It wasn’t in dominating form, but Kyle Busch was there when it counted. On a day that saw Kevin Harvick and his No. 33 team all but the class of the field, Busch still found a way after lurking most of Saturday afternoon to strike past Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (who was on older tires) and weather a rash of late-race yellows to score his 49th career Nationwide Series victory, tying Mark Martin for the all-time series lead. Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Stenhouse and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 5.
After a quiet first 100 miles that saw only two yellows for a single-car spin and debris, the rest of the afternoon’s race turned into a carnage fest, with three multi-car wrecks marring the last 20 laps alone. Of important note in the points race was the melee on the frontstretch on lap 190 that collected Reed Sorenson; after spinning, the No. 32 car was unable to refire, falling back to the end of the lead pack. Though the team rebounded to finish 15th, the incident cost them valuable ground they were set to make up on Elliott Sadler’s No. 2 team, which struggled to a mediocre 12th place result.
The late-race events allowed Sadler to maintain his lead by seven markers over Sorenson heading into Nashville. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved to within 18 points in third.
*Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* ended up falling short of holding off Kyle Busch for the win this Saturday, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Carrying the Roush Fenway Red Sox paint scheme on his No. 6 Ford, Stenhouse proved adept at keeping his car up front even on older tires, leading 26 laps on the afternoon. Stenhouse’s run was all the more impressive in that he recovered from an early unassisted spin in turn 4 on lap 33 to score a top 5 result. It wasn’t his only close call; Stenhouse nearly spun himself out trying to hold off Kyle Busch for the lead inside of 30 to go. One year ago, this driver wouldn’t have driven away from either of these episodes. The fourth place finish also gained valuable ground for the No. 6 team as they try to storm back into the title picture lead.
*Aric Almirola* started and ran in the top 5 for the vast majority of Saturday, something that has been the exception rather than the rule for the No. 88 team in 2011. Just as with Stenhouse, Almirola also flirted with disaster early in the running of this race; running hard with Trevor Bayne in turn 4 on lap 101, Almirola got wicked loose and saved his machine not once, but twice before driving on. Almirola’s fifth place result was only his second top 5 of 2011, and a career-best Nationwide debut on any track (excluding the Milwaukee win in 2007 that he decidedly didn’t win).
*Mike Bliss* and the No. 19 team could not have picked a better weekend to score their best finish since the season opener at Daytona, as adversity struck the team even before taking the green flag. Unloading in the garage, the lift gate on the team’s hauler failed; reports were unclear as to what kind of damage the team’s cars received, though it is known that one of the crewmen suffered a broken leg as a result. Though Bliss lost ground during the green-white-checker charge to the finish, the No. 19 team was a legitimate top 20 entry for much of the afternoon. That, along with teammate *Eric McClure* scoring a 20th place result as well, marked the first time since Las Vegas that Tri-Star Motorsports placed two cars in the top 20.
*Top 10 streaks of note*; *Michael Annett* finished seventh, his fourth consecutive top 10 finish (career-long streak); *Kenny Wallace* finished sixth, his third consecutive top 10 (the last time Wallace did that was back in 2005 driving for ppc Racing).
*Jay Robinson Racing* made some news this weekend when it announced that, in a partnership with the Richardsons, that they would be fielding the No. 23 car that has run the full season thus far under the R3 Motorsports banner. Unfortunately, going to a three-car team just equaled three separate disappointments for the operation. *Dennis Setzer* fell 90 laps short of the finish in the No. 70 car with reported ignition failure; 1994 NNS champion *David Green* (making his first start at Loudon since 2006 and his 400th overall) finished 91 laps short with ignition failure; *Derrike Cope’s* motor grenaded on lap 116. The three cars finished 31st, 32nd and 33rd.
Saturday’s race had *seven start-and-parks* and still couldn’t muster a full field; five of those cars came from only two teams (Key Motorsports and Rick Ware Racing).
*Steve Wallace* better hope that ninth-place finish was worth it, because he left quite the mark on Saturday’s race. Lap 107, after extremely minor contact with *Jason Leffler* the lap before, Wallace visibly turned into the No. 38 on the backstretch, causing heavy impact and damage to Leffler’s machine for no visible reason. Lap 190, Wallace ran into the back of Joey Logano in turn 4, triggering a spin that collected contenders *Trevor Bayne* and *Reed Sorenson* while causing damage to *Jeremy Clements’* machine. Lap 197, Brian Scott ended up making contact with Wallace, triggering an ugly crash in turn 2 that left Logano, *Mike Wallace* and *Andrew Ranger* with totaled machines and the No. 66 driver visibly gesturing and cutting off Scott’s No. 11 under yellow. The third incident wasn’t on Wallace, but to see the guy acting upset that he was wrong was the definition of hypocrisy on a weekend that saw Wallace driving like a trucker in need of a 5 Hour or three.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Morgan Shepherd* Coming off a disastrous weekend at Kentucky that saw Shepherd’s primary car heavily damaged after getting turned by Charles Lewandoski, Shepherd still showed up ready to race with his backup car, and the results were solid; though four laps down when the checkered flag flew, the elder statesman of the Nationwide Series finished in 21st without a scratch on his car, the team’s best finish since Iowa back in May. The No. 89 team may be short of cars, but not tenacity.
Start-and-parkers occupied 7 of the 42 starting positions in Saturday’s field, taking home $71,110 in purse money.
Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored 4 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 7 of the 42 starting positions, and took home $146,663 in purse money.
244 of 809 starting positions occupied (30.2%)
$5,585,372 dollars won
16 of 19 trophies collected (84.2%)
*The Final Word*
* Again with exaggerating the crowds?! The crowd was better than I would have expected on Saturday, but 42,000? How about reporting the realistic 30,000 that were there and giving some credible numbers that on their own merits were pretty solid for the 2011 NNS season?
* As appropriate as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 6 Red Sox-inspired paint scheme may have been given the part of the country NASCAR found itself in this weekend, it still masks the larger issue still looming; despite Trevor Bayne being the talk of NASCAR in 2011 and Stenhouse a legitimate championship contender, sponsorship is still week to week for Roush Fenway Racing’s Nationwide Series program. Seriously, what is it going to take to get some dollars behind the Nos. 6 and 16? Or perhaps more important, what’s going to get the powers-that-be’s attention that there’s something drastically wrong with this business case?
* ESPN actually gave some air time and commentary related to the razor-tight championship chase among Nationwide Series regulars in 2011, a welcome development to their telecasts. That’s the good news. The bad? With Steven Wallace the biggest villain in New Hampshire this Saturday, the broadcast booth found itself trying to tiptoe through the tulips when reviewing replay after replay of Wallace bowling over competitors for no apparent reason. Having car owners in the broadcast booth is a decided conflict of interest on a good day. This Saturday, it was a downright detriment. Call a spade a spade. Wallace dumped Leffler for no good reason. So say that.
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