You could see it coming from a mile away.
After battling for the lead for nearly the entire 250 miles on Saturday night, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards were again duking it out up front as they took the white flag. With Edwards holding the advantage entering turn 2, Keselowski pulled the bump and run to take the lead down the backstretch. Edwards then responded by stalking his rival through 3 and 4, then clearly turning into the No. 22 coming to the checkers and sending the points leader’s Dodge hard into the outside wall. The resulting impact sent Edwards to victory lane and Keselowski ricocheting into oncoming traffic; he was t-boned hard by Shelby Howard, with Tayler Malsam and Steve Arpin also involved in the last-lap carnage.
Emotions were heated on both sides of the incident. Edwards in victory lane made no attempt to conceal his actions, stating he couldn’t stand to have someone take the lead from him like that, while Brad’s father Bob threatened to don his own driver’s suit and take care of Edwards; the elder Keselowski remarked, “he’s not going to kill my boy.”
Avoiding the wreck, Reed Sorenson, polesitter Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Steve Wallace rounded out the top five. The points were, as to be expected, shaken up by the late-race calamities, with Edwards closing the gap on Keselowski to 168 as the Nationwide Series heads to O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis next Saturday night. Despite being involved in an earlier wreck, Justin Allgaier (who gave the command to start engines) remained the leading Nationwide Series regular, third in the standings and 497 markers out of first.
For full analysis of the Edwards/Keselowski episode and the resulting carnage, see the conclusion of this article below.
Bayne‘s stat sheet is slowly but finally starting to show results that are indicative of how well the Diamond-Waltrip Racing development driver actually has run in 2010. Winning his second career pole earlier in the afternoon, Bayne was a fixture at the front all night long, leading laps with less than 15 to go and forcing Keselowski and Kevin Harvick both to race extremely hard and pass the No. 99. The third-place result was a career best for the teen, his third top-10 in the last five races as well as his best shot yet at snatching a Nationwide Series victory.
While Bayne is still running his first full-time NNS campaign, he’s not technically a rookie. Saturday night, the official 2010 freshman class joined Bayne at the front of the field in a race that saw eight of the top-10 finishing positions occupied by series regulars. Brian Scott finished sixth, a solid follow-up to a top-five run at Chicago that saw the No. 11 team challenging for the win, while the Roush Fenway duo of Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished seventh and ninth, respectively.
Josh Wise, who has seen his full-time ride with Specialty Racing evaporate into a start-and-park role, was reduced to doing the same for Baker Curb Racing last weekend at Chicago. But he made the most of his third start with JR Motorsports, one of a handful of audition rides for him to possibly earn the job full-time in 2011. With GoDaddy.com providing rare sponsorship for a race Danica Patrick was not driving in, Wise delivered an eighth-place finish that not only saw him outrun JRM’s flagship No. 88, but score his first top 10 since ORP in the summer of 2008. Coming from the 34th starting position to do it only speaks more to how well the No. 7 ran at Gateway. GoDaddy will certainly not ditch the marketing machine for Wise, but the way he looked Saturday night, here’s hoping that funky-looking dude will grace his quarterpanels a few more times in 2010.
Kelly Bires, landing a ride for only his second start since JRM kicked him to the curb in May, was fortunate enough to snag a start in Baker Curb Racing’s No. 27 car, the one slated to run the distance while Brad Baker and Kevin Swindell ran start-and-park in the team’s Nos. 37 and 43 entries. Swindell lasted just eight laps, while Baker ran 61 before parking the No. 43. Trouble is, Bires only lasted one more lap himself, with an early engine expiration parking all three of the team’s cars well short of even the halfway marker. Among the three cars combined, BCR still did not complete 250 miles on Saturday night.
Ryan Truex spent over three-quarters of his Nationwide Series debut looking as if a top-10 finish – something that was well above the expectations he even set for himself in Frontstretch‘s exclusive driver diary Friday – would be well within the defending K&N Pro Series East champion’s grasp. Unfortunately, the first rookie hiccup for Michael Waltrip Racing’s latest development project struck on lap 178, sending the No. 00 car into the wall in turn 2 and flattening the rear end of the machine. Truex, who currently leads the East Series standings in his bid for a repeat title, may still be challenging for a Nationwide crown in 2011 should he continue to run as well as he did Saturday night… plus 20 circuits more.
