Key Moment – After being dominated for the majority of the race by Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 team took a gamble on what turned out to be the final pitstop, choosing fuel only and beating Johnson out of the pits. Kenseth never lost the lead for the remaining 23 laps.
In a Nutshell – Jimmie Johnson came, saw, kicked butt and then stepped on it when he needed to rise the most. Johnson led 182 laps and was clearly the car to beat for the vast majority of the day but on a late race restart he lost focus and ended up sideways in turn two. As a result, Matt Kenseth again went to victory lane on a mile-and-a-half track this season, the third time in four such races.
Dramatic Moment – The next to last restart of the day, Matt Kenseth had lane choice as the leader so he took the outside and brought the field to the restart box at a conservative 54 mph. When he got on the gas, Johnson didn’t get up to speed as quickly, found himself surrounded by competitors’ cars and ended up taking a slide for life from the middle of turn one to the end of turn two before ending up parked on the apron, watching the field stream by and his hopes for a victory fluttering away.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around The Water Cooler This Week
If NASCAR feels the need to call a competition caution, shouldn’t everyone take off all four tires to see how they’re wearing? If the teams don’t give a rat’s about checking all four tires, why are we stopping the race for no reason in the first place?
Jimmie Johnson is a five-time champion and has, for the vast majority of his dominating career, silently gone about his business while those around him have whined and complained about everything under the sun to try and catch up to the No. 48 team. Interestingly, this year, restarts seem to have gotten under the skin of the once unshakable driver and it again cost him a race win yesterday. Johnson is probably going to be whining again this week about restart shenanigans when all he needs to do is focus on handling them better.
Kurt Busch is a former champion who is doing some great things with Furniture Row Racing. Unfortunately he occasionally forgets to use his formidable IQ and does things like he did on Sunday. Driving on the apron to attempt something, not sure if it was a pass, a stunt or just to avoid running into the back of the No. 2, Busch bounced over the drain near the entrance to turn one, moved up the track more than expected and hit the left rear of Brad Keselowski. As a result, Keselowski slid down into the infield and then back up across the track, collecting Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil in the process. A couple other cars had damage from the incident as well, including Paul Menard, whose day was much longer thanks to Busch’s lack of foresight. Racing is a sport completely engulfed in split second decisions, and second guessing them is not for those who’ve never been in the seat of a car, but that certainly was not one of the better choices the elder Busch brother has made in his career.
For those hard core Denny Hamlin / FedEx fans out there, it is over. Hamlin cut a tire early in the event, managed to get back on the lead lap immediately after doing that, and was in contention for a high finish when his right front tire blew and he hit the outside wall hard in turn four just before halfway. The resulting 35th-place finish has Hamlin now 25th in points, 104 out of 20th with nine races to go to the Chase. He is not going to win two or three races and make up nearly 12 points per race on the 20th place car. It would be different if they were finishing in the top two or three every week, but they aren’t. It is time to look to next season, and if that involves Hamlin going under the knife, then the sooner, the better, so he is back at the top of his game next season.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did win his first pole in a little while this weekend and looked pretty racy at the beginning of the race, but the bad luck bug bit him on the butt again. Hamlin was driving on the access road with his first cut tire of the day when the carcass came off and rolled onto the track directly in front of Earnhardt, who was leading the race. The carcass bounced off of the front of Earnhardt’s car before heading toward teammate Jimmie Johnson’s. As a result, Johnson’s car seemed to get a little faster while the handling on Earnhardt’s car went south. Earnhardt’s team persevered and got him a 12th-place finish, which actually moved him up a spot in the points. It still has to be frustrating for Earnhardt to be running in cars that are competing near the front of the pack now but seeming to constantly have bad luck.
Bobby Labonte was not in the starting lineup on Sunday for the first time since 1993, a span of 704 consecutive races that he’d been behind the wheel of a Cup car. While it is sad to see the career of such a true gentleman and former champion come to an end, it would appear as though that is what is happening at JTG for Labonte. It would be great to see another team pick him up for next season but the odds are that, after a few more starts for JTG Daugherty, he’s going to be hanging up the helmet for the last time. He’ll still be involved in racing for sure, considering he runs a quarter midget track in North Carolina, but we probably won’t be seeing him around the garage for any considerable time in the future. Hate to see him go, he’s a class act.
