Who’s in the headline – Matt Kenseth has waited 51 races to visit Victory Lane. Great strategy by his crew chief Jason Ratcliff and enough luck to avoid all of the carnage that befell so many others both contributed to the win. While Kenseth downplayed it, driver ability obviously contributed greatly as well. In the headlines for the wrong reasons, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick both got caught up in someone else’s mess and had strong runs ruined.
What happened – Kenseth started on pole and jumped to the lead at the drop of the green, but his time there was short-lived. Harvick took over the point on lap 6 and led for 57 laps, which included a red flag that lasted two minutes short of four hours. Harvick’s teammate Busch led lap 63 and the two swapped the lead for 250 of the first 261 laps. After Harvick was involved in the incident that brought out the sixth caution of the race he was done leading. By that point Carl Edwards was establishing himself as a contender as well and eventually led 86 laps. Kyle Larson took a turn at the point and led 90 laps, but he grabbed the lead on pit strategy which caused him to have to pit late and surrender the lead. In the end, Busch pitted from the lead with 23 laps to go until the end. As he tried to make his way back to the point from a sixth-place restarting position, he was caught up in a spin by Edwards and lost his shot to win. Kenseth assumed the lead when Busch pitted and never looked back.
Why you should care – The Joe Gibbs Racing teams have been struggling on intermediate tracks this season, but they won back-to-back races on short tracks over the last month. The series is heading to Richmond next Saturday night, which should give the organization another night to shine. With Denny Hamlin and Kenseth both in the win column now, Edwards could make it a three-team effort if he could recapture the magic from the fall of 2013. Busch had another potential win taken away with bad luck rearing its ugly head again. Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, showed once again why he is a champion, rebounding from multiple issues to come home with a runner-up finish.
What your friends are talking about – Sunday’s race was sponsored by Food City but the company, in conjunction with Bristol Motor Speedway, branded the race with the Stand Up To Cancer charity in honor of Steve Byrnes. Byrnes, the popular television personality, is enduring a very hard and public battle with head and neck cancer. The support for Byrnes included signs held up by fans, crew members, media and drivers showing support for Byrnes and other people battling cancer. NASCAR is a family and it is moments like these that make fans truly proud.
Hamlin got out of the car during the first red flag and did not get back in. He apparently pulled something in his neck and was very uncomfortable in the car. This is another item on the list of physical ailments that have befallen Hamlin over his career. There are many athletes that have been in the public eye over the years who are injury prone. It isn’t anything they do intentionally, it just happens. Sadly it can cause people to not be hired for jobs they are capable of. The same is probably true of race car drivers and Hamlin might soon be getting lumped into the same category of Brian Vickers, where it isn’t a matter of if but when the next problem is going to arise.
Jeff Gordon came out this week suggesting NASCAR dump the time-over-distance methodology of enforcing pit road speed. With the modernization of pit-road officiating, it only makes sense. NASCAR has used GPS technology to provide the speed of the cars in the pop-up bubbles for years, they ought to be able to employ it on pit road. It would eliminate the shenanigans that go on with people accelerating in the segments where they pit. The theory of pit-road speed is keeping crew members safe. Having drivers accelerating as they approach their own box defeats the purpose.
The list of stupid excuses for a caution continues to grow. Mike Joy referred to a small amount of water oozing out from underneath the SAFER barrier in turn 2 as a weeper. That is like calling the trickle of water in Busch’s backyard landscaping Niagara Falls. After Darrell Waltrip brags about the drivers being the best in the world, they wave the caution for a damp spot on exit of a turn. The race control folks need to go to Caraway Speedway a night after a rainy Saturday and look at the flowing river that comes out of the track in turns 3 and 4. Everyone is on the same track. The water wasn’t running over the track, for goodness sake. Suck it up and race!
Speaking of cautions, the final caution of the event saw NASCAR drive the cars around for multiple laps after the advertised distance before finally bringing them down pit lane. It cost Austin Dillon a top-five run and could have impacted winner Kenseth and third-place finisher Gordon. Add in again the fact that they ran multiple laps after red flags and it continues to baffle people who think logically. Over the final 37 laps of the race, 32 laps were run under caution. When five cars are involved in a wreck on most any track, but especially at Bristol, what involved fluids being dumped on the track, throw the red. No questions asked. Give the fans what they pay for, not slow-motion parades.
