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?
Bristol isn’t an easy track to take home a top 10, but one driver took his first career top 10 in Thunder Valley. Justin Allgaier ran a smooth, strong race to finish an impressive eighth. Allgaier ran inside the top five for part of the night before dropping back a bit as various pit strategies played out. He was involved in a lap 494 incident when Carl Edwards had a tire go down in front of the top runners, but didn’t suffer enough damage to deter him from his career-best finish.
What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?
Rain, rain, and more rain caused lengthy delays — the checkered flag fell nine hours after the green officially waved. A trio of delays halted the action by the end of the day, but the damage was done early. Brad Keselowski said it was already raining on lap 19 when he got sideways and collected teammate Joey Logano, ruining the day for Team Penske before it had time to begin. He stopped short of laying blame on the weather, but it was obviously on his mind.
“It’s been raining since we started the race,” Keselowski said after the crash. “It was just a really light sprinkle and the track was just barely dry. I don’t know. The rain was coming in and out and the car just took off on me. I would like to blame the rain, but I honestly don’t know. Usually when a car gets that far sideways and it’s kind of out of nowhere there’s a reason behind it. I just really hate that I tore up my teammate in the process. That’s really a bummer. I felt like I had a pretty normal line and it just flew crazy sideways on me. It’s a bummer for everybody at Team Penske to tear up both cars that way. I hate racing in the rain, but I understand the position that NASCAR is in. They want to get the race going and this is one of those days where it’s gonna just keep raining off and on and we’re trying to get as many laps in at a time as we can to give the fans the best race possible, but we’re racing in the rain to do it and that’s what happens.”
A brief shower with fewer than five laps in the scheduled distance brought on a green-white-checkered run and left several drivers wondering if they could make it to the end on fuel as they circled under caution numerous times, stretching the race by a total of 11 laps for a single attempt.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Matt Kenseth won the pole, and for a while it looked as though he’d have a top five to take home. But the chips fell in Kenseth’s favor, and he wound up finishing where he’d started, winning the race over Jimmie Johnson.
Carl Edwards had a strong car and it looked as though he’d contend for a top five as well, if not his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing. Edwards was battling for second when he had a tire go down on the No. 19 with just five laps to go. Several others were collected, but Edwards took the brunt, and it cost him dearly in the form of 24th place.
When… did it all go sideways?
When didn’t it? The craziness started when the Team Penske teammates wrecked together on lap 19 and kept right on happening. The day was also marred by a couple of notable absences. No. 41 crew chief Tony Gibson was taken to a local emergency room, where he was diagnosed with a kidney stone and could not call the race for Kurt Busch. And when the rain delay ended, Erik Jones was in the No. 11 for Denny Hamlin after Hamlin suffered painful neck spasms. The rain delay gave the team time to fly Jones back to Bristol form Charlotte, where he’d been watching on television and taking a nap when his phone rang asking him to return to the track.
On the track, there were several tangles, and many of the season’s best drivers paid the price. A total of 26 cars were involved in an incident to some degree, with several taking home terrible finishes as a result. Typical Bristol action, but disappointing for those teams nonetheless.
One big cause of those incidents as well as problems for several teams was tires. Tires going down forced many teams to pit off schedule, the kiss of death at a short track. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was forced to make an unscheduled stop which left him trapped two laps down late and unable to advance his position past 16th place despite what was probably a top-10 car. Earnhardt was just one of several drivers to be frustrated by tire woes as the day went on.
Why… did Kenseth win the race?
Track position was huge at Bristol, and having the outside lane on restarts allowed the leader to get a jump on second place every time. Kenseth was in the right place at the right time, in the lead and on top for the final restart. Fourth-place Johnson, also on the outside, made a move for second on Jeff Gordon, which gave Kenseth enough time to drive away just a bit, and Johnson couldn’t get close enough to make a move on the final lap. Johnson, who had been involved in two separate incidents earlier and was a lap down at one point, rallied to second over Gordon but didn’t quite have enough for Kenseth.
How… did the little guys do?
HScott Motorsports; Michael Annett & Allgaier (No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 51 Auto Owners Insurance Chevy): Allgaier drove an outstanding race, scoring his first career top 10 and running inside the top five at one point. Despite getting caught in a late crash, Annett had a top-25 run as well, finishing four laps down in 23rd. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a solid day for a team who needed a lift.
