Another Nationwide Series companion race with the Sprint Cup tour, another Cup regular torching the field en route to victory. Kyle Busch, back to business as usual after a few weeks away from his No. 18 car, set a new record for laps led at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway en route to winning his sixth race of the 2010 season. Busch also became the first repeat winner of the Nationwide Series event at Loudon.
Though Busch was the class of the field, leading 125 circuits, a number of his fellow double-dippers had something for the No. 18. Both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano led laps and were a threat for the checkers, but also found trouble in the closing laps; Keselowski nearly dropped out of the top 10 after a bad pit stop on a lap 147 caution and never fully recovered, while Logano spun his tires on a lap 183 restart while running in the top five.
That restart that saw Logano stack up the field also allowed points leader Keselowski to swing by Carl Edwards, finishing second while Roush Fenway Racing’s full-timer finished third. Logano and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top five. That result allowed Keselowski to extend his points lead to 247 markers, while his Penske teammate Justin Allgaier finished sixth and remained third in the standings, 440 points back. Busch and Kevin Harvick are fourth and fifth in points, respectively, despite missing several races during the 2010 campaign.
Further back, Colin Braun was the highest-finishing rookie in 12th.
Bayne was the only Nationwide Series regular to crack the top five on Saturday (so much for the moniker “Magic Mile,”) and there were few out there who matched his need for a good run. Bayne, who has seen a number of solid finishes throughout 2010 evaporate for reasons out of his control, delivered a career-best finish with both Diamond-Waltrip Racing co-owner Gary Bechtel and a contingent from new sponsor OUT! Pet Care present in the grandstands, a performance that moved the No. 99 team into the top 10 in points. It also marked the first time that Bayne has ever scored back-to-back top-10 finishes in Nationwide Series competition. Not too shabby for a debut run at NHMS.
A number of drivers extended top 10 streaks on Saturday afternoon. Reed Sorenson finished eighth, marking his fifth top-10 finish in a row driving Braun Racing’s No. 32 Toyota. It was an admirable rebound for that team, one that saw a potential race win lost when Jacques Villeneuve suffered late-race mechanical troubles last week at Road America. Brendan Gaughan also scored his third consecutive top-10 run, the first time he’s ever accomplished the feat in his Nationwide Series career.
And a huge tip of the hat to Jason Keller and the No. 35 Tri-Star Motorsports team. Having cracked the Top 30 in owner points for the first time on the backs of Tony Ave‘s performance at Road America, Keller returned to the seat and made the most of the opportunity to spend practice working on race trim instead of qualifying. Keller qualified in the top 15 and ran there all day, only the third such finish for the No. 35 team in 2010, but a clear indicator of what may be to come should the team continue to find the dollars to keep running.
Jay Robinson Racing was fortunately not part of the start-and-park brigade that descended upon Loudon this weekend, but neither of the team’s cars had anything to show for it by race’s end. Mark Green managed to complete 170 laps before slapping the wall on lap 177, relegated to finishing 33rd in the No. 70 car, only three spots ahead of the best-finishing start-and-park entry. Kenny Wallace also found late-race trouble in one of the few races with major sponsorship the No. 28 has had in 2010, breaking an axle less than 20 laps from the checkers. He finished 32nd, dropping out of the top 15 in points as a result.
Eric McClure avoided any damage to his No. 24 car en route to finishing 29th, but his 2010 campaign took a heavy hit, as the result dropped the No. 24 team out of the Top 30 in owner points (Joe Nemechek drove the No. 87 team back in after falling out headed into this weekend). The Rensi operation will now be faced with timing their way into the field for the first time in over 50 races, a daunting task for a small-budget operation headed to Daytona… and the CoT debut… on a shoestring.
Teams that showed up late or unexpected on the entry list didn’t fare too well. Chris Lawson and the No. 52 Means Racing team were a late addition, only to miss the field, while Peyton Sellers also failed to qualify after being DNQ’d with a fuel issue, despite being fast enough to make it on speed (he’s now 0-for-2 with his self-owned race team).
Scott Lagasse Jr., Dr. Gadget, and the myriad of other sponsors that have spent time on Baker Curb Racing’s No. 43 car thus far this year were nowhere to be found. Instead, the full-time operation came nowhere close to finishing this event, with Brad Baker parking the Ford after only 35 laps. Coupled with Kevin Swindell parking the team’s third No. 37 car after only three laps and Justin Lofton being tabbed to drive the No. 27 car despite extremely limited Nationwide Series experience (Lofton brings family sponsorship with him), the financial straits that one of the longest-running independent operations remaining in the Nationwide Series finds itself in are apparently dire.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Morgan Shepherd. Saturday afternoon will go down in the record books as the race that saw one of NASCAR’s eldest statesmen take out Danica Patrick. That’s unfortunate, seeing as how that well-publicized wreck will overshadow a performance that saw Shepherd finish 22nd, his best finish on an oval in 2010 and only the third race all season he’s run the complete distance in. The run also marked Shepherd’s best run on the Magic Mile since finishing fourth in the Texas Pete’s car… way back in 1990. Have to give Shepherd some credit, though… that wreck with Danica is going to have his No. 89 car on highlight reels for the rest of the season. Gotta get creative to get TV time these days.
The Final Word
- Continuing a theme from this week’s Nuts for Nationwide feature on how little money is out there for these teams to race on right now, it’s worth noting that the purse shares for the teams running on purse funds to survive are down. In fact, at NHMS they were down significantly more than the 10% NASCAR announced was being cut mere weeks before Daytona. Look at the 43rd-place finisher; Dennis Setzer collected only $12,531 for his last-place effort this Saturday, a 19.7% decrease from what last place paid in 2009 (Johnny Chapman won $15,599). Another example, this time of a driver that actually ran the full distance, was McClure. 2009, he won $22,348 for finishing outside the top 30. This year, 29th yielded only $19,428, a decrease of 13.1%. Granted, the winner’s share was up this year, but is that really where that money is needed?
- Nationwide Series fans better get used to seeing Lofton around more often. Lofton, who qualified in the top 10 and finished 17th driving for Baker Curb Racing this weekend, has guaranteed sponsorship money from the family business, and has proven able to run in the top 20 consistently (two such finishes in three career starts, and was running that well before being taken out in a wreck at Texas earlier this year). Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new Paul Menard.
- This weekend’s entry list featured only 43 cars before late entries got the list to 45. If New Hampshire can barely scrape together a full field, imagine what Daytona and the new CoT will have in store for the Nationwide Series this coming weekend.