Sunday, February 6, 2011

Naughty and Nice of 2010 Racing: NASCAR Nationwide Series

Photo Credit: Autostock

First, please accept my apologies for the belated arrival of the 2010 Naughty and Nice List Relating to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Profiling this season for the 2010 Nationwide Series reveals a dominate year for Sprint Cup Series regulars will continue to pay repeated visits to this one-time ladder series. 

Nice: Earnhardt and #3 Chevrolet in Victory Lane at Daytona

Announced as a one-off effort for the race at Daytona International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr paired with Richard Childress Racing to win at the July NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Having previously succeeded at Daytona in 2002, Earnhardt Jr has been working through a difficult 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season when he announced plans to drive a #3 Wrangler-sponsored Chevrolet during the Fourth of July weekend event. Leading the most laps as he held off efforts of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, the consolidation of powers resulted in Dale Earnhardt Jr's Daytona win. Earnhardt Jr's 23rd Nationwide Series victory, the #3 Wrangler Chevrolet Impala was also the first winning car under the series' new COT rules.

Photo Credit: John Harrelson/ Getty Images

Naughty: Ambrose Suffers Another Montreal Heartbreak
Rising through the ranks to become a major star of the Australian V-8 Supercar series, Tazmania's Marcus Ambrose makes a lasting impression in NASCAR racing. While his oval racing creditably is building, Ambrose's true instincts show on the road courses of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events. Winning three years running at Watkins Glen, victory the Canadian road course of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has been painfully elusive despite his often race dominating efforts.
Despite earning pole for the second-straight time at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve NAPA Auto Parts 200, Ambrose's 25 laps out front early was all for not as electrical failure and later a suspension issue. Forcing him to park his #47 Toyota 27 laps ahead of the checkered flag, Marcos Ambrose finished 33rd for the 2010 NAPA Auto Parts 200. Thrilled to be racing an exciting race with Jacques Villeneuve and Carl Edwards, Ambrose replied on his website in post race “We're trying everything to get that victory here in Canada, but we can't seem to seal the deal”.

Nice: Brad Keselowski's 2010 Championship Run

After two seasons of focus on the NASCAR Nationwide Series season with JR Motorsports, Brad Keselowski has played the part of the best non-Sprint Cup series driver on the division. Winning the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship by 445 points, Keselowski drove his Penske Racing #22 Dodge to a clinch after the Texas Motor Speedway race.
With Kevin Harvick presiding as 2006 champions, Carl Edwards finding the series points victory in 2007, Clint Bowyer in 2008 and Kyle Busch earning the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, Keselowski became the 5 Sprint Cup regular in a row to complete this goal. For 2011, NASCAR has effectively put the end to drivers of the Sprint Cup series hunting championship honours in the Nationwide or Camping World truck series by requiring a driver to declare just one series in which they can claim points.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/ Getty Images for NASCAR

Naughty: The Continuing Transformation of NASCAR Nationwide to a Sprint Cup-Lite Series

For as long as the NASCAR Nationwide Series (known as the Busch Series prior up to 1983) existed, it has been a common theme that drivers of the longer Cup series races would occasionally join the fun of what has been a key tour for developing and showcasing new racing talent. While major races at Daytona as well as Charlotte were places where names like Dale Earnhardt and later Mark Martin would school often less experienced drivers, the presence of Cup series competitors making more notable appearances in the tour is apparent. For 2010, only 2 winners of 35 total NASCAR Nationwide Series races did not belong to a full-time Sprint Cup operation (Justin Allgaier at Bristol and Boris Said at Montreal).

Nice: Road Racing Madness

Some in NASCAR believe that stock cars have no place on road courses. Purests for the oval racing environment, the increased variables of turning left and right can confuse some of the best NASCAR drivers as well as crew chiefs. Supplying 3 road races for 2010, the NASCAR Nationwide Series trio of events provided some of the most refreshing excitement on the schedule. Added to the 2010 schedule in place of a canceled annual event at the Milwaukee Mile, Road America joined the series bringing NASCAR back to the 4-mile circuit for the first time since the 1950s. Captured by Carl Edwards, the first Road America race for the Nationwide Series served up the first helping of what would be physical and unpredictable road course racing. Despite the win of Edwards and the maturing of road racing skills of by all NASCAR drivers, so-called road race ringers took the final two races at Watkins Glen and Montreal. Marcos Ambrose took Watkins Glen in fine style while the winner of the Montreal NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was settled in a more aggressive fashion. A battle between Max Papis and Boris Said, a side-by-side finish result in favour of Said.

Photo Credit: Jason Smith/ Getty Images

Naughty: Lack of 2010 Title Contenders
Only 13 drivers in the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series run the full 35-race schedule. While the NASCAR Nationwide Series has been the site of high driver turn-over, this past season's points is a show for the lack of contention. In the top-10 for the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series, 3 drivers (Sprint Cup regulars) drove fewer than 29 races.

Nice: Rave Reviews for Series' Car of Tomorrow (Today)

Unlike the launch of the NASCAR Sprint Cup (COT) Car of Tomorrow in 2007, the introduction of the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the summer Daytona race has debuted with raved reviews. While the new race car for the Sprint Cup series received criticism for being less competitive than the previous car, NASCAR clearly applied their lessons learned for the Sprint Cup COT to the Nationwide Series race machine specifications. As an added plus for the fans, the new Nationwide Series COT cars introduced the unique track presence of the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang back to NASCAR competition.

Naughty and Nice: Joe Gibbs Stinks Up Nationwide Shows

Combining for 16 wins and 11 poles, the Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series team was an often unstoppable juggernaut at intermediate-sized tracks between 1 to 2 miles. Clearly lending their NASCAR Sprint Cup expertise as well as the lineup Kyle Busch and Joey Logano to races within the 2010 Nationwide Series schedule, two drivers might have had a chance at the tour championship if they had not chosen to sit down certain races. Still finishing 3rd in the NASCAR Nationwide points even while running just 29 of the 35 races, Kyle Busch's #18 Toyota won 13 times in 2010 following up 9 wins a year prior and 10 in 2008.

For anti-Joe Gibbs Racing fans, a silver lining for 2011 in light of the dominance of 2010 could be that the team did not win one of four races run with the new COT race machine. However, with drivers Busch and Logano behind the wheel of the team's Toyota Camry stock cars, it is unsafe to wager against another strong Joe Gibbs Racing showing in 2011.

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