NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Top Gear 300

It seems that Kyle Busch has found his Nationwide nemesis at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and thy name is Kenseth. Driving his first Nationwide Series race since Atlanta last September and his first at CMS since the fall of 2009, Kenseth stormed past Carl Edwards with XX laps to go to win his 26th career Nationwide trophy, a triumphant return for Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 team after skipping the previous weekend’s race at Iowa. Edwards, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson rounded out the top 5.

Despite being run in heated sunlight during the peak of the afternoon in Charlotte, the tire package provided ample grip, which led to the race being slowed only five times for the yellow flag, the fewest any Nationwide event at Charlotte has seen since 2009. A combination of both the surprisingly grippy tire and a field that from 20th on back was racing simply to make laps led to a race that was low on both incidents and, to a larger degree, side-by-side racing.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: John Deere Dealers 250

To call Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first career win this Sunday at Iowa poetic would be understating it. To win, the 2010 Rookie of the Year held off teammate and full-time Buschwhacker Carl Edwards scarcely 12 hours removed from his win in the Sprint All-Star Race. What’s more, the win came at a track that short of Nashville was the home of Stenhouse’s worst effort from his tumultuous rookie season; the driver of the No. 6 car wrecked both of his team’s machines the last time the series tackled Iowa Speedway, then crashed the third car during the race.

But the 2011 edition out in corn country was a time to put those demons to rest. Stenhouse’s win marked the first of the season for a Nationwide Series regular, making Stenhouse the first non-Cup driver to win an NNS race since Boris Said took the checkers at Montreal last summer. Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 5. Sorenson was among the class of the field for much of the afternoon, but a mid-race run with a slow leak in a tire left the No. 32 mired back in traffic as the race was decided.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 5 Hour Energy 200

Carl Edwards held on to win the 5 Hour Energy 200 at Dover on a rain-soaked Saturday afternoon, wrestling the lead from Joey Logano on lap 187, surviving three late race restarts and getting through a harrowing last lap crash unscathed that destroyed over a half dozen cars and sent Clint Bowyer airborne down the frontstretch, so high that his No. 33 machine nearly cleared the interior pit wall. Kyle Busch, Reed Sorenson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and David Reutimann rounded out the top 5.

The race, which started nearly an hour late after rain canceled the series’ qualifying session earlier Saturday morning, saw the Roush Fenway Fords as the class of the field, with Edwards and Stenhouse combining to lead 120 of the 209 laps run. Two of the stouter cars in the field, the No. 18 of Busch and the No. 32 of Sorenson, were both damaged in an accordion accident entering pit road, leaving them unable to challenge the Mustangs and Logano, who proved to be Edwards’ stoutest competition as the laps wound down.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Royal Purple 200

Kyle Busch led 49 of 147 laps en route to winning the Royal Purple 200 at Darlington Friday night, his fifth Nationwide Series victory of the 2011 season and his first at the Darlington Raceway. Busch’s victory came despite his making heavy contact with the wall early in the event, damage that at the time allowed both Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne to make their way past the polesitter (qualifying was rained out, putting the No. 18 in position one to start the event).

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Bubba Burger 250

One week removed from an embarrassing display of Nationwide officiating, an event that saw four of six yellow flags at Nashville fly for invisible debris, the exact opposite happened at Richmond Friday night. Three cautions, two of which occurred in the last 10 laps, were the only breaks in 251 laps of racing at Richmond, an event that was thoroughly dominated by hometown boy Denny Hamlin. The Cup driver continued Joe Gibbs Racing’s full command of the Nationwide Series, playing fill-in on a night that Kyle Busch had the night off and Roush Fenway’s Carl Edwards was off the mark. Paul Menard, Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-5 finishers in the event.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Nashville 300

So much for a standalone Nationwide Series race. Carl Edwards stormed past Kyle Busch after a fierce side-by-side battle on lap 191 and never looked back, cruising to his second series victory of 2011 and the fourth of his career at Nashville Superspeedway. Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. rounded out the top 5 finishers.

Though Josh Wise was able to use pit strategy to lead five circuits in the later going, the few Cup drivers that chose to forgo an off weekend in favor of racing in Tennessee overwhelmed a shallow Nationwide Series field, leading 218 of the 225 circuits run.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Aaron’s 312

As Saturday’s race went green during its second attempt at a green-white-checkers finish, every storyline of opportunity imaginable was present at the front of the field. Underdog and underrated drafter Mike Wallace was on the front row, Justin Allgaier had climbed back into position after earlier contact with the wall, Elliott Sadler remained the hottest driver on the circuit, a top 5 finish all but a certainty.

It ended in a manner that Nationwide Series fans are sick of seeing; Kyle Busch went to victory lane, with underdog Wallace on his roof in turn 3 after trying to make a last-lap charge, a stellar afternoon gone to waste on the final lap. Busch rebounded from crash damage of his own and benefited from Wallace’s flip, which ended the final circuit in turn 3 before any of the pairs behind the Gibbs duo of Busch and Joey Logano could mount a final charge. Logano, Joe Nemechek, Brad Keselowski and Sadler rounded out the top 5.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: O’Reilly 300

Though a midrace wreck took Kyle Busch out of contention early under the lights at Texas, another Sprint Cup regular made sure to lead boatloads of laps and utterly dominate another Nationwide Series event in Fort Worth. Leading 169 of the 200 circuits and not being seriously challenged after taking the lead on lap 110 (only Michael Annett and Brian Scott led during a cycle of green flag stops during that stretch), Carl Edwards easily defended his race win from last fall, scoring Ford’s first W after switching to their new CoT Mustang. Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Joey Logano and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-5 finishers Friday night.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Royal Purple 300

The win will go down in the record books as belonging to Kyle Busch, but one Jason Ratcliffe deserved the trophy more than any other on this Saturday afternoon. For most of the 300 miles, Busch was a third-place car, unable to keep pace with the likes of Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick. But during the final green flag run to the checkers, Edwards and Harvick pitted early for four tires. That was the plan for Busch until he came to pit road for his final stop inside of 25 to go, when crew chief Ratcliffe audibled and called for two tires. The call was masterful; the yellow didn’t fly, and Busch won despite last lap contact with the turn 2 wall, his third victory in the first five races in 2011.

It was a compelling conclusion to one of the raciest Nationwide Series events the Auto Club Speedway has ever played host to. The high groove was available and used frequently throughout the event, with the multiple grooves providing for side-by-side racing for much of the afternoon.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Scotts EZ Seed 300

New race at Bristol … same ol’ Kyle Busch. The track’s dominant driver as of late led 268 of 300 laps run en route to his second win of the Nationwide Series season and 45th of his career in a race that was nowhere near as close as the margin of victory would hint. Busch moved from his fifth place starting position to the front in next to no time flat at the race’s start, running second by lap 8, leading for good by lap 185 and securing a win that makes him the first driver to win back-to-back Bristol Nationwide races since former champion Steve Grissom did it in 1995. Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano rounded out the top 5.

The race was a quiet Bristol affair for nearly 200 laps until Brad Keselowski cut a tire and smacked the wall on lap 182. Following the restart from that incident on lap 188, five yellow flags dotted the final circuits of the event, with a mix of spins, contact on track and cut tires cutting down on what had been a largely green flag competition up to that point.

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