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Top five moments:Nationwide to be remembered for key wins

December 31, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s move to slide in front of Carl Edwards after his engine gave up the ghost clinched the win for him in Iowa. (Getty)

Top five moments: Nationwide season to be remembered for key wins

NASCAR's move to allow its drivers to race for only a single championship in its three national touring series in 2011 might not have changed the preponderance of Sprint Cup winners, particularly in the Nationwide Series, where 28 of 34 races were captured by premier series regulars.

But it put the Nationwide regulars in prime position to register a double-handful of hair-raising moments during the 2011 Nationwide Series' season.

The series' "honorable mention" list included some Cup-inspired moments, including Kurt Busch's one-off victory in the series' road race at Watkins Glen, where Busch replaced his injured Penske Racing teammate, Brad Keselowski. Also on the list were fellow Cup star Matt Kenseth's equivalent victory at Charlotte in May, where he stood in as a one-race replacement for a sick Trevor Bayne, and a Denny Hamlin win at his hometown Richmond short track, which is always a hugely popular occurrence.

But home-state favorite Justin Allgaier scoring his second career victory, but this time in front of both his and sponsor Brandt's friends at Chicagoland Speedway, as well as former IndyCar champion and Cup Series regular Sam Hornish Jr. making his series mark at Phoenix with his first career victory also rated highly.

All that accessory excitement elevated the Nationwide Series' top five moments to exemplary status.

5. Marcos Ambrose gets his redemption

Marcos Ambrose had experienced plenty of disappointment while trying to gain his first victory in an American stock car, and perhaps nowhere had equaled as much malaise as Montreal, where Ambrose has consistently been a threat to win any Nationwide event held at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

In 2011 Ambrose finally delivered a victory in redemption of some graphic shortcomings, which included Ambrose getting spun out of the lead by a repaying-the-favor Robby Gordon in the series' inaugural race and making a mistake on the final corner, which allowed Carl Edwards to win in 2009. But it all came right for Ambrose in 2011, when he placed his Richard Petty Motorsports Mustang firmly in Victory Lane.

4. Bayne finally reaches Nationwide Victory Lane

Trevor Bayne had kicked off his breakout 2011 season with an unexpected and unlikely victory for the Wood Brothers in the Daytona 500. But it was in the Nationwide Series where Bayne had particularly expected to shine. An early-season break -- necessitated by a medical condition -- didn't help matters, but Bayne's Nationwide Series season had been under-developed, to say the least.

But then the series came to Texas, with only three races remaining on the schedule. Bayne made up for all his previous disappointments with a well-earned, hard-driving, sideways-sliding effort in which he beat both his Roush Fenway Racing teammates, Carl Edwards and series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -- not to mention Cuppers Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski.

3. Sorenson escapes Road America with a win

Reed Sorenson has been competitive in the Nationwide Series, but in 2011 he was a championship threat driving for Turner Motorsports. The series came to the Road America course for the second annual series visit in early summer. While Sorenson was in the mix, he was probably not going to be a threat to win in a field that included a number of road-course specialists.

But then the highlight-reel finish ensued, with three late restarts providing plenty of fuel for fireworks. Joe Gibbs Racing's leader Michael McDowell spun out, Midwest favorite Allgaier ran out of fuel while leading, former open-wheel champion Jacques Villeneuve made a mistake and ignited a frontstretch melee that took out himself and several other contenders and when the dust settled, Sorenson was out front and headed to Victory Lane.

2. Logano triumphs at Daytona

Any driver's first restrictor plate victory is always a big deal, but when it comes at Daytona, as Joey Logano's did in the mid-summer Nationwide visit to the "World Center of Racing," it's even more special. The performance of stock-car newcomer Danica Patrick in her second Nationwide race at Daytona was just as significant as Logano's trip to Victory Lane.

Tandem drafting had reared its head in the Nationwide Series, though not to the degree it has dominated the Sprint Cup Series. By working with her 2012 Sprint Cup car owner Tony Stewart, who was driving the Daytona race for Kevin Harvick Inc., Patrick got plenty of practice early and at the end, had hooked up with JR Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola with a shot to win. But the highlight-reel moment came on the final lap, when a huge accident on the frontstretch took out Patrick, Stewart and a pile of other contenders just behind the leaders and left a jubilant Logano celebrating the win.

1. Stenhouse crashes way to Iowa victory

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had already proven that, his erratic 2010 season aside, he was a legitimate threat to win the 2011 Nationwide championship that he ultimately claimed. When the series came to Iowa Speedway for its second visit of the season, in August, Stenhouse was poised for his first career sweep at a race track.

Stenhouse had already won the spring event on the .750-mile oval and in a near-repeat he performed like a veteran in August to set up another victory. His teammate, former series champion Carl Edwards, had other ideas but as the race closed down he was unable to catch the youngster. Coming off Turn 4, Stenhouse felt his car's engine giving up and, in a move of which a veteran would have been proud, he moved in front of Edwards, forcing his teammate to smash into him and, in the process, knock him across the start/finish line in first.

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