Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Usually when a driver uses up his tires trying to catch the race leader and gets into the wall in the process, he falls back like he threw out an anchor. But when Kevin Harvick got in the wall trying to run down Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps, he never lifted. The slip allowed Johnson to win uncontested, but Harvick was able to battle, and pass, Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the line for second. That commitment is what earned Harvick his first title last year, and it’s what made him stand out on Saturday night. His unwillingness to back down, even when sometimes he should, is a big part of his win total and why he’s a favorite for another title.
What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?
For the first time in 2015, the day-to-night transition of the racing surface came into play. With practices and qualifying during the day on Friday, teams had to do a little bit of guessing as to how the cooling track would affect them. As a result, some cars that qualified well and ran up front early weren’t there at the end, and others that finished strong had a rougher beginning.
Track changes have always been an important factor in racing and strategy, with many teams knowing they can’t beat other cars if they can’t beat the track. Usually as temperatures go down, cars tighten up, but it’s not automatic, and with new rules in play this year, it made the transition a bit more challenging.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Kurt Busch was one of the drivers who looked frustrated by the track transition. Strong early, Busch struggled to find the feel he needed in his car late. He finished 14th, as strategy didn’t work out the way he and his team intended.
Joey Logano was one of a handful of drivers who was able to run in the top 10 all race long, day or night. He looked as though he might make a late bid for the win until a tap from Harvick sent him up the track, killing his momentum and costing him position late in the game. Logano managed to hang onto the No. 22, though, and got back to fourth before the finish.
When… did it all go sideways?
Teams continued to struggle with the automated pit-road officiating, with a handful of penalties handed out for driving through too many pit boxes and for too many crew men in contact with the service area. That’s not a bad thing for NASCAR, it just means that teams haven’t quite adjusted to following the rules to the letter yet. It also means that the automated system is working the way it should, with everyone getting caught when they should and not leaving things up to the eyes of different officials who may or may not see a violation. NASCAR did make one necessary improvement to the system this week, laying fiber-optic cable on pit road so teams could immediately see the evidence of their violations instead of having to wait for the feed. The new system levels the playing field a bit, and that’s never a bad thing in a game of inches.
Why… did Jimmie Johnson win the race?
Johnson had a fast car and was his team was able to adjust easily to changing track conditions. Johnson’s win was convincing, similar to his Atlanta victory in February. However, it came easier than it might have otherwise because Harvick made a mistake in the final laps, getting into the wall in a car that was faster than Johnson’s and closing. If Harvick had not overdriven the car, Johnson would have had to contend with him before the race was over. That’s not to say that he stole the win; Johnson is every bit as capable as Harvick, and both drivers have the kind of determination that makes for an epic battle. That didn’t happen this time, and Johnson deserved the win after the race he ran.
How… did the little guys do?
Furniture Row Racing; Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy): These guys are getting downright predictable. Truex finished eighth, keeping his season-long top-10 streak intact. He’s also a solid third in points. With each passing week, it looks as though a win is as much a matter of “when” as it is a matter of “if”.
JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Chevy): Allmendinger struggled with an ill-handling car all night long. He finished on the lead lap in 21st, and his team was quick to give the driver credit via Twitter. The team has had some bad luck, but thanks to Allmendinger’s prowess on road courses, still has a fairly decent chance of a Chase berth.
— JTG Daugherty Racing (@JTGRacing) April 12, 2015
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears & Co. looked promising on Friday, posting top-5 times in both practice sessions. What they couldn’t do was transfer that to qualifying or the race, and they need to be able to do that to have a legit Chase chance. The car was loose all night, and the bad run, coupled with a penalty late in the game for Mears driving through too many boxes, left the team in 27th place, a lap down. At times, it looked as though things might improve drastically had a well-timed caution flown, but this team’s luck appears to have been used up in practice this week.
Mears did take a little time after the race to congratulate his old friend Johnson on the win and to rib Johnson on his trophy collection:
Congrats to @JimmieJohnson! Going to have to build another shelf for that trophy!
— Casey Mears (@CJMearsGang) April 12, 2015
Front Row Motorsports; Chris Buescher & Cole Whitt & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 35 Standard Plumbing Supply Ford & No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford): Like most of their peers, the team struggled to keep pace on the Texas oval. All three drivers fought handling for much of the night. Gilliland came home 28th, the best of the bunch, with Buescher not far behind in 30th. Whitt had a flat tire with under 30 laps to go, and it left him in 35th.
Leavine Family Racing; Michael McDowell (No. 95 Thrivent Financial Ford): McDowell had a solid finish among his peers, coming in 31st, using pit strategy to try and gain an edge. It didn’t pay off as the team hoped, but it didn’t hurt, and gave them something to work with in the future.
Hillman Smith Racing: Landon Cassill (No. 40 CRC Knock’er Loose Chevy): Cassill was hoping for another top-30 night, but he had a left-front tire give out at the halfway point of the race. Cassill was able to get to pit road and get a new set without suffering too much damage and finished 32nd. The mild-mannered Cassill tweeted afterward about the frustration of the moment:
Awful misfortune tonight for such a good car. I even got angry on the radio which is rare-sorry innocent bystanders! Days like this happen!
— landon cassill (@landoncassill) April 12, 2015
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Alex Bowman (No. 7 Nikko/Toy State Chevy): Bowman and the No. 7 crew spent much of the night searching for some elusive grip. In the end, they didn’t find it, and Bowman finished four laps down in 34th.
BK Racing; JJ Yeley & Matt DiBenedetto (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): Yeley’s engine expired practically before he even had a chance to get started, leaving him in last place. DiBenedetto had slightly better luck, making it to the end running in 34th place. With the No. 26 of rookie Jeb Burton missing the show, this team still has a long way to go.
GoFAS Racing; Mike Bliss (No. 32 Texas Tech Ford): This is a team who looks as though they could improve if the dollars were there, but they continue to struggle to find adequate funding. Bliss finished 36th this week.
Circle Sport; Alex Kennedy (No. 33 Dream Factory Chevy): Road-racing specialist Kennedy continues to learn to run on the ovals, and his night wasn’t without a learning curve. He spun early, going around on his own to bring out the night’s first caution flag. Kennedy recovered and completed the race, but the speed wasn’t there, and the result was a 37th place. But for a young driver with little experience, logging laps is also important, so don’t write the weekend off as a total loss.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): What the team thought was a broken fuel pump sent Wise to the garage to change it out, but fuel pressure problems continued to plague the No. 98. Wise limped it home in 38th place, a handful of spots lower than he had been running before the issue cropped up.
HScott Motorsports; Michael Annett & Justin Allgaier (No. 46 Northland Motor Oil Chevy & No. 51 Flipping Ships Chevy): When it’s not your night, it’s not your night. Annett hit the wall after a tire went down on the No. 46, causing extensive damage and ending his night in 40th place. Allgaier made it a bit further, running solidly in the mid-20s, until his night was ended early as well by a hard crash in turn 3. Neither finish was necessarily a reflection of the team’s ability, though, and they’re looking for a rebound in Bristol.
Wood Brothers Racing; Ryan Blaney (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): The first hint of a possible engine issue cropped up within the first 20 laps of the race, and it would eventually prove fatal, leaving Blaney in 42nd as the night’s second casualty. The team’s next race will be at Talladega in May.
so after checking the engine, there's nothing we can do to get it going. calling it a day. quite a shame.
— Wood Brothers Racing (@woodbrothers21) April 12, 2015