Kyle Busch was in character Friday night, leading the most laps in a car that was among the class of the field. But it took a gift from Brad Keselowski to send Busch to his 37th career Nationwide Series victory.
Following a lap 191 restart, the No. 18 car found itself drifting back to as far as seventh before Busch was able to get in enough clean air to start wheeling his way towards the front. In the fourth position when Trevor Bayne‘s cut tire sent the field into a green-white-checkered scenario on lap 198, Keselowski ran out of fuel while preparing to take the restart in second. With the No. 22 forced to the apron, Busch got to start alongside teammate Joey Logano on the final lap 203 restart, and with clean air on its nose once again the No. 18 rode to the win. Logano finished in the runner-up spot, with Brian Scott, David Reutimann and Jason Leffler rounding out the top five.
Keselowski, who has had a near flawless campaign halfway through 2010, ran out of fuel after missing his pit stall during a late-race cycle of stops. While the lack of fresh tires did little to slow his No. 22 in the final laps, the fuel tank ran dry during GWC laps, leaving Keselowski to finish 21st, his worst finish since Las Vegas last March and the end to a streak of 16 consecutive top-10 finishes. That opened the door for Carl Edwards, who finished sixth, to make up ground in the title chase for the first time since Road America. Edwards now sits 227 markers behind Keselowski heading into this Saturday’s race at Gateway.
Scott couldn’t stop gushing in his post-race interview about how successful a night Friday was for Braun Racing, and it’s hard to argue with his enthusiasm. For Scott, his third-place finish was not only a career-best, but also marked the first time that the rookie contender finished in the top 10 since Dover back in May. Teammate Leffler finished fifth, his first top-five finish since the same Dover race, in an event that saw the No. 38 team a legitimate contender for the win – a rare occurrence for the team since a red-hot start to the 2009 season. And for Reed Sorenson, momentum from a Daytona weekend that saw him score a top-10 finish in the Cup ranks obviously carried over; the eighth-place finish was his seventh top 10 in his last eight races driving the No. 32. A few more weekends like that, and one of Braun’s Nationwide regulars may well be the next Justin Allgaier to crash victory lane.
Though both the No. 6 and No. 16 teams left Chicago with two more wrecked race cars on their respective haulers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Colin Braun still posted top 20 results that kept their respective teams in the Top 30 in owner points. More importantly, though, the two each drove clean, composed races that saw both cars contending for top 10 finishes before Brendan Gaughan got loose and sent the whole field into a blender exiting turn 4 coming to the white flag. Though both were collected in a wreck not of their making, the difference between Braun and Stenhouse Friday night and their races from early spring was night and day. They each may have Roush Fenway Racing’s deep pockets to thank for staying in their rides this long, but the talent that saw the two of them winning races in the ARCA and Truck ranks is finally showing through.
Speaking of Gaughan, that hiccup in turn 4 at the end of the race not only took out a number of good cars in addition to the RFR development fleet, it marked perhaps the most visible moment in what could only be considered a disappointing night for the No. 62 team. The new car race at Daytona notwithstanding, Gaughan’s squad was one that was reaping the rewards of Rusty Wallace Incorporated’s new technical alliances with JGR and Toyota, and thus were expecting to easily contend for their fourth consecutive top-10 finish in an old car event. Unfortunately for them, after qualifying 35th, a top-10 run just wasn’t in the cards; until the late-race jumble, little was seen of the No. 62 up front.
Another driver on the invisible train Friday night was Landon Cassill, making only his fourth start of the 2010 season and his first for the RAB Racing No. 09 team. Qualifying a distant 38th, Cassill was six laps down in the blink of an eye and ran only 110 laps before parking with a “vibration.”
Morgan Shepherd found out at the very last minute that he would not only be driving the No. 21 this weekend, but would be driving a Richard Childress Racing-prepared car after NASCAR ruled that Shepherd couldn’t just slap No. 21 decals on the side of his own Chevrolet. And while a 25th place finish is probably what should have been expected from a last-minute deal, it certainly was a bit of a letdown to see Shepherd, a driver who has scored a number of top-20 finishes the past few seasons driving cars far from RCR caliber, struggle to improve his performance noticeably despite the better equipment. The Hot Lap reported that Shepherd will be driving the No. 21 for all its remaining unsponsored races… here’s hoping there’s a little more prep put into those racecars.
Bayne has got to be wondering by now what he has to do to catch a break. After qualifying third at a track whose Nationwide Series events have been railroaded by Cup drivers since Justin Labonte‘s upset win in 2004, Bayne was a fixture in the top 10 for nearly 300 miles under the lights, mixing it up with Leffler, Allgaier and a number of Cup regulars. All of that came undone, however, less than 10 miles from the finish. Contact on the track led to a tire rub that ended up popping the right-front tire of the No. 99 and sending it hard into the fence. Bayne finished 32nd with another torn up racecar in another wreck that wasn’t his making. It’s a shame that an early-race wreck at Daytona back in February that had the prospect frustrated has become the norm in his first full-time Nationwide Series season.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Parker Kligerman. The Penske development driver finished a career-best 13th last weekend at Daytona in only his second career start driving a Penske Racing entry. Friday night in Chicago, he equaled that career-best result… driving a Team 42 entry instead. An organization that only a month ago had been rumored to be shut down for good, the No. 42 bunch made the most of a rare-sponsored race, scoring only their fourth top-15 finish ever and their best result since Kenny Hendrick finished 12th at Las Vegas last March. For Kligerman, the result also marked the first time in his limited Nationwide Series career that he’s scored back-to-back top-15 finishes.
The Final Word
- One of the most positive storylines to come out of Chicago was the crowd in the grandstands on Friday night. While the reported 57,500 may have been generous, a 40,000 person crowd was not an unrealistic estimation, and for the Nationwide Series in 2010 that’s not too shabby. Maybe Chicagoland Speedway was onto something allowing fans to buy single event tickets instead of full season packages.
- Shelby Howard got plenty of kudos from the ESPN crew during the qualifying telecast after earning a top-10 start, but went without notice during the actual race telecast despite finishing in the top 20. Note to ESPN: mentioning Nationwide Series regulars during qualifying is not the same as doing so during the race. Especially not on a Friday where a lot of fans were still at work when qualifying was conducted.
- Speaking of TV, here’s a completely unscientific breakdown of detailed driver updates delivered during the race broadcast (meaning, the camera panned in on the car and details were provided as to how the car was running, a storyline surrounding the team, etc.), and excluding such exchanges where the car was involved in an incident on the track. 58% of such updates were directed towards Cup drivers. Out of the 21 Nationwide Series regulars in the field that did not start-and-park, only 10 were the focus of such updates (48% of the Nationwide Series field actually racing). And out of the detailed coverage given to Nationwide Series regulars, 22% involved Danica Patrick.
- And while on the topic of in-race updates, there have been few more painful to sit through than when the crew cut to Joe Nemechek‘s No. 87 car during green-flag pit stops. Despite having a sponsor on the car that Nemechek plugged prior to the event going green and the No. 87 car running in the top 20, the broadcast crew could do nothing more than hem and haw through the pit stop, with no knowledge of the sponsor, how the team was running or what the car was doing. What does that say about the telecast crew when even a Cup regular can’t get their story told straight in the Nationwide ranks?