Brad Keselowski won the spring race at Richmond on a last-lap pass, having to outrace Greg Biffle after dominating the event. This time, Keselowski came within an inch of making another last-lap pass for the win, though he wasn’t the dominant driver this time around.
That honor went to Virginia 529 College Savings 250 winner Kevin Harvick, who led 170 circuits en route to scoring his third win of the year. Harvick, however, nearly lost the race in the final five laps, where Keselowski caught up after conserving his tires during the final green-flag run. Keselowski took advantage of lapped traffic to get to Harvick’s rear bumper, and even got him out of shape with two laps to go heading down the backstretch. However, the driver of the No. 22 locked up his brakes trying to make the pass, and ended up falling a car length short at the finish. Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson rounded out the top five.
The race, clean by short-track standards with only six cautions, was the first test of the new Nationwide Series car on a short track, and while the racing was no different than usual, that’s a good thing at RIR. It was not a good night for Carl Edwards, who faded to 10th by race’s end and lost 41 more points in the title chase to Keselowski, falling to 373 markers back. Justin Allgaier finished 12th, remaining the highest-ranked Nationwide Series regular in fourth, 790 points out of the lead.
Bayne‘s third-place finish as the highest-finishing NNS regular on Friday night was not only a career-best result on a short track, but a performance that equaled his best career finish, period. It was also the best result that Michael Waltrip Racing has yet had with the Nationwide Series CoT, as Bayne had finished 27th and 11th in the machine’s first two events. Bayne also gained 50 points on Steve Wallace in the battle for seventh in the series standings with this effort. Talk about a star in the making; four straight top-10 finishes on short tracks is about as good as a developing driver can hope for.
For as many struggles as he and the No. 6 team have faced in 2010, Stenhouse Jr. has at least picked the best three races he could to deliver results in; the three in the car that the Nationwide Series will campaign full-time in 2011. Third at Daytona, 13th at Michigan, Roush Fenway’s development project turned in a fourth-place result at Richmond that was a career-best short-track effort for the Mississippi native, and a performance that demonstrated progress as a driver. Namely, the No. 6 car was one that improved over the course of a run, even as his tires wore out. Another note: Stenhouse has gone 12 straight races without a DNF. That’s the longest he’s ever gone without one.
Parker Kligerman is on a different sort of roll; by finishing 15th on Friday night, he’s scored five consecutive top-15 finishes despite revolving between part-time rides in a Penske-fielded No. 26 and Team 42 Racing. Please, please, please NASCAR put a restriction on Cup driver involvement next year so this guy can get some big-time Nationwide Series rides in the No. 22.
Sorenson finished fifth. Might as well just give him a permanent spot in this section whenever he drives the No. 32.
Jeremy Clements and his No. 04 team have only recently begun taking their limited stable of race cars onto NASCAR’s bullrings, but it didn’t show in qualifying. After posting a career-best starting spot of 13th, Clements was battling hard with Brendan Gaughan for a spot in the top 20 early before Gaughan lost the nose of his car in turn 1 and sent the No. 04 spinning into the wall on lap 11. While the damage wasn’t enough to send the No. 04 off-track or behind the wall, his night may as well have ended. Clements ended up finishing four laps down in 34th, despite having a car early on that appeared capable of backing up that top-20 starting spot.
Erik Darnell finally got to return behind the wheel of a Roush Ford, but it was not the return the former Truck regular needed to get his career back on NASCAR’s radar screen. After starting 17th, Darnell was unable to make the headway that even teammate Stenhouse was in Ford equipment. Running between the top 15 and top 20 all night, Darnell ended up missing the commitment cone for a green-flag pit stop after Kyle Busch locked up the brakes in front of him at pit road entry on lap 111. Darnell wound up a distant 22nd at night’s end, continuing a stretch that has seen him finish outside the top 20 in every NASCAR start since finishing 18th in the Nationwide Series race at Kansas last fall. Considering how few opportunities Darnell will likely be getting behind the wheel of the No. 16 this season, Friday night was a major shortcoming.
Brian Scott came into Richmond hoping to rebound after mechanical failures took him out early at Atlanta last week, but a rebound wasn’t in the cards for a rookie that’s challenging Stenhouse for the hard-luck Rookie of the Year award. Early in the going, Scott again found himself behind the wall after suffering mechanical issues; this time, an element of the car’s oil pump failed and put the No. 11 team to work. The bad luck wasn’t done for Scott, either. On lap 203, Clint Bowyer dumped Scott exiting turn 2, leading the Idaho native to exclaim over the radio, “What the hell was that for?” Good question, seeing as how Bowyer triggered a caution he didn’t need that allowed his closest competition to pit under yellow for fresh tires after he bulldozed the No. 11. Scott now has three consecutive finishes outside the top 25, with an average finish of 31.0.
Underdog Performance of the Race: While the smaller teams are definitely appearing behind the curve in terms of developing this new Nationwide Series CoT, every independent NNS organization deserves a pat on the back for fielding a full field of racecars for the third time this season. What’s more, the teams all handled the treacherous activity that is short-track racing with minimal damage done to the field of cars, yet still producing plenty of side-by-side racing. And only three teams start-and-parked this event. Despite the Cup dominance at the front of the field that yet again saw double duty drivers take eight of the top-10 starting positions, the on-track product Friday night was a solid showing for the Nationwide Series.
The Final Word
- Richard Childress was audible on the radio of his No. 21 team all night long, especially during an episode between laps 150 and 156 that saw Bowyer deal with a nasty tire rub before his left front Goodyear finally gave way. Fortunately for everyone in the RCR camp, Bowyer kept the car off the wall and eventually fought back into contention. But ESPN commentators were right to point out how quickly team members on the No. 21 pit box were encouraging Bowyer to pit if there was a problem. Why? Risk of injury. Saturday night, Bowyer is supposed to run 400 laps in his Cup car and secure a place in the Chase. Why RCR elected to keep the most vulnerable driver in their stable in a minor-league race at a track that he’s got plenty of familiarity with is beyond me. And if Bowyer’s tire had popped going into turn 3 instead of turn 4, who knows what would have happened. Robert Richardson already proved at Michigan that it’s possible to get hurt even in NASCAR’s latest safety device.
- It wasn’t necessarily bad or ugly, but a lot of the development talent highlighted in Friday’s race was very quiet over the course of the event. Ryan Truex started in the top 15 but faded as the event went on, eventually finishing 26th. Kelly Bires finished three laps off the pace in 27th making his debut with Rensi Racing, and Coleman Pressley‘s 25th-place result paled in comparison to the top-20 finishes he delivered at Richmond and Darlington earlier this season with the same No. 23 team. Certainly not flashy results, but that’s not to discount the talent present among these three…
- It’s more a product of how anyone that’s not a super-team is really proving the theory that this new car would actually turn the already gaping hole between the haves and have-nots in the Nationwide ranks to a chasm. Just look at Friday’s results, regardless of who drove; only two of the top-15 finishers were Nationwide regulars driving for Nationwide teams, and those were both from the same Braun Racing camp. RWI, Tri-Star, Germain, Rensi, ML, JD, RAB, all those teams ran exactly where they’ve been running before this new car showed up. So much for the great equalizer.
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