Key Moment – On lap 328, Brian Vickers‘ No. 55 done blowed up. The cleanup from the oil laid down lasted until lap 332. Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, decided to leave his driver on the track. Several other cars also stayed out, so the two-lap dash to the trophy was a battle among cars with used tires. Harvick grabbed a big lead at the drop of the final green and held on to score his third win of the season and advance to the round of eight in the Chase.
In a Nutshell – The final race before the elimination at Talladega had everyone on edge Saturday night. Harvick was the car to beat all night and, while it wasn’t a perfect night for the No. 4 team on pit road, they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot and a meteor did not drop from the sky to destroy their car. Harvick resumed the lead on lap 318, following a round of green flag stops, and held it for the remainder of the race. Harvick joins Joey Logano as the two drivers who are locked into the next round of the Chase.
Dramatic Moment – The action during the race was very aggressive, but things were even more aggressive afterwards. On a restart with 63 laps to go, Matt Kenseth tried to pass Brad Keselowski on the outside heading into turn one. Keselowski moved up the track and forced Kenseth into the outside wall. On the final caution Kenseth earned the Lucky Dog. As he moved to the front to take the wave by the pace car, he sideswiped Keselowski’s car. On the subsequent restart, Keselowski roughed up Kenseth’s teammate Denny Hamlin and cost both drivers multiple spots. Hamlin proceeded to brake check Keselowski on the cool down lap after the race. Keselowski tried to spin Hamlin in retaliation but failed. He then proceeded to pit lane and careened his car off the side of Kenseth’s car as the field slowed onto pit road. Keselowski’s car also rear-ended Tony Stewart, who proceeded to back up forcefully into Keselowski’s No. 2 and crumple the front end.
Keselowski and Hamlin headed to the garage area and pulled into adjacent pit stalls, trying to cut through the garage to get to their haulers. They made contact several times as they attempted to get to their transporters and that incited a donnybrook between the crews of the two cars. That incident was broken up quickly and ended with Hamlin throwing a towel at Keselowski. The 2012 champion then headed between haulers to try and get into the lounge at the front of his and was bum-rushed by Kenseth. The 2003 champion threw Keselowski into a head lock and proceeded to feed him a knuckle sandwich before Paul Wolfe, the crew chief of the No. 2, corralled Kenseth and wrested him away from the dog pile.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Boys have at it is going to be tested this week. The sanctioning body is going to have a hard time letting the boys settle their differences without penalty when they were endangering people in the garage area. Settling differences on the track is one thing, although not smart. Bringing it onto pit lane is a poor decision at best. Smoking tires and banging fenders in the garage area with crew members, fans and media running around is simply unacceptable. We’ll find out somewhere around Tuesday if there are going to be any fines, suspensions, or pats on the back for the combatants. It will be a heck of a PR challenge if the suits in Daytona turn a blind eye to the safety of non-competitors in the garage area.
The direction and allegiance of the Ford supported teams appears to be shifting significantly with the announcement of Sam Hornish taking over the No. 9 ride. In simple terms, Hornish is a Penske man and David Ragan is a Roush man. The selection of Hornish, at least from a distance, looks like the blue oval crowd is hanging their hat on the Penske side of the locker. Throw in the fact that Trevor Bayne, who is going to be wheeling the No. 6 for Roush Fenway next season, was unable to qualify for Charlotte this weekend, and the balance of power has clearly moved over to the Penske organization.
A closer look at the failure of Bayne to qualify reveals a very real problem facing Roush for next season. While Bayne will have points to fall back on next year, he is going to need to greatly improve his efforts if he intends to stick around the series very long. Bayne has 55 career starts in the Cup series and was outrun by the likes of Cole Whitt, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill, Michael McDowell and Reed Sorenson. Not to cast aspersions on the talent of those drivers, but the equipment they are wheeling is not backed by the kind of resources that are supporting the car Bayne was running. If the efforts of RFR don’t show improvement in 2015, the implosion of the organization could be all too real.
