NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 O’Reilly Challenge at Texas

The suspense! Did Brad Keselowski finish better than 21st at and clinch the Nationwide Series title, two races early, for the fifth consecutive time for Cup interlopers?

Yes. And while the cast of characters up front was exactly what Nationwide Series fans have come to expect (Cup regulars made up the top five, with Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Keselowski finishing 1-2-3), at least the racing was good, with Edwards stealing the lead from a dominant Busch (who led the most laps at Texas for the sixth consecutive race) on a late restart and burning the No. 18 on a green-white-checkered restart that had Busch up in arms during his post-race presser, exclaiming that “Carl Edwards jumped the final restart three car lengths before the double red line” before storming out of the media center.

Meanwhile, it was an awkward celebration on the frontstretch, with Edwards winning the race as Keselowski clinched his first Nationwide Series championship. After Edwards did his backflips and actually went into the crowd to celebrate, Keselowski pulled up to Edwards with an American flag and his hand extended. The two exchanged a brief five before Keselowski proceeded to burnout around Edwards’s parked car, perhaps a fitting ending to a season that was largely defined by the two’s violent tangle at Gateway over the summer.

Jason Leffler was the highest finishing Nationwide Series regular, carrying the Turner Motorsports banner with a sixth place finish. Justin Allgaier finished 13th after a furious late-race battle with Trevor Bayne, good enough for him to clinch a $75,000 bonus from Nationwide Insurance for winning their Dash 4 Cash incentive program.

Worth Noting

The Good

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pulled perhaps the most impressive move of his stock car career on lap 55, storming past teammate Edwards to take the lead on the exit of turn 4 and proceeding to lead 27 circuits before surrendering the lead during caution-flag pit stops later in the event. For Stenhouse, not only was the result the first time all season he’s led double-digit laps in a Nationwide Series event, it was also a solid showing for just how much progress he’s made in 2010. The former ARCA standout ran in the top five for much of the afternoon and didn’t overcompensate late in the event when a tight condition that plagued a number of drivers overtook his car. The 11th-place finish wasn’t spectacular, but a prime example of Stenhouse not driving over his head. That composure and aggression combined are what he needs to be exhibiting, given that sponsor Citi Financial will not be returning to back him next year.

Turner Motorsports made waves yesterday in Texas with their announcement that they will field three drivers in pursuit of a Nationwide Series championship in 2011. The two already in their stable got off to a solid start on Saturday. Jason Leffler led the Nationwide Series regulars in securing a methodical sixth-place finish, cracking the top 10 from his 17th place starting position by lap 40 and never falling out of it after lap 140. Reed Sorenson, meanwhile, secured another top 10 finish as he has done all season for the No. 32 team that he will be taking over for full-time next year, coming home seventh, his first top 10 in NNS competition at the track since 2007.

The Bad

On the other hand, Turner’s part-time entrants did not enjoy the same type of luck this weekend at Texas. While Ricky Carmichael continued a streak of top-10 finishes in the Truck ranks, any hope of duplicating that result in the Nationwide Series went out the window near the halfway point of the event, when on a pit stop for a reported vibration and perceived tire problem, the motor cut out on Carmichael’s No. 10 machine. The team quickly figured out that they lost the belt on their oil cooler, and that the damage was beyond repair for a driver not running for points and a team easily secured in the top 30 for 2011. Carmichael finished 35th. Meanwhile, polesitter James Buescher lasted even fewer laps than that. Buescher dropped like a rock after the green flag flew, falling out of the top 10 before lap 30 until blowing a tire on lap 43 and pounding the turn 4 wall. The car was killed, and Buescher was credited with a 37th-place result.

Brian Scott had a huge morning on Saturday, announcing that he would be racing full-time in a third Joe Gibbs Racing entry for the 2011 season, a move he felt confident would make him a title contender next year. Unfortunately, even a swap to Toyota in his current RAB Racing entry couldn’t make up for an ugly incident inside of 10 laps to go that saw Scott get loose exiting turn 2 and slamming the backstretch wall hard, leaving Scott to limp home to a 32nd-place finish. The Gibbs cars that he will drive next year are certainly a step up, but the development side of the former Truck Series winner was what ultimately showed this Saturday. A title run will likely be a few seasons away.

