Amy Henderson · Monday May 27, 2013
Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race day questions, covering all five W’s and even the H…the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Hand it to Kurt Busch; he never gave up. Busch looked like he had a car capable of winning for part of the night before a dead battery took away the race lead. The car wouldn’t fire, following the red flag period that came after a crash on lap 326 involving Mark Martin, Aric Almirola, Bobby Labonte and four others. For Busch, that meant the end of his chances to win, but the improvement of his team continues to be evident.
The key to Furniture Row’s success is in large part owed to the team’s technical partnership with Richard Childress Racing. Busch referred to Kevin Harvick, the race winner, as “my teammate,” and that’s accurate. Furniture Row’s competition director fills a similar role at RCR and splits his time between the two shops, and No. 78 crew chief Todd Berrier comes from the RCR fold. Put Busch in the seat, and you have a fourth RCR team while allowing RCR to expand to a fourth car if they wish. Busch continues to excel with FRR, collecting his third top-5 finish in just 12 races this season last night. Because of the RCR connection, this will be the last time that Busch and FRR appear in the small teams section of this column — clearly, they’ve graduated to at least the level of Richard Petty Motorsports if not better, and are on a whole other level than the other teams on that list. That’s a good thing for Busch and FRR; they’ve made the step all those small, underdog operations hope for.
What… was THAT?
If you’re going to have a debris caution, go big. At least that’s what FOX’s frontstretch camera apparently decided to do. A length of tow rope for a FOX camera, which moves on cables back and forth the length of the frontstretch, snapped and shed pieces of the rope onto the track. Marcos Ambrose got the worst of it, as a length of the heavy rope caught underneath the No. 9 Ford and forced him to pit road. Kyle Busch also suffered extensive damage from the pieces, while David Gilliland reported issues on his radio as well after his windshield was hit.
NASCAR made a good call afterward, allowing teams 15 minutes to make repairs and take tires and fuel after the incident. The damage wasn’t the fault of anyone but the people responsible for the TV camera, so allowing teams to fix the damage, and Ambrose to make up the laps he lost making repairs under caution was absolutely the correct call.
Where…did the defending race winner wind up?
Basically, between a rock and a hard place. Kasey Kahne almost pulled off the repeat and would most likely have done so if not for his own teammate. The final caution, which flew for debris from Jimmie Johnson’s damaged car, left Kahne a sitting duck; the No. 5 stayed out under caution while the rest of the field came to pit road for tires. That was all it took; Kahne hung on for second, but Kevin Harvick passed him on the restart and ran away with the win.
The problem for Kahne was, if he had pitted for tires, it’s likely that the teams behind him would have stayed out, leaving him in a similar position. It was a losing proposition all the way around for the driver who, by rights, should have won after having the best car almost all weekend long.
When…will I be loved?
There were some mistakes made on track (yes, Mark Martin, I’m looking at you), and lots of mechanical woes, but the villain that caused a lot of the trouble was the extra 100 miles that this race features. The extra distance means different setups, one last adjustment to win the race as well as putting an extra strain on engines. Does driver or team fatigue play a role in late-race troubles? They’d likely say no, but the fact is, this event is one heck of a long race, which is what makes it fun to watch. It’s not often that a team can finish 14th despite being two laps down, or that teams like David Gilliland’s and David Reutimann’s beat Jimmie Johnson… but in a 600-mile race, there’s a whole new normal. It was both villain and intriguing twist this time around.
Can Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin make the Chase? Next week marks the halfway point of the “regular” season and while Hamlin is showing Chase-caliber form after returning from his back injury, he still has to gain at least four spots and 53 points in order to be eligible for a “wild card” berth… and then, he has to win more races than anyone between him and tenth place. That’s a tall order, but at this point, I’d give him a better shot than Stewart.
Stewart, despite finishing seventh at Charlotte, sits 20th in points, and will almost certainly have to win races to get into the Chase. The problem is, Stewart hasn’t shown signs of being close to winning so far this year. His team is parked on the backside of the garage at tracks like Charlotte, spots usually reserved for the lowliest teams, as they’re assigned by owner points. Sunday’s top-10 run was just Stewart’s second in 12 races this year. They’re just not a Chase-caliber team in 2013, and it’s going to take a drastic turnaround in very little time to change that.
How…did the little guys do?
Furniture Row Racing; Kurt Busch (No. 78 Furniture Row/Sealy Chevy): As above, Busch had a car capable of contending for the win; a battery failure was all that kept him from being there at the end (he still charged back to third place). As a driver, Busch has the talent to take this team to the winner’s circle; he may be the most talented among the RCR stable. FRR graduates from the small teams section this week, a move that’s well-deserved.