Landon Cassill retired for the second week in a row less than 10 laps after the halfway point for RAB Racing, parking the No. 09 entry with a “vibration.” In short, this unsponsored bunch that has campaigned through much of 2010 with blank quarterpanels has now joined the start-and-park brigade. NASCAR’s new payout rules for this season mandate that to score bonus money for running a full-time car, a team must complete at least half of the laps in an event. Sadly, RAB is hardly the first team to use the rule to their advantage… Specialty Racing ran Dover to the halfway point before going to a straight start-and-park model. Doesn’t make it any less sad, though, to see another full-time team reduced to it, nor to see Cassill seemingly joining Danny O’Quinn as a recent NNS Rookie of the Year doing S&P for a living.
While it was certainly a plus to see the two JGR Nationwide cars on track with no Cup drivers in them, the end result for the team wasn’t so positive… two torn up racecars. Running in the top 10, Matt DiBenedetto lost control of the No. 20 as he exited turn 2 and smacked the wall. The resulting damage led the former East Series regular to spin in turn 3 on lap 151, sending the No. 20 smack into teammate Brad Coleman‘s No. 18 car and resulting in a vicious impact that destroyed both machines. DiBenedetto was also visibly shaken after the wreck, walking with a pronounced limp and being forced to sit down in the infield grass immediately after exiting his totaled Toyota. He turned out OK, but the finishes weren’t; DiBenedetto and Coleman wound up 29th and 30th, respectively.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Tony Raines. Willie Allen‘s ability to score top-15 finishes in the No. 05 car never ceases to impress, but Raines’s ability to deliver a top-10 result in Front Row Motorsports equipment is just as significant an accomplishment. For the longtime journeyman driver, the run was his first top 10 on a non-plate oval since Charlotte last October, as well as his first top 10 at Gateway since 2005. That leaves him still within 200 markers of the top 10 in the Nationwide Series standings, an impressive feat for an independent operation with limited funding.
The Final Word
There were not 52,000 fans at Gateway Saturday night, but there had to be at least 52,000 race fans watching in the immediate area wishing they had been there after Edwards turned Keselowski hard into the outside wall to score his second win of the 2010 campaign. The resulting carnage was ugly, Edwards’s seeming indifference to the melee he produced aggravating, and Bob Keselowski’s fear for his son’s well-being well-founded.
But nobody did anything wrong in this situation.
Keselowski was out to win Saturday night, and he proved that when he intentionally put the bump-and-run on Edwards in turn 2 during the final laps. Call it a nudge, call it a tap, call it acceptable, Brad moved Carl out of the way. And Carl hit back. That’s the reality of racing that drivers like Keselowski have to accept. Choosing not to race like Jeff Burton means a driver will win more races; it also means they’ll be on the receiving end of a lot more chrome horns. Brad made it clear to Carl that he was going to do what he had to to win, and Carl returned the favor.
This is the kind of intensity the sport has been desperately seeking, drivers throwing the points and playbook out the window and doing everything in their power to win. Edwards stopped at absolutely nothing to get to victory lane. His actions were violent, brash and held no regard for anyone but himself. He won, the points took care of themselves, and every single fan, be it 5,200 or 52,000 in the stands, left buzzing about what they had just seen. Even my dad and I exchanged heated words of disagreement over the incident, with my dad eventually leaving the room visibly irate.
This level of excitement and passion aroused in people is what has long distinguished NASCAR and its fans from other sports. This is a violent game we all play and celebrate, and it boils the blood of competitors and fans alike. I took great pleasure in seeing two of the most talented drivers in the sport out there battling with each other in a no-holds-barred capacity. There isn’t enough of that seen these days.
What’s a shame is that for Carl and Brad to throw caution and points to the wind and race for the trophy, they had to come down and play in NASCAR’s equivalent of AAA ball. Between Cup races at Talladega in 2009 and Atlanta this spring, the tension between these two is indisputable. But for it to have to come out simply because the two are driving for teams that have 10-15 times the budget of many of their competitors does ring a bit hollow.
Further, as the wrecked cars of Malsam, Arpin and others demonstrated, this type of racing destroys equipment. It comes with a price. And it’s impossible to dismiss the fact that both Edwards and Keselowski drive for teams that have the funding to tear up cars and not worry about it. The sad truth is the vast majority of their competitors at this level can’t afford to race like that, and seeing those type of teams paying the price for this episode is both unnecessary and unfortunate.
The now-scalding rift between these two is something that NASCAR has been hoping for. The problem is, thanks to their lack of control over the Cup stars stroking their egos week after week in the minors, next to nobody saw what was likely the most dramatic race finish since Brad sent Carl flying at Talladega last spring. The Cup drivers raced the way the Chase culture was supposed to make them race… in a minor-league event, fighting for glory in a series that has no playoff to worry about.
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