With 25 laps to go, Carl Edwards stormed past race leader Elliott Sadler, seemingly poised to steal another Nationwide Series trophy on a standalone weekend. This time, the regulars were having none of that. Edwards ran out of gas on the backstretch coming to the checkered flag, allowing a hard-charging Justin Allgaier to pass him…only to run out of gas himself exiting turn 3. But with third-place driver Trevor Bayne having to nurse a nearly-empty fuel tank home himself, Allgaier was able to limp his Chevrolet across the stripe to score his second career Nationwide Series victory. Edwards, Bayne, polesitter Aric Almirola and Jason Leffler rounded out the top 5.
Allgaier’s victory marked the first race a Nationwide Series regular has won on a 1.5 mile oval since Mike Bliss won a rain-shortened event at Charlotte back in the spring of 2009, and also snapped a three-race win streak for Roush Fenway Racing. The event was largely without incident, slowed for only 18 laps on four cautions, three of which did not involve contact of any kind.
Sadler, who entered the points leader, had to settle for an 11th place finish after pitting from the runner-up position with less than 10 laps to go, needing his team to address a loose right front wheel. The finish outside the top 10 dropped Sadler from the points lead, which shifted to Reed Sorenson, who finished sixth. Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Allgaier all left Chicago within 11 points of Sorenson and the series lead.
The Nationwide Series regulars are meant to shine on standalone weekends, and Turner Motorsports’ three full-timers all did just that at a facility that played right into the hands of their Hendrick horsepower under the hood. For *Justin Allgaier*, a win could not have come at a better time; the Illinois-native won not only at the facility he considers his home track, but also a track in close proximity to the headquarters of primary sponsor Brandt, who had a large contingent of representatives on hand Saturday night. The win, his first on an intermediate oval since he won the summer ARCA race at Pocono back in 2008, also allowed the No. 31 team to cut the gap to the points lead in half. Meanwhile, teammate *Reed Sorenson* took the points lead himself with a sixth-place finish, his tenth top 10 in 14 starts through 2011. *Jason Leffler* also got in on the action with a fifth-place result that was his first top 5 of 2011 and first dating back to Gateway last October.
*Trevor Bayne’s* return to the Nationwide Series went as well as it could have short of a trip to victory lane, with the youngster’s return to the seat of the No. 16 car yielding a third-place result, the second consecutive top 5 finish for the team since they were parked for the Iowa race weekend. It’s hard to overstate how impressive the finish was; Bayne, in his first race in over a month, stormed from the 31st starting position into the top 10 by lap 23, had no visible miscues on the track or pit road, and equaled his career-best finish. With points out of the equation now that Bayne sat out a month, there’s no reason for the No. 16 driver to do anything but gun for wins…which should concern anyone racing in the Nationwide Series.
*Nationwide Series regulars* scored nine of the top 10 finishing positions for the first time in 2011; in addition to Turner Motorsports’ three full-time cars and Bayne, *Aric Almirola* scored his best finish of the year in fourth, his best result since ORP last August and his first start from the pole since 2007; *Kenny Wallace* finished seventh for his fifth top 10 of the year, the first time he’s had five or more top 10s in a season of NNS racing since 2005; *Kelly Bires* finished eighth, his first top 10 since Fontana last February; *Michael Annett’s* ninth-place finish was his best of 2011 and first top 10 since Iowa last summer; *Danica Patrick* scored her second career top-10 finish on her home track. Quite the showing for the series on a night that center stage was ripe for the taking.
*Ryan Truex* seemed poised to make a show out of his final scheduled NNS start for the season after starting eighth, but it wasn’t meant to be. The K&N Pro Series East veteran was a literal non-factor all evening at Chicago, ending the night an unremarkable 20th. The finish marked four consecutive starts outside the top 10 to close his partial schedule in the No. 99 entry, and without a flashy result to hang his hat on Truex is likely to find securing sponsorship to run additional races this season difficult at best.
