Brad Keselowski crossed his fingers, hoping track position and just the right fuel mileage would keep him out front during a final, 46-lap green-flag run to the finish in Saturday’s History 300. There was only one problem: the calculations by those pesky computers left him just a little short.
Good thing aerodynamics could come to the rescue. After pulling away following that final caution flag, Keselowski coasted during the final 10 laps at Charlotte, letting Denny Hamlin use up much of a three-second cushion while saving just enough Sunoco to make it to the checkered flag. Crossing the line 0.838 seconds ahead, it was the first 2012 Nationwide victory for Keselowski, Penske Racing and No. 22 crew chief Jeremy Bullins. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Elliott Sadler rounded out your top-5 finishers.
Further back, the point standings tightened up considerably as Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ran a disappointing 26th. Unofficially, the margin now sits at 13 between he and Sadler, with Austin Dillon 28 markers back in third place.
*Elliott Sadler* didn’t have the best day at Charlotte. Never inching out front, he seemed unable to climb above fifth place and was clearly a step behind the Sprint Cup regulars. But when opportunity knocked, in the form of Stenhouse spending some time inside the garage Sadler’s team stepped up to the plate. They were at their best during the race’s final run, using two tires to gain track position and holding on for a fifth-place finish, the first back-to-back top 5s for the program since Bristol and Fontana in March. Most importantly, it marked the first time since Sadler’s Bristol victory the No. 2 actually finished ahead of the No. 6 during a Nationwide Series race. Will the momentum carry over into Dover? Remember, last Fall this team won the pole at the Monster Mile only to fade backwards towards a disappointing 14th. They can’t fail to capitalize on that momentum a second time.
*Sam Hornish, Jr.* has quietly put together one of the more consistent seasons we’ve seen from a Nationwide Series driver. A *ninth-place finish,* while four spots lower than his fifth-place starts continues an incredible streak for the Penske driver: so far in 2012, he’s never run lower than 20th in 11 Nationwide Series starts. And while he didn’t win, seeing the No. 22 car cash in on Victory Lane has to be promising for an organization whose primary focus, over the long-term is to try and push the No. 12 towards a championship. The Discount Tire Dodge learned something during its time out front, and that knowledge will be sitting on Hornish’s desk during the midweek meeting.
*Joey Coulter,* in his Nationwide Series debut with Richard Childress Racing came through with a respectable 14th-place, lead-lap finish. “Joey did a great job,” he said. “All through practice and everything, he was solid. You’d think he’d been running these cars for a long time. Today, good solid race with some of the worst conditions you can have with these cars.”
“It was a pretty awesome day,” added Coulter. “I had a great time. I can’t thank everybody at RCR And Sherwin Williams enough for giving me the opportunity to do this.”
Does a strong run mean more Nationwide starts are in his future?
“Right now it’s just this one we’re playing it by ear,” he said. “Going one race at a time and staying nice and focused on winning that Truck Championship.”
At the very least, some ARCA races have been added to Coulter’s schedule, including next month’s event at the repaved Michigan Speedway.
*Mike Wallace,* after a tough start to 2012 gave sponsor Restaurant.com something to shout about with a 15th-place finish. Wallace, who led two laps during green-flag pit stops posted his best result of the season for small-time JD Motorsports. Honorable mention goes to *Mike Bliss,* the two-time Charlotte winner who continues to do yeoman’s work with unsponsored TriStar Motorsports. The severely underfunded car was wheeled to 12th, one spot ahead of this woman named Danica Patrick – have you heard of her – with millions more in marketing and personnel backing the effort.
*Jason Bowles,* after a 15th-place qualifying effort was looking forward to one of his best Nationwide Series runs as a rookie. But what he didn’t expect, just rolling his car into Turn 1 is the car of *Josh Richards* to slide sideways up in front of him. Both cars were demolished in the hardest wreck of the day, a 33rd-place finish not what the doctor ordered for small-time MacDonald Motorsports: it’s their second totaled car in the last four weeks. For Richards, who just lost it entering the turn the consequences could be even worse. Just 1-for-4 in his efforts to finish Nationwide Series races thus far, even bringing money to the table won’t keep him in the No. 39 for much longer.
