Talladega Superspeedway Nationwide Race Capsule
The Scoop: Rain pushed back the start of the race three hours, darkness shortened it by about 10 laps, and a last lap crash shortened it even a few yards less. The Aaron's 312 saw defending race winner Joey Logano lead the most laps and barely lose the race to Kasey Kahne and winner Regan Smith. Many expected Smith, who came a half-straightaway from winning the Daytona race earlier this year, to be a factor. But early handling issues that sent the splitter of the No. 7 Taxslayer Chevy into the asphalt kept the JR Motorsports driver from playing much in the lead pack. Either Logano or Kurt Busch seemed to have the race won before and during the green-white-checkered finish. Smith, on a full head of steam from teammate Kahne's push, caught the leaders and then swooped under the two lead pods, staying just above inside yellow line, to gain even with the lead. He started the white flag lap in 7th. As Busch fell back, Logano and Kahne fanned out three-wide in the tri-oval for the drag race to the finish. Kahne just barely beat Smith and Logano to the line, but a crash behind them brought out the caution just before the checkered flag. Smith had the lead at the yellow, thus the win. He takes the points lead from Sam Hornish Jr., who helped spark a huge wreck on lap 94, which also eliminated third-in-points Brian Scott and many others. After that crash, NASCAR told teams that pending darkness (Talladega does not have a full track lighting system) and rain that was beginning to fall would shorten the race from 117 to 107 laps. Joey Coulter's wreck on lap 106 brought just one attempt at a green-white-checkered, as the sun set. Pole sitter Travis Pastrana led the race's first four laps and then dropped back. He charged again to the front with teammate Trevor Bayne's assist, but checked up for a spinning Reed Sorenson, then creamed the driver's side of the No. 43, sending Sorenson on a semi-airborne, t-bone, not-joy ride through the grass. Danica Patrick started the race 4th, but spun and wrecked when teammate Kyle Larson tried to move his car to cool the engine. Larson got a flat tire later on and crashed.
140 Characters or Less: Regan Smith wins crashy/rainy/dark NNS Dega race, three-wide at the line. Wrecks wad up half the field. Tandem+inexperience=boom.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Regan Smith - Who not just won a random-esque plate race, but said in Victory Lane that he made the risky move to take the win - not just get a good points finish. That's what fans pay to see.
North Korean Missile Dud: Danica Patrick - Wrecked through no fault of her own and ended her day early. Patrick's No. 34 Turner Scott Motorsports crew sent her back out for the green flag following her wreck, but she couldn't get up to speed, so they parked it. Patrick is really only a contender at plate races, so this was her chance to shine and she never got a chance.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Underdogs had an up and down day, as wrecks took out several. But Mike Wallace, Jason White, and Jeremy Clements finished 7th-9th. They survived and got some much-needed points.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Mike Wallace - He said before the race his plan was to ride in the back and try to get a good points day, since his team was close to falling outside the top 30 in owner's points. That strategy put him a lap down early, but the free pass saved him. He stuck it out and, in my book, beat Austin Dillon's trek from a lap down to the lead, since Wallace's JD Motorsports team is down at least a few ponies and Benjamins to Dillon's RCR team.
Wheel of Misfortune: Most of the field - except Regan Smith. He did pretty well, I hear.
Head-Scratcher Crown: Justin Allgaier - He ended the day 5th, but caused at least two of the day's wrecks. Underfunded Blake Koch's No. 00 launched off the No. 31's front bumper and into the wall near the end of the race. Coulter hit the outside wall with Allgaier pushing. And in the final stretch of the final lap, when Allgaier's drafting partner Kurt Busch swung up the track to try and stay in the lead, Allgaier fell back, tried to block a charging Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler tandem, forced them below the yellow line, and helped cause them to wreck themselves and several others. Tough day.
Ghost Driver: We'll give out two here. Nelson Piquet Jr. did not have his No. 30 on TV until he got caught up in the big lap 94 wreck, as he was not in the lead pack most of the day. Bobby Gerhart is a force at any plate race in the ARCA Series and was running a one-off race for his own team - one had to figure he would throw out all the stops and try to run closer to the front. But he, too, stayed off camera until the "Big One" eliminated him.
Georgia on My Mind: This weekend has been one to forget for the peach pickers. Reed Sorenson ran with the leaders on and off, but seemed awfully twitchy in the tandems. Partner Brian Scott got Sorenson sideways and into the wall, the momentum of which took him back across the track and into Travis Pastrana's car. He finished the race seven laps down in 22nd. John Wes Townley was set to make his 2nd NNS start of the year, but NASCAR disallowed his qualifying time, after the height of the No. 25 Venturini Motorsports Toyota was too low. Then his family decided to try and move their Zaxby's money to the No. 10 of Tri Star Motorsports, which was locked into the field. But Townley's teammate, Milka Duno, wrecked him in the ARCA race Friday, and his soreness from the crash prompted him to skip the race. Jeff Green returned to the Tri-Star No. 10 and parked it faster than you can say, "rent-a-ride."
Lug Notes: As exciting as Saturday's race finish was, NASCAR's calling the finish before the start-finish line at the time of caution was controversial. Typically, NASCAR runs into the problem of cautions on the white flag lap at plate races and has ruled different ways at different times. In the past, if leaders are able to race to the line free of the crash, NASCAR will keep the race green, until they cross the line (like during the 2007 Daytona 500, for example). But this race saw Smith, Logano, and Kahne three-wide from before the wreck until after. Smith had the advantage at the yellow, Kahne at the start-finish line. They were ahead of the crash and raced to the line as they were so close to the finish. But NASCAR reverted back to their positions at the drop of the yellow, giving Smith the win. This baffled many and, combined with the last second idea to both shorten the race and decrease the attempts at a green-white-checkered finish from three to one, contributed to the idea that NASCAR is never consistent. With darkness falling at Talladega, NASCAR probably should have called the race even earlier, but then still didn't let it play out on the last lap, when they could have. There will be plenty of head-scratching over this for a while.
Next: The Nationwide Series dances with "The Lady in Black" at Darlington Raceway on Friday, at 7:30 p.m., on ESPN2 and MRN. That will be much less random, we're sure.