By Joe Dunn
With two racing remaining in the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series some teams and drivers were searching for solution for 2011. Entering the Wypall 200 at Phoenix International Raceway Brad Keselowski and the Penske/ Discount Tire #22 team already have the driver’s championship locked up. The only other top fight is between that #22 team and the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 team for the owners championship. Gibbs was leading entering this race.
From the drop of the green flag, and even before, it was obvious that Carl Edwards wanted this win bad. He battled early in the race with Joey Logano, who led 23 laps early in the race. Up front for the first 100 laps it was Edwards, Kyle Bush, Kevin Harvick, Justin Allgaier and Logano.
With 50 laps remaining in the race the top 5 battling were Edwards, Bush, Harvick, Keselowski and Logano. With 30 laps to go Bush was forced to pit for a cut rear tire change, no caution came out and he went down a lap to the leaders. Although he fought hard to regain ground and made his way to the first cart none lap down, the needed caution was not forthcoming. Kyle did manage to get past the leader to finish on the lead lap, but at 16th place, the last car on the lead lap, the hopes of the owners championship for Joe Gibbs Racing is all but a memory.
In the closing laps it was Edwards out front with a commanding 4.5 second lead over second place Kevin Harvick. Carl would come home the winner once again, followed across the line by Harvick, Logano, Keselowski and Sorenson in fifth. Rounding out the top 10 were Almirola, Stenhouse Jr., Allgaier, Braun and Steven Wallace 10th.
Trevor Bayne, who had to qualify on speed in the RFR unsponsored #17 car started 9th and remained in the top 15 most of the day. His intention is to turn laps as he hopes to maintain his championship points position after being released by Diamond-Waltrip Racing. Racing smart, with no real points battle in sight, Bayne brought the #17 home in 14th place, giving Roush Fenway racing five cars in the top 15 for the day.
The fight on the other end of the spectrum included a few teams with their eyes on the top 30 points position. That’s the elusive number to get your car locked into the first five races of 2011. Those teams in the battle include the #70 of ML Motorsports and driver’s Shelby Howard and Mark Green. Howard only runs a 22 race schedule, but a partnership agreement between ML Motorsports and Jay Robinson Racing provides the 70 car with more equipment and a second driver in David Green. It’s a strange situation since Howard replaced Green as the primary driver for ML after 4 races in 2009. The 70 came to PIR in 30th, 101 points ahead of the 81 team. The 35 of Mark Smith and the 23 of Robert Richardson were only 41 points ahead of the 70.
The tension for that coveted 30 spot heated up on lap 20 of this race as Mark Green and the #70 car headed for the garage with a ‘blowed up’ transmission and engine. The folks back at ML Motorsports got a sigh of relief as the #81 car finished 26th keeping the #70 locked in the field going into the final race at Homestead.
For Indycar star, Danica Patrick this was another day of over exaggerated media coverage, a bit of almost racing, a bit of beating and banging and of course the obligatory whining. The final result for Danica was in line with her previous 10 races, finishing seven laps down in 32nd place.