Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 Aaron’s 312 at Talladega

One year ago, Brad Keselowski shocked the stock car world, winning the Sprint Cup race at Talladega as a Nationwide Series regular. This year was a case of role reversal; but when all was said and done, he was back in victory lane, scoring his first NASCAR win since making the move to Penske Racing.

Keselowski was looking to face another side-by-side dash to the finish line when contact between Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer triggered a nasty 10-plus car wreck coming to the checkers, an incident highlighted by Dennis Setzer‘s No. 92 Dodge going airborne into the catchfence in turn 4. That caused extensive damage to the fencing structure; however, it withstood the impact and kept the airborne car on the racing surface.

And while Keselowski retook the points lead with another Talladega triumph, it was a rough day for the other Cup regulars running full Nationwide schedules. Carl Edwards was wrecked early after teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumped him on the frontstretch, a wreck that also caused extensive damage to Colin Braun‘s No. 16 Ford. Paul Menard was taken out in the last lap Big One, while Kyle Busch was also involved in a late-race incident triggered by contact between Braun and Steve Arpin. Busch was among the fastest cars in the field, but was running outside the main pack after being forced to pit under green for a tire rub.

That added up to a hefty attrition rate for Sunday’s 312-miler, with 19 cars failing to finish. Good thing for those teams the current model Nationwide car was making its final appearance on a superspeedway (the series’ CoT will debut at Daytona in July).

Unofficially, Keselowski now holds the Nationwide points lead by 60 markers over Kevin Harvick and 104 over Busch. The highest-running Nationwide-only regular is Justin Allgaier, who remained fourth in the standings but slipped to 153 points back after also being collected in the last-lap melee. Further back, Brian Scott moved into the top 10 (eighth), knocking out Brendan Gaughan.

Worth Noting

The Good

To say it’s been a struggle for newly-formed Tri-Star Motorsports is putting it lightly, as longtime series veteran Jason Keller has already failed to qualify for three of the first seven races of 2010. That all changed at Talladega. While Tony Raines garnered the most TV time for the team on Sunday, making two well-documented charges into the top five with his No. 34 machine, it was Keller that scored a top-five finish come race’s end. Running on the high line that would send Keselowski to victory, Keller’s unsponsored No. 35 came home fourth, his first top five in NNS competition since finishing third at Gateway in 2008. Raines wasn’t far behind, finishing seventh and proving that his top-five run with the same race team at Talladega last year was no fluke. Always good to see some of the real NNS stalwarts prove they’ve still got it.

Speaking of still having it, how about Setzer? Relegated to picking up truck rides where he can and running start-and-park for K-Automotive, Setzer finally got the chance to run the distance in the No. 92, and boy, did he put on a show. Setzer ran in the lead pack all day long and was in the running for a top-10 finish before the massive pileup in turn 4 coming to the checkers sent his machine airborne into the chainlink fence surrounding the Talladega high banks. Setzer was unharmed in the incident and still brought home a 17th-place finish for K-Automotive, the best run for any of the team’s cars in 2010 since Brian Keselowski opened the season with a 13th-place run at Daytona. Keselowski told Frontstretch back in February that “he hated doing start-and-park,” and come Talladega, he was going to bring his extra car with a little something… well, extra. He delivered, and Setzer did as well.

The driver who was racing for the final spot in the top 10 with Setzer also finished with a mangled race car in 12th, but it was another great result for the No. 27 team. Scott Wimmer, returning to the Baker Curb operation he last drove for in 2006, picked up right where Greg Biffle and Johnny Sauter left off, having them contending for the lead all day long. Between his runs in the JR Motorsports No. 7 and now the No. 27, Wimmer continues to sell himself as one of the most deserving drivers of a Nationwide full-time ride out there. Hey, Childress, you’re going to have a seat open soon. Why not give it to the guy you gave the boot after he won you an owners’ title?

The Bad

The Wallace clan across the board had an ugly, ugly day at Talladega. The first incident of the day, triggered by contact between Edwards and Stenhouse Jr., destroyed Mike Wallace‘s No. 01 car that was looking everything like a top-10 contender, and also did extensive damage to Steve Wallace‘s Toyota, relegating the two to finishes of 39th and 42nd, respectively. Chrissy Wallace cracked the top 15 in the later third of the race but ended up finishing off the lead lap in 24th after losing the draft during green-flag pit stops. Kenny Wallace scored the best finish for the family, coming home 11th, but with a car that was obliterated on the white-flag lap. It was a solid run for Kenny’s No. 28, but provided little solace after such a promising day turned so foul during the Big One.

