Who’s in the headline – Kurt Busch started off the year watching the Daytona 500 from his couch thanks to a NASCAR suspension. After getting back in the car at Phoenix, he was fast from the drop of the green flag. He had a win stolen by a questionable caution at Fontana but now has a foot in the door for the Chase. When the Chase was introduced, Busch was a favorite due to his dominance late in the season and he took advantage of that to win the very first Chase championship. We’ll have to see how it plays out at the end of 2015.
What happened – Joey Logano started on the pole and led the first 94 laps of the race. Busch assumed the lead on lap 95 and led 163 of the next 166 laps, only losing the point during pit stops. Brad Keselowski stretched his fuel during green-flag stops and was in the lead on lap 271 when the caution flew for Brett Moffitt who sprayed debris on the track from a flat tire. Keselowski, Justin Allgaier and Busch were the only drivers on the lead lap when that caution flew. Jamie McMurray got the Lucky Dog and all other drivers who were behind had to take a wave-around to get back on the lead lap. Busch had already pitted, so he assumed the lead and led the remainder of the event except for one pit stop under yellow where Keselowski crossed the start/finish line on pit lane before Busch. Busch had the No. 41 in front for the final 47 laps and was not really challenged over the final run and teammate Kevin Harvick never got closer than half of a second.
Why you should care – Busch has run three fewer races than all of the other drivers in the top 20 in points. He was given permission to qualify for the Chase provided he could meet the requirements. Now that he has a win, he is solidly in the top 30 in points and, assuming he continues to make up ground on the people in front of him, will be in contention for the title at the end of the season. NASCAR has been handing out Chase exemptions like Halloween candy. It will be interesting to see if someone like Busch can take full advantage of the exemption to win the title.
What your friends are talking about – NASCAR tried as hard as they could to not throw the caution flag for Moffitt until Keselowski and Allgaier pitted. Unfortunately, the No. 55 was spewing tire shrapnel like a lawn sprinkler so they had to put out the yellow rag. As a result, Keselowski, Allgaier and Busch, who had raced back onto the lead lap, had a large advantage heading into the last segment of the race.
For those who weren’t paying attention, the pace car was powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Certainly some cool technology, just wonder how long it will be until gas stations are equipped to deliver hydrogen to consumer vehicles. According to Wikipedia, in 2013, there were 10 publicly accessible hydrogen stations in the U.S. Nine in California and one in South Carolina.
Word around the garage is that David Ragan is headed to Michael Waltrip Racing to pilot the No. 55 for the remainder of the season starting on May 9th at Kansas Speedway. Team owner Michael Waltrip will be in the car at Talladega. Ragan is currently substituting for an injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18, but apparently Joe Gibbs Racing is going to put Erik Jones in the flagship No. 18 until Busch returns. Ragan started the year prepared to run for Front Row Motorsports, but the Xfinity Series wreck in Daytona that injured Busch jumbled those plans.
NASCAR dropped the penalty flag on a handful of teams at Richmond, deducting practice time from their allotment at Talladega next week for failing to make it through technical inspection in three tries. Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 7 in the Cup series has lost 15 minutes. Seven Xfinity Series teams will also lose 15 minutes.
Speaking of TBR, rumors are circulating that the team may merge with BK Racing. The organizations may pool resources or TBR may be absorbed into the BK fold. If the latter happens, Tommy Baldwin would assume a competition director role. TBR is one of the few teams that fields a solo effort with little to no help from any other teams in the garage. It is incredibly difficult to try and stand on your own in the Cup series but the group of racers at TBR makes it work with guts and passion. It will be sad to see them swallowed up by a bigger team.
The race took place on Sunday thanks to extensive rain on Saturday. While the cool temperatures prevented the track from taking a lot of rubber, it did widen into nearly two grooves. The racing was very competitive throughout the field, with passing difficult but not impossible. As has been proven over and over again, the competition is better during the day time. Unfortunately, the folks scheduling the races aren’t concerned with the racing, they are concerned with ratings and advertising dollars.
Anyone who is a NASCAR fan has seen the tributes since last Tuesday to Steve Byrnes. We have the broadcast talent from NASCAR races in our lives every race weekend and during the week on various shows to a point where they feel like a part of our families. As life goes by and the years run into one another, we don’t always realize how long we’ve heard someone’s voice until it is gone. “Byrnesy” was in our racing lives doing NASCAR coverage for 30 years. Not only did he cover the sport like a professional, but he made it human for us as well. His battle with cancer touched us all just like so many others have and will during our lives. NASCAR is hurting and has a void that will never be filled but it is also better because Steve was part of it. Godspeed Byrnsey, tell Fireball, Dale, Davey, Alan and the rest of them up there that we miss them and we look forward to seeing them sometime in the future.
