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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 5-Hour Energy 250 at Gateway

Not even Carl Edwards was going to keep Brad Keselowski out of Gateway’s victory lane this time. Driving a car that had been practiced all weekend by Penske development driver Parker Kligerman, Keselowski was running in the top five by the midpoint of Saturday’s 250-miler, and capitalized on a four-tire pit stop inside of 10 laps to go to wrestle the lead, and race win, from Mike Bliss with two laps to go.

The race was most significantly marred by a vicious wreck on lap 103 after Scott Wimmer got loose in turn 4 and was tagged from behind by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The resulting carnage severely damaged or destroyed 11 cars on the frontstretch in a melee eerily similar to the one triggered at the last race at Gateway back in July after Edwards sent Keselowski hard into the wall coming to the checkered flag. Fortunately, no drivers were injured.

With the win, Keselowski now holds a lead of 485 points over Edwards (who finished fifth) with three races remaining in the Nationwide Series season, and only has to start the next three races to clinch the series title. Teammate Justin Allgaier, who led the most laps on Saturday after winning the pole, finished third and remained the highest ranked regular, fourth in points, 866 out of the championship lead. With 123 points now separating 10th place Steve Wallace from 11th-place Brendan Gaughan, the top 10 in the Nationwide standings appear all but set for this campaign.

Worth Noting

The Good

Allgaier may not have scored the win on Saturday, but not only did he actually have a car capable of doing it, he established himself as a contender in this one. Leading a career-high 88 laps, it marked the first time since Nashville in June that Allgaier managed to lead more than 20 laps in Nationwide competition. The finish was also the fifth consecutive top-10 finish for the leading Nationwide regular, who still finds himself searching for a home in 2011. It did fall short, however, for the No. 12 car was good enough to win… and Gateway is all but Allgaier’s home track. This race was lost, however, not by the driver, but by his pit crew, who choked on every single pit stop in the race’s second half. Allgaier lost a double digit number’s worth of positions over the final 100 laps on pit road, and that was the difference between a top five and a likely win. That said, Allgaier handled the frustrating situation with a lot of class and professionalism post-race. Here’s hoping a prospective sponsor noticed.

Josh Wise‘s performance on Saturday was far from his prettiest of the 2010 season, but the results were still there when it counted. He was involved in a spin on lap 96 with Paul Menard, and had an episode well-publicized on TV where he confused his own pit box with JR Motorsports teammate Danica Patrick‘s during stops (the broadcast crew fairly noted he typically drives the No. 7, not the No. 88 he was in this Saturday). But Wise proved able to recover from both of those gaffes to score a seventh-place result, his best with JRM and the third consecutive for the No. 88 team. The ability to score top 10s is exactly what JRM is going to need to have in Danica’s companion driver for 2011… someone’s gotta keep her car in the top 30.

The finale race at Gateway wasn’t dubbed the Wallace Family Tribute, but the Wallace family enjoyed one more solid outing on a track they can most assuredly call home. Leading the charge was Steve Wallace, who finished 12th despite late-race contact with Patrick and capitalized on teammate Gaughan’s troubles to tighten his grasp on the 10th position in NNS points. Kenny Wallace finished 13th, driving a No. 28 car with support from Rusty Wallace Incorporated. The improved equipment translated into great results; the result was Wallace’s best on an oval since Talladega in April and only his third top-15 finish of the season. Lastly, Mike Wallace rebounded from a 40th-place starting position to finish 16th, his best finish at Gateway since 2008.

Hats off as well to Jason Leffler for an aggressive three-wide move to take fourth place at the start-finish line.

The Bad

Matt Dibenedetto can’t seem to find the racing luck that typically surrounds Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 team. Despite qualifying a career-best third, the JGR development prospect fell well short of the finish after blowing a motor on lap 161, finishing a distant 24th. The result was the first finish outside of the top 20 for the team since a 31st-place at ORP back in July where Dibenedetto suffered an engine failure. The former East Series standout has now suffered two engine failures in his last three starts in the No. 20. Prior to those two failures, the last driver to suffer an engine failure in the No. 20? Bliss at Chicago… in July of 2004.

Allgaier’s pit crew. Shameful. Just shameful.

The Ugly

The lap 103 wreck triggered by contact between Wimmer and Stenhouse Jr. was not just ugly because of how many cars were involved, but how hard the hits were. Shelby Howard and Gaughan both absorbed multiple hard impacts. Sean Caisse‘s underfunded No. 39 ride was destroyed. Michael McDowell‘s car was a mangled mess afterwards. Braun Racing saw not only Wimmer’s return to Nationwide Series racing ended, but also a promising debut for Brad Sweet go up in smoke. And honestly, how many race cars can Roush Fenway Racing have left in their stables after the season they’ve had? This was more than a wreck; it was a calamity.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Jeremy Clements. While ESPN spent ample time following the lap 103 disaster dissecting Patrick’s path through the carnage and how she just barely kissed the wall missing everything, very little time was spent reviewing one of the most impressive saves the Nationwide Series has seen all season, with Clements skirting down three lanes on the track to completely miss the wall, the wreck, and everything in between. With a top-15 run preserved, Clements moved on later in the event to lead six laps (the first he’s led in Nationwide competition and the most he’s led at any national stock car racing level since leading 27 in ARCA competition at Chicago in 2007) and score a 10th-place result, the best of his career and his first NNS top 10. Pretty remarkable for a team running on half-tire allotments with little to no sponsorship.

The Final Word

  • Allgaier wins the pole, leads the most laps, is running at his home track in its final race and still can’t bring home another trophy for the Nationwide Series regulars. Oh, and he really needs a win right now. Completely rhetorical question, but in this quagmire that is the 2010 Nationwide Series, what’s it gonna take?!
  • Keselowski is likely going to clinch the Nationwide Series title at Texas next week. Who cares?
  • Farewell, Gateway International Raceway. The final race was a good one, but shame NASCAR’s gear rules got rid of shifting on the frontstretch. There was plenty of good racing seen on one of the more unique configurations NASCAR had to offer over the years, but it could have been more. Go figure, the rules package getting in the way of everything.
  • Allgaier was the polesitter this weekend, his third career Nationwide Series pole. Of note, all of Allgaier’s career Nationwide Series poles have come on Dover Motorsports racetracks (Memphis, Nashville and Gateway), two of which are now closed. That, and Nashville’s future doesn’t look so bright. A metaphor for Allgaier’s career prospects? Sadly, it appears fitting.

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