David Starr‘s home-track race didn’t pan out the way he had hoped, even with sponsor Cash America draped all over his quarterpanels. Any chances for a solid outing went out the window by lap 11; replays were unclear as to where contact was triggered, but the end result saw Starr tag the wall entering turn 3 while Danica Patrick suffered damage to her fenders, leading both to make green-flag pit stops on lap 13. Starr was forced behind the wall, and upon returning struggled with the car’s suspension hitting the track. The day finally ended when he blew a tire and brought out another yellow on lap 81, leading the No. 05 team to park in 38th after completing only 36 laps. The finish was Starr’s worst Nationwide Series result since Talladega back in 2001.

The Ugly

The K-Automotive Motorsports outfit, and more specifically Brian Keselowski, endured the exact opposite on an emotional spectrum from brother Brad. Brian missed the Cup race by a wide margin in his self-owned car, only to miss the cut for the Nationwide Series event in his No. 26 machine a few hours later. Dennis Setzer did manage to get the team’s No. 92 car into the field, parking the Dodge after only three laps.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Jeremy Clements. Another race, another top-20 finish for a driver that’s time and time again proven himself on the intermediate circuits of the Nationwide Series slate. But this one was both an impressive recovery and a disappointment, as it could have been so much more. After qualifying 13th for the event, Clements car proved to be built for the long run, recovering from falling back to 17th to run as high as 12th before the first cycle of pit stops. Unfortunately, once running that far up, the team’s pit crew was unable to keep up. Clements fell from 13th to 20th on the first stop, and was leveled off in the top 20 on the lead lap before a green-flag pit stop with approximately sixty laps to go saw Clements lose that lap, thanks to a broken air gun during the tire change. The rebound to 19th was impressive on its own merits, but this could have been a top 15 day for the driver of the No. 04.

The Final Word

  • Yes, Edwards celebrated in the grandstands. Been there, seen that. Ever heard of Tony Stewart?
  • NASCAR has taken a tremendous amount of flack, and rightly so, for their handling of yellow flags and phantom debris cautions over the course of the 2010 season. This Saturday, they got it right. When Scott pounded the wall with less than 10 to go, there were pieces of debris evident on the racetrack. That said, there wasn’t a whole fender or something significant on the track. That said, the decision was made to stay green until Clint Bowyer‘s started dropping oil from a punctured oil pan. Thank you NASCAR for getting out of the way of the race and letting it run until there was a legitimate safety threat on the track. This one, they got right.
  • Any concerns about tires, based both on Friday night’s truck events and Kevin Harvick‘s concerns were answered on Saturday. Tire failures were not epidemic on Saturday, and the upper groove did come into play on Saturday unlike on Friday night, allowing for some thrilling side-by-side racing throughout the field. All is well, Sunday should be a good show.
  • Scott made a point during his JGR announcement Saturday that he was looking forward to developing as a person in that camp just as much as a driver. That’s got to rub off on Busch sooner or later, right? Be it finding a way to criticize his team after he overshot his pit box during the first cycle of stops or storming out of the media center because of a perfectly fair and professional question as to his observations on a late restart that he’s sure Edwards jumped, get a grip. Being competitive is one thing. Being completely unwilling to accept the fact that you will get beat playing with the best is something else.
  • And while on the note of that JGR announcement, the Nationwide Series field has certainly gotten a positive boost for the 2011 season. A third JGR car, Allgaier’s new home at Turner Motorsports, KHI’s new entry, the Series has certainly gotten some serious contenders for next year, with good cars to boot. Problem is, if the rumor mill is correct, NASCAR’s follow-up to that will be a lame-duck solution to ban Cup drivers from racing for a championship, but still being allowed to run all the races. Great. So the champion will now likely be a driver with no wins and a dozen or so top-10 finishes, while Carl, Kyle, Brad and friends will still run top five all 35 weekends next year, hog all the TV time, all the trophies, all the winning purses and all the exposure that the Nationwide Series regulars are being starved off. Just look at this Saturday… Edwards, Busch, Keselowski, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. the top five. A fan reading that in passing could confuse it for a Cup race and not even know this event went down on Saturday. My euphoria as a writer to hear all these announcements of new teams is officially gone. After all, Saturday’s race was more of the same.

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