Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen

Kyle Busch was the only driver in the field that had anything for brother Kurt at Watkins Glen on Saturday (Aug. 13), but Rowdy learned the hard way that one mistake on a road course is enough to cost a win. Racing for the lead less than halfway into Saturday’s event, Kyle got out of shape in the bus stop chicane and ended up with a grill full of grass.

Forcing an earlier-than-scheduled pit stop, the No. 18 was a few laps short on fuel and forced to pit from the lead less a mere 10 miles from the checkered flag, leaving Kurt Busch to drive away from the field on a green-white-checkered to score his second career NNS win at the Glen. Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five.

Cup regulars took to the return to companion shows like a fish to water, scoring the top-six finishing positions and leading every lap of competition. Up front, the Busch brothers completely dominated a race that was among the cleanest the series has seen run since returning to road-course racing in 2005, with only two yellow flags slowing the event.

It was a quiet day for the series points contenders; Elliott Sadler faded from a top-five qualifying effort to finish 10th, while Reed Sorenson failed to duplicate his magic from Road America and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. endured a spin and front end damage to come home 15th. Sorenson’s 13th-place run allowed him to close the gap on Stenhouse to 10 points heading into another road-course event next weekend at Montreal, with Sadler in third, 24 markers back.

Worth Noting

The Good

JR Motorsports ended up carrying the flag for Nationwide regulars and road ringers alike on Saturday afternoon, with Ron Fellows delivering a seventh-place finish while Aric Almirola finished eighth and extended his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to five straight races.

For Fellows, it was yet another strong road-course showing for a driver who’s had no shortage of success in Nationwide Series cars, his sixth top-10 finish in eight starts for JRM since 2008, his third straight at the Glen. For Almirola, finishing eighth was an even bigger deal. Not only was it a career-best road-course result; it also marked ground that he put between himself and Justin Allgaier to further secure his grip on fourth in the points. Seventy markers back, title contention is still out of the question without race wins and some help, but the No. 88 team is finally in the form it was expected to be in all season long.

Roush Fenway Racing hardly had the stellar results that they enjoyed at Iowa a week ago, but they also accomplished their mission of maintaining the points lead with a highly inexperienced road racer in Stenhouse. Stenhouse, who was even deprived of the little experience he would have gotten on a road course ARCA racing back in 2008 after being pulled from the New Jersey race after only four laps in favor of Colin Braun, due to injuries sustained in a midget race.

Though it wasn’t the top 10 he turned after all the chaos of Road America, Stenhouse was able to overcome both a spin and front end damage to soldier on for a top-15 result, one that kept him right in line with the other title contenders that struggled through Saturday afternoon. Trevor Bayne, meanwhile, scored a cool and collected top-10 finish, a career-best on a road course and only his second top 10 in the last eight races.

The Bad

Outside of Fellows, the cast of road ringers that tackled the Glen this Saturday were about as quiet as ringers have been at any level of NASCAR racing in recent memory. Tim George Jr. finished a lap down in 21st. Alex Kennedy, two laps down in 25th. Kyle Kelley, three laps down in 26th. Tomy Drissi, five laps down in 27th.

Even the heavier hitters struggled; Jason Bowles and JR Fitzpatrick both suffered early transmission failures while Andrew Ranger had to retire early in the 37th position with suspension issues, his worst career Nationwide result short of an engine failure at Montreal last summer.

Eric McClure was seen all over the 2.5-mile New York circuit for the wrong reasons on Saturday. For one, McClure’s car came to a grinding halt at one of the most dangerous points on the track (the top of the hill exiting the esses) and brought out the first yellow of the afternoon on lap 26. McClure also unfortunately was involved in the second yellow, spinning in his attempt to avoid Casey Roderick‘s on-track troubles coming through the bus stop on lap 80, adding ugly scratches and traded paint to his No. 14 en route to a 35th-place result, his career-worst on a road course.

Key Motorsports endured about as rough a weekend as they could have. The team’s three start-and-park entries all failed to qualify on time, leaving Josh Wise in the No. 40 as the team’s only car to actually start the race. Wise turned in a 28th-place result, but it’s hard to imagine the team will be able to fiscally make up for this weekend on Wise’s $10,305 worth of winnings.

The Ugly

It’s a shame really, because after a few weeks of standalone races ESPN’s telecasts were seemingly improving. But in terms of offering full field coverage, this Saturday’s race was about as bad as they come. Subtract the Cup regulars and start-and-park entries, there were 32 Nationwide Series regulars that took the green flag on Saturday afternoon.

Out of those, Bowles, Morgan Shepherd, Timmy Hill, Derrike Cope, Blake Koch, Wise, Drissi, Kelley, Kennedy, Mike Bliss and George were all not mentioned in any form during the telecast. Fitzpatrick, Ranger, Kenny Wallace, Michael Annett and DJ Clarke were all mentioned only as lap traffic or as suffering mechanical woes that in no way were described or updated throughout the afternoon. Finally, McClure, Dennis Setzer, Roderick, Jeremy Clements and Mike Wallace all received no coverage except for their involvement in on-track incidents.

Giving ESPN the benefit of the doubt that those five drivers would have been featured at some point on the telecast without dragging equipment off of pit road or spinning out, that marks coverage for 16 of the 32 regulars in the field, or 50%. Take those five away, the coverage rate drops to 34.4%. That’s about as woeful as it comes.

Underdog Performer of the Race: James Buescher. Turner Motorsports is not an underdog operation and Buescher doesn’t exactly fit the bill either as a legitimate contender for the Camping World Truck Series championship this season. But for a first road-course event, Buescher’s performance was nothing to be ashamed of.

Qualifying in the top 10, Buescher finished 17th on a day that not a single Turner car was able to crack the top 10. That Buescher was able to keep his machine on course and out of trouble all day could only be considered a success… and bodes well should he get an expected promotion to the Nationwide Series full-time in 2012.

Ill-Gotten Gains

Start-and-parkers occupied four of the 43 starting positions in Saturday’s field, taking home $38,499 in purse money.

Cup regulars won Saturday’s race, scored six of the top-10 finishing positions and occupied seven of the 43 starting positions in the field, taking home $156,918 in purse money.

Year-to-Date

294 of 980 starting positions occupied (30.0%)
$6,350,955 won
19 of 23 trophies collected (82.6%)

The Final Word

  • Typically I refrain from watching the overly long pre-race shows, but I did catch most of the one at the Glen Saturday. Got a really, really good laugh out of hearing Nicole Briscoe make the comment “with all this talk of the championship, let’s not forget that there’s six Cup regulars and road-course ringers in the field.” ESPN is out of touch: presenting, Exhibit A.
  • As ugly as it was, Stenhouse was a victor on Saturday, maintaining the points lead after this road race. If he can squeeze another marginal run out at Montreal this coming week and maintain sight of the points lead, the strength of the Roush Mustangs will easily make him the man to beat heading into the final stretch of the season. These two weeks are all about avoiding disaster for the No. 6 team. They’re halfway there.

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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