Kyle Busch dominated the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series landscape, winning a record 13 races and breaking his own prior mark by scoring 24 race victories in NASCAR’s top three divisions. In the process, Busch led Joe Gibbs Racing to its third consecutive NNS owners’ title.
In terms of individual races, though, plenty of other guys got in the act. Here’s SPEED.com’s five best NNS races of 2010:
1. Subway Jalapeno 250, Daytona International Speedway — Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored the most emotional and popular victory of the season at the sport’s most iconic track. In a special one-time arrangement involving Richard Childress Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt drove a No. 3 Chevrolet carrying the blue-and-yellow Wrangler colors his late father had immortalized.
“I was so worried that I wasn't going to win, 'cause nothing but a win would get it — for everybody,” Earnhardt said. “If we didn't win, what a waste of time.”
Justin Allgaier pushed Earnhardt into the lead on Lap 70, and from there on NASCAR’s most popular driver held on, surviving a green-white-checkered finish to win his 23rd career NNS race and the first since Aug. 19, 2006, at Michigan International Speedway. For Earnhardt, a two-time NNS series champion, it was his first victory in any of NASCAR's top three series since June 15, 2008, when he had captured the Lifelock 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan. It was the debut event for NASCAR’s new-generation NNS car, which was raced four times in 2010 and will run the full schedule in 2011 and beyond. Earnhardt took the Daytona checkered flag ahead of Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.
2. NAPA Auto Parts 200, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve — Boris Said, the Brillo-headed road racing specialist, has always had a flair for the dramatic. And he proved that with a stunning last-lap of Max Papis to win the NAPA Auto Parts 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Montreal’s fabled Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Papis passed Said on the last lap and led through the 14th and final turn on the 2.71-mile road course. But as they accelerated out of the corners and onto the frontstretch, Said was able to edge ahead, with his Zaxby’s-sponsored No. 09 Ford crossing the line just .012-seconds ahead of Papis’s No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet. The margin of victory was the closest ever on a road course in the Nationwide Series, the fifth closest overall in series history and the closest since 1998 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jacques Villeneuve, son of the late Gilles Villeneuve and local Montreal hero, finished third in his No. 32 Braun Racing Toyota.
The victory was the first in 22 NNS starts for Said, who had a previous best of second in Mexico City in 2006. It also was the first Nationwide win for car owner Robby Benton and the first for the new pairing of Said and crew chief Scott Zipadelli.
3. Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250, Gateway International Raceway — During the 2010 season, no two boys had at it more than Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards. And it all came to a head on the final restart at Gateway, when Keselowski nudged leader Edwards in Turn 1. The nudge was enough to move Edwards out of the preferred line, which allowed Keselowski to take the lead.
Coming to the checkered flag, Edwards turned left, never lifted and basically ran over Keselowski, who went hard, driver’s-side first into the outside wall, then bounced across the track, where he was rammed at full speed by Shelby Howard. The accident destroyed Keselowski’s car and ultimately involved eight other cars.
Afterwards, Edwards said he was completely justified. “That’s my job – to win that race and to make sure that I don’t get walked on or get something taken away from me that’s mine.”
Keselowski's father, former racer Bob Keselowski, uttered one of the most memorable quotes of the year afterwards. “I'm sick and tired of this,” the elder Keselowski said. “I'll get my own damn uniform back on and take care of this. He ain't going to kill my boy.”
4. DRIVE4COPD 300, Daytona International Speedway — Two factors were indisputable when the NASCAR Nationwide Series season opened in February with the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday: Tony Stewart is almost impossible to beat in a Nationwide car at Daytona, and Danica Patrick draws a staggering amount of attention.
Stewart prevailed at Daytona in the thrilling season opener, dodging a plethora of wrecks, including one that sent fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a barrel roll, to win his fifth Daytona NNS race in his last six attempts. The race ended with Stewart scoring his ninth career NNS victory ahead of 2008 series champion Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Justin Allgaier and Brian Vickers.
In her NASCAR debut, Patrick crashed on Lap 68 and finished 35th. “I don’t doubt there are going to be hard days, just like in IndyCar, where you just want to park it,” said Patrick. “You’re just saving your life every corner. But, all in all, these are really fun cars to drive. I love the racing. I love there’s passing. I love there’s side-by-side. Not only is it fun for the drivers, but it’s fun for the fans, too.”
5. Aaron’s 312, Talladega Superspeedway — Brad Keselowski barely even made it into the Aaron’s 312, which was delayed by rain for one day and run the same day as the Aaron’s 499 Sprint Cup race. In the Cup race, Keselowski was involved in a crash. Worse yet, when the crush panels on his Penske Racing Dodge were damaged in the crash, Keselowski suffered carbon monoxide intake and wasn’t cleared by doctors to compete until just before the start of the NASCAR Nationwide event. He had to take massive quantities of oxygen to get his carbon monoxide level down below allowable thresholds and then had to run down pit road to make it to his car for the command to start engines. Had the race begun five minutes earlier, Keselowski would not have been in it.
The race was scheduled to go 117 laps, but a late-race crash on the frontstretch set up a green-white-checkered finish. Kevin Harvick took the white flag ahead of the field on Lap 120 and appeared as if he might be able to complete the double.
As they headed down the backstretch, Joey Logano locked onto Keselowski’s rear bumper and pushed him into the lead in Turn 3. Just behind Harvick, Jamie McMurray tried to drop down from the middle lane and cut between Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer turned McMurray sideways in Turn 4, and with the field charging behind them, The Big One ensued. Dennis Setzer’s K-Automotive Dodge — a car owned by the Keselowski family — flew into the catchfence and exploded in a spectacular ball of flames, as 10 cars crashed. Fortunately, Setzer was uninjured. Keselowski took the victory under caution with Logano second and Harvick third. Then came Jason Keller and Johnny Bornemann III.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.