Carl Edwards appears to have this whole road racing thing figured out. On the Nationwide Series side, anyway.
In what was a dominant performance from the pole, Edwards led 35 of the 50 laps run in NASCAR’s debut race on the Road America road course with this division, stealing the lead for good from Jacques Villeneuve on lap 41 and never looking back. Edwards’s win was his first of 2010 and the first for Ford in NASCAR competition this season. It also marked his second consecutive Nationwide Series victory on a road course dating back to Montreal last August.
Road ringers enjoyed a stellar day on the longest circuit on the NNS schedule, with Ron Fellows, Owen Kelly, and JR Fitzpatrick all enjoying top-10 finishes. Jacques Villeneuve led laps and was a threat throughout the day with a wide variety of three-wide passes, but mechanical calamities during the final two laps dropped the former F1 driver out of the top 20 by race’s end.
Brad Keselowski finished fourth, losing only 35 points to Edwards in the Nationwide title chase (his lead now stands at 237 heading into Loudon). The highest-ranked Nationwide regular, Justin Allgaier, suffered a broken track bar only two laps into the race and fell to over 400 markers out of the lead.
The summer’s been good thus far for Rusty Wallace Incorporated, who for the second race in a row saw both team cars come home in the top 10. For Steve Wallace, the ninth-place result was a career-best on a road course, while Brendan Gaughan, for the second week in a row, found himself a threat for the win at points in the day. He wound up third, posting what was his best run since the spring race at Charlotte last year. Between the two, the No. 62 and No. 66 teams have scored five top-10 finishes in the last six races, having made much of the opportunity that the Nationwide Series’ standalone stretch provided. Now the question becomes whether or not they can sustain that momentum when the Cup companion races resume.
The Red Man sponsorship may be gone, but that didn’t keep the No. 27 car from the front of the field. Kelly, another Tasmanian V8 Supercar veteran who is attempting to make the jump to big-time stock car racing, proved to be impressive in his Nationwide Series debut, qualifying in the top 10 and staying there all day long. The fifth-place finish Kelly posted marked the the best road-course result for Baker Curb Racing since Greg Biffle finished fourth at Watkins Glen in 2006.
Speaking of road-course ringers, JR Motorsports reaped the rewards of putting two such drivers in their cars. Fellows ran in relative obscurity for much of the day, but when the bank window opened, he was right in the mix. Fellows delivered a runner-up finish that was the best of the season for the No. 88 car, as well as Fellows’ best run since winning the rain-soaked Montreal event back in 2008. Right behind the No. 88 team was the No. 7, where Fitzpatrick, running his first NASCAR national touring race since the Truck Series race at Talladega last fall, delivered a career best seventh-place run as well. Saturday marked the first time in 2010 that JRM placed both of its cars in the top 10.
NASCAR’s road courses have been none too kind to Allgaier, who came into Saturday’s race with a career average road racing finish of 26.5. And that average went down after a 35th-place run came to a close. Only two laps into the event, Allgaier suffered a massive mechanical failure in the rear end of the car that also led his driveshaft to fail. By the time the No. 12 car had been towed back to the garage and repaired, Allgaier was 20 laps down for the count. Though he managed to remain third in the points, the 415 markers he trails teammate Keselowski by appears to be an insurmountable deficit.
Villeneuve had perhaps the one car in the field most capable of keeping up with Edwards’s No. 60 machine, and was easily the most aggressive driver in the field. Passing in places that it shouldn’t have been possible and making three-wide moves fitting for a high-banked oval, Villeneuve was racing for the win and he came awful close. Unfortunately, he lost a top-five finish thanks to mechanical woes that surfaced during the final few laps of the race. 25th place doesn’t come close to reflecting how well the No. 32 team ran.
Though Tim George Jr. doing his bulldozer impression on Ron Hornaday was certainly ill-advised, the lap 30 Big One that saw a massive pileup at the top of a blind corner hill in turn 6 certainly left its mark on a number of Nationwide Series regulars. What began as a case of Brian Scott being tagged led to an accordion wreck that caused massive damage to the cars of Kyle Kelley, Robb Brent and Tony Raines, three teams that decidedly did not need to be leaving Wisconsin with torn up racecars.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Stanton Barrett. Morgan Shepherd had his best run of the season (19th), and Patrick Long (14th) finished higher in the first race of 2010 that saw the No. 90 car running at the finish, but the performance of the race went to Barrett. Making his first start since a top-15 effort at Darlington, Barrett was also involved in the lap 30 wreck and found himself stuck in a gravel trap with less than 20 to go. Each time, though, he drove his No. 31 car back through the field, eventually finishing 17th after starting 30th. It was shades of Barrett’s performance at Mexico City back in 2005, one that saw him lead laps and contend for the top five until a late-race bump, and was yet another solid effort from a Rick Ware Racing camp that’s had some runs to remember in 2010.
The Final Word
- With the lack of grandstands making a crowd estimate difficult, it certainly does look like Road America drew a solid crowd for their Nationwide Series debut. Way to go, Wisconsin.
- That said though, the question has to be asked… does the Nationwide Series need a third road race? While Villeneuve and others made aggressive moves throughout the day, the cumbersome nature of running caution laps on a 4-mile road course and the difficulty many found in passing throughout the day certainly raises the issue of whether or not NASCAR would have been better off patching the hole in the schedule where the Milwaukee Mile was with a short track instead. Seeing a new road course made for an interesting race, but nowhere near the drama and action of a bullring.
- With Edwards’s victory at Road America, Cup Series regulars swept the three races of the Nationwide Series’ early summer standalone stretch for the second consecutive year. It’s just the same old song….