Anyone who saw the first half of Saturday’s CARFAX 250 at Michigan would find it hard to be surprised that Brad Keselowski went on to score his fourth victory of the 2010 season. However, after seeing the No. 22 Dodge turn the 250-miler into a leisurely weekend drive and leading second place by as much as 11 seconds, Keselowski still had to mount an impressive comeback to score a second consecutive victory at his home track.
Pitting as the leader with the rest of the pack after a lap 62 caution for reports of oil on the track, Keselowski found his car had a faulty clutch pedal, stalling as he attempted to leave the pits and losing track position. Keselowski’s misfortune handed the lead over to Roush Fenway Racing teammates Paul Menard and Carl Edwards. Edwards took the lead on lap 76, while Keselowski stormed his way back through the field and soon found himself battling with his arch-rival. This time, the two raced clean, using the new Nationwide car’s aero package to utilize drafting and race side-by-side all over the Michigan oval. A late-race caution would again see Keselowski lose spots on pit road thanks to the clutch issue, but again the No. 22 was able to catch back up, taking the lead for good on lap 117 en route to victory lane. Edwards, Kyle Busch, Justin Allgaier and Menard rounded out the top five.
The late-race yellow was triggered by a nasty wreck after Steve Wallace got loose and slammed into the side of Robert Richardson, sending the No. 23 hard into the backstretch wall. Though the wreck did not appear too devastating on TV, the impact was hard enough to severely bend the car’s chassis and to send Richardson to a local hospital for a precautionary CAT scan, which fortunately came back negative.
Keselowski’s win allowed him to extend his points lead again to 347 over Edwards. Allgaier remained fourth in the standings, 645 markers back and highest-ranked of the Nationwide Series regulars.
Allgaier‘s fourth-place finish was not only his first top five since way back at Nashville in June, it also marked a career-best finish for the Penske development driver at Michigan between both the Nationwide and ARCA Racing series. Allgaier’s strong run was important in the bigger picture, though, in that it complemented teammate Keselowski’s dominant performance. Just as how back in 2007, the Penske Racing camp was one of the few in the Cup garage that got ahead of the CoT during its transition year, they’ve done it once again with the Nationwide Series car. But, while Keselowski is busy winning the title this year, chances are he won’t be allowed to run full-time again next year. That’s going to put Allgaier at the point of Penske’s Nationwide program, and make him the driver responsible for keeping that CoT on the cutting edge. Otherwise, Penske may well regress… just like they did in Cup in 2008.
Ryan Truex shocked the Nationwide Series garage by qualifying on the outside of the front row in only his second career start, then proving capable of running at the front. Though Truex did fall out of the top five fairly quickly, at no point over the course of 250 miles did he appear in over his head. Racing with the Cup interlopers and besting all but four of the Nationwide Series regulars in the field, the current East Series points leader looked right at home on the large 2-mile oval. Sponsor dollars should be, and probably are, all that should be standing in the way of this prospect getting a full shot at Nationwide competition in 2011.
Jason Leffler was easily the class of the Braun Racing camp on Saturday, not to mention he had a car capable of running inside the top five. At one point, he was possibly the stoutest Toyota in the field until Busch’s team made late-race adjustments. However, after running in third place for much of the event, Leffler suffered a fuel pump failure on lap 71 that parked the No. 38 for the rest of the race. The 34th-place finish was Leffler’s sixth DNF of the 2010 season, leaving him only four points ahead of Michael Annett for a spot in the top 10 inside the standings. Once again, Bruan Racing saw their flagship machine finish last among their four-car fleet.
Rusty Wallace Incorporated didn’t have the day that either of its teams needed. A rough summer stretch continued for Brendan Gaughan, who finished back in 32nd after having a late-race power failure in his Camry. As for Wallace, his 18th-place result snapped a streak of 10 consecutive top-15 finishes. It didn’t come clean, either; Wallace never settled in all race long, with one of his snaps triggering Richardson’s hard wreck, the only incident of Saturday afternoon’s race.
The fact that Richardson was sent to the hospital after enduring a late-race wreck was ugly enough, but with the driver now apparently unharmed from contact with the wall, all attention turns to the damage done to R3 Motorsports’ valuable NNS CoT. A report from the team on Sunday stated that the damage done to the new chassis was so severe after smacking the concrete that the car may well be a total loss for the team. Considering that the No. 23 is unsponsored and Nationwide CoTs continue to be at a premium, it will likely be a long month’s worth of work for the R3 bunch to get either acquire or somehow repair a car in time for the next CoT event at Richmond.
Underdog Performer of the Race: John Wes Townley. After a long hiatus that saw him terminated at Richard Childress Racing without a formal announcement ever being made, Townley has returned to the same RAB Racing team that he drove for in 2009. Only thing is, the No. 09 team was locked into the Top 30 in owner points from the start of his time in the car this year. With the pressure of having to qualify off, Townley took only two races in the seat to score a lead-lap, top-20 finish (he ended up 17th on Saturday). To put that in perspective, that’s something he did only six times in over 30 attempts with the same operation only one year ago. While it’s far too premature to declare Townley the next Jamie McMurray, improving with a return home, a 17th-place finish for the Zaxby’s driver was no small feat; it’s the best finish for the No. 09 team since Scott Riggs ran 14th for the outfit at Las Vegas way back in March.
The Final Word
- Shelby Howard‘s 22nd-place finish was largely overlooked in the final running order despite being a fairly significant piece of the bigger picture puzzle. In this case, the single-car ML Motorsports operation that has made a habit of scoring top-15 finishes despite being a part-time effort proved unable to keep up with many of the teams they’ve proven good enough to beat throughout this year. Like it or not, the Nationwide CoT is, like the Cup car, a new machine that has been scarcely tested and will take significant amounts of work to figure out. No matter how good a team like ML is at battling Goliath, this new car may prove too much of a developmental challenge to be the “great equalizer” that ESPN has dubbed it.
- That said, as costly as it may be, the new Nationwide CoT really did put on a good show at Michigan. The battle between Edwards and Keselowski for the race lead involved drafting, side-drafting and at least four grooves on the racetrack. It was a truly exciting battle that showcased how good racing at Michigan can be, and did seem to be aided by the new car. Now, the trick is to get the Nationwide Series regulars doing that type of racing for the lead in their own series. Hoping for some big changes in 2011 NASCAR… and I don’t mean to the cars.