The JR Motorsports duo jumped too early. The Rusty Wallace Incorporated duo didn’t have enough steam. And that opened the door for, go figure, a Joe Gibbs Racing entry to swoop in and steal the Subway Jalapeno 250, with Joey Logano leading only one lap en route to his first Nationwide Series victory of 2011. Jason Leffler, Reed Sorenson, Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top 5.
Unlike back in February, when it was expected that the Nationwide Series COT cars would not lend themselves to the same tandem-racing that has dominated recent Cup plate events, the tandem-racing was seen from the drop of the green this Friday evening. What was perhaps unexpected was the reduction of yellow flags; after an incident-filled Thursday practice, the race was void of any “big ones” until the final lap.
While Sorenson and Sadler both maintained their 1-2 spots in the points on the heels of top 10 results, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dropped to over 30 markers back in third after finding trouble back in the pack late in the race. The first 11 positions in points remained unchanged heading into Kentucky.
Outside of Ricky Carmichael finding early trouble on the bumper of Timmy Hill in turn 2, *Turner Motorsports’* three title contenders all enjoyed a stellar evening, scoring three of the top 5 finishing positions. *Reed Sorenson* followed up his first win in nearly four years with a third-place result, expanding his points lead over Elliott Sadler. *Jason Leffler* finished runner-up to Joey Logano, the highest finishing NNS regular courtesy of his best finish since Bristol last August and a career-best at Daytona. Not too far behind either of them was *Justin Allgaier*, who finished fifth. The Hendrick horsepower the team made the switch to Chevrolet for last season proved invaluable on Friday night; the only thing missing was getting Leffler a win to match his teammates’.
*Aric Almirola* had a far stronger car than the ninth place result the No. 88 team ended up with, but the driver did admirably given the cards he was dealt. Driving as the teammate to Danica Patrick without the support of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the field this time, Almirola was relegated to pusher the entire evening, and pusher of an entry in the No. 7 that saw the driver incapable of handling just how fast the race car was. To have that leading the way of his tandem and still have a realistic shot at the win was a piece of work in itself, the highlight for Almirola on a night that saw JR Motorsports’ entries stouter than they have been all season long.
*Kenny Wallace* finished seventh, his first top 10 at Daytona since a fourth place result with the now defunct PPC Racing team way back in 2005.
The Roush Fenway Racing duo of *Trevor Bayne* and *Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* had every bit the look of the contenders they were in the February race, hooked up as a powerful drafting duo with the FR9 engine humming under the hood. It wasn’t until later stretches of the race though that their race went up in smoke. After the two dodged disaster when Kevin Conway sent himself and Joe Nemechek into the fence on lap 89, the resulting charge to the finish left the two Mustangs out to dry. Racing in the pack through the tri-oval, contact with another car got both teammates loose; the contact killed the left front fender on Stenhouse’s machine and left Bayne without a drafting partner. The two finished 22nd and 27th, respectively, depriving Ford of a finish similar to the results their camp posted in the Cup race the next evening.
Speaking of that whole *Kevin Conway* dustup, his drafting gaffe broke a rather golden rule; do not wreck your teammate. But lap 89 saw Conway send team owner Joe Nemechek into the fence, damaging both the Nos. 87 and 97 cars and robbing each of them from their chance at top 10 results.
Drafting gaffes were not confined to lesser-experienced drivers though. Just as veteran *Mike Bliss*. Bliss ended up turning teammate *Eric McClure* on lap 44, not in the corners, but on the straightaway entering turn 1. Being the highest-speed point on the 2.5 mile oval, McClure endured a vicious hit into the outside wall that left the driver visibly shaken; it took over a minute for McClure to lower his window net. The Virginia native was transported to a local hospital following the wreck, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. Word is still out on whether or not McClure will be cleared to race at Kentucky this weekend; remember this is the same driver that had to sit out the Montreal race last season after enduring a back injury at Bristol the week before.
NASCAR’s female racers struggled through another ugly race weekend at Daytona. *Jennifer Jo Cobb* suffered engine damage on lap 49 after falling victim to the accordion effect on a restart, resulting in a billowing smoke cloud that left Cobb with a 36th place result (the team did manage to get her car back on track). As for *Danica Patrick*, the score sheet listed the IRL regular as a top 10 finisher that led 13 laps, but anyone that watched Friday’s race would realize the real tale of the tape was highly discouraging. Even after being lambasted over the radio back in February after proving unable to properly execute a “switch” while drafting with Clint Bowyer, Patrick again proved incapable of running anywhere but having a strong, veteran car pushing her forward. With Almirola on her bumper late, Patrick led the JRM charge to the front way too early, leaving the pair with no steam to hold off the late-race charge of Logano, Turner Motorsports and others when the white flag flew. And though Mike Wallace did pinch off both Patrick and Almirola coming down the frontstretch to the checkered flag, that contact did not explain the not one, but two, turns down the track that Patrick’s No. 7 machine took into traffic that triggered the only “big one” of the evening. Friday night was a case of a driver having much more car than she could handle, and when all was said and done a number of Nationwide teams had rebuilds to pay for as a result.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Mike Wallace* Another restrictor plate race, another fantastic run by Mike Wallace, another top 10 finish all but assured, another late race wreck trashes his car and leaves him with a disappointing top 20. Wallace was riding a wave of momentum after scoring a top 5 result at Road America a weekend ago, and was in prime position to score consecutive top 10 finishes for the first time since 2008. While the result was again not there when the checkered flag flew, Wallace’s restrictor plate skills translated into solid performance for the JDM No. 01 team again. The fact that they did it even after tearing up their prize Phoenix Racing piece at Talladega earlier in the spring makes it all the more impressive.
Start-and-parkers occupied 2 of the 43 starting positions in Friday’s field, taking home $26,573 in purse money.
Cup regulars won Friday night’s race, scored 2 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 9 of the 43 starting positions in the field, and took home $226,290 in purse money.
213 of 724 starting positions occupied (29.4%)
$5,008,898 dollars won
14 of 17 trophies collected (82.4%)
*The Final Word*
* There were not 50,000 fans present for this race. This was a laughable estimate even for NASCAR’s best statisticians.
* Anyone out there doubting just how much of an advantage Cup regulars have over the rest of the field thanks to extra seat time didn’t watch this race. Danica Patrick’s premature move to the lead late in the race can be chalked up perhaps to a lack of stock car experience, but that doesn’t erase the fact that duos of Kevin Harvick, Incorporated, Turner Motorsports and RWI cars were all at the front and charging, but all were beaten to the line by the Joey Logano/Kyle Busch pair that have dominated the Nationwide Series for years now. Just like the Truck and Nationwide race at Daytona this February, the Cup regulars at the front of the field somehow, someway, knew better than anyone when to make that final run.
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