Tom Bowles and Beth Lunkenheimer · Monday October 7, 2013
Key Moment – Kevin Harvick executed a nearly flawless final restart, with help from future teammate Kurt Busch, with less than 20 laps remaining and pulled ahead by more than two seconds. He led the final 19 laps on cruise control, just like the pole sitter started the race.
In a Nutshell – A constant roulette wheel spin. It was a constant guessing game, through debris, wrecks, and weird twists as to who’s going to be up front, when and how. Unfortunately, that came through a constant spew of cautions, combined with frantic restarts rather than intense, side-by-side racing throughout the field in a race that had moments but never a true rhythm throughout 400 miles.
As for Harvick, he led 79 of the first 81 laps before being shuffled back by an untimely debris caution. That shuffled the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet back in the pack, when they combined with Jimmie Johnson had the fastest cars in the field. It took all day for the right strategy to get them back up front; in the end, he won with left-side tires that were 110 laps old.
Dramatic Moment – Virtually every restart on a day where Kansas gave us a record 15 caution flags. With the pace of the race dictated by those yellows, everyone knew the first few laps would determine the hill you’d have to climb for the next 20 — or until the next caution came out, throwing you back in the crazy restart blender again.
Brian Vickers went for a wild ride, midrace when the Aaron’s Toyota got tossed around out of Turn 2. The way the car broke loose, then impacted the wall reminded many of the Michael McDowell Texas flip from a few years ago. This time, the damage and tumultuous impact wasn’t quite so bad, but everyone was still breathing a sigh of relief to see the newly-married driver walk away unscathed.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Just when you think you’ve seen everything… Smokey the Bear turns his back and then you’ve got a little situation on your hands. It’s not every day you hear “trees in turn one” as the reason for a caution; but a small brush fire, outside the catchfence in Turn 1 sent smoke billowing over the track. While it wasn’t confirmed what started the fire, reports are that a cigarette was dropped in a pile of mulch, and it hindered visibility and created an unsafe situation for the drivers, who simply thought someone blew an engine. The fire was quickly extinguished and racing resumed, though the “greenery” placed there for decoration now looked worse than Danica Patrick’s Chevy after Lap 1. (And that took some doing.)
Let’s make this point clear: unless there’s a giant piece of rear bumper, completely blocking the racetrack it’s unfair to call a debris caution in the middle of green-flag stops. That third yellow, called on Lap 88 unfairly trapped Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick so far behind, with the fastest cars it took them hours to get back in contention. In Johnson’s case, he never really could fully make it back, trapped for a brake hose piece several drivers claimed had been there for many laps, was under the white lines past pit road and out of harm’s way. Maybe NASCAR saw the No. 48 staging a runaway and wanted to keep the Chase under control? It’s intriguing how the yellow waved just a few feet before the No. 48 was “committed” on pit road. Another few seconds, and Johnson would have made his stop, assumed the lead, and likely pulled away at will for the foreseeable future.
The Hollywood Casino 400 was brought to you by the word yellow. The race was slowed a record 15 times for 71 laps, for reasons ranging from debris to hard crashes and even smoke coming across the track. The previous record of 14 cautions came in this race one year ago. Certainly, Kansas has become its own animal compared to “cookie cutter” twin Chicagoland… but I think even Miles The Monster would have been appalled at how difficult Turn 2, along with navigating this track side-by-side turned out to be. The cars may need to be slowed here, along with a better compound to keep this race from turning into little more than a Russian Roulette on restarts.
Speaking of restarts, they’ve really been shaking up the running order lately. Sunday at Kansas, the field stacked up multiple times and drivers were shuffled back, but it didn’t just start this weekend. The double-file restarts have always seen a bit of a shakeup with lead lap cars side by side, however it seems like they’re gotten a bit crazier since NASCAR’s announcement a couple weeks ago that the race leader didn’t need to be the first to cross the start / finish line as long as he was first to react in the restart zone. It makes you wonder if the sanctioning body will have to revisit them once again.
