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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 Heluva Good 200 at Dover

Cup regulars ran roughshod over the Nationwide Series field all day Saturday, with Kyle Busch winning the pole by obliterating David Green‘s 2004 qualifying record and proceeding to lead 191 laps in scoring already his fourth win of the 2010 season, enduring several late race restarts to do so. Cup regulars, who scored seven of the top-10 finishing positions, held nine of the top-10 spots in the running order with less than 10 to go before fireworks ensued.

On the last restart of regulation, Denny Hamlin was involved in his second incident of the day (he caused the race’s first caution by getting into the back of Michael Annett in turn 2), attempting to pass on the inside of Clint Bowyer and instead throwing the No. 21 machine into a spin on the frontstretch that caused heavy damage to a number of cars, including Trevor Bayne, Chad McCumbee and Paul Menard. After a lengthy red flag, Bowyer had his crew change his tires and reported that he was headed to the garage; instead, Bowyer charged to the front of the lead pack and took out Hamlin’s No. 20 Toyota under yellow, causing extensive damage to his left front fender and ending his day as well. Bowyer immediately parked the No. 21 following the incident and reported to the NASCAR hauler.

The race was a largely green-flag affair, with a number of questionable yellows again having a dramatic impact on the race; a debris caution on lap 82 was thrown for an object never seen on broadcast screens, while two other yellows on lap 152 and 194 were thrown for cars that, while off the pace, were running and out of the racing groove. The lap 194 yellow for Mark Green‘s “accident” triggered the late-race melee on a lap 200 restart.

Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Reed Sorenson and Jason Leffler rounded out the top five. Points leader Brad Keselowski rebounded after a spin on lap 105 from 22nd to finish seventh, allowing him to maintain a lead of 11 markers over Busch; however, that lead is 220 over Carl Edwards, the next driver in the standings actually committed to running a full Nationwide schedule. Rookie Brian Scott bumped Tony Raines to move into the top 10 in the points standings.

Worth Noting

The Good

Annett wins the perseverance award at Dover for this Saturday. After a disappointing 33rd place qualifying effort that saw the No. 15 car noticeably twitchy on both ends of the track, Annett was spun out by Hamlin on lap 34, flattening his left front tire. Annett did a marvelous job using the throttle on the backstretch to keep his car off of the Monster Mile’s walls in a spin that went from the exit of turn 2 to the entry of turn 3. Battling back into the top 20, Annett managed to come home 15th even after being punted by Justin Allgaier coming to the checkered flag and tagging the frontstretch retaining wall on three separate occasions. The top-15 run continued Annett’s success at the concrete bowl; he’s never finished outside the top 20 at Dover in NNS competition.

Carrying the Toyota and Nationwide Series regulars’ banners today, however, was Braun Racing, who scored two spots in the top five courtesy of Reed Sorenson and Leffler, and a third in the top 10 with rookie Scott. Leffler, who ran in the top 10 all day, was impressive as he even outdid teammate Kasey Kahne, who took over Leffler’s regular seat in the No. 38 car for the weekend, while Sorenson restarted second on the final green-white-checker start before being shuffled back to fourth; the No. 32 crew apologized for making late-race adjustments that weren’t conducive to a short run. As for Scott, his top 10 performance came even as Roush Fenway Racing’s beleaguered driver development prospects enjoyed their best day as a duo of 2010, and after James Buescher ended his rookie of the year campaign. Runs like today’s ninth place performance have pushed the former Truck Series regular’s name to the top of the development ladder in NASCAR’s AAA. Not too bad a day for the Braun camp.

And speaking of Roush Fenway Racing, a tip of the hat to Colin Braun. After losing his seat for two races to Cup regular Matt Kenseth, and reportedly having to have his job saved by sponsor Con-way Freight, Braun stood and delivered his first top 10 in Nationwide Series competition since ORP back in August of 2008. What’s more, he drove the No. 16 team into the Top 30 in owner points, doing what Cup regular Kenseth had supposedly been put in the car to do in the first place. Welcome back Colin, and kudos for staking claim to a seat that’s yours.

The Bad

Any chance Landon Cassill had at a good run at Dover ended less than 10 laps into Saturday’s race, as a stack-up in the field in turn 4 resulted in Cassill’s left front fender making heavy contact with McCumbee’s bumper, caving in the sheet metal and killing the handling of his No. 7 car all day long. Though leaving with a top-20 finish is far from a disastrous day, it also isn’t the kind of run that’s going to get Cassill a lasting ride at JR Motorsports… seeing as they fired Kelly Bires for consistently delivering finishes better than 20th.

