When the yellow flag flew on lap 56 for Aric Almirola’s machine being stuck in a gravel trap after the afternoon’s third and final attempt at a green-white-checker finish, Justin Allgaier and crew celebrated the win over the radio. Then, disaster struck as the No. 31 team ran out of gas coming back to the line to take the checkers.
10 minutes and countless reviews later, Allgaier’s Turner Motorsports teammate Reed Sorenson returned to victory lane for the first time since 2007, handed the trophy after it was determined that Ron Fellows, who crossed the finish line first under the lap 56 yellow, passed Sorenson under yellow only because the No. 32 car had slowed to caution speed. Fellows was credited for a runner-up finish, with Jacques Villeneuve, Elliott Sadler and Mike Wallace rounding out the top 5.
Polesitter Michael McDowell, who led the most laps on Saturday, was leading heading into the second green-white checker attempt and seemed poised to score his first career Nationwide Series win, but overdrove a corner to hand the lead over to Allgaier, removing his No. 18 car from contention.
Incoming points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recovered from early race damage to finish eighth, but still lost the points lead to race winner Sorenson. Sorenson leads the title chase by five points over Elliott Sadler, with Stenhouse two behind Sadler in third.
It was only a matter of time before *Reed Sorenson* made his return to victory lane, but the odds of seeing that return happen on a daunting four-mile road course had to be considered slim by even the biggest Sorenson fans. Still, Saturday’s triumph was a full-circle moment for a driver whose career looked very uncertain just two seasons ago, losing a seat at Richard Petty Motorsports on the heels of disappointing on-track results and concern over missed sponsor appearances off the track. Now, leading the Nationwide Series point standings and with full-time backing from Dollar General, Reed Sorenson is looking every bit the contender he was back in his early days with Chip Ganassi Racing. The decision by Dollar General to back Sorenson in more than a partial schedule was completely vindicated this Saturday afternoon.
*Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* may have lost the points lead, but in terms of mitigating damage Saturday was a complete success. Stenhouse, who came into Saturday having never finished in the top 20 on a road course, spun on lap 3 and incurred damage on the left front of his Ford, dropping outside the top 30 in the running order. Stenhouse’s troubles were done after that, as the methodical approach that has helped the driver go from a wreck waiting to happen to to title contender kicked in. By race’s end, Stenhouse finished eighth, by far his career best road finish, and kept the points lead within striking distance. Of note, Stenhouse was also the only Roush Fenway driver not to suffer mechanical failure at Road America.
The *road ringers* may not have taken the win this Saturday, but they certainly brought home results justifying their spots in the field. *Ron Fellows* led laps and finished in the runner-up position, posting the best result any JR Motorsports entry has in 2011. Jacques Villeneuve acted like a bowling ball on wheels all afternoon, but his third place finish was the best Penske Racing has posted since Iowa a month ago. *Andrew Ranger*, a Canadian Series regular that’s given himself a strong account at Montreal showed his road course skills are sharp everywhere, following up an ARCA win at New Jersey last month with a sixth place finish. And *JR Fitzpatrick* finished 10th, a strong showing even with his disputing that he was a “road ringer” given his oval experience in the Canadian Series.
And a special shout-out to the Nationwide Series rookie class of *Timmy Hill* and *Blake Koch*, who each posted top-15 results in 11th and 14th, respectively.
A day that started out promising for *Rusty Wallace Incorporated* turned out anything but, though Michael Annett did capitalize on attrition late to score a seventh place result. *Jason Bowles’* debut with the team ended early, with a top 10 qualifying effort going up in smoke by lap 13, with the Ontario native going off-track and pounding the left side of his car into an Armco barrier. He finished 34th after completing only 16 circuits. *Steve Wallace* started sixth and ran up in the top 10 for much of the afternoon, but lap 31 saw that momentum fizzle; Wallace endured a slow pit stop under green after suffering a flat tire. The day only got worse on lap 52, when Wallace drove willy-nilly into a pack of cars as the field stacked up to avoid Michael McDowell’s spin. The resulting carnage took out Eric McClure and Alex Kennedy, and sent Wallace to the NASCAR hauler for a meeting with officials; he finished 26th.
