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?
One challenge that short tracks present is that track position is paramount. It’s very easy to get lapped quickly, and, if you start at the back you often can’t get out of that position. A car just slightly off or a driver error in qualifying can spell disaster because a poor start puts a driver in a bad position that can last all day. So for two drivers, even those in great cars, to start 35th or worse and finish in the top 10 is quite an accomplishment. Jimmie Johnson started 35th and teammate Kasey Kahne 40th, but what could have turned into an excruciating day for either or both turned into top-10 finishes. Neither Johnson nor Kahne led a lap or truly contended for the win, but after those starts, Johnson’s third-place finish and Kahne’s sixth were better-than-expected results.
What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?
For the second week in a row, a rain delay forced teams to rethink their race strategy. Last week at Bristol, the race changed from day to a day-night transition, and this time, the opposite happened. The race, originally scheduled for Saturday evening into the night, was pushed to Sunday afternoon.
This week’s changes might actually have been easier on teams than Bristol’s curveball. For one thing, practices and qualifying took place during the day, which at least gave teams some idea of what to expect for track conditions. Also, several teams anticipated the delay and spent time on Friday practicing for an afternoon race. That allowed many to be strong from the get-go on Sunday. A few others were not so lucky (or so prepared), and that also showed The green track meant the race started off more tentatively than it might have otherwise. In general, the weather delay wasn’t a disaster; just an obstacle for some.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Joey Logano won this race a year ago and looked as though he was well on the way to a repeat, winning the pole on Friday and leading the first 94 laps handily. However, Logano and his team struggled to keep up with the changing racetrack as well as the competition. Logano wasn’t that far off; he was rarely outside of the top 10 and rallied to finish fifth. While he didn’t win, Logano looked strong all day. His team rarely misses these days when it comes to finding the handle he needs in a car, and Logano has matured as a driver into one who is more patient and calculating than he used to be. He’s making a case for himself as a title contender again this year.
When… did it all go sideways?
Some days, you’re the pin and others, you’re the ball. This week, it was Danica Patrick who must have felt like the pinball at times. First, she was caught in the middle of a three-wide situation, which ended with her being squeezed by Ryan Newman. Patrick had to back out to avoid contact, but found it anyway when Casey Mears, racing behind Newman, had nowhere to go and tagged her. Patrick saved the car in an impressive manner and raced on. Still early on in the race, Patrick narrowly avoided a spinning Joey Gase. Then, on pit road during the ensuing caution period, she was turned by Clint Bowyer. And the race wasn’t even half over yet. Patrick avoided a couple of other incidents before the day was through, losing two laps to her race-winning teammate in the process, but persevering to a 25th-place finish. She has improved on the short tracks, but Sunday was a reminder that she still has some learning to do. This time, it was a lesson in keeping a clear head on a cloudy day.
Why… did Kurt Busch win the race?
Busch has had fast cars all season, along with a burning desire for redemption. From the moment he got into his racecar after a three-race suspension to start the season, it’s been pretty clear that it would only be a matter of time until the No. 41 team put together the total package over a race weekend. That happened this time out. Busch had a fast car, the team was strong in the pits, and the driver was able to make things happen on the track. As competitive as the Sprint Cup Series is these days, one or two of those things will make a team a contender, but every single thing has to fit to make a winner. The No. 41 team did that this week.
The question mark for Busch (and his teammate, point leader Kevin Harvick) is whether his Stewart-Haas Racing team as a whole is strong enough to overcome serious performance shortfalls for both the No. 14 of Tony Stewart and the No. 10 of Patrick while maintaining the performance of Harvick and Busch. So far it has, and other teams have had title contenders even as others have struggled, but it still bears watching since there appears to be a strain on the organization when two teams are having problems.
How… did the little guys do?
Furniture Row Racing; Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Racing Chevy): Truex was strong all day, posting his eighth top-10 finish of the year. It was a finish the team just had to settle with. Truex was inside the top five for most of the race before a final pit stop changed the feel of his car. Crew chief Cole Pearn Tweeted about the finish after the race:
— Cole Pearn (@colepearn) April 26, 2015
JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Scott Products Chevy): The highlight of Allmendinger’s weekend came Friday in qualifying, where he took the fourth spot on the grid. But the car faded on Sunday, with Allmendinger falling back to between 17th and 19th for most of the final 100 laps. He rallied to finish 13th, worth three spots in driver points where he now sits 22nd.
