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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Montreal

“Finally!” exclaimed Boris Said as he emerged in NAPA Auto Parts 200 victory lane after scoring his first career Nationwide Series victory, moments after a drag race to the checkers with Max Papis that hit the highlight reels as the fifth-closest finish in series history.

More importantly, this was finally the type of ending the Nationwide Series had been waiting for since Justin Allgaier‘s win at Bristol in March; a non-Cup regular emerged as the winner. While Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards and Robby Gordon dominated much of the event, Ambrose’s failed alternator, Edwards’s broken track bar mount, and Gordon running out of fuel opened the door en masse for an intense two-lap finale between Said, Papis and Jacques Villeneuve that was nothing short of spell-binding. Villeneuve’s dive-bomb move on Papis for second eventually fell short, leaving Papis and Said to duke it out between themselves for the victory. Initially falling back several car lengths, the Italian made a valiant charge following the tenth turn on the road course, actually seizing the lead for a few short seconds as both cars bounded through the track’s final few corners.

However, in the same area of the track that Edwards stole victory from Ambrose last season, the No. 33 car driven by Papis met with the same demise. As the duo entered the the final turn, the Carlsbad native capitalized on Papis’s hard contact with the rumble strips on the inside, pulling alongside and maintaining enough momentum to beat him by a nose in a spirited charge down the frontstretch.

Edwards wound up leading the most laps, but fell to 20th after the mechanical failure. His struggles led Brad Keselowski, who finished fourth, to extend his points lead to 365. Allgaier remained the highest-ranked Nationwide Series regular, fourth in points after finishing ninth, his best career run on a road course.

Worth Noting

The Good

For the majority of the Canadian drivers in the field on Sunday, racing before the hometown crowd proved to a be a boon for results. Headlining the charge was national hero Villeneuve, who proved to be one of the few drivers capable of keeping up with both Ambrose and Edwards as they led the field for all but 23 of the laps run. The only one in the Braun Racing stable left standing in a race filled with attrition, Villeneuve not only survived but finished a career-best third. JR Fitzpatrick (seventh) scored his third top-15 finish in his three-race road-course stint with JR Motorsports, and also posted a career-best result in three starts on the Montreal road course. Lastly, DJ Kennington did an admirable job filling in for Eric McClure, on medical leave after enduring two hard hits at Bristol last week. Kennington wound up 11th, the best result of his Nationwide Series career and the best finish for the Rensi Racing camp since Said finished in the top five driving the team’s No. 25 car at Montreal in 2008.

Speaking of Said, was there anyone else in the field more deserving of a win on Sunday than the driver of the No. 09? Just about every NASCAR driver at all levels that’s become a good road racer has Said to thank in some capacity, and yet his long-desired full-time career in the Sprint Cup ranks has never quite come to fruition. Left driving for a Nationwide team struggling to survive with a crew chief who, after a release from Braun Racing, had been out of work for much of the 2010 season (Scott Zipadelli), Said earned his first NASCAR win since a Truck Series victory at Infineon back in 1998. Perhaps that’s why Said appeared more exhausted than exuberant after emerging from his car in victory lane….

Papis capitalized on a big-time opportunity with Kevin Harvick Incorporated to run second, his best career finish in NASCAR competition – occurring just a week after being yanked from his Cup ride permanently for Casey Mears.

And Trevor Bayne‘s top-10 finish was not just impressive because Bayne was running as high as sixth late in the running against a field stacked full of road course specialists; he also managed to stay on track and complete all the laps despite nearly knocking the retaining wall down on lap 73 after hard contact with Fitzpatrick.

The Bad

Braun Racing not only went one for four in cars finishing the race, but the three that didn’t were considerably mangled up. Brian Scott only completed eight laps before slamming into the wall, an innocent victim of Alex Kennedy‘s spin. The resulting 40th-place ending was the worst of his Nationwide Series career. Tayler Malsam was involved in several incidents throughout the day in finishing an ugly 23rd, 10 laps down. And Jason Leffler had a strong top-10 showing go down the drain after involvement in the same lap 73 chaos that also sent Bayne into the fence, relegating the driver of the No. 38 to a 21st-place finish. The Braun body shop’s going to be left wondering whether or not the Nationwide Series ever left Bristol….