Who is mad – Tony Stewart has made no bones about the fact that he doesn’t like the new rule package for 2015. After spinning from contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a restart and not being able to get the car to move further or restart, he was visibly upset. Stewart was having a decent run after his successful stint at Bristol last week. The start to 2015 has been forgettable for Stewart and being snake-bitten when the car was competitive just makes it an even more bitter pill to swallow.
Earnhardt was knocking on the door of the top 10 Sunday when he made a pass on Allgaier. Stewart got to his inside and made contact with the left rear of Earnhardt’s car. The damage was minimal on the rear quarter of the No. 88 but NASCAR’s most popular driver slipped backwards to a 14th-place finish. In his post-race interview, he was terse with Jamie Little and told her she would need to speak with Stewart to find out what happened.
After posting his first top 10 of his career, Allgaier looked poised to back it up with a top 5 thanks to pit strategy that put him in the top three late in the race. Unfortunately, he began having bad stomach cramps and had to battle the discomfort associated with them. The end result was an 18th-place finish, next to last on the lead lap. Allgaier and his crew chief Steve Addington are putting more and more solid runs together. The H. Scott Motorsports team could pull off a surprise win similar to Furniture Row at Darlington with Regan Smith if they keep up this pace and the stars align just right.
Who is happy – Clint Bowyer notched 15 top 10s in 2014. Heading into Richmond, he had one in 2015. Luck has not shined on Bowyer very much this season and the Michael Waltrip Racing team has been struggling to find speed as well. Bowyer needed to have a solid run Sunday and that is exactly what he had. A ninth place run without any real difficulties is the kind of momentum builder the No. 15 team needed.
After a tough two races to start the season, McMurray has been knocking on the door of solid finishes nearly every week. He only has one finish worse than 14th in the last seven races. McMurray battled for the lead late in the going before sliding back to a fourth-place finish. That is the second top five of the season for McMurray. With the fourth place run at Richmond, McMurray is now ninth in points and fourth among drivers without a victory in the Chase standings. The pairing with Matt McCall seems to be working out well for the Joplin, Missouri driver so far in 2015.
AJ Allmendinger started the season with two top-10 finishes in the first three races. Since then, he had one finish better than 21st before Richmond. While he didn’t run in the top 10 for the final 300 laps of the race, he was solidly in the top 20 and he pushed forward at the end for a 13th place run. Another small team that is trying to battle with the big guys, Allmendinger’s No. 47 team can use any good momentum they can get their hands on and Richmond was certainly some heap good mojo.
When the checkered flag flew
Busch’s triumph in the Toyota Owners 400 is his 26th Cup series victory in 513 career starts. It is Busch’s second career win at Richmond International Raceway. Busch is 26th on the all-time wins list, two behind Hall of Famer Rex White.
Harvick finished in the top two for the seventh time in the nine races this season. Harvick has 36 runner-up finishes in his 511 career starts. That is 18th on the all-time list. Harvick has five career top-two runs at RIR.
Johnson crossed the line in third for his fourth podium finish of the season. This was Johnson’s sixth career top-three run at Richmond. Johnson has 152 career finishes of third or better. That puts him 11th on the all-time list, two behind Lee Petty for 10th.
Moffitt came home in 29th to win the Rookie of the Race.
Five drivers led the event and exchanged the lead 12 times.
Busch led the race six times and led the most laps (291).
Harvick leads the points by 33 over Logano.
Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch 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 nine races without wins and their standing in points:
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $4,094,502 through nine races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $804,055
In the Xfinity Series, the dollar amount has been $664,426 for the winners and $138,516 for last place after eight races.
After three Truck races, the winner has $188,425 and the last loser has banked $30,813.
What is in the cooler – Cars two- and three-wide throughout the race, not just on restarts. A feel-good story, or feel-bad story depending on your view, for the winner. Some drivers who aren’t always at the front of the pack turning in top 15 runs and 1/3 of the passes for the lead taking place on the track. Daytime racing at a track where we haven’t seen it in a while all adds up to four cold Legend Lagers from Legend Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – It is time for some more pack racing as the traveling nomads of the Cup series head to Talladega, Alabama. The largest track on the schedule will host the second restrictor-plate race of the season on Sunday, May 3rd. Fans can follow the action starting at 1:00 p.m. ET on FOX. The race can be heard on MRN affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR radio channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.