Race Weekend Central

Nationwide Breakdown: A different Elliott rises to the top

Elliott Sadler has many memories concerning the Talladega Superspeedway but before Saturday none of them were pleasant. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has flipped numerous times at the facility and became a frequent topic of fans conversation the those experiences.

Now, he’s ready for everyone to talk about his win. Sadler not only led the most laps in the Aaron’s 312 but finally led the most important one. A final restart with three laps to go saw Sadler and David Ragan leading the inside line around the 2.66-mile track while Chris Buescher and Regan Smith fought hard on the outside lane. With both lines side-by-side heading into the final two corners, Sadler pulled away and held off Buescher and Smith at the line.

Sadler has faced all kinds of results at Talladega, but has no reason to worry after this win.
Sadler has faced all kinds of results at Talladega, but has no reason to worry after this win.

David Ragan, Sam Hornish Jr. – who was making his debut with Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe Nemechek, J.J. Yeley, Landon Cassill, David Starr, and Trevor Baynerounded out the top-10.

The 2 hour and 22 minute race endured 7 cautions, which thinned the field dramatically halfway through the event. Favorites like Kyle Larson, Brian Scott, James Buescher and Darrell Wallace Jr. all had their hopes of winning end in wrecks. But it opened the door for the sub-story of the day in the big teams being nagged by the little guys, like David Starr, Chad Boat and Mike Bliss, who all showed up in the top-10 looking for a miracle.

Yet in the end it was the veteran Sadler with his first win of 2014, which moves him to second in the points. Rookie Chase Elliott, who started 37th but quickly made his way to the front and even led three laps, finished 19th and now only leads by one point heading into an off weekend.

The Good
Regan Smith further proved the point that he’s quite the restrictor plate ace. Smith had won two of the previous three Nationwide plate races entering Saturday at Talladega, and as one of the veterans in the field his chances for going two-for-two in 2014 were pretty high. Smith started in the rear of the field when his team failed to make it out of the first round of knockout qualifying. But he patiently and methodically made his way towards the front.

Smith led the third most laps of the event, 20, and was charging hard with Chris Buescher after the race’s final caution. It was a three lap dash for the checkered flag with Smith pushing Buescher for all his worth, spewing water coming off turn four. It was close but not close enough, as Smith came home third.

And a nod also has to go to the winner, Elliott Sadler. It was his first win of the season, first with Joe Gibbs Racing in his second season with the company, and he quiets a lot of questions about his job security. It was also Sadler’s first ever restrictor plate NASCAR win.

The Bad
Things continued to go downhill for Dylan Kwasniewski on Saturday in Talladega after his impressive showing to start the year in Daytona. Kwasniewski was the victim of a multi-car crash on lap 43 that ended the Tuner Scott Motorsports day. Which has been a showcase of his season.

Torn up racecars and hard luck are becoming synonymous with the rookie. He hasn’t picked up a top-10 finish since Daytona and has now been outside the top-20 in his last three races. Saturday Kwasniewski came home 35th and dropped to 13th in the championship standings.

The Ugly
It was a long day of bump drafting gone wrong as numerous cautions were brought out by drivers who got into a fellow competitor in the wrong part of the bumper – and while in the corner – which would appear to be restrictor plate racing 101.

Ryan Blaney started the day off by hooking James Buescher as the two charged to the second and third positions going into turn three. The wrecked collected the likes of Darrell Wallace Jr. and Dylan Kwasniewski. Then came Trevor Bayne turning Brian Scott in front of the field, collecting Ryan Reed, Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, and Kyle Larson.
Bayne was criticized by Scott, who said he was a victim of stupidity, while team owner Richard Childress said the driver of the 6 car is a weapon every week. Most of the aforementioned drivers days were done after their wrecks yet Bayne went on to have a later tire failure but still managed a top-10 finish.

Is Bayne pressing too much and becoming an on-track nuisance?
Is Bayne pressing too much and becoming an on-track nuisance?

Underdog Performer of the Race
It didn’t end the way Ryan Seig had hoped and certainly how it looked it was prepared to play out, but Seig was one of the many underdog drivers on Saturday who had a chance to win. His black and bare No. 39 Chevrolet went from the back to the front numerous times before he found himself leading the outside lane.

With 30 laps to go Seig was the thorn in JR Motorsports’ side, as he sat second in between their three-car parade. Then he went side-by-side for the lead before the veterans sent him down the sucker-hole. It led to collecting some damage in a caution and coming home 20th after averaging a running position throughout the day of 11th.

Double Duty and Start and Park Effect
Seven drivers who competed in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 will run the Sprint Cup race on Sunday.
Two of Saturday’s top-10 finishers are not running for Nationwide Series points.
Five of 40 cars chose to start and park.

Final Word
Restrictor plate racing was in its greatest form on Saturday afternoon with pack racing dominating the day. After decades of carnage, cars flipping and thinned fields, Saturday was a blast from the past after a few years of ho-hum events.
While there was 27 lead changes amongst 13 drivers, there were 86 green flag passes for the lead, which is the third most in the last seven years. There were drivers complaining they hate plate racing, tempers flaring from drafting gone wrong and a battle for the win coming off the final corner heading to the finish line through the tri-oval.

Then in the end it was another Nationwide Series regular pulling into victory lane, something fans refuse to believe is possible. Now it’s five Cup winners in 2014 and four Nationwide Series regular winners in the season’s first nine races.
The series will head to Iowa Speedway on May 18th, where a Nationwide Series regular, Trevor Bayne, won last season.

About the author

Kelly is our Frontstretch Nationwide Series expert, hired in 2014 to handle Friday’s Nuts For Nationwide column as well as pre- and post-race analysis of NASCAR’s second-tier division. A former SpeedwayMedia.com reporter, she shares her FS duties with work at Popular Speed as an editor and feature contributor. Based in New Jersey, Kelly hopes to move down south in the near future while furthering her racing career.

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