Can Strong Richmond Showing Help Nationwide Regulars Finally Gain on Cup Drivers?

Maybe it was because there were only four Sprint Cup Series drivers in the field or was it because Kyle Busch was nowhere to be seen? Perhaps as many are hoping, the tides have finally started to turn.

[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”251″][/media-credit]Whatever it may be the Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway on Friday night finally lived up to some of its potential. A recurring headline and/or nightmare over the last few years have been the dominance of NSCS drivers in the minor leagues of the NNS and Camping World Trucks.

Even more so after NASCAR announced the new point format with many stating before the season the new NNS champion would be winless.

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Thus far in 2011 of the eight NNS races run heading into RIR a Cup drivers has won all of them. The previously mentioned Busch has won four of those eight. Leaving the Nationwide regulars trying to prove their worth and give the fans a reason to watch.

Friday night was a small step in the right direction when early on they looked like they were going to gang up on the Cup drivers.

Sure, Denny Hamlin dominated the event leading 199 of 251 laps on his way to the win, making it nine-for-nine for Cup driver. Sure, there was also the fact that with less than 20 laps to go only four cars were on the lead lap. But as a whole the racing was marginally better than what had been seen with Cup drivers not only dominating the racing but the finishing order.

The crowd was electrified early when Kenny Wallace made an exciting charge to the second position. Wallace has always been a fan favorite but since his last win in 2001 he’s become more of the lovable loser. In 2011 competing with RAB Racing and pairing with Scott Zipadelli has Wallace knocking on the door to victory lane.

Wallace, though, was sick after the race.

“I’m just completely devastated,” said Wallace, “To run second to fourth all night long and to finish 13th. I’m just really disappointed, you know. We made a mistake — we pitted too early and had to go to the tail end of the longest line. Made a mistake, so I guess we went from third to 13th. It doesn’t feel good. It’s devastating. I’m demoralized.”

Wallace wasn’t the only NNS driver who made a charge early. The turnaround for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. continued on Friday as he took got as high as second but couldn’t catch Hamlin. Aric Almirola on the other hand was able to drive to the lead in his No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. It’s not often a NNS regular is able to drive up and take the lead from a Cup driver  but Almirola did on Friday.

If confidence is really all drivers crack it up to be, Friday should have been a big kick in the pants for drivers like Wallace, Stenhouse Jr. and Almirola. The will to win should have become stronger and not earning finishes they deserved because of late race hi-jinx and fuel mileage will hopefully push them forward.

The ending may have been the same but the atmosphere was different. What a difference when there’s no “Kyle Busch Show” as its become known. In all fairness it can’t completely be blamed on Busch, Richmond just happened to be a NNS event not on his calendar.

It will be interesting to see if the same type of competiveness in Richmond carries over into Darlington with Busch back behind the wheel. There are currently seven Cup drivers entered in Friday night’s Royal Purple 200 at Darlington. It will be a great test to see if the racing really is changing and if the NNS regulars are becoming frustrated with Cup dominance.

A few weeks ago Justin Allgaier said that he believed NNS drivers were ‘taking it easy’ early on in the season. The reason was that they are still trying to get used and see how the new point system was going to work itself it out.

Are they done playing it safe and ready to push the limits? Friday night certainly looked so. According to Stenhouse Jr., racing Cup drivers makes everyone in the field up their game and race harder. Yet, it didn’t really seem to show until Friday night in Richmond, the season’s ninth race.

Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking. A figment of one’s imagination in hopes that potentially different racing will lead to different winners.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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