Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Breakdown: ToyotaCare 250

Brad Keselowski’s 2013 was off to a solid, if unspectacular start; eight races in the Sprint Cup Series had yielded four top fives and seven top 10s, but recent weeks had found him less and less a part of the conversation when it came to victories. Despite entries in every Nationwide Series race to that point, he had only managed two top-5 finishes, while fellow Cup regular Kyle Busch ran away with the majority of the first six races.

Brad Keselowski jumpstarted his 2013 season, in all NASCAR divisions with a winning Nationwide Series performance at Richmond Friday night.

Well, something finally clicked Friday night in Richmond. After scoring the pole position, with a speed of 126.339 mph, Keselowski was at the point of the field for 35 of 250 laps, including the last 10, en route to his first NASCAR win of the year. He held off Kevin Harvick, who entered the race the all-time winningest Nationwide driver at Richmond and paced the field for 96 laps before finishing second.

Kyle Busch, who was going for a fifth straight win in the series, was relegated to third. Brian Vickers became the highest finishing series regular in fourth, with Regan Smith coming home fifth.

Elliott Sadler, Sam Hornish Jr., Kyle Larson, Travis Pastrana and Reed Sorenson rounded out the top 10.

In typical Richmond fashion, the caution flag flew quite a few times during the evening — eight in all. Perhaps the highest profile on-track incident of the evening was a wreck involving three of the series’ championship contenders. While battling for position in Turn 3, Justin Allgaier came down on Austin Dillon, who was attempting to pass on the inside, sending both drivers into the outside wall, collecting Dillon’s Childress teammate, Brian Scott, in the process. Ultimately, Dillon was knocked out of the race entirely, finishing 35th, while Allgaier sustained significant rear end damage that relegated him to 31st. Scott, meanwhile, was able to salvage a 20th by day’s end.

The fireworks, for Scott though had just begun. He was running in 15th at the end of the race before being bumped by Nelson Piquet, Jr., with whom he expressed his displeasure afterward on pit road. Piquet proceeded to kick at Scott, connecting a little too below the belt for comfort. Say what you will about post-race fights, but NASCAR certainly hasn’t had that sort of happening in awhile. By the time Scott vs. Piquet had died down, two Richard Childress Racing crew members had been arrested. Piquet has since apologized for the incident on his Twitter.

Despite leading 83 laps and finishing seventh, Sam Hornish Jr.‘s points lead fell to just one point over Regan Smith, who took home fifth. The top five in points aren’t nearly as close as they were last week; after their incident(s), Scott, Dillon and Allgaier lost scent of the lead to varying degrees. Scott still moved up to third in points despite his 20th-place finish, 23 points back. Allgaier sits 34 behind in fourth, while Elliott Sadler is now fifth.

The Good

Someone was finally able to beat Kyle Busch. Granted, the benefactor was a fellow Cup regular, again taking victory from a Nationwide competitor, but a change of pace was certainly welcome after so many wins in a row from the driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 (who will take a break from the series next week, putting Joey Coulter in the car at Talladega). Brad Keselowski finally broke his winless spell in 2013, and you can bet the next one will come a lot quicker, be it in Cup or Nationwide. He was due in both; his previous Nationwide win dated all the way back to Indianapolis last season.

Travis Pastrana hasn’t had a phenomenal first full-time Nationwide season, but his ninth-place finish at Richmond was the best of his career, one-upping the two 10ths he earned at Daytona and Las Vegas. Pastrana’s top 10 comes a year after his series debut at the same track, at which he finished 22nd, two laps down. The former X-Games gold medalist has come far since then, though much can be owed to his ride with Roush Fenway Racing. It’s exciting to see how much he’ll continue to progress in the next year, especially the more he becomes familiar with these tracks.

The Bad:

Nelson Piquet Jr.‘s post-race kick did more damage than inflict mere pain on Brian Scott. Though the move might have elicited response from those who enjoy drivers putting up their dukes after a race, most are used to something more along the lines of punches or even mere verbal assault, not kicking. As his move has been perceived as cowardly rather than dauntless by many, it will be interesting to see how the driver — and fan — reaction is to the rookie driver going forward.

RAB Racing fielded two cars for the first time in its Nationwide Series history at Richmond. Cool, right? Well, it could have been, except the gains were not plenty for teammates Alex Bowman and Kenny Wallace. Despite a fifth-place starting spot for Wallace, the No. 29 team had to succumb early to rear gear woes on lap 142, finishing a disappointing 36th. Meanwhile, Bowman, who had been in the top 10 in points and was coming off his first career pole, managed a mere 27th, four laps down, after a blown right front tire derailed his evening. The duo will have other chances this year as teammates; perhaps the next time will be kinder.

Brian Scott’s season took a turn for the worse, both on the track and off it at Richmond Friday night.

The Ugly

He might have been caught up in a late-race accident and dropped five positions in the closing laps due to his skirmish with Piquet, but Brian Scott was still able to climb to third in points, basically by virtue of his closest competitors, Justin Allgaier and Austin Dillon, having even worse days. He may have fallen further behind Hornish, but it’s kind of forward progress, right?

While it was good to see the series have a healthy entry list at 46 cars, it was a tough break missing the race for many of the DNQers. Jason Bowles and Stanton Barrett missed the field in their returns to the series, while Derek Thorn could not get Jimmy Means’ No. 52 into the race for his debut. Other bummers: Morgan Shepherd failed to qualify after taking a few races off with sponsorship and money woes, while Jamie Dick’s No. 55 team missed its first race of the season, despite a marginally impressive start.

Underdog Performer of the Race: He may have been making his debut with Roush Fenway Racing, but Ryan Reed was able to stay out of trouble in his first event, and at a tough track to boot. Seriously, 16th place and on the lead lap is not too shabby for a driver promoting a great cause: the American Diabetes Association.

Ill-Gotten Gains

Start-and-parkers occupied two of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $24,800 in purse money.

Cup regulars won the race, scored three of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied four of the 40 starting positions, and took home $126,065 in purse money.

The Final Word

– Richmond didn’t exactly provide the best racing we’ve seen all year in the series, but it was still decidedly above average, an action-packed 250 laps that saw Brad Keselowski in Victory Lane for the first time all season. Chances are it’ll be the first time of many.

– The race probably won’t mean too much in the long run, but it could mean bad tidings for Austin Dillon if he can’t put together a solid finish at Talladega. Given Sam Hornish Jr.‘s general penchant for very good finishes in 2013, slip-ups aren’t an option, and though one finish outside the top 30 won’t put one out of contention, two in a row certainly could.

– Next week is Talladega, a track at which all sorts of things could happen that might jumble up the finishing order. Will Hornish and Smith pad their points lead, or will we leave the speedway in the same position we entered Richmond — almost neck and neck? Anything could happen.

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