*Jeremy Clements* has had no shortage of surprising runs on the longer tracks the Nationwide Series’ circuit frequents, but Chicago is the exception in that slate of race tracks. After bowing out of the 2009 event at the track early thanks to a steering box failure, Clements’ return was also marked by an unidentified mechanical woe that sent the No. 51 car behind the wall for a number of laps during the first half of the event. Clements battled to finish 29th after completing the event 14 laps down, but the damage was done; the finish was his worst since having an axle break at Fontana earlier this season.
*Carl Long* appeared to be ready to race Rick Ware Racing’s No. 41 car this weekend, despite having start-and-parked every race since Bristol back in March. But by lap 79, Long was back in the garage for good with a reported steering box failure. The result saw Long done short of the halfway point for the 10th consecutive race.
*Mikey Kile* has been largely invisible in 2011 after a solid 2010 season in ARCA that saw the Louisiana-native score his first career win at Michigan and a top 5 finish in points, with Chicago on Saturday marking only his second start of the 2011 campaign. And starting in the top 10, Kile early on scored some surprising TV time and attention by racing hard and staying there, running hard and side-by-side with every car that attempted to pass the No. 30. Whether or not Kile was going to be able to keep that up and keep tabs on the track changing as the day ended proved to be an unanswered question, as Kile blew a motor on lap 62, only the second engine failure for Turner Motorsports’ Nationwide Series operation in a combined 57 starts through 2011. While a blip on the screen for the Turner camp, the same can’t be said for Kile and the result; between a poor handling car at Nashville and a DNF at Chicago, it’s going to be very hard for the former ARCA regular to keep his name in the conversation racing infrequently as he is.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Timmy Hill* When Timmy Hill made his Nationwide Series debut at Phoenix earlier this year, it was stated that the 18-year-old was simply trying to log laps and survive his rookie campaign as a NASCAR regular. Progress certainly appears to in the making, as Hill led his first career lap and scored his first career top 15 finish on a non-plate track Saturday night. Though Hill is the de facto leader of the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year race simply by being the only contender, Hill has now scored four top 25 finishes in the last five races, which given Rick Ware Racing’s equipment is no small accomplishment. All those start-and-park entries seem to be yielding some useful information for the team’s primary driver.
Start-and-parkers occupied 9 of the 42 starting positions in Saturday’s field, taking home $109,050 in purse money.
Cup regulars scored 1 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 4 of the 42 starting positions in Saturday’s field, and took home $106,968 in purse money.
176 of 596 starting positions occupied (29.5%)
$4,096, 394 dollars won
12 of 14 trophies collected (85.7%)
*The Final Word: Who You Didn’t See*
* Robert Richardson completed only 64 laps before bowing out in 32nd with an electrical issue, a mechanical issue that ESPN never provided an update on during their telecast.
* Tri-Star Motorsports’ Eric McClure scored his first top 20 finish since Las Vegas in 18th, a career-best result at Chicagoland.
* Scott Wimmer finished 19th driving for ML Motorsports’ No. 70 team, the third consecutive top 20 result for the team since parting ways with Shelby Howard.
* ESPN did a better job not slobbering all over Danica Patrick’s every move, but utterly failed to shine any lights on the regular driver of the No. 7 machine, Josh Wise, who finished 26th driving for Go Green Racing in the No. 39.
* Charles Lewandoski finished 24th in the Key Motorsports’ No. 40 car, the first time that team has run the distance since Richmond.
*The Final Word*
* Who says fuel mileage racing can’t be exciting?
* This points race is legitimately tight, and will likely stay that way as the Nationwide Series doesn’t have a Chase to worry about. One can only hope that the regulars keep finding ways to win races and legitimize it, because if all of the guys in this top 4 can find victory lane and continue to duke it out the way they are in recent weeks, the fall could be the most fun NNS fans have had since Clint Bowyer spent the final weeks of the 2005 season chipping away at Martin Truex Jr’s points lead before finally surrendering at Homestead.
* Still think Danica’s not coming full-time? Another solid top 10 result was in the cards this Saturday night, demonstrating that Patrick has learned how to wheel a stock car. But, as a Frontstretch colleague of mine astutely noted, there’s two steps to becoming a contender in stock car racing. One is learning the lines and the cars. Two is racing others in the cars. Whether Patrick proves able to take that second step remains to be seen, especially in a Nationwide Series where over half the field is racing the track, not the pack.
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