Another curious anecdote for the Ford camp at Charlotte was the conspicuous absence of the No. 21 of the Wood Brothers. The legendary team, with their race shop just a couple of miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, missed this race for the second year in a row. Last year was the first time in the modern era of NASCAR that the Woods had not fielded a car at Charlotte in the Fall. It is not easy being a part-time team in the sport but the folks in Detroit have long helped the Woods stay relevant. It is curious that a team so tightly aligned with Roush and Ford did not roll out a car at the home track of the sport.
The television broadcasts obviously shape the perception of the fans who tune in on a weekly basis to enjoy NASCAR races. The journalistic integrity of television is always a little more suspect than print due to the fact that they have a short period of time to vet stories. That said, the tire issues on Friday night were grossly misreported by ESPN. There were three or four cars that had a tire issue early in the race. The tires very well may have been faulty and that should have been pointed out. However, the vast majority of drivers did not have any unusual wear and did not have tire failures. Fans were left thinking that Goodyear had a major problem Friday which just wasn’t true. We are never afraid to call out Goodyear for the myriad of things that we disagree with on their tires, but they also deserve to be given credit when they do their job and are unfairly painted by poor reporting.
Speaking of the folks at ESPN, they are obviously mailing it in as their contract to cover the sport comes to a close at the end of this season. Saturday’s race was supposed to be on ABC but the college football game ran long so it was moved to ESPNNews. That idea was then squashed because there was an NBA pre-season game for the Cleveland Cavaliers being broadcast on that channel. Fans were left with no available video coverage of the race for the early part of the event. ESPN has already preempted a race for a pre-season football game and now they’ve bumped it for college football and pre-season basketball. They have certainly proven where their allegiance lies.
One final not for the folks at ESPN. The load of crap that they ran as a rebroadcast of the race early Sunday morning was an abomination. For those who forgot the race was on ABC, when it finally reached the airwaves, we missed recording it on DVR. Tuning in at 3:00 am for the replay was so far beyond a disappointment it wasn’t funny. Obviously, the folks in Bristol, CT, assigned a first week intern to the rebroadcast and they aren’t race fans. One hour and 17 minutes of broadcast was populated with 45.5 minutes (and that is generous) of actual race broadcast. That included 14 of the first 289 laps of the event, nine of the laps from 290 to 305 and then 26 of the final 29 laps. The video shared included two of the eight caution events, no mention of the Logano/Patrick incident, no hint of Clint Bowyer’s engine failure, nary a word of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s broken gear shift or any acknowledgement of Tony Stewart dropping through the field. In the early years of ESPN coverage you would be able to watch a complete re-air of race coverage, shortly after the completion of the event. Now, should you miss the original show, fuhgeddaboutit. You’ll be more frustrated about the horrendous tease they share with you rather than enjoying a satisfying abbreviated version.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Karma can be a bitch but sometimes your luck just stinks. Clint Bowyer has been struggling since the infamous intentional spin at Richmond last year. He missed the Chase this year, primarily because of a broken gear shift at Atlanta. He has finished dead last twice this year and 42nd once. Saturday was another disappointing effort when the power plant in his No. 15 went south 94 laps into the race.
Slugger Labbe is climbing down from the pit box to take a position as the head of R&D at Richard Childress Racing after Saturday’s race. Labbe and his driver, Paul Menard, have started strong for years but have struggled sealing the deal at the end of seasons. Saturday night was another disappointment when the engine in the No. 27 gave up the ghost on lap 135. It was a hollow ending to his career as a crew chief at RCR, although never say never. Gil Martin climbed back on the box after a break and is having a good year with Austin Dillon.
