Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2010 US Cellular 250 at Iowa

Despite not running for a Nationwide Series title in 2010, Kyle Busch had some unfinished business to tend to at Iowa Speedway; after all, he let Brad Keselowski snatch the checkered flag from him at the track’s inaugural NNS race last season. This time, he left no room for error.

Leading 209 of the 250 laps run, Busch easily scored his ninth Nationwide Series victory of the year in the US Cellular 250, putting down a spirited early challenge from polesitter Trevor Bayne and thwarting Kevin Harvick‘s late-race tire strategy. Harvick, Jason Leffler, Keselowski and Bayne rounded out the top-five finishers.

The event was highlighted by a series of tire failures that Goodyear reported were being caused by excessive brake heat melting beads on the tires. Multiple members of the Braun Racing camp, Mike Wallace and others all saw their nights ruined by cut tires.

Keselowski’s top-five run allowed him to both maintain and extend his current points lead, gaining 41 markers on Carl Edwards, who struggled to finish 10th after being forced to conserve his right-front tire throughout the second half of the event due to excessive heat. Justin Allgaier finished eighth in a backup car to remain the highest-ranked Nationwide Series regular, though he slipped to fourth in points behind Busch, 516 out of the lead.

Worth Noting

The Good

On a night that saw teammates drop like flies (Tayler Malsam suffered damage in an early wreck, while Reed Sorenson and Brian Scott both crashed as a result of tire failures), Leffler picked the perfect opportunity to score his best finish of the 2010 season. Qualifying in the top 10 for only the fourth time all year, Leffler was a top-10 fixture despite the auspice of tire failure looming over his squad, and came home third, the first top-three run for the No. 38 team since Texas last November.

Leffler, who despite a disappointing year is still clawing to a spot in the top 10 in NNS points, has seen his last few seasons disintegrate in the second half after strong starts. A few more runs like Saturday night’s and the exact opposite may prove the story of 2010 for Leffler.

Steve Wallace had one of the most convincing runs of his career at the track his father built, capitalizing on a top-five qualifying run to finish sixth. More importantly, Wallace was consistently in the top five or knocking on the door the entire evening. For a driver whose inconsistency has constantly proven to be a liability, 2010 has been anything but. The driver of the No. 66 has now scored three top-10 finishes in a row, part of a larger streak of nine consecutive top 15s.

Drew Herring, a winner in USAR competition and 2006 late model champion at South Boston Speedway, made his Nationwide Series debut for Baker Curb Racing, driving the No. 27 in what was the driver described as a “last-minute deal.” But there was nothing last-minute about Saturday’s seemingly veteran performance, as Herring’s experience at Iowa in USAR competition paid off.

Qualifying in the top 15, he ran a clean race from flag-to-flag, even at times running in the top five after a two-tire change during a mid-race pit stop before settling in to finish 15th. An impressive debut, for sure – just too bad no sponsors were around to support it. The quarterpanels remained blank on that car for this weekend and sponsorship remains a concern for several others ahead.

The Bad

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. eventually scored a top-15 finish (14th), but that was a thin silver lining on a nasty night for Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse scored his run in Edwards’s backup… because he wrecked his primary car in practice and his backup in qualifying. Teammate Colin Braun wrecked in qualifying and in the race, with Paul Menard also being involved in an on-track incident. Five damaged or destroyed racecars in one weekend ended up being the tally for the RFR fab shop; there’s few words to describe that other than bad.

Braun Racing had no shortage of damaged racecars, either. Read above.

Morgan Shepherd qualified in the top 20 for the second week in a row driving the RCR-in-name-only No. 21 car, but his time running there was short-lived. Shepherd was involved in a lap 1 spin in turn 4 that saw Malsam clip the No. 21, causing enough damage to send Shepherd’s car behind the wall for repairs.

Shepherd would eventually return to the track and complete 43 laps before parking for the evening in the 35th position. Intentional or not, seeing RCR’s unsponsored entry limping around the track was a fitting metaphor for how the 2006 championship organization is now leaving the Nationwide Series at the end of this season.

Tri-Star Motorsports had a disappointing evening. Not only did Jason Keller fall from an 11th-place qualifying effort to finish six laps down by race’s end in 26th, teammate Tony Raines was involved in a rare accident after falling victim to a cut tire that sent the No. 34 into the fence. His 29th-place result was the worst for the No. 34 team since finishing 36th due to a blown motor/wreck at Road America.

Eric McClure failed to qualify for the race, his first DNQ since Homestead back in 2006.

The Ugly

The race was red-flagged on lap 94 for the nastiest crash seen on the Nationwide circuit since Keselowski and Edwards tangled at Gateway a few weeks back. Braun lost control in turn 2, slapping the wall and coming to a stop in the middle of the racing groove. Unfortunately, Brian Keselowski‘s brakes locked up as he made an evasive maneuver, leaving his No. 26 Dodge to violently broadside Braun’s Ford. The resulting carnage also collected Mark Green (who was still running competitively at the time) and Brendan Gaughan.

Though all drivers were OK after the collision, the wreck collected a lot of cars… and in the case of Keselowski and Green, two cars that both teams could not afford to have torn up.

Underdog Performer of the Race: Shelby Howard. Jeremy Clements had yet another top 20 with his No. 04 car, but Howard’s 12th-place finish was a momentous night for the No. 70 team. Finishing 12th after spending a good chunk of laps as a top-10 car at Iowa was impressive enough for the part-time ML Motorsports operation, but the bigger reward came after the race was over. With the No. 43 car start-and-parking due to a lack of sponsorship, the No. 70 that has been fielded in an effort between ML Motorsports and Jay Robinson Racing moved into the Top 30 in owner points.

One can only hope that in races Howard isn’t scheduled to run, Green is able to… because should the dollars materialize, MLM will more than likely move to full-time competition. Wreck aside on Saturday night, if Green can run more races the distance and Howard keeps doing what he’s done all year, who knows what 2011 may hold for MLM.

The Final Word

  • No BS when it comes to attendance this time, Iowa Speedway was packed. With nearly 60,000 fans on hand, the dollars and cents are there for the track’s request to host a second Nationwide Series race in 2011 and beyond.
  • So is the on-track action. Side-by-side racing was everywhere from position two on back (yes, Busch was dominant), and for the all the tire failures, the race featured enough short sprints and green-flag runs to keep all sorts of fans engaged. Not only is Iowa Speedway a short track, it’s a darned racy one. Yes, let’s race here twice.
  • Two things, both positive about the telecast Saturday night. One, not having Rusty Wallace in the booth was both appropriate given his involvement with the track and a relief not to be subjected to. Having a broadcast crew without a vested interest in one of the teams running on the track was a huge plus. Two, it was also fantastic to see so much of the side-by-side racing actually shown on screen. Bayne, Steve Wallace and Allgaier all got great airtime. Michael Annett as an Iowa native got a well-deserved nod to be in-race reporter. Howard got mentioned on-air for once. It wasn’t perfect, but ESPN’s effort on Saturday night was one of the best they’ve had in 2010. Iowa seems to have brought out a lot of the best of the Nationwide Series (apart from Cup regulars winning)… again, about that second date.

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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