Mike Wallace‘s second race with enthusiastic new sponsor One Hour Heating and Air unfortunately did not have the storybook ending that a challenging weekend at Darlington a few days earlier had for the No. 01 team, as a reported belt failure in the motor sidelined the team’s machine 37 laps short of the checkered flag in the 34th position, another disappointing result in what has become a snake-bit spring for one of the early season’s biggest surprises.

And you can’t help but feel for Jason Keller, whose historic 500th career start (he’s the first driver in Nationwide Series history to make that many starts) did come, but thanks to a broken shock mount proved to be one to forget. After racing his way into the field earlier on Saturday morning, Keller eventually lost more than 10 laps in the garage having his suspension tended to, finishing a distant 33rd and losing valuable ground in the top 30 chase as the two RFR entries fighting for the same spots each scored top-20 runs. Keller’s milestone is one that deserves all the accolades it received and then some, but this veteran driver deserved a better finish this Saturday.

The Ugly

Bayne endured the hardest hit that any driver took in the lap 200 Big One that followed contact between Hamlin and Bowyer, with the Diamond-Waltrip Racing development driver transported to a local hospital after limping from his car with “left foot discomfort.” Frontstretch also received an unconfirmed report post-race that Bayne may have suffered a broken foot as a result of the wreck, though a Michael Waltrip tweet later in the afternoon contradicted that:

As if the wreck wasn’t ugly enough, it never should have happened… because the restart on lap 200 never should have happened. Caution-happy NASCAR and their apparent obsession with bunching up the field at the end to create excitement because every other asinine policy they’ve pushed on their race teams has completely stratified who can and can’t run up front, threw an unnecessary yellow flag because Mark Green had a tire apparently going flat, and because he was off the pace after brushing the wall. Never mind that he was still running, not chucking debris on the racing surface and was out of harm’s way on the apron. It’s as if a race finishing with a 10-plus lap green flag run is now considered under section 12-4-A of the mythical NASCAR rule book as “an action detrimental to stock car racing.” Let the guys race, even if that means that the pack doesn’t bowl itself over late in the going. It’s hard not to feel bad for all the teams that ended up losing their racecars because of an unnecessary yellow flag.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Raines. Though Raines ended up losing his position in the top 10 in the Nationwide points standings, his 17th-place effort was still an admirable performance on a trying day for Tri-Star Motorsports, his third top-20 effort in the last four races with the No. 34 team. Utilizing both the pit box and crew from the Front Row Motorsports No. 37 Cup team, it was refreshing to see those type of resources going to both a Nationwide regular, and a journeyman at that. And go figure… the Nationwide journeyman got the job done.

The Final Word

  • Just as I wrote earlier this week, NASCAR is using the yellow flag to manipulate its races. Not fix them; as Frontstretch readers pointed out, that’s not possible. But manipulation is, and it’s happened three weeks in a row now. I for one, in case it’s not clear, am sick of it. If we’re going to see marathon events reduced to 10-lap sprints, run 10-lap sprints and run five or six different classes of cars short-track style. But this deliberate bunching up of the field whenever someone threatens to get too far ahead or when its convenient to squeeze in pit stops and commercial breaks has got to stop. Now.
  • Danny O’Quinn Jr. didn’t race on Saturday after failing to qualify the No. 39 car, but he demonstrated the intangibles that make a racecar driver worthy of a ride at this level. Immediately after missing the show, O’Quinn didn’t run off to sulk or cool off in a hauler, but instead sprinted over to the No. 91 pits of the D’Hondt/Humphrey Motorsports team that he regularly start and parks for. He spent well over an hour in the garage with that team, helping to repair David Gilliland‘s machine that was heavily damaged in qualifying so that the team would be able to start their race. That’s a team player right there…maybe that’s why he got the boot from the Roush camp?
  • Missouriracefan, a dedicated Frontstretch reader and Twitter follower, declared the Kansas/Missouri border war over after Bowyer took his swipe at Hamlin. A bold statement for sure, and one that just had to be printed.
  • MacDonald Motorsports fell out of the Top 30 in owner points after Michael McDowell cut down two right-front tires over the course of Saturday’s race and finished 30th as a result, losing that spot to RFR’s No. 16 team. Next in the crosshairs is the Team Rensi No. 24 car, which had another off the pace day, finishing five laps down in 24th. With Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 6 team enjoying some momentum after a sixth-place qualifying effort and a top-20 finish, it’s soon going to be go-or-go-home time for Eric McClure. And seeing as how peer teams such as K-Automotive and Specialty Racing have handled that predicament, that doesn’t bode well for fans of Team Hefty.
  • Anyone else out there notice how half of the field of drivers scheduled to test the Nationwide CoT at Daytona next week are Sprint Cup regulars? Shades of the future indeed.

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