Keselowski didn’t have to.
In one of the most dominating performances the Nationwide Series has seen from a non-JGR car in recent memory, Keselowski led 189 circuits en route to his second consecutive victory, the eighth of his career and a triumph that allowed him to extend his lead in the season-long points standings. And while on the stat sheet it was a resounding run that had Lee Montgomery tweeting constantly about a boredom-inducing race, a late caution after Paul Menard cut a tire in turn 1 nearly robbed the No. 22 team of their winning trophy.
Of the lead lap cars, Busch and Justin Allgaier stayed out on old tires. Jamie McMurray was the first off pit road with two tires, followed by Keselowski with four and Greg Biffle with two. On the final restart, a jumbled mess led Biffle to briefly take the lead all the way from fifth before Keselowski came back to the front on fresh rubber.
Keselowski’s victory came in a race that had only seven cautions and a remarkably low attrition rate for a short-track event. But while most of his championship challengers stayed in contention all night, beating them all boosted his points lead up to 59 markers over Kevin Harvick, who finished seventh. Busch now sits 84 points behind after finishing fourth, while Allgaier faded to 15th in the final running order and now sits 180 points out of the championship lead.
Reed Sorenson proved that his practice sheet-topping time on Friday morning was no fluke when he qualified second for the evening’s race, then backed it up with an eighth-place finish that was his fourth top 10 in six starts for Braun Racing in 2010. Sorenson led the four Braun cars in the finishing order, never running outside the top 10 for the entire evening. For a driver needing a career shot in the arm more than most, Sorenson has been delivering for the No. 32 team.
Jason Keller and his Tri-Star Motorsports team capitalized on the team’s best run of the season at Talladega with another convincing performance on a significantly shorter racetrack. Frontstretch spoke to Keller before Friday’s race; the driver of the No. 35 was shooting for a top 15. He got one. Keller started in the top 20 and never fell back. Keller did battle with a number of more established Nationwide operations, including a thrilling battle with James Buescher for a spot in the top 15 about two-thirds of the way through the event. Keller’s 14th-place run also accomplished his team’s other goal; to make up ground in the owner points chase. Keller shaved the gap to 30th down to 75 markers with his effort, trailing only the No. 6 and No. 16 cars of Roush Fenway Racing outside the locked-in positions.
Brendan Gaughan has made a career out of racing on the high side of every single racetrack that NASCAR tackles, and Friday night was no different. Running at least half a groove higher than any other car on the 3/4-mile oval, Gaughan never fell behind his 17th-place starting position, with veteran crew chief Brad Parrott providing constant cheerleading over the team’s radio. The ninth-place finish for Gaughan was his best run at Richmond in any level of NASCAR since finishing seventh in a Truck race back in 2003, and moved him back into the top 10 in the NNS points standings.
And how about young Coleman Pressley? An up-and-coming short tracker and close friend of Joey Logano‘s (Pressley texted Logano “get you some of that” after hearing his final laps of practice were faster than those of “sliced bread”), Pressley stayed out of trouble and finished 18th in the unsponsored No. 23 machine, making only his second career Nationwide Series start (he start-and-parked in five more in ’09). It’s an impressive run and a confidence booster the youngster will need… because he’s slated to run Darlington next.
Granted, finishing 15th is a night that most in the field would have no problem accepting. But Allgaier is running for a championship, and those title aspirations took a big hit when his top-five run turned to a top 15 in the race’s final few laps. After another strong effort that saw Allgaier aggressively battling teammate Keselowski for the race lead, the No. 12 team elected to stay out on old tires during the race’s final restart, one of only two cars to do so. And while race leader Busch took off on old rubber, the same could not be said for Allgaier, who was quickly shuffled back in traffic on his worn Goodyears. As a result, a top-five finish became a 15th-place result that left Allgaier facing his biggest points deficit of the 2010 campaign. The way Keselowski and his Cup buddies are running, nights like this are absolutely devastating to the No. 12 team’s title aspirations.
After a strong start to the 2010 campaign with Scott Riggs behind the wheel, the RAB Racing No. 09 has been driver by committee, and the results have suffered; after scoring four consecutive top-20 finishes to start the year, the team had only one in the last three races – and Richmond was one step worse than that. With longtime journeyman driver Hermie Sadler making his return to the seat for his first Nationwide race since 2004, the No. 09 team struggled to a 41st-place qualifying effort and followed that up with a 32nd-place finish that was the worst of the season for the No. 09 operation, and in fact, the worst for RAB Racing since John Wes Townley finished 40th with the team at Memphis last fall. Sponsor dollars or not, the consistency in having a full-time driver is equally valuable if Friday night was any indication.
The spring race has been none to kind too native Virginian Eric McClure. Last season, McClure was taken out in a very early race accident. This year, while he avoided a wreck, his car didn’t look it; the team was forced to bearer-bond the hood of the No. 24 car down early in the event. And with the team’s limited funding continuing to be strained both with purse cuts and the impending introduction of the Nationwide COT, the team had but one set of tires to run the 250-lap event on. McClure finished a distant 31st, five laps down, and his No. 24 team now sits only 15 markers from falling outside of the Top 30 in owner points… and being forced to qualify for the first time in years.
Shelby Howard started in the 10th position for Friday’s race, but any chances of scoring a memorable underdog run faded very quickly. It didn’t take long for Howard to drop outside the top 15, and even the top 20, with brake rotors that were noticeably heated well over 50 laps before other teams started showing excessive heat. While Frontstretch only heard limited communication over the team’s radio, between the brakes and numerous pit stops it was clear the No. 70 car faced a great deal of adversity at RIR. The 30th-place finish left the team with a car in one piece, but a drastically disappointing weekend in Virginia.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Willie Allen. Earning the 43rd and final spot in the field, Allen drove the No. 05 car to a 27th-place finish, three laps down, and failed to move the No. 05 team into the Top 30 in owner points. On paper, this wasn’t really a memorable run. But Allen was racing with more than a heavy heart on this Friday… for his father had died the night before. At his bedside, Allen drove through the early morning from his father’s home in Tennessee, arriving at RIR five minutes before the start of Nationwide practice… because his father had wanted him to be there racing. In the face of great personal tragedy, Allen did his job, kept his nose clean and demonstrated an unrelenting passion for this sport. What more could you ask for from an underdog racer?
The Final Word
- Roger Penske may well keep law and order in the Penske Racing shop between Keselowski and Allgaier, but on-track these two are going to tangle at some point in 2010. Keselowski’s aggression is no secret and hasn’t been for some time, but Allgaier has been absolutely relentless and fearless in racing for the lead with his teammate. There’s too much talent and aggression there for paint not to be traded at some point in the near future.
- The No. 61 of Specialty Racing, the No. 73 of the Stratus Racing Group and Brian Keselowski were all relegated to start-and-parking for the first times of their respective seasons. Frontstretch spoke to each of these operations regarding the decision to run S&P at Richmond, and while all had different stories, the consensus was clear: the financial dire straits facing the Nationwide Series garage this season may well be the worst it has ever faced. Stay tuned to Frontstretch for more on these developing stories.
- Figures the one race I don’t watch on TV because I’m at the track is the one Allen Bestwick is in the booth for. From what The Daly Planet and its many followers have had to say, his return was a rousing success… hint hint, ESPN.