Another driver whose day fell victim to green-flag pit stops at the end was Arpin. Arpin, who came into Talladega riding a wave of momentum thanks to consecutive ARCA wins at Salem and Texas, appeared poised to shake off a disappointing run in Friday’s ARCA race that saw him spin out late while battling for a spot in the top 5. But after spending the entire afternoon slicing and dicing with the best in the field, Arpin was caught speeding on pit-road entry during green-flag stops. Caught up in traffic later on, Arpin and Braun ran out of racing room and triggered a massive wreck on the frontstretch with less than five laps to go, leaving the No. 7 Chevrolet with a 26th-place result that was in no way representative of how the team ran on Sunday.

Joining the brigade of ARCA racers that saw promising days end early was Parker Kligerman, who despite running in an unsponsored No. 42 Dodge kept pace with Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Allgaier all day long. Kligerman’s No. 42 car was a fixture in the top 10 for much of the event until being caught in the Braun/Arpin accident late in the running. His 31st-place finish was beyond deceptive, as at times the teenager was one of the top-five fastest cars in the field.

And lastly, the hits just keep on coming for young James Buescher. Through no fault of his own, Buescher was pile-driven into the outside wall on the frontstretch during the race’s first incident between Edwards and Stenhouse, leaving his car to be towed off the track (Buescher completed 45 laps and finished 37th). Earlier this week, it was reported that longtime owner James Finch is trying to sell his Phoenix Racing operation, claiming he has 35 cars available for sale. His fault or not, the way this No. 1 team is running that 35-car fleet may well start looking bare soon.

The Ugly

Roush Fenway Racing had to endure one of the ugliest incidents between teammates in recent memory at Texas, with Braun taking out Stenhouse Jr. while both were running in the top 15 late. That result led to the team deciding to bench Braun for two races after Talladega (owing to sponsor commitments for Con-way Transportation), and leaving his long-term future with the team in jeopardy. This week, they had to endure another such incident, but this time Stenhouse was on the giving end. Though the driver of the No. 6 made a point to speak to Edwards about how he was being pressured from behind, the fact remains that Stenhouse made hard contact with the rear end of Edwards’s No. 60 Ford early in the event, turning the car around. That led to a major wreck, destroying his teammate’s machine and leaving Edwards now mired 213 points out of the lead in the Nationwide standings. With results like these week after week, selling the 30-plus unsponsored races on the No. 6 and No. 16 cars’ schedules is going to prove impossible even for behemoth Roush Fenway Racing. And after two weeks of teammates beating each other up, now they get to head to notoriously tough Richmond, Darlington and Dover. Brrr….

Underdog Performer of the Race: Though Patrick Sheltra delivered an admirable performance, leading laps in the RAB Racing No. 09 car and scoring a career-best Nationwide Series finish (18th), Johnny Borneman III stole the show. Driving his own unsponsored No. 83 machine and entering the day with a career-best finish of 25th on a restrictor-plate track, Borneman dodged all the wrecks and came home fifth, the most unlikely finisher in all the Nationwide Series field this Sunday. Borneman, whose crew guys were seen on TV as ecstatic behind words, later revealed after the race that his team had only four crew guys working in their pits, and called the best performance in his Nationwide Series career “the best day of his life.” A well-deserved shoutout goes to the few guys that could call themselves part of the No. 83 crew this Sunday.

The Final Word

  • While it was a brutal day for a ton of Nationwide Series regulars out there, a lot of those teams may well want to breathe a sigh of relief. WithBusch enduring a tough day that saw him forced to pit under green for damage only to be taken out a late-race wreck, his dejection and frustration over “a mismanaged day” looked awfully similar to the night at Kentucky back in 2008 that led him not to pursue a Nationwide Series title that season. If that means he’ll finally give up on the idea of doing double-duty again in 2010, that’s good news for everyone in the Nationwide Series field… and maybe also that Busch will get his head on straight and give Jimmie Johnson a fight worth fighting over in Cup.
  • Scott finished ninth without almost his entire front end and moved into the top 10 in points. Despite a strong rookie lineup, Scott is threatening to make a rout out of this season’s Rookie of the Year race, as Kligerman continues to be short on sponsor dollars while Braun, Stenhouse Jr. and Buescher seem to be involved in about every incident there is on track. Who saw that one coming?
  • No start-and-parks? Even Daytona couldn’t say that? Maybe NASCAR ought to tell the teams every week that the racecars being run that week will never be run again.
  • Speaking of that, It’s fortunate that this old Nationwide Series car will never be run again from one perspective, because frankly, there weren’t a lot of them left after the checkered flag flew at Talladega. However, this move also marks the retirement of cars that put on one hell of a show on Sunday in favor of a CoT car that, as noted by Eric McClure on Frontstretch this past Friday, will not only increase the disparity between the power teams and the independents, it may also reduce a lot of the independents that ran and finished well this Sunday to not being able to do the same come Daytona in July. That’s a damned shame.
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