Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2009 Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen

Marcos Ambrose’s aggression, especially on the road courses, is no secret. Still, it was apparently news to Kyle Busch.

Busch, who was leading with less than 20 laps to go, was chugging along the backstretch towards the “bus stop” chicane, only to have Ambrose divebomb the entry to the turn. Ambrose’s perfectly executed move left Busch visibly shaken; instead of a usual brash trading of paint, Busch instead slowed in the chicane’s runoff straightaway, allowing Ambrose to pass before making it back to the track. And while he managed to finish second behind the Aussie, Busch was none too happy with Ambrose’s aggression on the track.

Said Ambrose, “I had to surprise him. And I did.”

See also
Marcos Ambrose Successfully Defends His Crystal in the 2009 Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen

Those two Cup regulars combined with several others to dominate the show on Saturday, leading all but two of the 82 laps run and snagging eight of the top-10 finishing positions. JR Motorsports was the only team to place non-Cup drivers in the top 10, with road-course ringer Ron Fellows finishing fifth and Brad Keselowski ninth.

Two other Cuppers stole the show for much of the second half with their beating and banging antics. After Joey Logano and Robby Gordon made contact on more than one occasion over the course of multiple laps, Gordon ran into the back of Logano hard after Joey’s No. 20 had just spun out the No. 34 of Tony Raines in an unrelated incident. The resulting contact sent Logano headfirst into the tire wall coming out of turn 9, totaling the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Fortunately, no penalties were doled out to either driver by NASCAR.

Busch’s second place finish negated top-10 runs by both Carl Edwards and Keselowski, extending his points lead to 212 over Edwards. further back, Steve Wallace overtook Mike Bliss for sixth in points after a solid 12th-place showing. Michael McDowell’s 27th-place finish in the No. 26 car helped solidify the K-Automotive team’s standing in the Top 30, as the SK Motorsports’ No. 07 start-and-parked to fall further behind the curve.

Worth Noting

The Good

Boris Said’s road-racing prowess is well known, and while 11th place might not raise eyebrows for a road ringer, it was quite impressive given the car he was driving. Said, who took over for beleaguered rookie John Wes Townley this weekend, took the RAB Racing No. 09 entry to places it has never been… the top 10. Said ran between the top 10-15 all day long and his solid finish was easily the team’s best of 2009.

His run was all the more impressive in how he was wedged in the cockpit: having business in California earlier in the week, the tall Said was never able to come to the RAB shop to be fitted for a seat. Yet with the team scoring momentum from a good, clean race, maybe they should give Said a shot at a few ovals in the No. 09; after all, it’s not like they could tear up any more equipment than they’re used to.

Steve Wallace certainly had help in moving to sixth in Nationwide points with Bliss being reduced to a start-and-park role (more on that later), but that doesn’t diminish how impressive his 12th place finish was on Saturday. Seeing the youngest Wallace hold his own while even his more experienced teammate Brendan Gaughan struggled on the road course was just the latest example of how much the driver of the No. 66 has improved behind the wheel. There’s no doubt Steve’s gotten chances many drivers wouldn’t have driving for his father, but there’s definitely talent here that belongs in the upper echelons of NASCAR.

The Bad

Matt Carter has been a breath of fresh air for Specialty Racing in delivering a number of top-20 finishes since taking over the No. 61 car, but the former ARCA racer got a rude awakening to road-course racing on Saturday. After spinning on his own exiting turn 1 early in the race, Carter was involved in two more incidents over the next 40 laps, eventually leading his team to park the car with extensive damage. Carter’s struggles fortunately did not seem to translate into angst within his team, as veteran crew chief Doug Taylor was remarkably composed over the radio in dealing with what was a textbook rookie episode.

R3 Motorsports made the decision to replace Ken Butler III with road specialist Chris Cook at the last minute on Saturday, but the decision did nothing but deprive the young Butler of seat time. Cook ran at the back all day and ended up scoring a 31st-place finish, three laps down. Nothing flashy at all and a run that Butler likely could have produced himself.

Editor’s Note: In speaking with Butler’s team following the race, it appears minimum speed was a factor in taking him out of the driver’s seat. With practice times as much as 10 seconds off the leader’s pace, it was a mutual decision for all involved to replace Butler prior to the race.

Antonio Perez parked the No. 86 car with a “vibration” after only 22 laps, and that’s a damned shame considering how the reigning NASCAR Corona Series champion was running. After qualifying the TW Motorsports’ No. 86 in the top 20 (the organization campaigns the Corona and Camping World East ranks regularly), Perez made some noise in the top 15 early, including a daring pass of Edwards in the treacherous “esses” section of the road course.

Moves like that make a strong case that a full-time Nationwide campaign in 2010 (which is both his and his owner’s goal) is something this Mexican stock car standout could handle…if they can find some money to let him complete races.

The Ugly

Everyone involved in the whole debacle of Bliss being fired had a rough first outing after their separation. Bliss found a ride for the weekend, but it was the No. 90 car… so, naturally, his race lasted only five laps. As for his former home at Phoenix Racing, the No. 1 team suffered with fuel-pump issues early on that left them with a 35th-place finish. Phoenix Racing GM Mark Reno remarked that they fired Bliss because “he didn’t win enough….” Well, if karma has anything on this sport, Reno better not expect to get back to victory lane anytime soon.

See also
Mike Bliss the Latest Casualty of Phoenix Racing

Underdog Performer of the Race: Morgan Shepherd. If there is an ageless driver in the Nationwide ranks, it’s Shepherd. Road racing perhaps isn’t the place one would expect to see the No. 89 car score a decent run, but that’s exactly what happened. After qualifying 31st (outrunning nearly a dozen teams in the Top 30), Shepherd stayed on the lead lap all race long and ended up finishing 21st, outrunning a number of Cup regulars and road-course specialists to do so. Shepherd’s been doing this type of stuff all year and gets another well-deserved pat on the back as a result.

The Final Word

It was a shame to see Cup regulars flat dominate yet again this weekend, but at least the pass for the win was something special. Ambrose’s banzai charge into the bus stop was daring enough to stop even the mighty Busch dead in his tracks and will go down alongside other highlight-reel passes such as Robby Gordon’s attempted pass in the dirt on Kurt Busch a few years back.

And while Rowdy certainly didn’t accept Ambrose’s race-winning pass gracefully, he acknowledged that “Kangaroo Meat” did what he had to do to win. It’s proof positive there are drivers out there other than Kyle Busch that really REALLY want to win (shocking isn’t it), yet manage to avoid being jackasses when they can’t.

Speaking of Gordon, you’ve gotta give him credit, he doesn’t take anything from anyone. This week, it was Logano who hit Gordon first and Robby took exception… repeatedly. The difference this time, luckily, was that NASCAR backed off and let these two drivers go at it. Gordon and Logano traded a lot more than paint, beatin’ and bangin’ on each other until Gordon ended Logano’s day. Logano then threw some barbs at Gordon during his post-race interview, saying of Robby “you can’t fix stupid, it’s forever.”

But that’s how these exchanges should be settled… by the drivers. NASCAR’s officials finally did the right thing in handling driver conflicts on Saturday.

They did nothing.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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