For the 16th consecutive race, a Cup regular bested the Nationwide Series field at the Richmond International Raceway. But at least the finish was worth watching. Kurt Busch came out only inches ahead of Denny Hamlin, who spent the second half of the event running qualifying laps to make up ground after missing his pit stall during a cycle of stops under yellow; the two cars made contact exiting turn 4 and both slid across the finish line.
The win was the first for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, one that brought tears to the eyes of the team owner, who was in the pits watching his brother score the win. Polesitter Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top-five finishers.
Stenhouse managed to pass Elliott Sadler (who finished sixth) late in the event and cut his four-point deficit in the standings in half.
The biggest move in the points race is likely to come on Tuesday (May 2) for something that happened off the track, however; prior to any cars taking the track at Richmond, the RCR and Turner Motorsports entries all had modified front bumpers confiscated by NASCAR in a means very similar to Jimmie Johnson’s C-post violation at Daytona, where the car fit templates but had been modified.
Reports in the garage area indicated that NASCAR officials were likely to level harsh penalties, including points, in the days to come. Such penalties would impact Sadler and Austin Dillon, who currently sit second and third in the standings.
Hornish scored his strongest performance of the season with a convincing top-five effort at Richmond, one that saw the No. 12 car capable of making passes on both grooves of the racetrack. Hornish also proved to be the class of the Penske Racing stable on a night that saw former RIR winner Brad Keselowski struggle, finishing the lead lap outside the top 15.
The former IndyCar star now sits fourth in points, 53 back and only 30 behind third-place Dillon. Given the level of penalties being speculated upon by Brad Daugherty and the ESPN crew during Friday’s telecast, Hornish may well be third in points heading into Talladega.
The former Rusty Wallace Incorporated gang was back on the track for the first time since the organization folded following last season, and both gave a strong account of themselves. Michael Annett finished eighth and led his first laps of the season Friday night, marking his first stretch of consecutive top-10 finishes since finishing seventh at both Kentucky and Loudon last summer.
Meanwhile, Steven Wallace made his return to Nationwide racing and scored his best finish since Montreal last summer, coming home 11th and on the lead lap. The younger Wallace is hoping to run more races over the summer, and did those chances no harm with his effort. It was the best finish for the No. 4 team in 2012.
Dillon scored his sixth top-10 finish in seven starts thus far through 2012. This guy’s going to be a player in this year’s title hunt, rookie or not.
Jason Bowles couldn’t seem to avoid trouble over the course of 250 laps at Richmond. Lap 113 saw the No. 81 car bring out the final yellow flag of the event with a spin exiting turn 2 (replays suggested that contact with another car may have assisted in the spin). The team was able to continue, as Bowles managed to keep the nose of the car out of the inside wall despite the spin.
Any chances at salvaging a decent night went out the window on lap 237 though, as Bowles, running as lapped traffic and out of the main groove, got absolutely drilled by Hamlin as he made his run to the front. The heavy contact cut down a tire and forced the No. 81 to pit road (he eventually finished 30th, seven laps down).
If nothing else, give this guy credit for how he handled himself; after returning to the track inside of a few laps to go with new tires, Bowles made no effort to obstruct Hamlin as he went by again.
The two stars of the show, according to Nicole Briscoe’s comments from the ESPN trailer, both failed to crack the top 20. Danica Patrick was seen near the top of the charts during both practice sessions Friday, but never was even remotely a factor after dropping from her 16th-place starting spot. The 21st-place finish was her fourth outside the top 20 in seven NNS starts this year.
Travis Pastrana had a similar quiet night in his Nationwide Series debut, finishing two laps off the pace in the 22nd position but remaining out of trouble after a spin late in the K&N East Series race the day before.
While Pastrana’s result was by no means a bad one, it both validated concerns expressed by the booth before the event that the piecemeal approach to learning stock cars being employed by Pastrana wasn’t the best way to learn to race them and demonstrated and that the sport and the media alike are jumping way ahead of themselves to sell a product that’s not ready for it.
Pastrana’s definitely a star and the biggest celebrity score NASCAR has claimed since Danica. But it doesn’t matter whether they’re learning or not; there isn’t a form of motorsports out there that can build a business model out of drivers finishing 21st and 22nd on any given race weekend. Pastrana didn’t do himself a disservice on Friday night, but that 22nd was as good as could possibly be expected.
Blake Koch’s move to life on the other side of the top 30 now that Timmy Hill has returned to Nationwide racing has been a cold slap to the face so far and that continued at Richmond. Koch ended up wrecking the No. 15 primary car during practice, leaving the team without the time or resources needed to prepare a backup machine for qualifying.
Koch ended up making the race after the team bumped Scott Riggs from their start-and-park No. 75 entry, but turned only 10 circuits before bringing that Mustang behind the wall. The 39th-place finish was Koch’s worst since his lap 1 wreck at Dover last spring.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Ryan Blaney. One year ago at Richmond, Dave Blaney turned heads with a strong top-20 effort in one of Tommy Baldwin Racing’s first races with their new Golden Corral sponsorship on the No. 36. This time, driving the team’s trademark No. 36 in only his second Nationwide Series start, it was his son that delivered in a big way.
Making his NNS debut, accomplished late model racer Ryan proved a fixture in the top 10 all night long, racing with Cup regulars and NNS title contenders alike in a clean and composed manner. Blaney scored the lion’s share of TV coverage on Friday night and for good reason. Go figure the stock car racer that spent years racing stock cars at a lower level proved to be the best-performing prospect in the field.
Start-and-parkers occupied six of the 43 starting positions in Friday’s race, taking home $74,185 in purse money.
Cup regulars won Friday’s race, scored four of the top-10 finishing positions, occupied eight of the 43 starting positions and took home $171,058 in purse money.
89 of 301 starting positions occupied (29.6%)
2 of 7 trophies collected (28.6%)
The Final Word
- Hats off to Ryan Blaney for a job well done. It was great to see the little team that can in TBR get some real exposure for their marketing partners on Friday night. That being said, the amount of gushing over the young Blaney’s performance on Friday night went beyond a talented prospect making a debut to a near obsessive level, even on a night where one Pastrana was also debuting on the same racetrack. Even more notable was that Tanner Berryhill, another 18-year-old youngster, was making his Nationwide Series debut in the same race (in the car that short-track ace Benny Gordon had been driving) and viewers heard nary a peep about him. Just goes to show another evident and undesirable truth about driver development; talented or not, young or not, it really is up to the booth who gets noticed and who doesn’t.
- Speaking of that, though, for all the love Blaney got during the race, it wasn’t reciprocated by the ESPN prep staff; the starting lineup crawl at the start of the broadcast was missing pictures of both Blaney and Berryhill. The entry list has been out for a freaking week people, is it really that hard to come up with two headshots?
- Mr. Irrelevant may well be a term that applied to the NFL draft this weekend, but it was hard not to think of watching Danica and Robert Richardson trade paint racing for 20-something position.
- Given how close the points battle is right now, was last year and is shaping up to be this year, any penalties stemming from the bumpers confiscated this weekend from the RCR and Turner camps will have a significant impact on who’s hoisting the big trophy come Homestead. That a bumper that never entered competition, that had no impact whatsoever on any race short of giving a NASCAR official something to do may well determine the Nationwide Series champion in 2012 does more damage to the series and its integrity than any Cup driver ever could.
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