Landon Cassill, but he certainly left the former Hendrick development driver with some big shoes to fill. At the same track he scored his last Nationwide win at in 2008, Wimmer broke a streak of consecutive finishes outside the top 25, leading 18 laps and finishing in the top 10 while moving the No. 7 car into the Top 30 in owner points. Assuming that she’s still locked into the field come Loudon in June (which should happen, now that JRM is employing stock car drivers), Danica Patrick owes Mr. Wimmer a big thank you.
Michael Annett faded late, but ran as high as fourth on Saturday afternoon en route to finishing ninth, his best run and first top 10 of 2010.
And how about Allgaier, following up his first career victory with another top-fie finish? With five straight runs of ninth or better, Allgaier’s only 21 points out of the series lead. That’s the closest any Nationwide-only driver has been to topping the standings five races into the season since 2003.
Steve Wallace has gone from being on a tear to being on a tumble, with his last two outings in Tennessee both resulting in hard wrecks. Unfortunately, this one could have been avoided. Racing in the pack on a dangerous restart that saw more than 15 cars forced to use the wave-around, Wallace found himself in a four-wide pack entering turn 3. Though there was speculation in the ESPN booth that Wallace’s teammate, Brendan Gaughan, triggered the ensuing wreck by forcing himself under the No. 66 on entry of turn 3, the in-car camera seemed to show that Wallace entered the turn too hard, pushed up the track, and into the No. 35 of Jason Keller, who was on his outside. But regardless of who was at fault, Wallace ended up mired in an avoidable wreck that happened too early, and fell out of the top 10 in points as a result. Furthermore, according to his Twitter page, Wallace suffered a broken right foot as the result of the accident. No word has been released of yet as to how this will affect his driving schedule. (Editor’s Note: Wallace’s Tweet had been removed by press time).
Fresh off a career-best finish at Bristol, Tennessee native Willie Allen did not have the follow-up that he was looking for in the No. 05 car, as his engine expired 95 laps short of the finish. The team was also unable to capitalize on the owner points cushion they had started building at Bristol; while still locked into the Top 30 heading to Phoenix, they’re only 26 points to the good with Allen heading back to the bench. Victor Gonzalez Jr. (who scored a top 15 for the team in Montreal) will be behind the wheel this weekend at Phoenix.
John Wes Townley may have spun early (just three laps into the race), but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is auditioning well to take over the title of crash king in the Nationwide Series. For the fifth time in five 2010 starts, the driver of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car ended up in an incident; Stenhouse made contact with the tire carrier of Allgaier’s team during green-flag stops, crushing in his left-front fender. The resulting damage quickly led to a tire rub, and in trying to get to pit road for repairs Stenhouse was rear-ended by Joe Nemechek. Teammate Colin Braun soon suffered damage of his own, getting caught up in the four-wide wreck that also took out Wallace, Keller, Michael McDowell and Mikey Kile (who was making his NNS debut). As a result, both of Roush’s development drivers will now be faced with having to race their way into the show at Phoenix on Friday night – a nightmare scenario for two teams still searching for additional sponsorship.
For the second week in a row, James Buescher found himself in a feud with a fellow Nationwide regular. And this time, he ended up on the short end of the stick come race’s end. On lap 43, Buescher pushed up the race track entering turn 2 and smack into the left-rear quarterpanel of Jason Leffler, sending the No. 38 hard into the outside wall. Nearly 100 laps later, Leffler returned to the track with a mission; catching the No. 1 car on the exit of turn 4, he slammed hard into Buescher, pinning the Phoenix Racing machine to the wall and causing heavy damage that retired him from the event. NASCAR promptly parked Leffler for the remainder of the race, in theory costing him 21 points in the final results (he could have run as high as 32nd). Leffler all but admitted in his comments that he had gone after Buescher, while the driver of the No. 1 insisted that the first wreck between the two was triggered by Leffler pinning him to the bottom of the track. From this writer’s perspective, I disagree; Leffler was not at fault in the first incident, and Buescher for the second week in a row was in a messy situation of his own making. Guess it’s a good thing that, as Buescher put it, Phoenix Racing still has plenty of cars at the shop.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Josh Wise. One of the most surprising qualifying runs seen at Nashville was completely ignored by the ESPN crew on Saturday; with a spot in the Top 30 on the line, Wise qualified the No. 61 Specialty Racing Ford 14th, the best effort the team has had since their return to the Nationwide Series in 2008. And though Wise quickly dropped outside the top 30 in the running order, the team methodically made their way back up front. A wave-around late in the going got Wise back onto the lead lap, and put him in position to score a top-20 finish that moved the No. 61 car from 34th to 29th in owner points, meaning they’ll be locked into the field at Phoenix. That’s no small deal for this team, as they’ve qualified no better than 33rd in each of the last three trips to the diamond in the desert.
Who You Didn’t See: Jeremy Clements qualified for his first Nationwide race of the season, finished 22nd doing it, but you’d never know it watching the telecast. Robert Richardson, Brian Scott, Brian Keselowski, Derrike Cope, Eric McClure, Mike Bliss and several others were not seen or mentioned except in passing when they were being lapped. This lack of coverage isn’t doing the value of sponsorships in the Nationwide Series any favors. And that’s not good news for anyone involved in the Series, be they racing in it… or televising it.
The Final Word
ESPN was right to highlight how well Baker/Curb Racing continued to run, even though Greg Biffle was replaced by Johnny Sauter for the weekend. With four top-15 finishes in a row to the credit of their No. 27 team and Scott Lagasse Jr. knocking on the door of the top 10 in points with the No. 43, one of the Nationwide Series’ most indomitable organizations is proving they’re not just able to survive, but thrive. Here’s hoping some more sponsors notice soon to keep them staunchly competitive.
Mike Wallace is eighth in points. That’s easily the biggest surprise in the standings so far this season, as he’s guided the Monster Diesel-sponsored No. 01 to four straight top-20 finishes.
With regard to the Leffler/Buescher episode… NASCAR, let the drivers police themselves. Leffler got the short end of the stick from Buescher, intentional or not. He retaliated. If that’s not acceptable, then that’s up for Buescher to make clear, be it in the garage after the race was over or next week at Texas. Leave the black flag – and your penalties – out of the mix. Besides, the way things are going, Buescher may need to be taught a lesson or two the way he’s been ruffling feathers as of late.