*Brian Scott* hit the wrong patch of oil at the wrong time, completely trashing his No. 11 Toyota. But hasn’t that been happening a lot lately? He has more DNFs (3) for wrecks than top-10 finishes (2) and has done little to justify his spot on the roster at Joe Gibbs Racing this season.
*Travis Pastrana* must have been daydreaming about starting the Global Rally Challenge a little early. Spinning not once, but twice, his Nationwide debut at a 1.5-miler ended with a mediocre 24th-place result, five laps off the pace. To his credit, the driver shrugged off the poor performance as a learning experience, laughing shortly after the race while taking the rollercoaster weekend in stride. Crew chief Scott Zipadelli, speaking to Frontstretch following the event made reference to the fact no one transitions into NASCAR and automatically sets the world on fire anymore. To be honest, Pastrana overachieved expectations in his first two weeks and was due for a little bump in the road.
*Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s* day broke apart the second a piece of his car started shooting down the backstretch on Lap 68. The U joint between the driveshaft and transmission wound up being the culprit; over 20 laps inside the garage left him reeling towards that performance outside the top 25. What’s even more intriguing, though, is some hard racing with Austin Dillon “that led to some in-race frustration” for both one of his championship rivals and car owner Richard Childress. It’s a good thing for Stenhouse to give 110%, every lap and show a bit of gamesmanship, racing hard to let those challenging him for the championship know he won’t give up. But Childress and Dillon? They’re the type of guys who fight back. In those situations, he needs to be careful not to wind up making contact… justifying a future short track “bump” that puts his title chances in more serious trouble.
*Underdog Performer of the Race: Reed Sorenson.* It’s not often we’ve seen a team return to the series, only intending to run the distance in select races where they have the funding to be competitive. But Biagi-DenBeste Racing, which has one win and ten top-10 finishes in 160 starts doesn’t want to spend their days running at the back. Right now, there’s sponsorship in place for a four-race schedule and that’s how they’re going to race, Sorenson debuting for the team in their first time back in the Nationwide Series since 2006. There’s plenty to work on at the No. 98 – at one point, Sorenson openly noted how badly the team’s engines were getting beaten down the straightaway – but the team also compiled some much-needed notes en route to a 16th-place, lead-lap finish that kept the car clean.
Start-and-parkers occupied 7 of 43 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $72,670 in purse money.
Cup regulars (who run the distance in that series) scored 5 of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied 6 of the 43 starting positions in Sunday’s race, and took home $187,425 in purse money.
136 of 473 starting positions occupied (28.8%)
$2,996,327 dollars won
5 of 11 trophies collected (45%)
*The Final Word*
– Yes, Brad Keselowski’s car was a rocket ship after the final restart. But even in the Nationwide Series, intermediate races have to follow the same formula. Cars restart. Lead car gets in clean air. Lead car pulls away, by several seconds. Rest of field spreads out in perfect, naptime formation, like everyone around them has cooties. That _has_ to change for more than the names “Danica” and “Travis” to get a few new people excited about this series.
– Is Justin Allgaier hitting a wall? 11 races now and still without a top-5 finish this season, the former Penske prodigy looks maxed out at Turner Motorsports. Is it just me, or has he simply not been the same since those internal issues with Reed Sorenson last year – even though Reed got the boot?
– A 13th-place finish by Danica Patrick is proof positive she’s improving. The Good: She hung in there through an early-race disaster where the car nearly snapped around several times through Turns 1 and 2. The Bad: Sometimes, she still asks several questions so basic I’m half-tempted to believe the next one will be, “Should I turn left?”
– Reported attendance this year was 45,000. Really? I beg to differ, seeing as the giant American flag on the backstretch was larger than the amount of people I saw milling about in the stands. The crowds for the All-Star Weekend at Charlotte were great; just not Saturday’s. Blame the heat, the economy, whatever you want but the “eye test” was really, really bad.
_Mike Neff contributed to this report._