Who is mad – Joey Logano has been in the mad section a couple of times already this season. This weekend, he blew away the field in the NXS race and headed into Sunday’s event feeling very good about his chances. Unfortunately, 20 laps into the race he was caught up in Brad Keselowski‘s incident and received extensive damage. He went from pre-race favorite to survivalist in the blink of an eye. He rejoined the race 52 laps down and spent the remainder of the event circulating and hoping others dropped out.
The perception is that Harvick is strong at Bristol. The reality is he hasn’t been for a while. Sunday night just added to the string of bad luck that reaches back to the spring of 2011 when Harvick finished sixth. Sunday he could not stop his car from contacting the car of David Ragan when the latter spun after contacting the car of Jimmie Johnson. Harvick had a strong, competitive car that looked poised to run for the win but the damage received ultimately forced Harvick to a 39th-place finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. feels like the team is coming together and getting more speed on a weekly basis. What he needs to do is find tire changers who don’t leave lug nuts loose. He has had multiple loose wheels over the last few races and Sunday was no different. A flat tire followed by a loose wheel left Earnhardt four laps down. He made two of them up but that was all he could manage. If Earnhardt is going to contend for the title, he needs team members who are flawless, not just good.
Who Is Happy – Gordon is hanging up the full-time helmet at the end of the season. Making the Chase might seem like a foregone conclusion for the four-time champion, but a win would put his a much greater ease. Sunday evening he had a poor starting position, made it up to the top 10 then had a pit-road issue that left him with a loose wheel and ultimately two laps down. He rebounded from that and wound up with a podium run.
Johnson hit the wall, was involved in a wreck, started in a worse position than Gordon and ended up passing his car owner to assume the runner-up spot. Johnson uncharacteristically appeared to loose his ice-cold patience and put himself into a position where he wrecked with Jeb Burton. In the end, he made it back to the first loser’s position, which was certainly a small victory for the no. 48 team.
Justin Allgaier scored his first NXS win at Bristol. Allgaier started 15th and maintained a position in the best-20 runners throughout the event. Allgaier was part of the final caution that pushed the race to a green-white-checkered finish. He restarted at the back of the 19 cars on the lead lap but made his way back through to receive credit for an eighth-place run.
When the checkered flag flew
Kenseth’s win at Bristol is his 32nd career triumph. It only took him 552 starts. The victory is Kenseth’s fourth in his career at Bristol. Kenseth is now tied with Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett for 21st on the all-time list. This is Kenseth’s first trophy of the year.
Johnson came home as the first loser for the 44th time in his career. Johnson crossed the line in second place for his third top two of the season. It was Johnson’s third finish of first or second in the Cup series.
Gordon’s podium is his 11th career top-three at Bristol. Gordon’s third-place finish is his first run of better than seventh all season. Gordon is fourth on the all-time podium list with 227 top threes in 769 starts
Brett Moffitt finished 17th to be declared the Rookie of the Race.
Danica Patrick came home in ninth, which has now ranked her number one among women for top-10 finishes. She was in a tie with Janet Guthrie. She is now alone in the total number of top 10s ever scored by a female driver in NASCAR.
Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin and Kenseth all have wins in 2015. Harvick and Johnson are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events.
The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after eight races without wins and their standing in points:
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $3,262,301, while the last-place finisher has taken home $753-515
In the Xfinity Series it has been $610,591 for the winners and $126,317 for last place.
After three Truck races the winner has $188,425 and the last loser has banked $30,813.
What is in the cooler – There are those who want Bristol back to a single-groove track around the bottom where you have to help people re-assimilate themselves with society. Those people are nuts, because the racing at Bristol is fantastic. Multiple laps with drivers side-by-side for multiple positions is great. Making a move by yourself successfully doesn’t require brute force, it requires patience and skill. With that said, this week’s event earns four nice and cold Wooly Bugger Brown Ale from Holston River Brewing Company
Where do you point your DVR for next week – Thanks to the rain delay next week will be a third straight night race. The circuit heads to the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. A precursor to the final race of the ‘regular season’ will be a second consecutive short-track race. The event starts at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be shown on FOX. You can also listen on MRN and NASCAR SiriusXM radio.