Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith were among the drivers who had their cars spun, either through contact, aggressive driving or in the heat of the race.
By then, however, with just 15 or so laps left, the top two had separated themselves, several seconds ahead of third-place Hornish. Almendinger held onto the lead — not pulling away but not losing any ground — as they made it a two-car race.
The late caution almost erased what had taken place for the previous 30 or so laps.
The victory served as a payback from Allmendinger to team owner Roger Penske, who stood by the driver throughout his suspension and filled out his schedule with drives.
Rounding out the top 10 were Sadler in sixth, Marcos Ambrose, Allgaier, Bayne and Jeremy Clements.
It was only the second Nationwide Series pole of McDowell’s career, following Road America in 2011.
The Sprint Cup driver, ninth at the 2013 Daytona 500, hadn’t finished better this year than a 22nd at Richmond. That was also the only other time in his four previous races that he had cracked the top 10 on the starting grid.
Two drivers raced at Mid-Ohio and also planned on being in the middle of the action at Sunday’s NASCAR Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Ambrose was set to start 26th in Brooklyn, Mich., with Austin Dillon set to start a notch behind him. Both were expecting to helicopter between the two tracks.
Dillon came into Mid-Ohio leading the Nationwide drivers’ standings but is now tied for third with Smith.
The race was contested under perfect conditions: no rain, light wind, temperatures around 80 and an overcast sky.
A dozen or more injured, ill or sick kids from the event’s namesake hospital in Columbus were represented in the paintwork on cars and some were introduced along with the drivers before the start.