Nashville was supposed to mark a standalone Nationwide Series race, but you’d never have known it looking at the final running order. After yellow-flag pit stops cycled through on lap 170, Brad Keselowski came out up front and never looked back, holding off a challenge from Carl Edwards on a lap 202 restart to score his second win of the Nationwide season and second career victory at Nashville. Paul Menard, the third Cup regular running the full NNS schedule, finished third, while Mike Bliss, who until this weekend had attempted every Cup race in 2010, finished fifth driving KHI’s No. 33.
Though Justin Allgaier led the first 58 laps after winning the pole, from there it was all Edwards and Keselowski, who combined to lead seven times for all but 18 of the remaining laps. And with Keselowski scoring the victory, what has already been a boring championship chase got even more lopsided. The Penske Racing Cup regular now holds a commanding 277-point lead over Edwards, the next driver in line running the full schedule, and is 295 markers ahead of his teammate Allgaier, the highest-ranked Nationwide-only driver (Allgaier finished fourth, the highest finishing NNS regular, on Saturday night).
Saturday night’s race, while doing little to impact the title chase, highlighted a great deal of uncertainty facing the series and its teams as the NNS summer standalone stretch continues. Baker-Curb Racing endured wrecks involving both of their cars, which were running with next to no sponsorship. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. failed to qualify in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 after spinning during his attempt. And only 17,500 were reported in the grandstands for Saturday night’s show.
The tandem at Penske Racing obviously had a successful evening, with Nationwide regular Allgaier finishing fourth and further securing his position as the Nationwide Series’ top regular, but there were a number of other duos that enjoyed success as well. Joe Gibbs Racing, finally putting development drivers in their vaunted Toyotas, saw Brad Coleman finish sixth in his first Nationwide Series start since Montreal last season, a composed, solid run that was a far cry from the limited 2009 campaign that saw this former Baker-Curb Racing regular driving often over his head trying to score a win at all costs. He was joined in the top 10 by Matt DiBenedetto, perhaps the most touted JGR prospect since Joey Logano. DiBenedetto’s performance was a far cry from Dover last September, where he wrecked Denny Hamlin‘s primary car during Happy Hour practice; since that infamous “debut,” he’s put together runs of 14th and now 10th in the series.
A number of readers on this site have commented that JR Motorsports and their latest revolving door of development drivers has been deliberately thrown together, ensuring that no one generates hype around the team that could overshadow cash cow Danica Patrick until she returns to the series at Loudon later this month. If that’s the case, well, they messed up. Coleman Pressley recovered from a lap 4 incident involving himself, Brian Ickler and Michael McDowell to score a 12th-place finish, his career-best NNS result and his third top-20 in as many Nationwide starts in 2010. Josh Wise wasn’t too far behind in 16th, the best finish that any driver not named Scott Wimmer has been able to post for that team this season.
Further back, JD Motorsports placed both of its entries in the top 20, with Mike Wallace coming home 17th and Jeremy Clements 19th. It’s the first time in 2010 the organization has placed two cars in the top 20. Scott Riggs finished ninth in his debut with RCR’s No. 21 team, only the third top-10 finish that camp has posted this year. And Braun Racing’s newest signing, former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Tayler Malsam, finished 11th in his Nationwide Series debut, trailing only Reed Sorenson in the Braun stables. Sorenson posted a seventh-place result, his fourth consecutive top 10 driving the No. 32.
It wasn’t all smiles for the Braun camp, however. The team’s two title contenders, Jason Leffler and Brian Scott, both suffered engine problems and were relegated to finishes of 34th and 28th, respectively. What’s more, the team is facing a possible penalty for improperly transferring tires between the No. 38 and No. 10 team during Saturday night’s event, as reported by Lee Montgomery of NNSRacing.com. Scott now sits further outside the top 10, while Leffler’s title chances are all but gone as he sits 730 markers out of the lead scarcely a third of the way into the season.
Trevor Bayne qualified third and proved to be a stout top 10 car all evening before contact between he and Allgaier cut down the left-rear tire on the No. 99, sending Bayne into the turn 3 wall on lap 127. Though replays seemed to suggest it was just a racing deal, Bayne was noticeably frustrated exiting his wrecked machine, waiting by the ambulance to gesture towards Allgaier’s car under yellow before exiting the track. Bayne finished 32nd.
The good news? Roush Fenway Racing had only one car involved in an in-race incident this weekend; Ickler struggled to a 29th-place result after early-race contact with Pressley. The bad news? One of their cars missed the race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun on his qualifying attempt, and became the first RFR driver to DNQ for a Nationwide Series race that wasn’t rained out since Matt Kenseth missed the Daytona opener in 2005.
What was supposed to be a hometown showing for the Baker-Curb Racing operation looked good, with both teams challenging for the top 10 approaching the race’s midpoint. But separate incidents combined to take out both Scott Lagasse Jr. and Wimmer shortly thereafter. Lagasse got bowled over by Michael Annett exiting turn 4 on lap 107, with Wimmer spun out moments later on lap 118. Wimmer’s No. 27 was carrying only a one-race sponsorship from Gemini Custom Apparel, while Lagasse’s quarterpanels were blank despite the Nashville-based team racing for their local fanbase. Between losing sponsor Red Man for the No. 27 and Lagasse’s No. 43 continuing to lack sponsorship, time may well be getting short for the longtime Nationwide Series stalwart. Their fault or not, finishes of 21st and 33rd with damaged cars aren’t going to land sponsor dollars.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Willie Allen. The Nashville star that ended up shining this weekend was none other than Allen, who ended up having to start the race two laps down after his No. 05 team made unapproved post-qualifying adjustments. Allen and team nonetheless showed up to race, earned back both of their laps, and by race’s end had charged from outside the top 20 to a top-15 finish, tying a season-best for the No. 05 team. Between Saturday’s result and Allen’s top 15 at Bristol, Tennessee seems to have found a native son to be kind to. Allen was ecstatic over the run, and earned some well-deserved TV time for his trouble.
A shout-out also has to go to Jason Keller, whose 20th-place run was unremarkable, but left the No. 35 Tri-Star Motorsports team only 49 points out of the Top 30. Keller, who spoke to Frontstretch at Richmond last month and remarked that his team seemed to be too far outside the locked-in spots to even worry about breaking in, has continued to provide the veteran composure this team has needed; solid finishes and no torn-up equipment. What was a pipe dream has now become a very real possibility for the unsponsored organization; a locked-in spot in the Nationwide Series field is within reach. Here’s hoping the money continues to hold out for this upstart.
The Final Word
- It was very, very different not seeing James Finch’s No. 1 car in the Nationwide Series lineup this weekend. One of the staple organizations of the series for some time, Finch has been reportedly discouraged by the state of the Series, both by the lack of money made available to the teams as well as the absolute need to have a Cup driver to remain competitive. As sad it is to see the No. 1 car gone, who can blame him for growing frustrated in fielding it?
- 17,500 for a Nationwide Series standalone race. Sad, sad, sad… but considering Cup regulars still finished 1-2-3 in this race, who can really blame them?