Josh Wise continues to chase the dream with an underfunded team. They are very limited in their budget but they are trying to make a go of it and race full events, not start and park. Early Saturday night, Wise had a transmission issue that put him in the garage. The team thrashed on the car and got it back out on track, 40 laps down. On lap 222 the rear gear gave up and relegated the team to a 41st place finish.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Kyle Larson led the race twice for a total of five laps, but late in the race bounced his ride off of the fence running the high line. He continued on with speed but it hampered the handling just enough to prevent him from getting back to the front of the pack. Another top 10 in Larson’s stellar year continues to set him up for his first win and eventual status as a star in the sport.
Austin Dillon has been overshadowed by Larson this season but he’s having a respectable run as a rookie in the series. Saturday night he led the race twice for six laps, while they were due to green flag stops and a spit call. Dillon ran a solid race and, despite an early tire issue, came home a comfortable 13th.
Landon Cassill continues to get it done for his underfunded team. He unloaded off of the truck on Thursday with a white race car. By Saturday night, after qualifying for the race, the No. 40 had Thunder Coal on the hood and the quarter panels. Cassill ran a clean race and only lost three laps and came home with a 23rd place finish. Cassill is one of the unsung talents in the garage who does impressive things with less than impressive equipment.
Kevin Harvick’s win was his 26th of his Cup series career. He has made 497 starts.
The win moves Harvick into a tie with Fred Lorenzen for 25th on the all-time wins list. Mark Martin and Bobby Isaac are the only inactive drivers ahead of Harvick on the list who are not in the Hall of Fame.
The victory is Harvick’s third of 2014 and locks him into the next round of the Chase.
This triumph is also Harvick’s third in 28 career races at Charlotte.
Jeff Gordon‘s runner-up finish on Saturday night was his 10th of the season.
Gordon has eight career top 2 runs at Charlotte in 44 starts, including a second place finish in his first ever race at the track.
Jamie McMurray rounded out the podium with his third place finish. It was McMurray’s best finish in a points race this season.
The top 3 was McMurray’s fourth of his career at Charlotte, including his first win in the Coor’s Light Dudge in 2002 in his second career start.
Kyle Larson was the rookie of the race with his sixth place finish.
Landon Cassill has finished in the top 25 in three of the last four races.
What’s the Points
The points matter now that the Chase to the Cup has begun. Up to three drivers can advance to the next round by winning races in this segment. The other drivers making up the 8 who make it to round three will do so on points. The 16 drivers in the Chase are listed below with their point total after round five of the Chase. Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, by virtue of their wins at Kansas and Charlotte are already assured of moving on to segment three of the Chase.
- Joey Logano 3088
- Kyle Busch 3082
- Kevin Harvick 3081
- Ryan Newman 3077
- Carl Edwards 3076
- Jeff Gordon 3074
- Denny Hamlin 3073
- Kasey Kahne 3057
- Matt Kenseth 3056
- Brad Keselowski 3038
- Jimmie Johnson 3031
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3031
- AJ Allmendinger 2142
- Greg Biffle 2127
- Kurt Busch 2109
- Aric Almirola 2096
Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Night racing on an Intermediate track can be more sleep inducing than Ambien. Whether it was the knowledge that Talladega is on the horizon, the nearly full moon in the sky or just the fact that the season is nearing the end and people are tired of seeing each other, Charlotte was loaded with intense racing and spilled over into the garage area with fisticuffs. Five on track passes for the lead, four and five wide racing and long green flag runs without bogus debris cautions made for a four ice cold Hop, Drop and Roll IPAs from NoDa Brewing Company. We’re going to throw in an extra shot of Jagermeister for the WWE antics in the garage area between Hamlin, Keselowski and Kenseth.
The insanity begins next Sunday, October 19th, at 2:00 pm. The series takes to the 2.66 mile tri-oval of Talladega Superspeedway. The typical wild card aspect of plate racing will be heightened by the fact that it is the elimination race for segment two of the Chase. Four drivers title hopes will be crushed when the checkered flag flies. You can also hear the race on MRN radio affiliates and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
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