When it’s your night, it’s your night. Friday night was Kyle Busch‘s night… though he certainly made it interesting.
Busch led all but 14 of the first 136 laps until he lost the lead to Brad Keselowski after trying to throw the No. 22 Dodge off on a restart. Busch’s move backfired; not only did he lose the lead to Keselowski, the ragged start triggered a massive 10-plus car pileup that took out a number of contending machines. What’s more, on the ensuing start following that melee, Busch jumped the drop of the green flag and had to serve a pass-through penalty.
But rather than lose his cool, the driver of the No. 18 stormed back towards the front from 19th. And on a late-race call to take four tires after a lap 189 debris caution, Busch finally overtook Keselowski to score his second win of the 2010 season. Kevin Harvick, Keselowski, Brendan Gaughan and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five.
Clint Bowyer finished in the 11th position driving in relief of John Wes Townley, who was parked by Richard Childress Racing after a wreck in practice. Townley, as first reported by Frontstretch, will also sit out the upcoming race at Texas with a relief driver yet to be determined.
After his third-place finish, Keselowski moved to the points lead, four markers ahead of Carl Edwards (who finished sixth). Justin Allgaier finished 13th, his first finish outside the top 10 all season after late-race contact on pit road with Kelly Bires, which dropped him to fifth in points.
Gaughan picked up for Rusty Wallace Incorporated right where the No. 66 car left off. Following his first top 10 of the year at Nashville, Gaughan capitalized on track conditions that made the high side of the track favorable all night long. Running up front all night, Gaughan scored a fourth-place finish that was his first top five since Memphis last year and his career best result in any of NASCAR’s three national series at PIR. Gaughan also moved to 11th in points, only 12 markers outside of the top 10.
Biffle is receiving all of the credit for Baker/Curb Racing’s resurgence in 2010, but Scott Lagasse Jr. is also in the top 10 in Nationwide points… and he’s actually running for the championship. Lagasse finally broke through with an eighth-place run Friday that was his first top 10 of the season and first dating back to the race at Iowa last summer. What’s more, Lagasse also actually got some TV time on Friday night. Considering he’s top 10 in points and starting to show the same potential he had before being inexplicably released from CJM Racing, why shouldn’t he be getting some?
And let’s not forget Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who not only finished his first race of the 2010 season without being involved in a wreck… he finished in the top 10 doing it. Stenhouse didn’t luck into the finish, either, running in the top 15 all evening long in the desert. Stenhouse is still outside the Top 30 in owner points, but heading to a track in Texas that Roush Fenway Racing has owned, while being only 23 markers out of a locked “in spot” in the field, spells a lot of potential for the No. 6 team to finally get itself on track next weekend.
It was a rough night for not just one, but all three Wallaces in the field at Phoenix. Steve Wallace was involved in his third wreck in as many races, this time thanks to a blown right-front tire. And when the tire blew and sent Steven spinning, he collected none other than Uncle Mike Wallace and the No. 01 car. The spin was just a part of a disappointing night for Mike, whose 23rd place finish was the worst result of the year for he and the No. 01 team, dropping his cushion on being in the top 10 in points down to only 12 markers. Apparently the team’s Monster Diesel sponsorship (which was absent from the car this weekend) brought its share of luck along with dollars. And while Kenny Wallace‘s team was fortunate enough to have sponsorship from Sol Azul Tequila for the weekend, the TV cameras hardly showed the No. 28 car at all, even though Kenny was knocking on the door of the top 20 by race’s end.
While his teammate Stenhouse Jr. enjoyed a career night, Colin Braun found himself involved in yet another wreck out of his control. Braun ended up caught up in the Big One on lap 136, finished 34th and now sits 35th in owner points.
Josh Wise managed to rebound from running as low as 39th to finish a respectable 24th, he had a number of undesirable results on Friday. Wise was involved in a lap 128 incident that saw him all but run over Mike Bliss coming out of turn 4, destroying Bliss’s No. 40 Key Motorsports car in the process. What’s more, when the checkered flag fell on the race, Wise and the No. 61 Specialty Racing team sat six points outside the Top 30 in the owner standings, meaning the team will have to race their way into the field at Texas.
While none of the victims of the race’s big wreck found it pretty, there were a number of drivers in particular that really couldn’t afford to be involved. Derrike Cope‘s No. 73 suffered heavy damage and lost what was a top-25 run in the process, a finish that would have been the team’s best all season. Johnny Borneman III‘s car suffered heavy damage in what was the first race of 2010 that he attempted to run the full race distance in (and only his second start of the season). And as for Landon Cassill, his return to JR Motorsports was anything but triumphant. Not only was Cassill featured on TV nowhere near as much as GoDaddy.com’s other Nationwide Series driver (even though he ran considerably better than the other driver), his 35th-place finish as a result of crash damage snapped a streak of consecutive top-10 finishes for the No. 7 team that Scott Wimmer had maintained. It also dropped the No. 7 to within only 33 points of losing a locked-in spot in the field. GoDaddy’s other driver might not find that too comforting….
Underdog Performer of the Race: Johnny Sauter. R3 Motorsports came into race weekend at Phoenix a precarious four points to the good of the Top 30 cut-off. As a result, the team made an astute driver switch to put Johnny Sauter behind the wheel. Sauter, whose career resume includes multiple top-10 finishes at the Cup level on the diamond in the desert, capitalized for the No. 23 team, scoring a top-15 finish that was the best of 2010 for the organization and the first top 15 the team has enjoyed since Jean Francois Dumoulin finished seventh for them at Montreal. Shame Tommy Baldwin Racing didn’t find a way for Sauter to go the distance in the Cup race the following evening.
The Final Word
Why exactly did the Wayne Day No. 05 team see fit to yank Willie Allen from their car in favor of Victor Gonzalez Jr.? On a road course, this move would make sense, as Gonzalez finished 14th for the same team at Montreal last season. But coming off a blown motor and being on the near brink of falling outside the Top 30, it’s hard to figure why yanking Allen, an experienced short-tracker, was the right move.
Though it’s been a struggle for Jason Keller and his new Tri-Star Motorsports No. 35 team, they’ve at least got the right dance partner. Tony Raines finished 14th in the No. 34 car after challenging for a top-10 finish in the later half of the event. Keller definitely needs a sponsor, but if they can get a partnership going the performance may well be there to get one.
Michael McDowell shook off what has been an ugly start to 2010 with an 18th-place finish that locked his team into the field at Texas.
While the number of start-and-parks at Phoenix was still down, it was awful sad to see Morgan Shepherd back to the same practice he was criticizing less than a season ago for driving race teams away from the Nationwide Series. What can be said – the man’s got this whole racing bug bad.
Finally, even though he was involved in a late-race incident on pit road with Allgaier, Bires really didn’t run much better than his 17th-place result showed that weekend. And between him and Cassill, for the third time in 2010 JRM didn’t have a single car finish in the top 10 of a Nationwide Series race. Why is that significant? In all of 2009, JRM only had four races out of 35 where they didn’t have at least one car finishing in the top 10.