Wood Brothers Racing; Trevor Bayne (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): This team had a terrible night, at least on paper. They were forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for tire issues early and suffered from handling problems for much of the night. Bayne was involved in a crash, on top of it all yet still escaped Charlotte with a 16th-place finish, two laps down. That’s part of what’s cool about the 600-mile distance—the extra 100 miles plays a role in driver error and mechanical woes that can shake things up through the field. Bayne, who finished sixth in the Nationwide race on Saturday, was able to stay with the car and get a decent finish for the team.
Phoenix Racing; Regan Smith (No. 51 Hendrickcars.com Chevy): Smith’s crew chief reminded his driver in the early going, “It’s a long race, all kinds of sh*t’s gonna happen.” Turns out, he was right, and Smith’s patience behind the wheel parlayed into a 17th-place run, the team’s seventh top-20 effort in 12 races. Smith has shared the car this year with AJ Allmendinger, who also had a great weekend — he led laps and finished seventh in the Indianapolis 500, driving for Penske Racing.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & Josh Wise & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Chevy & No. 38 Jong John Silver’s Ford): It wasn’t pretty, but like other teams, FRM got the job done with patience and perseverance on Sunday. David Gilliland was hit in the windshield by the falling camera rope and complained of damage on the radio, but rebounded to be the team’s top finisher in 20th place, his second-best performance of the year. Ragan was hampered early by a pit road speeding penalty, losing two laps and never recovering, fighting the handling of his car to 25th place, six laps down. Or, for the optimists out there, he finished six laps down and still had a top-25 result. Josh Wise didn’t face the troubles his teammates did, but his car didn’t cooperate, and the sophomore wound up a distant 26th. *BK Racing; David Reutimann & Travis Kvapil * (No. 83 & 93 Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyotas): The good news for BKR is that Reutimann had his best finish since Daytona as he came home 21st. Kvapil didn’t fare so well; he spun in oil after Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s engine expired in front of him and collected Dave Blaney as the two hit the outside wall. Kvapil’s day was done after 253 laps with just a 40th place to show for it.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Ford): There wasn’t much that didn’t go wrong for Mears, who was in the top 15 in final practice on Saturday; the car was tight early, the splitter hitting the track almost every lap. And it went downhill from there. Mears had a speeding penalty after entering too fast on an early stop; then, while returning to pit road for that, he was too fast again, losing three laps on the exchange. Next, Mears got too high entering Turn 4 and slammed the wall, losing the rear bumper cover. The team fought overheating for much of the night, suffered more damage on lap 327 when Mark Martin and Aric Almirola wrecked directly in front of Mears, and capped it off with a flat tire that at least fell within their pit window. Despite it all, Mears ran speeds comparable to leaders in the last 20 laps, passing the only two cars on the same lap after the final restart, and came home 23rd, his best result since Martinsville in April.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Bush’s Grillin’ Beans Toyota): Labonte was looking for a solid, uneventful run, and almost got it, but he was caught in a crash on lap 327 when Mark Martin turned Aric Almirola and collected the No. 47. Like several others, though, Labonte and Co. were able to make the most of other teams’ worse nights and finish 24th, his best run since Talladega.
FAS Lane Racing; Timmy Hill (No. 32 OXY Water Ford): Hill was reminded by his crew chief and car owner not to make rookie mistakes as race wore on — and he didn’t. Hill stayed out of trouble, saved his equipment, and when the dust settled, he was 27th, good enough for his best finish of 2013 and the second best of his eleven-race career.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Dave Blaney & J.J. Yeley (No. 7 SANY Chevy & No. 36 World Trade Barter Solutions Chevy): It was a night the TBR crew would probably like to put behind them. Yeley fought handling issues and mechanical gremlins en route to his 28th-place finish; not terrible, but not taking advantage of others’ misfortune, either. Blaney was caught in crash with Travis Kvapil after the No. 88 blew an engine and dumped fluid onto the track in front of them, ending his night prematurely in 30th spot.
Swan Racing; David Stremme (No. 30 Lean 1/Swan Energy Toyota): The team was searching for grip during the first quarter of the race, and then mechanical woes sent them to the garage for more than 50 laps. The team was able to get Stremme back on track, but the best finish they could salvage was 32nd place, 74 laps off the pace.
Circle Sport; Landon Cassill (No. 33 Bicycle Chevy): Cassill almost didn’t make the qualifying grid after the team was forced to make a last-minute transmission change; they rolled out at zero hour, with just one car left to make a run, and made the race. Carrying Bicycle brand playing cards for the first of two races, Cassill was making gains early on, but scraped the Turn 4 wall with less than a hundred laps to go, ending the team’s day 97 laps shy of the finish in 37th.
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