With Brad Keselowski set to end the Nationwide Series season two races early, it only seems fitting that this week be the one that Frontstretch recaps the top-10 moments that Nationwide Series regulars (and semi-regulars) have enjoyed this season (with Morgan Shepherd’s dump move on Danica Patrick at Loudon just narrowly missing the cut).
10. Leffler Leads the Braun Pack At Iowa. On a night that saw teammates drop like flies (Tayler Malsam suffered damage in an early wreck, while Reed Sorenson and Brian Scott both crashed as a result of tire failures), Jason Leffler picked the perfect opportunity to score his best finish of the 2010 season. Qualifying in the top 10 for only the fourth time all year, Leffler was a top-10 fixture despite the specter of tire failure looming over his squad, and came home third, the first top-three run for the No. 38 team since Texas last November.
9. Clements Averts Disaster En Route to First Career Top 10 at Gateway. While ESPN spent ample time following a 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. That would have been Jeremy 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.
8. The Year’s Most Unlikely Top Five Goes to Borneman At Talladega. Driving his own unsponsored No. 83 machine and entering the day with a career-best finish of 25th on a restrictor-plate track, Johnny Borneman III dodged all the wrecks and came home fifth, the most unlikely finisher in all the Nationwide Series field at Talladega. Borneman, whose crew guys were seen on TV as ecstatic beyond words, later revealed after the race that his team had only four crew guys working in their pits, and called the best performance in his Nationwide Series career “the best day of his life.” A well-deserved shoutout goes to the few guys that could call themselves part of the No. 83 crew on this Sunday.
7. Sorenson Welcomed Back to Relevance at Nashville. Following a solid top-10 effort at Bristol two weeks prior, Sorenson had the No. 32 team running at the front much as they’ve been accustomed to with Brian Vickers behind the wheel, putting on a great show for hometown sponsor Dollar General. Sorenson was consistent all race long, and in the closing laps charged to second, running down leader Kevin Harvick. Only lapped traffic kept his Toyota from reaching the back of Harvick’s machine… and had Sorenson done so, chances are he would have had his first Nationwide Series win since way back in 2005. Still, Sorenson’s was an impressive runner-up result.
6. Kligerman Tames Bristol for First Career Top 10. 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. Under the lights at Bristol, Parker 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.
5. Tri-Star Motorsports Arrives on the Scene at Talladega. To say it had been a struggle for newly-formed Tri-Star Motorsports is putting it lightly, as longtime series veteran Jason Keller had already failed to qualify for three of the first seven races of 2010. That all changed at Talladega. While Tony Raines garnered the most TV time for the team this Sunday, making two well-documented charges into the top five with his No. 34 machine, it was Keller that scored a top-five finish come race’s end. Running on the high line that would send Brad Keselowski to victory, Keller’s unsponsored No. 35 came home fourth, his first top five in NNS competition since finishing third at Gateway in 2008. Raines wasn’t far behind, finishing seventh and proving that his top-five run with the same race team at Talladega last year was no fluke. Always good to see some of the real NNS stalwarts prove they’ve still got it.
4. Wimmer Produces for JR Motorsports, Danica on No Notice at Bristol. While the JRM organization has posted better results than a 10th and a 12th as an organization, for one of their drivers, those finishes represent redemption. First of all, a tip of the cap to Scott Wimmer, who scored a top 10 and led laps in his return to the JRM camp – one that came about on very short notice. Only days before the race, JRM announced that they would run the No. 7 car full-time, sponsored or not, largely to ensure that Patrick wouldn’t be faced with the overbearing challenge of actually having to qualify into a race. That led to Wimmer’s deal, which only extended to the next race at Nashville – but produced results both times.
3. Bayne Emerges at Las Vegas. Imitating Justin Allgaier’s 2009 performance, Trevor Bayne had himself a Vegas coming out party of his own this year. In a race where a plethora of younger prospects found themselves embracing LVMS’s concrete walls, Bayne looked very much like Allgaier did in this race a year ago, catching the guys at the front off guard with his willingness to make three-wide passes and to tackle both the high and treacherous low sides of the high speed circuit. Bayne’s sixth-place finish was easily a career best, and a sign that this driver has put the bitter disappointment he endured to start the season at Daytona behind him.
2. Allgaier Tops the (Soon to be) Champ at Bristol. On this Saturday, the tables were turned; it was the spring race, and it was Keselowski himself who got, as he put it afterwards, “used up.” After a stretch of restarts following late-race cautions that saw his No. 22 Dodge burning the field from the drop of the green, it was Penske Racing teammate Allgaier who anticipated the start perfectly on lap 274, making the pass and holding off a hard charge from the No. 22 en route to his first career Nationwide Series victory. Allgaier’s win also marked the earliest in the season that a series regular had won since Martin Truex Jr. conquered Mexico City in the third race of 2005.
1. Score One for the Said Heads. “Finally!” exclaimed Boris Said as he emerged in 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 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 10th 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.
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…
Honorable Mention: Allen Races with a Heavy Heart at Richmond. Earning the 43rd and final spot in the field, Willie Allen drove the No. 05 car to a 27th-place finish, three laps down, and failed to move the No. 05 team into the Top 30 in owner points. On paper, this wasn’t really a memorable run.
But Allen was racing with more than a heavy heart on this Friday… for his father had died the night before. At his bedside, Allen drove through the early morning from his father’s home in Tennessee, arriving at RIR five minutes before the start of Nationwide practice… because his father had wanted him to be there racing. In the face of great personal tragedy, Allen did his job, kept his nose clean and demonstrated an unrelenting passion for this sport. What more could you ask for from an underdog racer?