Front Row Motorsports; Chris Buescher & Cole Whitt & David Gilliland (No. 34 CSX Ford & No. 35 Tweaker Energy Shots Ford & No. 38 MDS Transport Ford): Gilliland stayed out of trouble and came home 18th, showing that this team is capable of decent finishes when they play it smart. Buescher and Whitt each had issues with tires and handling, but both did get to the end, with Buescher 25th and Whitt 27th. For a team who recently said top 25s are a goal, it was a very positive day.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Alex Bowman (No. 7 Chevy): After Bowman scraped the wall in practice, the team had to work quickly to make repairs and get ready to race. Bowman took the car into the top 20 by the end of the day, and his 20th-place run was the team’s best of the year.
BK Racing; JJ Yeley & Jeb Burton & Matt DiBenedetto (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 MaximFantasySports.com Toyota & No. 83 Dustless Blasting Toyota): It should be no surprise to anyone who saw DiBenedetto come up the ranks that he’d be strong at a short track, and he had a very good weekend, starting 22nd and finishing 21st. That’s exactly the kind of weekend this team needs to have. The No. 23 had mechanical issues early and struggled throughout the race, with Yeley finishing 32nd as a result. Burton got tagged by Johnson in a lap 311 incident and finished 42nd.
Leavine Family Racing; Michael McDowell (No 95 Thrivent Financial Ford): McDowell did one thing that many of his competition could not: he stayed out of trouble. At the end of the day, that was enough for a 22nd-place finish, a strong run for a part-time team. McDowell is a deceptively underrated driver who has helped his team get the most out of their races.
Furniture Row Racing; Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy): Truex’s season-long top-10 streak came to an end in Bristol (along with both Logano’s and Kevin Harvick‘s, meaning no driver has that distinction headed to Richmond). Truex had tire issues early, having to pit a couple of times to fix things, including one where he suffered significant front-end damage when a tire went down. Truex was caught in the aftermath of a lap 483 crash when Tony Stewart got into the back of Kasey Kahne and several others were collected. All things considered, the result could have been worse than the 29th-place finish Truex earned.
GoFAS Racing; Mike Bliss (No. 32 Keen Parts/Visone RV Ford): Bliss was another driver who benefitted from avoiding trouble. He ran in the mid to low 30s for much of the day, but the attrition rate lifted Bliss to 31st at the end. This team is at the step where they need to be finishing around 30th as a step forward, and they were on that track this time.
Circle Sport; Alex Kennedy: (No.33 Media Cast Chevy): It was probably a long day for Kennedy, who’s primarily a road racer, and his car almost got away from him a few times, but Kennedy was able to rein it in and continue. The team had some mechanical issues that contributes to their 33rd-place finish, but for Kennedy, the day was a success in that he finished the race in one piece, something a rookie needs to do more than anything.
JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Beans Chevy): Allmendinger had a good car early on, running as high as ninth and settling in in the low teens, but he was caught up in the lap 483 incident and wound up 34th as a result. That’s not indicative of his day, however; Allmendinger had a top-15 car, just not top-15 luck.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy):A loose wheel early put Mears behind the eight-ball early, just as he was moving through the field and looking at a top-15 run. He was trapped a couple of laps down as a result, but was still in the hunt for a top 20 when he was caught in a lap 483 crash triggered by Stewart, which knocked something loose under the hood, causing the car to lose fuel pressure. Mears finished 36th and fell out of the top 15 in points for the first time this year.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Wise was looking for a top-30 day, and ran as high as 17th, but handling issues dropped him back to around 30th before a late crash set off by Jamie McMurray‘s tire failure knocked him back to 39th and an early exit.
Hillman Smith Racing: Landon Cassill (No. 40 Chevy): Cassill scrubbed the wall early after a tire problem and the damage hurt his car’s handling. Still, he was trying to salvage his day when an incident with Burton and Kyle Larson ended with Cassill slamming the outside wall hard enough to visibly compress the foam behind the SAFER barrier. Cassill walked away, but finished dead last for his trouble.