Alex Tagliani will have to keep waiting for his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory.
But his performance in the final two laps of today’s Gardner Denver 200 has to be considered proof that it will come.
Tagliani took the lead from Sam Hornish Jr. on Lap 29 and stayed out under caution with 13 laps left to keep it. But that meant the former IndyCar racer would have to save fuel in order to see the checkered flag.
He was able to hold the point off of the restart with 10 laps to go, but with two laps left in regulation, Justin Marks slowed and then stopped just off course to bring out the yellow. A short time later, Tagliani came to a stop near the entrance to pit road – bone dry.
But after getting pushed to the pits, Tagliani got a splash of fuel and four fresh slick tires for the final dash on a Road America course that had dried out considerably after earlier rains.
With nothing to lose, Tagliani took the Green-White-Checkered restart in 23rd place and proceeded to rip through the field in a stellar display of driving.
In the final few corners, Tagliani out-muscled Chase Elliott for third place at Canada Corner and then charged under Kevin O’Connell for second in the last turn.
But the Canadian’s furious attempt to reel in Brendan Gaughan was unsuccessful, as Gaughan beat him to the stripe by eight-tenths.
Another lap – maybe, another half-lap – and Tagliani would have pulled off one for the ages. Instead, he’ll have to settle for his second Nationwide Series runner-up (Montreal, 2011).
“It was pretty intense,” Tagliani said to reporters. “The wet [surface] was tricky, but obviously we were good. Maybe I threw a bad spell on myself because I said it was impossible that I was going to win this race, like something’s going to happen, and then on the white flag, something happened.
To his credit, however, he took the near-miss in stride.
“It’s what it is,” he said. “It’s not in the cards. You have to be quick, you have to have a good car and it has to be in the cards, and if it’s not, you just have to take whatever comes to you.
“I just have to call [team owner] Roger [Penske] and apologize for a couple of scratches on the car.”
Not everyone was happy with Tagliani’s charge in the final two laps. Elliott showed his displeasure over their meeting in Canada Corner by ramming the side of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
When they returned to the pits, TV cameras spotted Elliott talking with Tagliani while the latter was still in his cockpit. The conversation ended with a handshake, but Elliott was still annoyed.
“He just didn’t show us a lot of respect,” said Elliott, who faded to fourth after claiming the lead early from Gaughan in the G-W-C attempt. “I understand those guys are racing for the owner’s championship too.
“I just hate to see those road race guys come in and just [race] you off the track like that, down there in Canada Corner or whatever [turn] number that is.”
But Elliott may have to face the same situation again later this summer. Tagliani is slated to drive the No. 22 Penske car in August at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
And if Tagliani’s in position to win there, you can be assured that he’ll cut no slack for Elliott or anybody else.