Saturday at Charlotte was a classic case of role reversal, with a late comer snatching a Nationwide Series race from the dominant driver of the day.
In this case, that late comer was none other than Kyle Busch, who charged from two laps down after pitting under green and incurring a speeding penalty to lead the last 50 laps en route to his second win in the last three spring Nationwide Series races at Charlotte, a result that also marked his fifth consecutive top-three finish at the track. Busch, who actually fell outside the top 10 earlier in the event, was able to hold off Brad Keselowski, the race’s most prolific leader, by a car length on a green-white-checkered finish after enduring three restarts in the final 20 laps.
While Busch and Keselowski were the most dominant cars, the fastest entry in the race belonged to Kasey Kahne, who drove off to a 0.75-mile lead over the field in the race’s midsection before having to pit under green to change a battery. He would wind up finishing 26th. Despite Kahne’s struggles, it was another day at the office for the Cup regulars, as they snagged seven of the top-10 finishing positions. Justin Allgaier was the highest finishing NNS-only driver in fourth.
Keselowski, while leading the most laps, had a car that was unable to handle both lapped and race traffic as well as that of Busch and Kahne. Nonetheless, his third-place result allowed him to extend his series points lead to 257 markers over Carl Edwards, who finished a disappointing ninth after winning the pole (Edwards is fourth in the standings, but second among drivers running the full Nationwide Series schedule). Kevin Harvick remained third in points after finishing sixth, but announced this week that he will not continue his pursuit of a third NNS crown.
Reed Sorenson‘s first fill-in role for Brian Vickers in Braun Racing’s No. 32 was an unmitigated success, with Sorenson turning in a quiet and consistent eighth-place result. Since returning to the Nationwide Series this season, Sorenson has proven to be a top-10 fixture for the Braun Racing organization. Between his efforts that picked up right where Vickers left off with the No. 32 team and Jason Leffler rebounding from an awful 40th-place qualifying effort to finish seventh, Braun was left with some successes to take away the sting of having Kahne’s rocket ship suffer mechanical woes.
Michael Annett recovered from being spun on the frontstretch on lap 7 after spinning his tires on a restart to record a 14th-place finish with his No. 15 team. Annett’s latest solid result was yet another example of how Germain Racing’s development driver has proven consistently able to work his way through the field over the course of a race. The problem is, as Annett referenced earlier in the season, being able to start at the front and stay there all race long is keeping this top-15 team from becoming a top-10 effort. Still, a top 15 for a Nationwide Series regular this day and age isn’t all that bad.
And though a late-race incident caused extensive damage to yet another Ford in the Roush Fenway Racing fleet, Brian Ickler turned in a top-15 run in his debut race with the organization. Ickler, who’s in position to hit the fast track in the Roush camp given the struggles of Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. this season, was interestingly in the car carrying Con-way Freight colors… the longtime sponsor and dedicated backer of Braun even after he wrecked teammate Stenhouse at Texas. If that’s any indication of the current sponsor/driver situation at Roush, and the top 15s keep coming, Ickler may have a full-time ride soon enough.
Speaking of Roush Fenway, even though this wreck was not of Stenhouse‘s making, the lap 7 caution that saw Annett and David Gilliland spin out also caused significant damage to his No. 6 Ford. With yet another torn up race only minutes after the No. 6 crew chief relayed to Stenhouse that “everyone at Roush and Citi is behind you,” the season full of frustration for the No. 6 team was perfectly summed up when Stenhouse came to the garage; the car was so damaged, he couldn’t make the turn off pit road to get there. Jack Roush has shown more commitment to keeping him in the car than with Braun, so debating whether or not the No. 6 will have another driver soon may be a moot point… but the question of just how many cars Roush has could become relevant.
Another driver that just can’t seem to avoid incidents on track was Chad McCumbee, who had yet another promising run with the RAB Racing No. 09 team spoiled. After qualifying in the top 15, McCumbee was involved in yet another early wreck, suffering damage to the hood and front end in one of the two cautions in the race’s first seven laps. The No. 09 team was able to get back on track on the lead lap after quickly applying bear bond to the car, but the machine was never the same, as McCumbee limped home 29th. It was good for both driver and team to see longtime McCumbee backer the GPS Store on the No. 09, though… just a shame even that paint job couldn’t get a result for a team that has decidedly cooled since Scott Riggs brought them inside the Top 30.
Lap 2 saw the end of two teams’ days far earlier than either needed to see. Steve Arpin‘s rough May continued in his final stock car start of the month, where he saw a seventh-place qualifying effort go up in smoke after he spun and wrecked hard in turn 2. Arpin lost control of his car after being stuck in the middle of a three-wide pack down the length of the frontstretch and into turn 1, which proved too much for the ARCA regular to handle. The melee that ensued trying to dodge the crash also collected the No. 01 of Mike Wallace, ruining the debut of JD Motorsports’ new sponsor TireBuyer.com and the No. 70 car of Mark Green and Jay Robinson Racing. For Green, the wreck was especially difficult to handle, as it caused extensive damage to JRR’s second team car. For a program that had been start-and-parking for months only to recently begin running the distance again, to have troubles like these certainly is unfortunate.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Jeremy Clements. There probably isn’t a more hard luck story in the Nationwide Series garage this year than that of Clements, a driver who entered 2010 seeking to run a full schedule but instead missed the first three races of the year and been seen only sporadically since. This weekend, however, marked the best run that the Spartanburg, S.C. driver has had since finishing 12th at Fontana last September. Clements and the No. 04 team quickly moved forward from his 31st starting position, and actually cracked the top 15 nearing the halfway point of the race before sliding through his pit box on a green-flag stop. Rebounding from that miscue, Clements and team proved to have a top-20 car that really came into its own over the long run, finishing 16th by race’s end. Runs like that with the Nationwide Series’ standalone stretch coming could translate into top 10s at Nashville or Kentucky… assuming the team can find funding to run them.
The Final Word
- There were maybe 25,000 in the stands at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the Saturday before the Coca-Cola 600. Nothing more to say about that commentary on the state of the sport.
- NASCAR: STOP THROWING DEBRIS CAUTIONS WHEN THERE IS NO DEBRIS! When the yellow flag flew near the race’s midway point after Kahne was threatening to start lapping top-20 cars, I made a point to follow the cleanup trucks with binoculars to see if there, in fact, was debris. In turn 3, the cleanup guy got out on the apron, well off the racing groove, picked up something that fit in one hand, and got back into the truck cab still holding it. I don’t care if it was sheetmetal or a beer can, something that can fit in the palm of a hand that is out of the racing groove does not in any way, shape, or form constitute a justification to stop a race and eliminate a tremendous lead that a competitor has built. Using officiating to try and compensate for a poor on-track product is getting old, NASCAR: cut it out.
- Instead, how about doing something to address on-track product. How about getting rid of these rock-hard tires? Though the final 20 laps of racing were intense and salvaged this Saturday afternoon, the tires again proved to refuse to give up any grip. Passing proved to be extremely difficult throughout the field, with track position again being key in the pits. Add that to Busch and Keselowski again staging their own private battle at the front all day long, and the Nationwide Series is getting awfully freaking predictable on these 1.5-mile ovals.