Nationwide Series fans should probably be long accustomed to Cup drivers setting completely meaningless milestones in the minor league ranks, and Friday night’s Food City 250 was no exception. Leading 116 laps, Kyle Busch overcame late-race contact with Brad Keselowski to score his 10th victory of the 2010 season, tying the all-time record for wins in a Nationwide Series season. Had Busch actually been a development or sportsman driver, the mark may have meant something.
The race was highlighted by a lap 219 incident involving Busch and series points leader Keselowski. Battling for the lead, Busch pulled a slide job ahead of the No. 22 Dodge, leaving no room for clearance between the two cars. Keselowski tapped Busch and put him in the straightaway wall, angering Busch, who regrouped and spun Keselowski in turn 4. With damage to his left-front fender, Keselowski fell back into traffic after leading 62 laps, finishing 14th and losing 34 points to Carl Edwards (finished fifth) in the title chase.
Justin Allgaier endured a difficult, wreck-filled night to finish 33rd, leaving him the highest-ranked Nationwide regular at fourth in the standings, but over 700 out of the lead. The crowd at Bristol was also notable, with NASCAR’s estimate of 112,000 actually appearing legitimate.
Willie Allen‘s done an admirable job in his part-time schedule for Wayne Day’s No. 05 team in 2010, but in his home state of Tennessee that admirable job has been nothing short of spectacular. Coming into Friday night, Allen had scored top-15 finishes at both Bristol in the spring and Nashville in the summer (he had a top-20 qualifying effort in the spring race at Nashville derailed when his engine expired), and turned all that momentum into his best qualifying effort since 2006 (seventh). Funny thing was, once the green flag dropped, the No. 05 car didn’t drop with it. Allen ran on the lead lap all night and came home 11th, a career-best for the Volunteer State-native in Nationwide competition. ESPN failed to track him down for a post-race interview, which was a damned shame… no one in the bullring deserved one more on Friday.
Jason Leffler was in a strange ride on Friday, but the results didn’t show it. While his normal No. 38 ride lasted only 81 laps with Kasey Kahne behind the wheel, Leffler took the No. 10 car for the ride of its season under the lights. By race’s end, Leffler was running laps comparable to leader Busch, only without the benefit of clean air. Nonetheless, the second-place result was the best of 2010 for Leffler, his first runner-up finish since Darlington in May of 2009. The result also moved last year’s title contender into ninth in points. Most notable, it marked the fifth consecutive top-10 finish for Leffler in races that he drove the No. 10 instead of the No. 38. In that same stretch of races, his replacement, Cup regular Kahne, has posted an average finish of 25.2. Nice move, Great Clips.
Allgaier returned to the track where he scored his first career Nationwide Series win this past March, but Bristol was was none too kind this time around. Allgaier began sliding backwards almost immediately from his fourth-place qualifying result until contact between he and Kahne on lap 82 nearly flipped Kahne into the catchfence while pancaking the right side of the No. 12 Dodge. Allgaier’s crippled car was involved in another spin on lap 187, leaving him to finish 33rd, a disappointing showing on a night that he was highlighted on ESPN’s broadcast and his worst finish on an oval since a 38th-place result at Richmond in May of 2009. Friday night was unfortunately a microcosm of how Allgaier, who started the year so well, has seen a title-contending season turn into merely a solid one.
Rusty Wallace had Bristol all figured out during his career as a driver, but the same couldn’t be said for his team’s racecars this weekend. Steve Wallace found the wall early in the event and limped to a 30th-place result, six laps off the pace by race’s end. Brendan Gaughan, meanwhile, saw a top-10 run evaporate late after being involved in a late-race wreck with Brian Scott on lap 235, instead dropping into traffic and finishing 21st. For Gaughan, Bristol marked his fourth consecutive finish outside the top 20, leaving him only 15 points from falling out of the top 10 in the NNS standings.
Mike Wallace was another Wallace to find trouble on Friday night, courtesy of Clint Bowyer. Though broadcast commentators noted that Wallace seemed to have checked up on lap 158 after Joe Nemechek and Sean Caisse tangled, the fact remained that Bowyer bowled all over Wallace’s No. 01 car exiting turn 4, sending the No. 01 smack into the mangled mess of Caisse and Nemechek’s machine. The No. 01 eventually ended the evening 31st, 24 laps down, Wallace’s worst finish at Bristol since 2008.
Eric McClure was heard on Speed’s NNS qualifying broadcast telling his team that the hit he took after a qualifying wreck hurt. There’s no doubting that Friday was a whole hurt a lot for the driver of the No. 24. After posting a time in happy hour that would have seen the No. 24 car make the race despite a strong 50-car field, McClure slapped the wall hard enough for his team to roll out a backup car for qualifying. In that qualifying session, McClure was off the pace he set in happy hour before spinning on his second lap and flattening the rear end of his backup car. Two wrecked cars and his team missed the race. Things don’t get much worse for a Nationwide Series regular.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Parker Kligerman. Penske Racing’s other development prospect has done quite a bit in his debuts, be it winning nine races in his first ARCA campaign last season or winning the pole in his Nationwide Series debut at Kansas last fall. This weekend, Kligerman made his Nationwide Series debut on a short-track (he attempted the spring race at Bristol but failed to qualify), and posted a career best result in doing so. The ninth-place finish for Kligerman, who alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled from a starting position outside the top 30 into the heart of the pack, was his first ever top 10 in Nationwide competition, and the best for the No. 42 since they debuted with Kenny Hendrick in the season opener at Daytona last February. As Kligerman noted in his post-race interview, not too shabby for a team of three guys.
The Final Word
- Josh Wise quietly brought home another top-15 run for the No. 7 car this weekend and is now emerging as the leading candidate to fill the 2011 slate for JR Motorsports’ second team alongside Danica Patrick. Not only is Wise likely to mesh well as a development driver with the old-school Eurys (during his tenure with Specialty Racing earlier in the season, Wise was observed to have had an inquisitive relationship with veteran crew chief Doug Taylor), he’s a quiet performer without flash to take the spotlight off Patrick in the No. 7, even if he’s outrunning her every weekend. And make no mistake, Wise is quite talented. He’ll be running circles around the IRL’s beauty queen.
- Allgaier’s struggles this weekend may well prove to be a blessing in disguise for the second-year Nationwide Series competitor in that it should dispel any and all notions that a promotion to Cup should be in the cards for 2011, no matter what Sam Hornish Jr. does. Allgaier has undoubtedly showed progress as a driver over his rookie season last year and continues to represent Penske Racing well off the track. But all one needs to do is look at his stats this year compared to Keselowski’s before his move to Cup. They’re not even close. Another year running for a Nationwide title will do Allgaier a world of good, especially if NASCAR actually cuts down on Cup drivers.
- Note to Keselowski, if you learned anything this weekend, learn this: If you’re going to hit Kyle Busch, finish the job.
- Speaking of Kyle Busch, all this talk about celebrating 10 wins in a season has got to stop. Busch is driving cars with 10 times the budget of much of his competition and is undeniably one of the most talented drivers in all of stock car racing, much less the Nationwide Series. Frankly, there’s no excuse for him not to be winning boatloads of hardware doing what he’s doing in the AAA ranks. And there’s a bigger problem. Either the media can’t get enough of Busch, or they can’t come up with anything better to talk about despite a colorful cast of Nationwide Series regulars. None of those are desirable scenarios.