While Sunday’s race was rescheduled from the night before, it still took place on a Sunday afternoon and at a time when the weather was looking rather nice. To say the stands were less than Standing Room Only would be generous. When you can see the bold stripe pattern through three quarters of the grandstands, there are a lot of empty seats. People harp on the attendance at a lot of tracks but they better be chiming in on this one in particular. This is the third Cup race that has been contested at Kentucky Speedway and the crowd was far from impressive. Sure they had some traffic issues the first year but don’t try and lay that load of malarkey on people not coming back. This track is very close to three major metropolitan areas and there should be fans hanging on the fence for at least the first 10 years of events there. It is embarrassing to say the least that the fan base in the Kentucky area turned out in so little numbers this weekend.
Speaking of little numbers, did anyone happen to notice the payout for first place at the Cup race this weekend? Just over $200,000. This is a mile-and-a-half track that is within a couple of hours of Cincinnati, Lexington and Louisville and the best you can do for the top prize is $200,000? People rag on Martinsville and say that they ought to lose a race because they don’t pay enough in prize money when the closest metropolitan area to them is Greensboro, NC and it is an hour away. Yet, Martinsville paid more to the top finishing driver this Spring than Kentucky did yesterday. That is another strike for the Bluegrass state when it comes to continuing to host Cup races.
Broadcasters of Cup races have been getting lambasted for years for how many commercials they run during races but this race seemed exceptionally bad. In looking at the averages over the length of the event, there was a commercial every 12.2 laps based on a very unscientific note taking during the race. That figure wasn’t after coming back from commercial, that was 12.2 between the start of each commercial break. The average commercial break took six laps, so we saw an average of 6.2 laps of on track action between commercials before the final 29 circuits or so, which we did see without caution. The TV rights for racing are exorbitant but people are not going to keep coming back to watch the races live if they hardly see any live racing.
Watching the inside lane get hammered on every restart this weekend it makes one wonder, wouldn’t it add some level of excitement if NASCAR went to a select cone for lining up the field for the restart? It would be interesting to see the first four or five cars go to the high side before someone took a chance and went to the bottom. It is probably too gimmicky for NASCAR to try but it would make for some intrigue over just watching the inside lane or outside lane, depending on the track, get run over every restart.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Greg Biffle has been looking more promising over the last handful of races, possibly gearing up for a run at the title when the Chase gets here. Unfortunately for him, Kurt Busch’s ill-timed move to the apron sent Brad Keselowski across the track right when Biffle was entering turn one. As a result, Biffle’s day ended on fire and in 34th place. Technically he was back on track and running but the damage had already been done thanks to the incident.
Brad Keselowski, like Biffle, was running at the end of the race but was also over 100 laps down and was basically out there trying to keep Biffle from grabbing a couple of extra points. Keselowski is hoping to start turning up the heat again as the Summer temperatures heat up, and he better, because the chance of missing the Chase altogether is starting to look a little more real for the defending champ.
It is always disheartening when you see a team that is out there chasing the dream and working hard to get by on a limited budget go home on the hook. Dave Blaney is extremely good at making his equipment last and bringing it home in one piece. Unfortunately, being collected in the Keselowski wreck as well dealt a serious blow to Blaney and his Tommy Baldwin race team. Hopefully they’ll rebound and Blaney can have another storybook ending at Daytona to get them back on the right track.
Denny Hamlin blew not one, but two tires during the race this weekend. The first one was more detrimental to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. than it was to Hamlin, but the second one was a hard hit into the outside wall. Hopefully the damage done to Hamlin was only to his leg and not more injury to his still recuperating back.
Brian Vickers was another victim of the blown right front tire at Kentucky. Vickers was having a pretty good run before his right front tire gave out heading into turn three on lap 243. Not only did it put a sour note on the end of his otherwise happy song for the day, but it also ended up costing Jimmie Johnson the win. Kind of a shame that the friend of five-time was the one who ended up bringing out the caution that ultimately ruined his day.
Carl Edwards started on the front row, led the first few laps and then was hardly heard from the rest of the race. He made an effort to become relevant again around lap 150 with a bold pit road call but slid back again and ended the day in 21st. Edwards is second in points but just really doesn’t seem to be the threat to the title that a few other drivers in the series are on a week to week basis.
”The Seven Come For Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
Jamie McMurray has been around racing long enough to be able to tell when the fire is getting turned up. He knows that Kyle Larson is coming for a Cup ride and that there are only two of them at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. With Juan Pablo Montoya knocking on the door of another victory, McMurray has to know it is do or die time for his career at EGR. He stepped up to the plate on Sunday with a runner-up finish and some strong driving as the laps were winding down. Don’t be surprised to see Jamie Mac make another run at a win over the next month on some tracks where he’s done it in the past.
