Nationwide Series road course race turns into game of 'who wrecked who?'
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- The chaotic green-white-checkered finish that most everyone expected in the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course came to pass Saturday afternoon. The byproduct was passes made with the help of a front bumper and bruised tempers in a chaotic garage area afterward.
While AJ Allmendinger kept his car clean on the way to victory in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200, dust and bent fenders erupted behind him.
Parker Kligerman turned Marcos Ambrose around on the cool-down lap, then got an earful from Regan Smith as he exited his car in the paddock. Kyle Larson spun Max Papis after the checkered flag, then joined Kligerman in the Nationwide Series hauler for a talking-to from NASCAR officials.
Earlier in the race, Smith endured the first of his handful of spinouts on the day coming off the nose of Elliott Sadler. The incident spurred speculation that Sadler had exacted his revenge for Smith’s contact with him late in last month’s race at New Hampshire.
That day, Sadler vowed to Smith, “You will not win this championship, mark my word.” Saturday, Smith dipped to a tie for fourth in the standings after a 15th-place finish while Sadler jumped two spots to second after running sixth. But was the contact along the way intentional?
“You’ll have to ask him,” Smith said as he left the property. “I’m going to presume that we’re on an even slate for the rest of the year, though.”
Sadler wasn’t around for comment, dousing himself with water after dismounting before bolting for the exit gate. As happy as all the drivers said they were to be at the 2.258-mile road course for the first time, they were just as happy to leave it once their battered cars pulled to a stop.
Larson brushed off reporters and left shortly after his impromptu disciplinary hearing, but tweeted afterward, "Got used up a lot today by the 'ringers' … Our team fought hard and I want to thank them a bunch. Deserved a better finish!" While the 21-year-old Larson has drawn praise as a driving prodigy with speculation rising that he’ll take Juan Pablo Montoya’s place in the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing No. 42, the veteran Papis suggested he still had plenty to learn.
“He spun me after the checkered flag, he moved me after getting to the last corner, and I would’ve not pushed him around if he had not done that,” said Papis, who brought the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevy home fourth. “I guess he’s still a young kid who’s got to learn, but I was not expecting a kid who looked cool like a cucumber to lose it that much.”
Because of the clandestine nature of the NASCAR hauler, it’s not known whether Larson and Kligerman were given a joint lecture by officials or separate consultations. The difference between the two is that while Larson was not in a mood to discuss his reaction to the race’s closing two-lap shootout, Kligerman sure was, expressing his displeasure on Twitter and in his post-race interview.
Kligerman said he had little issue with Smith, despite their run-in earlier this season at Road America. Sprint Cup Series regular Ambrose, who made his first Nationwide start since 2011 on Saturday, was a different matter.
“We put ourselves in a position to maybe run top three, saving fuel and hanging in the top five,” Kligerman said. “Then these guys they call road-course ringers, which aren’t faster than us, they’re not any better, they’re actually worse in a lot of ways, they don’t know how to drive and just come in here and wreck everything and ruin the day for points guys like ourselves.
“They put us in positions where we need to go and get points back so we end up running into each other. Everyone here you talk to is like, ‘It’s X road ringer or X road ringer.’ I think they’re talentless hacks and they don’t belong to be here.”