*Billy Johnson* got scarcely 24 hours notice that he would be the first driver to take the wheel of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 Ford since 2005 that was not named Carl Edwards. And after leading the practice charts and posting a fourth-place qualifying run, all the pieces were in place for the 2007 championship team to not miss a beat on Saturday, even with their Cup regular thousands of miles away. Johnson’s performance on the race track was solid, but the stout powerplants that have had Edwards running so well in 2011 finally faltered, with Johnson pulling off track in turn 5 on lap 26 after losing fuel pressure. Johnson finished a disappointing 33rd…shame really. A top 5 and he could have made a real strong case for Edwards taking a few more weeks off from minor-league bashing.
*Doug Harrington* spun not once, not twice, but three times all over the Road America course on Saturday on lap 6, lap 20 and lap 46. His 30th place result was only six positions better than teammate Carl Long, who start-and-parked the No. 75 car after only six circuits.
Two of the frontrunners this Saturday endured two very different ugly races. *Justin Allgaier*, a driver who just a few weeks ago scored the win at Chicagoland courtesy of fuel mileage, learned just how hard life on the other side of an empty tank is this afternoon, running out of fuel running at caution speed back to take the checkered flag for a race that was all but won. Losing both the trophy and significant ground in the points over the course of the last half-a-lap is about as ugly a finish as a driver can endure short of a wreck or penalty.
*Jacques Villeneuve* scored a third place finish but did it by running roughshod through both Max Papis and Brian Scott entering turn 1 after the first green-white-checker attempt. All of the points he scored earlier in the day for some fantastic side-by-side racing with Michael McDowell went out the window, as the talent and car control that won Villeneuve the 1997 Formula One championship was nowhere to be found when Saturday’s race was on the line. Maybe it’s a good thing his stock car career never took off…Juan Pablo Montoya’s enough of a headache to have racing every weekend.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Mike Wallace* Just as Reed Sorenson was an unexpected winner on the road course in Wisconsin, Road America is probably the last venue that pundits would have selected as the place that Mike Wallace would score his first top 5 since 2008. But one week prior to Daytona, the underrated plate racer turned in an admirable performance on the tricky road circuit with nary a scratch to be seen on his Chevrolet. Also of note, the fifth-place result for the No. 01 team was the first top 5, or top 10 for that matter, that JD Motorsports has ever scored in 22 starts on road courses.
Start-and-parkers occupied 8 of the 42 starting positions in Saturday’s field, taking home $88,455 in purse money.
Cup regulars occupied 1 of 42 starting positions in the field, taking home $25,218 in purse money.
202 of 681 starting positions occupied (29.7%)
$4,756,035 dollars won
13 of 16 trophies collected (81.3%)
*The Final Word*
* When is NASCAR going to learn how to use a local yellow? The drama surrounding the finish on Saturday was definitely something worth watching, but why throw the yellow in the first place on that final lap? Yes, Almirola was stuck in a gravel trap, but that was way off the racing surface. Why not throw the caution in that corner, and let the field settle it in the other 11 corners? After all, NASCAR showed no hesitancy to enforcing rules regarding on-track speed…Reed Sorenson won the race because of such a call. Sorenson was a deserving victor, but a Sorenson/Fellows battle to the checkers would have been big.
* ESPN’s front of the field coverage model for Nationwide Series races in 2011 proved wholly inadequate this weekend, even with only one Cup regular actually racing. Josh Wise and Mike Bliss both scored top 15s with sponsors on their cars and were not even mentioned. Derrike Cope and Dennis Setzer both scored top 20 results, and didn’t get any sort of recognition that they even were racing. Even Michael Annett, a top 10 finisher, went all but unnoticed all afternoon. The way the field fluctuates in these road races, showing full consideration of the entire field is a necessity.
* How exactly does Steven Wallace get called to the NASCAR hauler for his incident on track, but Jacques Villeneuve doesn’t?
* Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch were nowhere to be seen. The only driver present to offer Cup flavor to this event was Michael McDowell…and he’s a Cup start-and-parker that offers next to no star power. Yet the crowds still showed, and the racing proved compelling. Take some freaking notes already.
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