What does it say about your sport when you need to send out a statement, to your broadcasting partners saying you have to cover us next season? That’s essentially what NASCAR did, Saturday when Vice President Steve Herbst “kindly” informed the masses TNT and ESPN would have to come back for the final seasons in 2014. He did so when both networks, for the last few weeks were frantically negotiating to bail, doing whatever it took to hand their races to FOX and NBC. That doesn’t bode well for the attention they’ll pay, come 2014 with one foot out the door…
Chad Johnston announced this weekend he’s leaving Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the season. However, the crew chief remains committed to driver Martin Truex, Jr., who seemingly remains committed to sponsor NAPA — who is shopping around their deal. So how in the world does Truex get off, in public saying he’s “undecided” about winding up with MWR in 2014? What was that old song Closing Time, Martin? “Closing time, open all the doors and let you out into the world… closing time, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here…”
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
If you look at Kyle Busch’s results at Kansas Speedway, you’d swear the track hates him. While there was a substantial amount of buzz surrounding Keselowski’s promise following Saturday’s Nationwide race, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge didn’t need to do anything to Busch. After being forced to start in a backup car following a wreck in the first of two practice sessions Saturday morning, Busch was involved in three separate incidents on track. He was just an innocent victim in the first caution that flew on lap two, however in both of his other incidents, he turned across the noses of Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Edwards. The final damage was terminal, and Busch was left to settle for a disappointing 34th-place finish.
While he wasn’t exactly burning up the track and headed toward the front of the field, Mark Martin took a substantial hit under the 11th caution. When Kyle Busch crowded Juan Pablo Montoya down the track and turned across the nose of the No. 42 Chevrolet, Martin was caught in the aftermath, tearing off the back end of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. Despite the damage, Martin’s crew worked feverishly to make repairs all while keeping their driver on the lead lap. He ultimately finished 22nd.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
After qualifying 19th and being forced to a backup car following a spin in practice on Saturday, Kurt Busch wasted little time getting inside the top 15. While he spent much of the day moving up and down through the field, when the checkered flag flew, he posted a solid runner-up finish that allowed him to move up two spots in the championship standings and gain eight points on the leader.
- Kevin Harvick’s pole on Friday was his first since September, 2006; he also went on to win that race. He now has three career wins from the pole.
- Harvick’s win was his third this season and his 16th top-10 finish. It’s also his first victory at Kansas Speedway.
- Kurt Busch’s runner-up result ties his season best with Furniture Row Racing. It was also his 10th top 15 and his 15th top 10 this season.
- Jeff Gordon’s third-place result marked his 11th top-10 finish in 16 starts at Kansas Speedway.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was this week’s rookie of the race after posting a 30th-place finish, one lap down.
Top 10 finishers by Manufacturer
Chevrolet – 6
Ford – 4
Toyota – 0
Matt Kenseth’s 11th-place finish was the highest for Toyota.
What’s the Points?
Following an 11th-place finish, Matt Kenseth saw his points lead shrink to three over Jimmie Johnson. Race winner Kevin Harvick moved up one spot and now sits 25 points out of the lead. Jeff Gordon, who moved up one spot on the strength of a third-place finish, and Kyle Busch, who dropped two positions after being involved in three on-track incidents round out the top 5. Greg Biffle sits 44 markers back in sixth. Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who finished second and eighth, respectively, jumped two spots apiece. Clint Bowyer, down one position, and Joey Logano, up two, round out the top 10.
Carl Edwards remains in 11th, followed by Ryan Newman, who dropped five spots to 12th after a disappointing day that saw him spend several laps in the garage for repairs. Kasey Kahne remains 12th, 10 markers behind Newman. With six races remaining, the top 7 are separated by 47 points, with the remainder of the chasers more than a full race behind Kenseth. Jamie McMurray continues to lead the battle for “best of the rest” by a 20-point margin over Brad Keselowski.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – The Hollywood Casino 400 was maybe worth three warm draft Miller Lites. There were some great side-by-side battles, however the caution epidemic took out any kind of rhythm that would try to build. In the end, clean air at the front of the field was the name of the game once again.
Next Up – Next Saturday night, the series heads back home to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the fifth race in the Chase for the Championship. The race will be broadcast live on ABC at 7:30 PM ET; it can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate. Last fall, Clint Bowyer led 29 laps en route to a victory that saw Toyota sweep three of the top 5 and six of the top 10 spots.
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