Bristol Motor Speedway presents a unique, early-season test for the Sprint Cup Series. The tightly packed, 0.533-mile bullring offers plenty of opportunities for passing, yet very little room for error. Those who kept their cars in good health were able to take advantage of NASCAR’s first scheduled short track.
Of course, keeping the car in one piece was the biggest challenge.
Bondo usage was all too common among even top teams. Accidents collected frontrunners even though they were not the cause — an unpredictable aspect similar to the feeling of restrictor plate racing was in play.
Drivers setting out for Auto Club Speedway without a blemished record are rare; many of the points leaders ran into adversity in Thunder Valley. This edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not awards the lucky ones, the survivors. The others — left feeling under the weather because of Bristol’s cold and soggy climate — could really use this trip to Southern California.
It did not take long for Carl Edwards to get his revenge.
Edwards took command of the Food City 500 late in the race and held off a charge from Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. for his 22nd NSCS victory.
Edwards held the lead when the caution lights were accidentally triggered with three laps remaining. Rain began to fall under the yellow flag, prompting NASCAR to call the event.
Edwards headed back to victory lane at Bristol after a blown engine spoiled a possible win there during last season’s Chase.
Stenhouse’s second is his best-ever finish, while Greg Biffle rallied to place 12th in a great night for RFR.
Richard Petty Motorsports also found success in the tight confines of BMS.Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambroserecorded top fives for the first time this season. The two-car organization has shown signs of improvement before, but it was finally able to convert that into solid results — great news for Ford, as a strong run for RPM only helps to bolster a lineup that has produced victories in two of four events. Ford is currently tied with Chevrolet atop the manufacturer standings.
Denny Hamlin led the way for odd-man-out Toyota after winning the pole during qualifying Friday. Hamlin has avoided a huge letdown since his runner-up in the season opener and sits seventh in points.
Tony Stewart is back!
OK, that might be an overstatement, but Stewart took strides in righting his critics with a fourth. It might as well have been the winner’s celebration because Stewart was very excited with the way things turned out.
Stewart was sluggish in a terrible start that included finishes of 35th, 16th and 33rd before Sunday. Qualifying ended with a horrific 37th-place spot on the grid, but no matter; Stewart found a way through traffic and around several accidents on one of the most physically demanding circuits.
The move to Auto Club Speedway could help to further Stewart’s recovery process. Since creating Stewart Haas Racing, his numbers there are very therapeutic — two wins and five top 10s in seven starts.
Going up against Jeff Gordon in California used to be a scary proposition. Since winning twice in the track’s first three seasons on schedule, Gordon has fizzled.
But don’t tell him that.
Gordon has top 10s in four consecutive races to begin the season after a seventh at Bristol, making this his best start in years. The No. 24 appears capable of turning back the clock at a track where it once dominated.
Kasey Kahne gave Hendrick Motorsports another reason to be happy, finishing directly behind Gordon in eighth. It was not last season’s victory in the Food City 500, but Kahne once again showed a keen ability to move freely through lapped traffic.
Some things never change. Brian Vickers’ aptitude for success at Bristol is one of them. Vickers cruised to a ninth at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile, making it the fifth time in five tries there with Michael Waltrip Racing that he has placed that well.
Alex Bowman returned to the track for the checkered flag after being sidelined because the No. 23 Camry lost power. Bowman’s battery fell out of the car and accounted for an interesting caution. The battery burst open after it bounced off several cars and pieces sprayed all over the track.
Parker Kligerman lost control of his car after a piece of the debris became jammed in his car’s wheel area and almost crashed.
Announcers Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip mistook the battery’s packing paper for toilet paper and were seen wrapping it around themselves inside the broadcast booth. The paper trailed behind some cars for laps afterwards.
Talk about a bad break.
Other cautions were not so light hearted. Cole Whitt and Danica Patrick were involved in an accident directly in front of the leaders on lap 157. Matt Kensethmanaged to slow enough to avoid the two, but Timmy Hill could not. Hill slammed into the No. 20 Toyota’s rear, destroying his car.
Kenseth was not the only leader to pay the price for another driver’s error. Jamie McMurray was knocked out because Brad Keselowski slammed into the No. 1 Chevrolet after Kevin Harvick went up in smoke ahead of them.
Speaking of Harvick, that makes two sub-39th-place runs for Harvick in a row.
Things are not so happy in the Harvick camp anymore. Remember, drivers must stay within the top 30 in points to trade their WINNER decals in for Chase births. Harvick has the win, but 21st in the standings is barely cutting it.
Kurt Busch was also caught up an incident that was not his causing. The Outlaw hit brother Kyle Busch and the wall while trying to avoid the spinning No. 18 Toyota. Damaged crippled his right-front suspension, and the SHR driver was forced to settle for 35th.
It has been that kind of year at SHR; Busch, Harvick, Patrick, and Stewart have combined for two top-10 finishes through the first four races, the worst percentage of top 10s of any major organization.
Meanwhile, the younger Busch has gone up and down during several races this season, but he rebounded in each of those events despite lacking his best stuff. This race played out similarly for Rowdy except for the ending.
The younger Busch led at times, then was caught on pit road during a caution flag and lost several laps. He battled back before spinning, and finished 29th.
Martin Truex, Jr. has been on the wrong end of Hot or Not for several weeks. Truex’s best result since joining Furniture Row Racing is 14th, and he ranks poorly in points because of a compilation of poor runs comparable to what happened in Tennessee.
Maybe it was the weather; when Mother Nature is heavily involved and races get delayed Truex is at his worst, with finishes of 43rd and 36th.
Fortunately, California is known for pleasant conditions. He should be stoked.