Saturday’s Zippo 200 marked the first Nationwide Series start of the year for 2007 Champion Carl Edwards. Edwards had run the previous seven seasons full-time while also running full-time in Sprint Cup. However, at the end of last year, Edwards decided that he needed to focus more on Sprint Cup and sacrificed his Nationwide schedule. He did leave the door open to return if the time was right, though.
Despite qualifying in the first of eight groups Saturday morning, Edwards still managed to qualify second. However, in order for Edwards to reach pay dirt in his return to the series, he had to go through Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski controlled the race until Cole Whitt littered the track with topsoil on Lap 69. This was as a result of a failed passing bid in the Inner Loop that messed up the front of Whitt’s car and drew a caution for track cleanup. On the restart, Edwards took to the outside of Keselowski exiting Turn 1. The two drivers then drag raced down the hill towards Turn 2, where Edwards was able to clear Keselowski.
Austin Dillon’s blown tire gave Keselowski one more chance to get the lead back. On the Green-White-Checker restart, Edwards briefly opened a gap, but then missed a downshift entering Turn 10. This gave Keselowski the rare opportunity to attempt an outside pass in Turn 11 coming to the white flag. Unfortunately, Keselowski had minor contact with the SAFER Barrier and lost all his momentum. This was more than enough for Edwards to pull away and claim the victory.
After the race, Edwards was very pleased with his day.
“That was a lot of fun. I had a really good time racing out there,” Edwards said. “The car ran really well. I made one pretty big mistake coming to the white flag and Brad [Keselowski] got up beside me, but fortunately, we were able to battle and get back ahead of him. The only big mistake [I made] was running into Joey [Logano] there and spinning him out. I felt bad about that, but we were all racing pretty hard for position right then.”
Sam Hornish, Jr. started from pole and led the race early. For fan favorite Danica Patrick, her day never really started. On the initial start of the race, former K&N Pro Series East racer Ryan Truex slammed on the brakes too hard while braking for Turn 1 and wheel-hopped. This spun Truex into the grass and back up the track directly in front of Patrick, who had nowhere to go. The hit broke Patrick’s radiator, drained the water from the car and eventually blew the engine, ending Patrick’s day before she could break a sweat. She was classified in 43rd.
Venezuelan sports car racer Alex Popow’s Nationwide Series debut ended after only a couple of laps when his right front tire blew in the Esses. The blowout put Popow into the wall in Turn 3 and brought out the yellow. Matt Bell’s day also ended with a crash in the Esses on Lap 11. However, since Bell was able to get his car back to the pits and not shower the track with debris, it did not bring out the yellow.
Brad Keselowski, who started fourth, made his way up to the front by passing his teammate Hornish on Lap 12. Edwards quickly followed past, but didn’t have anything early on for Keselowski’s No. 22. Keselowski then held the advantage for those on the desired pit strategy through the first round of pit stops.
Shortly after the stops, Alex Kennedy blew a left front tire and went hard into the outside wall in Turn 2. The Toyota then speared back across the track and hit the inside wall before coming to rest. Austin Dillon locked up and spun to avoid the incident, which brought out another yellow.
For Keselowski, he was very happy with the performance of his SKF/Discount Tire Dodge, but a little disappointed with the outcome.
“It was] a fun race for sure, especially with a car as fast as that one was,” Keselowski said. “Obviously, I would have liked to get the win. A lot to be proud of.”
Hornish finished third, while Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had a great day to stay out of trouble and finish fourth. Ron Fellows rounded out the top-5.
Kyle Busch fought through a number of issues all weekend. On Friday, he drove just the bare minimum of laps in practice, yet blew an engine right at the end of the session. Forced to start in the rear of the field, Busch made an epic charge to reach the top-10 by Lap 15. He was just about to claim the lead on the restart after the Kennedy crash when the shifter ball broke in his hand. Unperturbed, Busch soldiered on, even with the handling deficiencies that were unearthed by having to deal with the end of the shifter trying to burrow into his right hand. Busch was in line for a top-5 finish until he went wide at Turn 10 on the final lap. Regardless, it was quite the struggle just to get to sixth.
Kasey Kahne was seventh, followed by Paul Menard, who had a very tough day as well. Early in the race, Menard‘s alternator broke, resulting in the car‘s batteries no longer holding a charge. Menard was forced to pit under green for a new battery, losing a lap in the process. However, Menard unlapped himself during a round of stops, then got a timely caution which allowed the team to replace another battery. Ultimately, the team used three batteries, but still managed to come home eighth. Justin Allgaier and Brian Scott rounded out the top-10.
Points leader Elliott Sadler finished 12th after running in the top-10 most of the day. This cut Sadler’s lead to 13th. Austin Dillon’s miserable weekend resulted in a 23rd-place finish and dropped Dillon to fourth in points behind Hornish.
Next weekend, the Nationwide Series travels to Montreal for the sixth running of the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Coverage starts at 2:00pm Saturday on ESPN, while race coverage begins at 2:30.
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