To the Point: With 5 laps to go, Kurt Busch became impatient after closing in on leader Matt Kenseth and bumped him out of the way, then held off Kevin Harvick heading to the checkered flag to take the win in the Food City 500 in Bristol. Harvick got as close as a car length to Busch’s back bumper, but never could quite get close enough to produce the fireworks finish everyone was anticipating between the two feuding drivers.
Who Should Have Won: Matt Kenseth. With 20 laps to go, it seemed that Kenseth had the race pretty well in hand. But as the 17 car came up on the back of struggling Dale Jarrett, Kenseth suddenly began to have handling problems. The car appeared to get severely aero tight in lapped traffic, and Jarrett was not only just fast enough to stay in front of Kenseth, but on the lead lap, so he was reluctant to move out of the way. The bottleneck caused Busch to close a three-quarters of a second deficit and ultimately bump Kenseth out of the way for the win.
Five Questions You Should be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) Was Kurt Busch’s bump on Matt Kenseth the right thing to do?
Clearly, it’s one of those office cooler debates where everyone’s going to have their own personal opinion. Certainly, at Bristol it’s every man for himself"¦and there’s no denying the fact that Busch’s team was in desperate need of some early season momentum after going through four consecutive weeks of awful luck. The "bump and run" is also a move that’s been done at Bristol many times before through the years"¦but still, just because something’s been done before doesn’t make it right. Certainly, the fans didn’t agree with Busch’s actions, as the boos raining down on him in Victory Lane were reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt’s more serious spin-to-win dumping of Terry Labonte back in 1999 at the track.
2) What will be the penalties from the Matt Kenseth-Jeff Gordon incident?
For those who didn’t see it, Gordon roughed up an already frustrated Kenseth to grab third place heading towards the last lap of the race, causing Kenseth to lose his temper and dump Gordon into a spin on the back straightaway. Kenseth then went to Gordon’s car to apologize immediately afterwards, but an angry Gordon would have none of it, shoving Kenseth in pit lane before he could even get done with an apology. It’s important to note that it was a hard shove, but not a punch"¦something which will likely lessen a possible penalty. Hopefully, it won’t lessen the rivalry, nor the fire Gordon showed Sunday.
3) What was the problem with the tires at the beginning of the race?
Before the first lap was even complete, a car had a tire problem, and for the first 100 laps, the tires were clearly the story for the second week in a row. Early leader Greg Biffle, along with Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Stanton Barrett, and Ken Schrader all found themselves on pit road with flat tires"¦while Biffle and Busch were able to recover to varying degrees, with Busch ultimately winning the race, the others never did, and concerns remain over what might have happened should the race taken on a green flag look later on in the race. Keep your fingers crossed for a few weeks at Texas.
4) Why was Bristol so tough on rookies this time around?
Well, Bristol’s ALWAYS tough on rookies"¦but this time, the price they paid was especially severe. Other than Denny Hamlin’s 14th place run, none of the other seven rookies finished on the lead lap of the race, with Truex, Bowyer, Sorenson, Stremme, Yeley, and Brent Sherman involved in wrecks to varying degrees. While it appears this week was just a temporary bump in the road for the rookies this time around, words such as patience and rhythm need to be installed into their heads by crew chiefs and spotters before next Sunday, or Martinsville will be just as tough.
5) What’s to make of the Kevin Harvick-Kurt Busch feud?
Well, it seems it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Harvick escalated things in the media center on Friday claiming he needs to go "whoop Kurt Busch’s butt," but Sunday fell just short of putting his money where his mouth is, not quite getting to Busch’s back bumper. Kurt Busch himself continually downplayed the rivalry, but was clearly irritated at all the questions the media fed him about it in his post-race interview after winning the race. Expect the two to run too close for comfort next week at Martinsville.
Kevin Harvick – Certainly, the Bristol Spring Race defending champion would have liked to chalk up a second straight win on his track resume rather than a second place finish, and he probably would have gotten one if there were another 5 laps to get to Kurt Busch’s bumper. Still, Harvick’s Goodwrench Chevy found itself in the Top 5 nearly all day and completed a much-needed run for a team and driver that had finished outside the Top 10 in the season’s first four races.
Carl Edwards – One of the few drivers praying for the rain to keep coming down on Friday, Edwards used that third place starting spot due to the qualifying washout to his advantage. He never lost track position, stayed out of trouble and brought his car home in 4th place, his first ever Top 5 finish at a short track in Nextel Cup.
Bobby Labonte – Back in the Spring of 2001, John Andretti brought the #43 Cheerios Petty Enterprises Dodge home to a second place finish at Bristol. Five years, several driver changes, and over 400 combined starts later, a Petty Enterprises car returned to the Top 5 Sunday, as Labonte slowly guided his way through the field to a 5th place finish, securing a spot for the 43 team in the Top 35 in the process.
Mark Martin – At first glance, sixth place might not mean all that much for a driver 4th in the points used to Top 5 finishes, not Top 10s. But considering 6th was Martin’s first Top 10 at Bristol since 2000, you’d better believe that other than the race winner, no one was happier than Martin come out of this track with his car in one piece and a solid finish under his belt.