Kurt Busch put Brad Keselowski in the wall and took out several other cars while he was doing it. Fortunately for him, none of them had a chance to get back to him during the race, so he scored another top-10 finish for Furniture Row. The FRR bunch now has seven top 10s this season, and 10 in the last two years with Kurt Busch at the wheel. That is more than half of the 18 they have scored in the history of the company. Mind you, the other eight were by Regan Smith over the previous two seasons.
Kasey Kahne was all over the map during Sunday’s race. He went from starting 21st to fourth spot and everywhere in between three times during the race. He had to restart on lap 246 at the back of the pack after a pit road violation and still managed to come home in 11th place. While he most likely would have wanted more he has to be pretty happy to make him out of the Bluegrass State with that finish.
Speaking of starting in the 20s and being up and down, Kevin Harvick started next to Kahne in 22nd and climbed quickly to the top 5 before sliding back in the pack on a pit road misfortune when the caution came out while he was in the pits. He soldiered on and eventually settled out in the 10th where he ran for most of the last third of the race. He also did a masterful job of not broadsiding Kyle Busch when the No. 18 was dead sideways in the middle of the track early on.
- Matt Kenseth has won three of the five races on 1.5-mile tracks this season.
- This win is Kenseth’s 28th in his career in 489 starts.
- Kenseth has won four races this season, one shy of his career best of five that happened in 2002. That also gives Kenseth the most wins in the series so far this season.
- McMurray’s runner-up finish was his first top 5 since Bristol in August 2011.
- Bowyer’s podium finish was his sixth top-5 finish of the year. He continues to poo-poo the runner-up jinx that has plagued so many drivers over the last decade or more, who finished second in the season standings the year before.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won the Rookie of the Race award again this weekend.
- There were 11 lead changes among six drivers on Sunday. In an amazing testament to the new car, the character-laden track at Kentucky and the overall competitiveness of the sport, not a single lead change took place on the track other than during the first lap of a restart.
Top 10 finishes by Manufacturer
Toyota – 4
Chevrolet – 5
Ford – 1
- Kevin Manion was the Moog Chassis Parts Problem Solver of the Race
- Before today, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart had won five of the last eight rain delayed races.
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson surged back from his disappointing spin to finish the race in ninth, which was good for second best among Hendrick drivers and worth maintaining the points lead over Carl Edwards by 38 markers. Clint Bowyer is still in third place, 41 points out of the top spot and the only driver besides Edwards within one race’s points of the leader. Kevin Harvick has quietly managed to hang onto fourth in, most likely with some of that Tae Kwon Do stuff he’s been learning this year. Matt Kenseth’s win didn’t move him up or down in points so he still sits at the tail end of the top 5.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. gained one spot this weekend thanks to the misfortune of one Greg Biffle and is now sixth. But he wasn’t the only driving moving up. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. climbed one and two spots, respectively. Biffle slid from sixth back to ninth, while Joey Logano’s fourth-place run pushes him into the 10th spot and the last Chase position, if the “regular season” were to stop right now.
Brad Keselowski’s horrible luck knocked him four spots down in the standings to 13th in and would not be in the Chase if this had been Richmond. The two Wild Card drivers at this point of the season are Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, who both have a win under their belts. David Ragan, the other driver with a win this season is 29th in points and currently not eligible for the Chase.
Overall Rating (from one to six beers, with one being a total snoozer and a six-pack an A+ effort):
Kentucky was really setting up to be a great race where the character and age of the track were going to bring out the best in the drivers’ abilities and we’d see tons of great driving, passing and strategy. Then, as we continue to see more and more every weekend, we got a set of tires that allowed people to take two and keep track position and continue to run as they had before they came in. When there is a deluge the day before and the track is washed clean of the majority of the rubber that was previously down, and NASCAR calls a competition caution, but nearly every car on pit lane takes two tires, you know the tires are too hard and not wearing out enough. As a result, Jimmie Johnson ran away and hid for the majority of the race, only to step on it on the next to last restart of the race and hand the win to Matt Kenseth. The resultant snoozefest only garners two luke warm Hudepohls because someone other than the guy who led 182 laps was the winner. Let’s hope that Goodyear will eventually realize that the tires need to fall off or the racing is going to continue to suck.
Mama, roll out the plates, we’re headed back to Daytona for the midway point of the season, the Firecracker 400, although it isn’t held on the 4th of July and it is now called the Coke Zero 400. Saturday night at 7:30 we’ll put ‘em on the mat and see who blinks first. You can also hear the race on MRN.
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