Roush Fenway Racing’s body shop’s going to be wondering much the same thing, as Colin Braun and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. both destroyed the front end of their respective Fords in wrecks on lap 12 and lap 68. The pair finished 22nd and 24th.

Andrew Ranger was among the stars of the show in this race one year ago, leading 10 laps and finishing third right after winning the Canadian Tire Series race on the same road course Saturday. This time around on the Nationwide Series side, however, he was a non-factor. Qualifying in the top 15 for the third consecutive race at Montreal, Ranger had debris falling from his car on the very first lap. Only 12 laps later, the No. 27 car was in the garage for good with a blown motor. He finished 39th, which, when coupled with Justin Marks‘s failure to complete even one lap in the No. 43 car, made for an ugly day for Baker Curb Racing.

Thanks to wrecks and electrical problems, none of the Tri-Star Motorsports cars finished better than 34th.

The Ugly

The ugliest incident of the day in a long list of them came between Steve Wallace and Ron Fellows. Heading into one of the harder braking zones on the course, Fellows hooked Wallace and sent him into a spin on lap 19. Two laps later, Wallace’s No. 66 Toyota was spewing smoke and oil, the premature end of his day when a top-10 finish was possibly in the cards. Displeased with the way his race ended, Wallace proceeded to make his final circuit of the day in his crippled machine with the window net down and his helmet off. Why? Wallace went out of his way to flip the bird to Fellows as he passed by under caution. A tame exchange compared to some of the incidents seen in the Nationwide ranks recently, but one worth noting especially considering its public display on nationwide television. NASCAR’s “Boys Will Be Boys” attitude has applied well to crashes that they can use to market the sport; but will it apply to profanity?

Underdog Performer of the Race: Jay Robinson Racing. Kenny Wallace and Mark Green started in 40th and 41st, driving two unsponsored cars on one of the most expensive travel weekends of the Nationwide Series season. Yet both ran the distance, both stayed out of trouble… and both scored top-20 finishes for their efforts. For Wallace, it was his best result since Talladega in April while for Green, it was not only another admirable effort for a team that was originally intended to maintain a start-and-park car, it was his best finish overall since Kentucky last season. A pat on the back to this operation for continuing to defy the odds.

The Final Word

  • One of the drivers that will stand to benefit most from any limitation on Cup drivers in the Nationwide ranks will apparently be Parker Kligerman, who, despite running in his second part-time ride in as many weeks, scored another top-10 finish; he finished eighth driving what was apparently a Penske-built Dodge under the K-Automotive banner. After scoring nine ARCA wins last year, there was no doubting this kid could drive, but imagine giving him a full-time ride in a big-time car. Penske Racing may well go two-for-two in Nationwide titles even if Keselowski can’t defend what will inevitably be his this year.
  • Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a beautiful road course, that’s for sure… it just wasn’t built for stock cars. Yes, Sunday’s race was fantastic towards the finish. But what seemed like a limitless amount of ugly early wrecks did highlight, yet again, that NASCAR absolutely has to start utilizing the local yellow. These absurdly long caution periods make for intolerable and unnecessary interruptions in action not only for fans, but for competitors as well; anyone notice how hard Villeneuve was breathing during the red-flag period?
  • The talk of moving a Cup race to Montreal needs to end. And that’s not to say the Cup Series shouldn’t consider a race up there. If anything, it makes sense to have such an expensive and logistically challenging event reserved for the big teams with big money. But not on a road course. Canada’s got plenty of bullrings; utilize one of those to bring some very enthusiastic race fans a big-time stock car race. Sunday’s finish was one for the ages, but anyone that watched the whole race on Sunday also is very aware how borderline many sections of this road course are for being able to handle these racecars.
  • 70,000 fans for a Nationwide race is always a good thing to see. So is seeing a finish among three non-Cup drivers for the win, and three of the good guys at that.

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