Jeff Gordon – On his way to securing three straight Top 5 finishes for the first time since the end of the 2004 season, all hell broke loose for Gordon coming to the white flag. Not only did the last lap spin caused by Matt Kenseth drop the 24 car to a 21st place finish, but Gordon himself lost his cool, hustling out of the race car and shoving Kenseth in pit lane when he came over trying to apologize after the race. While somewhat "out of character" for Gordon, the incident will likely cost him money, maybe points this week.
Jimmie Johnson – Talk about bad luck"¦the 48 car hadn’t even completed a lap under green on Sunday before Johnson found himself with a flat tire. The 48 immediately went two laps down after a pit stop to fix the problem, and it seemed everything was destined to go wrong after that. After getting one of his laps back with the free pass, Johnson got lapped again with an ill-handling racecar, and then got squeezed into the wall by Kenseth on the back straightaway during a restart. That virtually ended any hope left of salvaging a decent finish, and Johnson struggled to 30th, losing the points lead in the process.
*Martin Truex, Jr. * – Truex, Jr. will remember his Sunday Nextel Cup debut at Bristol for a long time"¦for all the wrong reasons. After a spinout put him a lap behind the leaders, Truex finally found himself in position to get that lap back late in the event—- only to be spun out the first lap after a restart by Jeff Gordon coming out of Turn 4. Truex went several laps down as a result, then let his frustrations get the better of him, racing Gordon hard for a few laps with a damaged race car before Tony Stewart came up behind the two, got impatient, and quickly dumped Truex out of the way like was was some pesky fly Stewart swatted in the kitchen. A frustrated Truex slammed the backstretch wall and finished 38th.
Brent Sherman – Up until Sunday, Sherman’s done the best thing he could have possibly done as an inexperienced rookie with an underfunded team—- finished races and not ruffled any feathers. Can’t say the same for the guy after Bristol—- the 49 car was spun out early and then involved in several incidents throughout the day, clearly one of the slowest cars on the track and unable to get out of the way of lead lap cars fast enough. Not only did Sherman bomb to a 42nd place finish, his team is suddenly now out of the Top 35 in owners points while heading to a short track Sherman has never seen in Martinsville next Sunday"¦a dangerous combination.
Johnson’s struggles at Bristol caused him to lose the points lead, as Matt Kenseth parlayed his third place finish into an 8 point lead in the standings over new second place point man Kasey Kahne, who finished 10th on Sunday. Johnson fell to third in points, 19 out of the lead, while Mark Martin’s strong run kept him in 4th, 32 behind the top spot.
After the top four drivers, a reasonable gap has developed, with fifth place point man Kyle Busch now 105 behind Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears, Tony Stewart, and Dale Jarrett round out the Top 10 after five race.
As far as the all-important Top 35 in owners’ points, Scott Riggs had an early crash on Sunday, but the team was still able to hold on and secure the 35th and final spot that gets the team locked into the field for next Sunday’s race at Martinsville. Bobby Labonte pushed his way into that exclusive group with his strong run on Sunday, while David Stremme is now on the outside looking in, having to qualify on time next Sunday along with Sterling Marlin, Kevin LePage, Scott Wimmer, and Brent Sherman.
“Maybe I bumped him (Matt Kenseth). I’ve been bumped before and had a win taken away. I don’t sit there and cry about it. I don’t sit there and say, ‘maybe I’m going to go wreck him the next week.’ If I get bumped by Kenseth the next week, that’s cool. Maybe I was running too slow and I didn’t deserve to win that day. Matt is a great friend of mine. I don’t want to say anything bad about him. We had a great teammate relationship with the 17 and 97 at Roush Racing. We worked together pretty hard for two years, and there’s a lot of times I saw Kenseth finish second to the 97 car at Bristol. He’s the guy to beat here. It’s that much sweeter to win today and to pull our car into victory lane with a new team, a new attitude with new sponsors and myself, but yet I’m still going to race the same way.” Kurt Busch
“Well, he (Kurt) had to do what he had to do. Whatever Kurt feels good about tonight. I wouldn’t have done that to him. I would have passed him the right way or I wouldn’t have passed him. He just knocked me out of the way. Anybody can do that.” Matt Kenseth
“I got into the 17 there (at the end) and got a little gap there between the 2 and I, and I couldn’t get back to him (Kurt). Good day for us, but I hate to see Kurt Busch win"¦but what do I know.” Kevin Harvick
“We went down into one and he (Matt Kenseth) decided to wreck me"¦it is pretty disappointing. We had a great car. I am sorry that happened. I like racing with Matt"¦(but) I certainly didn’t enjoy racing with him today. I showed him my displeasure"¦I get fired up too.” Jeff Gordon
“I mean, I got in the back of him (Truex) but they said he had had a problem with the 24. I don’t care if he wants to settle it, but settle it in the bus lot later on. We are running for a top-five finish there at the end and he is holding both of us up.” Tony Stewart
The short track swing for the Nextel Cup stars continues with a 500-lap race at the .625 mile speedway in Martinsville, VA. The DirecTV 500 can be seen this Sunday afternoon at 1:30 PM EST on Fox.
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