Tempers, chaos reign in wild Nationwide race
June 22, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
Smith had a 58-point lead entering Saturday’s Johnsonville Sausage 200 presented by Menards, his standing boosted by two wins and 11 consecutive top-10s. But the driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet had never raced at the 4.048-mile Road America course, and his attempts at practice on Friday came during and after rainy weather.
Drivers expected -- or perhaps, simply hoped -- that Smith might have an off day and they could gain in the points standings.
One of those two things happened. Smith put to rest the notion he wouldn’t be competitive at the track, running in the top five as the laps ticked off, but a late-race wreck dropped him well out of contention and out of the top 30.
"If that’s how we have to start racing, then we’ll start playing the game dirty, too.”
-- Regan Smith
Smith wasn’t alone in losing ground due to accidents. There were eight cautions on the day and two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, but the crash with the biggest figurative impact came when Parker Kligerman nosed Owen Kelly’s No. 54 Toyota, sending it flying into the back of Smith’s car and spinning out the series points leader.
“The 77 car evidently had more car than he had talent and decided to (push) it up in there and wreck us all,” Smith said after the race by his hauler. “That’s disappointing, and that’s the crappy part about this type of racing. No matter where your talent level is, if you can drive in and bury your car in there and wreck five guys, then you’re probably going to have a good day. I don’t race that way, and this team doesn’t race that way.”
The wreck knocked Smith down to a 32nd-place finish, and he wasn’t near the front of the pack when AJ Allmendinger outdueled Justin Allgaier, Kligerman and Kelly for the first win of his NASCAR career.
With his second-place finish, Allgaier lopped Smith’s lead in the points standings from 58 to 28. Kligerman, with the car of his hood dented from multiple incidents and the back all torn up, gained two spots in the standings with the highest Nationwide Series finish of his career.
The late-race contact amongst drivers comes with the territory, he said.
“Any time you take a car that isn’t meant to be on a road course … you’re probably going to end up with a lot of cars smashing into each other, especially in a field as close as we have in terms of talent and equipment level,” said Kligerman, whose helmet ventilation system stopped working on Lap 1. “You end up with a lot of close racing. We have fenders on ’em, and we’re going to run into each other.
“You’re going to get tempers flaring because you don’t see this type of racing anywhere. It’s just complete chaos toward end of race, all you hope is that you put yourself in the right place among chaos and things go your way.”
Kligerman was on the opposite end of a similar incident early in the race that knocked him from the lead and threatened to wreck his day. In the lead and heading into Turn 5 on Lap 19, Kligerman was sent spinning into the gravel pit off the course with a bump from Kelly.
It dropped the driver from first to 28th place, but served only as a speed bump.
Kelly was involved in the action throughout the afternoon. The 36-year-old Australian was brought into this race by Joe Gibbs Racing for his road-course prowess, and he didn’t back down from the full-time drivers on the circuit.
Kelly claimed responsibility for spinning Brendan Gaughan out, but said it wasn’t intentional. He also said he gave as good as he received in the final laps.
“Everybody takes their brain out and just throws it in the toolbox. It’s WWF wrestling there at the end,” Kelly said. “We were wrecked a couple of times, but still managed to get a top-five.”
Kelly won’t be around for any impending potential consequences from this race that tested the patience of every driver, but the incidents in the final laps are apt to linger in the mind for a while.
Especially for the series points leader.
“We took a bad (points) hit today,” Smith said. “With that said, I think everyone saw we had speed here and they pretty much know it’s going to take a lot to beat this team this year short of wrecking us every week. If that’s how we have to start racing, then we’ll start playing the game dirty, too.”