BRISTOL, Tenn. – 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 five.
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.
The Nationwide Series points race changed in a big way on lap 213, with then-leader Reed Sorenson forced to take his No. 32 car behind the wall with engine troubles. Sorenson’s Turner Motorsports teammate Jason Leffler finished eighth and took the points lead by two markers over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse won the pole on Saturday and was poised to take the lead with a top-10 car – one that led 28 circuits – but had to battle back for a 14th-place result after serving a pass-through penalty under green for taking the lap 188 restart in the wrong position on track.
“This was a win today,” said Sadler of his fourth-place finish on Saturday. Why? It was the second consecutive top-five finish in Nationwide competition for Kevin Harvick Incorporated as well as his first top-10 result of 2011. After a disappointing start to the season that saw Sadler involved in a wreck at Daytona and mediocre results at Phoenix and Las Vegas, a visit to the site of his first career Cup win seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for the No. 2 team. Until first practice, that is, when Sadler cut a tire and wrecked his primary car.
Quick work by the KHI crew had the backup prepared by second practice and had the driver back in the top 10 on the charts. Qualifying sixth, Sadler never fell out of the top 10 after lap 165 and had what he argued was a second-place car to winner Busch; the other two finishers to pass him, Kahne and Earnhardt Jr., had fresher tires on the final restarts. Still, “all we needed was one uneventful” race said Sadler of he and his team… and he was right; the No. 2 left Bristol in the top 10 in points.
Even happier with his place in the standings was the new leader, Nationwide Series veteran Leffler. And yet again, a stellar performance came in an alternate car, not his primary Great Clips ride. Driving the No. 30 car for the second time this season to make way for Kahne, Leffler qualified second, his first front-row start in Nationwide competition since winning the pole for the Bristol night race back in 2007.
What’s more, Leffler was a fixture in the top 10 all day, though he was unable to charge back to the top five owing both to handling challenges and pit strategy that had the team fighting through the race’s midsection to earn a lucky dog, which they did for a lap 204 restart. Leffler’s eighth-place result was his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races, a wave of consistency that ensured Turner Motorsports maintained the points lead headed to Fontana.
Aric Almirola was another driver that, like Sadler, had had an underwhelming start to his 2011 campaign in a big-time ride. And in finishing 10th, he was also another driver whose season got a much needed short in the arm. Only difference was, Almirola’s race wasn’t uneventful. Though the No. 88 had charged from 15th starting position to cracking the top five nearing lap 200, that 200th circuit saw JR Motorsports’ title contender loop his car around after having a tire go down.
Fortunate to avoid contact with the wall, Almirola lost few spots in the running order owing to so many cars having been lapped by Busch’s dominant machine. Despite the spin and fading late, Bristol still proved to be the first top 10 for JRM’s flagship team.
Just as Las Vegas chewed up and spat out native son Kyle Busch last weekend, the Bristol Motor Speedway was none too kind to its home-state brethren this Saturday. Johnson City’s Brad Teague was perhaps wise to park the No. 49 car after only three laps… it didn’t give Bristol any time to ruin his day. Nashville’s Willie Allen had his day cut short nearly 100 laps short of the finish when a cut tire sent the No. 05 car hard into the turn 4 wall on lap 208, yielding a 35th-place result that was Allen’s worst non start-and-park finish since a wreck at Kentucky last summer.
Knoxville’s Trevor Bayne avoided tire problems, but slapped the wall himself after getting caught up in fluid when Robert Richardson‘s engine expired on lap 67. Bayne’s team managed to make repairs and salvage a top-20 result in 19th, but that was a long distance away from his fourth-place qualifying result.
Sorenson was the points leader coming into the weekend, but suffered a blown engine that relegated him to a 34th-place finish on a day that all four other Turner Motorsports entries finished in the top 15. It was also his worst finish since Kansas last season, snapping a streak of nine consecutive top-15 finishes for the Georgia native. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
Two women were introduced at driver introductions at Bristol on Saturday. One took the green flag. None saw the checkers. Danica Patrick‘s streak of three consecutive top-15 results to start 2011 came to a crashing halt at the world’s fastest half-mile; running in the top 20, Patrick made contact with Ryan Truex on lap 248 coming down the frontstretch, losing control and taking a vicious head-on hit into the turn 1 wall. Replays were inconclusive; Patrick made a clean exit of turn 4 to pull alongside Truex down the frontstretch, but left no room for Truex to correct when the No. 99 brushed the wall.
Though Truex took responsibility for the incident in post-race interviews, the broadcast crew was perplexed as to Danica’s anger towards the No. 99 (Patrick did her traditional hands in the air display when Truex drove past). She was so indignant, the Pastrana-Waltrip Racing crew noting over the radio to their driver “she’s [Danica] never been wrong about anything in her life.”
In an incident where fault is inconclusive at best, to see Patrick acting indignant and speaking on the “nature of NASCAR” in the post-race interview of only her 17th career start brought forward not a shred of attention for her driving talent, but instead a vivid reminder of just what IndyCar has enamored itself with; a model with the attitude of an 8-year-old child being loud and petulant in a public place. Sure, everyone is paying attention, but that’s no measure of anything. Just look at Jersey Shore‘s ratings.
As for Jennifer Jo Cobb, she never turned a lap at Bristol this Saturday. According to the driver, she was informed by the No. 79 team owner 10 minutes before the green flag that she would start and park the car to preserve it for Fontana, or be black-flagged by NASCAR. All to preserve the car so another driver [reportedly Tim Andrews] could drive next weekend. Both, according to Cobb, constitute breaches of contract between her and 2nd Chance Racing.
What transpired in the garage is still unclear; much of the No. 79 crew disappeared, with Cobb noting that she and much of her crew hid the team’s tires for the race because she had paid for them herself. Dustin Long spoke with the owner of the No. 79 car, whose account was far different, stating that he had informed Cobb earlier in the race weekend that the team would have to start-and-park this weekend’s event.
There is much of this story left to be written; Cobb has stated she will have her self-owned No. 13 car ready to race at Texas and is seeking a ride for Fontana next weekend. But this situation, regardless of right and wrong, got ugly and ugly fast. NASCAR’s women’s movement took a decided step backwards this Saturday.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Jeremy Clements. Attempting to run a full season in a family-owned No. 51 car, Clements and his team were tackling Bristol for only the second time after years of avoiding the short tracks and more treacherous ovals on the circuit to preserve their equipment. None of that showed this weekend, with Clements never dropping out of the top 25 and progressing steadily into the top 15 before settling for 16th when the checkers flew.
After watching their hopes of a full 2010 season blow up with three consecutive DNQs to start last year, the No. 51 squad is now a solid 20th in owner points and barring a complete disaster will be locked into the Nationwide field after Fontana next weekend. That’s an accomplishment a long-time coming for one of the more unheralded operations in the Nationwide garage.
Start-and-parkers took six of the 43 spots in Saturday’s field, taking home $100,658 in prize money.
Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored seven of the top-10 finishing positions, occupied nine of the 43 spots in the field and took home $208,365 in prize money.
Year to Date
55 of 169 starting positions occupied (32.5%)
4 of 4 trophies collected (100%)
Parting Shots: See Brody Jones’s 5 Points to Ponder this weekend.
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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