In a Nutshell: The new track surface was the focus of much pre-race hype at Bristol… and it lived up to every bit of it. All race long, cars were spread from the top to the bottom, with three-wide racing taking place more than we had ever seen before at the half-mile bullring. Jason Leffler led for the first 14 laps following the drop of the green flag, putting himself in position as the favorite while leading a race-high 81 laps on the day. At the end of the race, it was Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Leffler duking it out up front, putting on an amazing race for the lead. At one point, the three drivers went four-wide with a lapped car, leaving onlookers stunned and the crowd rocking in Thunder Valley.
After slicing and dicing, Kahne and Newman made contact, which resulted in Newman cutting a tire, hitting the wall, and being dropped from contention with less than 10 laps to go. Kahne and Leffler then dueled to the finish, with David Reutimann charging hard but unable to get to the top two cars. On the last lap, Leffler made a bonzai move inside of Kahne but couldn’t get the job done, eventually getting spun out by Reutimann in the battle for second as Kahne streaked to his second Busch victory of the season. Reutimann, Kyle Busch and Scott Wimmer completed the top-five finishers, while David Ragan, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola rounded out the rest of the top 10.
Who Should Have Won: Kyle Busch. While Leffler led the most laps, it was Busch who had a very strong car consistently all night long. However, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy was the victim of a bad judgment call by NASCAR that moved him to the back of the pack and ultimately prevented him from winning the race. After a red flag for an accident with Marcos Ambrose and Robert Richardson on lap 173, Busch feigned coming onto pit road under yellow, quickly swerving back on the track in an attempt to trick his competitors into pitting. In doing so, Busch stopped far short of the “commitment line” area that, should drivers cross it, forces them to pit road for a stop. However, an errant official didn’t see it that way, and as a result, NASCAR penalized Busch for evading pit road after attempting to drive over the line, which meant he had to drop back to the end of the longest line for the restart. Left outside the top 20 and in the back of the pack, Busch’s chances for victory immediately went up in smoke, although he did stage an admirable comeback to rally up to fourth place by the checkered flag. NASCAR later admitted that they were incorrect in their penalty call, but it was too late for them to rectify the situation. That’s a shame, for fixing their mistake would have likely given Busch a trip to Victory Lane.
Three Questions You Should Be Asking After The Race This Weekend
1) How did the Bristol repaving job perform? Why did they flatten out the corners when they repaved the track?
When Bristol announced it would be tearing up the track and laying down new pavement, it left a lot of skepticism on the part of the fans as to how the new track would turn out. The process caused several changes that left many worried Thunder Valley would lose some of its, well, thunder. For example, it was always intriguing that Bristol had the highest banking on the schedule, but they can no longer make that claim. The track used to be banked 36 degrees in the corners, but after the repaving, it now only slopes 30 degrees at its steepest point. That leaves “most angled track” honors to Talladega, whose wide, sweeping turns are banked 33 degrees.
In the end, though, flattening the track did nothing but increase the competitiveness at this fine facility. The racing at Bristol was the best we have seen in years, and seeing people running in two lines competitively was a very welcome sight. No longer does a driver need to “bump-and-run” in order to pass a competitor; instead, he can use one of several racing lines around the track, which is nothing but a good thing for a track that already had a reputation for above-average racing excitement.
2) Do these TV announcers know their NASCAR history?
Along these same lines, several times during the TV broadcast, the ESPN announcers mentioned that we had never seen two- and three-wide racing at Bristol. Um… what sport are they experts in again? Granted, it had been a while, but back in the ’70s and early ’80s, there was a ton of side-by-side racing at Bristol. Just watch a little show called Back In The Day on SPEED if you need more proof. Regardless of the announcers’ historical knowledge, though, it is certainly fantastic to see that the repaving effort has brought back some of the racing that we used to see “back in the good ol’ days.”
3) Is ESPN going to fire someone over the last lap debacle at the end of the race? How could that happen?
ESPN lost the feed of the race coverage for the last three laps of the race Friday night; the feed quickly turned into a blank screen, then a slate, then a commercial as cars raced around the track in the final laps. By the time the feed returned, the race was over and Kahne was busy celebrating his win, depriving fans of a live finish that was one of the better Bristol endings in recent history.
ESPN issued an apology afterwards that stated the loss was due to human error away from the track. Unfortunately, ESPN has had a few technical glitches since their return to race coverage, and this was another glaring example in a long line of growing pains they’re experiencing in coming back into the sport. The fact that they specifically noted it was human error that caused the problem would certainly seem like someone is going to pay the ultimate price for this latest faux pas. But of course, no amount of apology or personnel changes will change who suffered the most: the fans. At least ESPN was smart enough to re-air the final few laps after the feed came back online.
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
Keselowski finished in the top 10 – again – for JR Motorsports. After missing a top 10 last week at Michigan because his car ran out of gas while taking the white flag, Keselowski rebounded strong with a seventh place finish at Bristol. Auditioning for a permanent seat in the No. 88, Keselowski now has two top 10s and four top 15s in five races in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car. Considering the amount of Cup competition he’s up against each week, that’s not too shabby.
Early on, it appeared Jeff Burton would run away with Friday night’s victory; but after making a pit stop for tires, he was caught up in an accident with Eric McClure on lap 78 and heavily damaged his car, forcing him behind the wall after being up front for 38 laps. That poor luck, combined with Carl Edwards‘s 11th place at Bristol, caused the No. 29 to lose their hard-earned grip on the owner points standings. The No. 60 team with Edwards in tow is now 42 points ahead in the owners’ race; meanwhile, Richard Childress’s other full-time Busch Series car, the No. 21, has quietly slipped into third, now just 167 behind the top spot.
In the championship standings, Edwards maintains a commanding 690-point lead over David Reutimann for this year’s title trophy. Kevin Harvick holds down third, 715 behind despite missing almost a third of the races held this season. Meanwhile, Leffler had another impressive run in his Toyota at Bristol, coming home second and leading the most laps in the race to remain fourth in the standings. The highest standing Busch-only driver in points, Leffler has a 217-point cushion over sixth-place Bobby Hamilton Jr. to hold onto that honor. In between, Cup and Busch Series rookie Ragan holds down the fifth-place slot.
Buschwhackers in the race: 20
Starting spots taken by Buschwhackers YTD: 451 of 1,071
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10: 6
Buschwhackers finishing in the Top 10 YTD: 185 of 260
Races won by Buschwhackers YTD: 23 of 26
Buschwhackers ranked in the Top 10 in the Busch Series points standings: 5
“It was an awesome battle with Ryan Newman and Jason Leffler, it feels great. This is always one of the tracks you want to win on. It was a battle. The [new] track is so crazy, with how many lines there are and how much racing room there is.” – Kasey Kahne
We could get wound up there on the bottom, but Kasey [Kahne] did a great job controlling the race from the high groove. I tried to slide in on him on that last lap, and that’s why I checked up, and that’s when David [Reutimann] got into the back of me. But that was really not a big deal.” – Jason Leffler
“I don’t know that I hit the line – I don’t think I did. They could have waited to get it sorted out and do the right thing, but they didn’t.” – Kyle Busch, on NASCAR’s call to penalize him for hitting the commitment line while trying to fake a move onto pit road
Next Up: Next week, the series heads to California for the second time this season to run the Camping World 300 presented by RVs.com. The race will be held Saturday, September 1st, under the lights at 9:30 p.m. ET on the 2-mile oval in Fontana. For those who can’t make it out there, the race will be carried live on both ESPN2 and your local MRN affiliate.