NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 Meijer 300 at Kentucky

Surprise, surprise. Joey Logano won the pole. Logano won Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race at Kentucky. And Cup regulars finished 1-2-3, with Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski playing bridesmaid to Logano, whose win marked the third consecutive season he’s done so from the pole. That leaves him a perfect 3-for-3 at the facility where he scored his first Nationwide victory in 2008.

Though a few drivers were able to keep up with the No. 20 car on restarts, long runs proved to be a boon for JGR’s Toyotas as Logano was uncontested coming to the checkers. Fortunately for the fans watching, both Scott Wimmer and Brendan Gaughan (who each banked top-10 finishes) were able to keep up with Sliced Bread for at least a few laps. Mike Bliss also got around the No. 20 at lap 156, but he would spin late after losing the lead, finishing 24th.

The race was marred by a number of ugly wrecks, with numerous incidents being triggered after drivers proved unable to make their cars stick on the low side after dive-bombing the entrances to turns 1 and 3. The 11 caution flags marked a new record for NNS racing at Kentucky Speedway.

The points race remained largely unchanged after Edwards and Keselowski finished 2-3, with Keselowski leading the title chase by 272 points. The highest standing Nationwide Series regular remains Justin Allgaier, who leapfrogged the missing-in-action Kyle Busch to third in the standings. He now trails his teammate Keselowski by 313 heading into next weekend’s race at Road America.

Worth Noting

The Good

It was one of the best races in recent memory for Rusty Wallace Incorporated, with the fruits of their new technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing on full display Saturday night. Steve Wallace, at the same track that one of his most memorable indiscretions occurred (wrecking leader Edwards back in 2007), demonstrated just how far he’s come, turning in a sixth-place performance that marked his first top 10 and a career-best at Kentucky Speedway. Gaughan did even better, running in the top five and even challenging for the win, snatching the lead from Logano on lap 175 before a slip up the track would relegate him to fourth in the final running order. Nonetheless, both RWI teams looked like they belonged in the top 10 in NNS points with their respective runs. And as for Gaughan, if his results were any indication of what to expect with RWI’s new JGR-built cars – watch out.

Wimmer and the No. 27 Baker Curb Racing team had to use a lot of pit strategy to get the seventh-place result they did, but the result was still the 11th top 15 in 14 races for what has long been the team’s flagship ride. It also marked a fitting farewell to their Red Man sponsorship, and a chance for the team to end on a high note as they now face an uncertain future, with a start-and-park campaign likely forthcoming. Again, why doesn’t Wimmer have a ride in this series?

Scott Riggs could ask the same question. He finished ninth driving the last of his two-race deal with Richard Childress Racing, giving him back-to-back top 10 results driving for a team that, between John Wes Townley and Clint Bowyer, had scored only two top 10s in the first 12 races of the season.

And Roush Fenway Racing’s Colin Braun scored his second consecutive top-10 finish driving the No. 16 car. Apparently, being benched a few weeks might have been just what the doctor ordered, as well as the internal shakeup following the firing of crew chief Eddie Pardue and others a few weeks earlier. But whether the improved results are enough to land the former Truck Series regular his full-time ride again remains to be seen. I’d expect though if Brian Ickler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. continue their wrecking ways, it may happen sooner than later….

The Bad

Michael Annett was in contention to score his fourth consecutive top-15 finish, a streak that he has never pulled off in his Nationwide Series career. The team, using tire strategy to get track position up front, proved able even on older rubber to hold their own at the front of the field. Problem is, when Paul Menard and Jason Leffler got together on lap 157, there was nowhere for Annett to go to miss the wreck. Trying to evade on the high side, contact with Leffler’s spinning machine pinched Annett into the wall, ending his night and relegating the No. 15 team to a 34th-place result.

Willie Allen also had the recent momentum of an excellent run at Nashville derailed, as while running on the lead lap he got under Trevor Bayne trying to make a pass in turn 3. Unable to make his car stick, the No. 05 machine snapped around on Allen and backed into the wall, causing extensive damage to the rear end and to the suspension – so much so that Allen was unable to even drive his car back to the pits. The 36th-place finish was Allen’s worst of the 2010 season.

The Ugly

Reed Sorenson‘s recovery from damage on a lap 138 restart to score a top 5 finish notwithstanding, it was a costly evening for Braun Racing, which saw three of its four cars on track wrecked by night’s end. The carnage started early, with Leffler and Brian Scott getting involved in a three-wide exchange on lap 1 that resulted in Leffler’s No. 38 sending his teammate’s No. 11 car backing into the turn 4 wall. Scott’s damage proved extensive, as he would spin again on lap 22 because of a lack of downforce coming from his smashed rear end. Tayler Malsam was up next, getting loose trying to race side-by-side on the low side entering turn 1 on lap 112. It was a move that sent the rookie hard into the wall, reeling towards a 35th-place DNF. Finally, karma caught up to Leffler for wrecking his teammate, with the No. 38 getting clipped by Menard on lap 157. That ended his day with a smashed car and a 33rd-place finish, the latest in a long line of disappointing results for him this season. 31st, 33rd and 35th? That will make no team owner happy (well, maybe Eddie D’Hondt)…

Underdog Performer of the Race: Jeremy Clements. I might as well name this section after Clements, who equaled a career-best finish of 12th Saturday night after taking advantage of a mid-race Lucky Dog award. The result, his third consecutive top-20 finish in as many weeks, marked the longest such streak the driver has had in his Nationwide Series career, and also one of the few times he’s actually gotten ESPN’s attention doing it. Considering that the Clements bunch is pulling these results off racing cars that are four years old, well, what else needs to be said?

The Final Word

  • Derrike Cope ran the distance in Saturday’s night event (26th), the first time he and his No. 73 team have done so since Nashville back in April.
  • There’s a real battle for the final spot in the Top 30 in owner points brewing, with Jason Keller and his still-unsponsored No. 35 team having moved to within 31 points of Eric McClure and the No. 24 bunch. Keller, whose team is operating on a week-to-week basis, was concerned nearing this point in the season that funding may start falling short… what a shame that would be with a locked-in spot so very close.
  • It wasn’t the sellout crowd that’s become the norm at Kentucky Speedway, but with what appeared to be a realistic 50-55,000 fans in the stands, Kentucky still drew one heck of a turnout for a standalone Nationwide Series race that featured only four Cup drivers.
  • Speaking of Cup drivers, yes, Logano became the first one to win three consecutive races from the pole at the same track. Who the hell cares? Yes, he dominated a minor league race. Would we be celebrating to see Tim Lincecum head back down to AAA and throw 27 straight innings of shutout baseball? I highly doubt it. Rather, there had to be some way to make significant what for Logano, like the other Cup drivers out there on Saturday night, was nothing more than a ego-stroking shot of confidence. There’s probably the biggest problem with the sport today that no one’s willing to talk about… so many drivers’ confidence levels are fickle enough that they have to beat up on the little guys just to remind themselves they can win. Sorry, this writer’s not impressed.

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