HScott Motorsports; Michael Annett & Justin Allgaier (No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 51 Brandt Chevy): Allgaier looked like he might follow up his first career top-10 at Bristol with another one this week, but his car didn’t handle as well as the laps wound down. Allgaier was battling an upset stomach, a combination which dropped him to 18th at the end, still a solid finish for this small team. Annett’s car never handled the way the driver needed it to, and as a result, never cracked the top 30. He would settle for 33rd.
Hillman Smith Racing: Landon Cassill (No. 40 Newtown Building Supply Chevy): Cassill had a top-20 car this weekend, making the second round of qualifying for the second week in a row and running between 15th and 20th for most of the race. An offseason switch to ECR engies is paying off big-time for this team. A year ago, it would have been satisfied with a 26th-place run. Now, they know they’re capable of more.
Great car, @RIRInsider is a good track for us, a couple better breaks w/ caution flag timing and we would have finished where we ran all day
— landon cassill (@landoncassill) April 26, 2015
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): After falling from 15th to 23rd in points in the last two weeks, Mears and Co. are looking for a bright spot. Mears finished 30th at Richmond. The No. 13 was fast early, picking up several spots and squeezing into the top 20 even after early contact, but the handling faded quickly. The team needs to rebound at Talladega next week, a track where Mears excels. By the look of things, they’re looking forward to that race as much as anyone.
— Germain Racing (@GermainRacing) April 26, 2015
Front Row Motorsports; Reed Sorenson & Cole Whitt & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 35 Ford & No. 38 The Pete Store Ford): It was also a tough week for the FRM group, with Gilliland’s 31st-place finish serving as the best among the three cars after having high hopes early in the weekend. Sorenson, in the seat for the first time because Chris Buescher wanted to concentrate on his Xfinity Series ride where he’s currently third in points, struggled to find the feel he needed, finishing 34th. Whitt came home 36th.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Alex Bowman (No. 7 DOC 360 Chevy): Bowman fought a car that didn’t want to turn for much of the race and finished 32nd amid rumors that his team will merge with BK Racing in the near future. While some kind of alliance might help the No. 7 catch up, joining forces with another struggling team might not be the best solution.
BK Racing; Jeb Burton & Matt DiBenedetto (No. 23 Estes Toyota & No. 83 Dan Bilzerian Toyota): Burton took over the No. 23 from JJ Yeley after failing to qualify in his usual No. 26, because Estes was on board and the sponsor money is something the team needs to move forward. Look for things to be back to normal next week. DiBenedetto bested Burton by one spot in the final rundown, with the pair finishing 37th and 38th, respectively. The team has slid back in the last two seasons, and it needs to find solid footing soon.
Circle Sport; Alex Kennedy (No. 33 HonorandRemember.org Chevy): Kennedy is seeing most of the Cup tracks for the first time ever, and he’s doing one thing right for the most part: he’s finishing in one piece and completing as many laps as he can. Right now, that’s a key if Kennedy is going to be in this ride long-term. Next time around, they should be looking for improvement, but for now, the driver has to learn.
The Motorsports Group; Jeff Green (No. 30 Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy): Making the race is a small victory for this team, as Richmond marks just the second race it has made this year, after failing to qualify for four events on a part-time schedule. Green stepped into the seat this week in place of Ron Hornaday Jr. and struggled to a 40th-place finish, the last driver with a car still running at the end.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Wise brought out a pair of caution flags for engine issues. The car first stalled coming off of pit road and then, several laps later, the engine quit completely, relegating Wise to 42nd place.
GoFAS Racing; Joey Gase (No. 32 Keen Parts/Donate Life Ford): Gase had a bit of a rough day. He was spun by Aric Almirola, who was racing for position on the lead lap while Gase was multiple laps down. Almirola tried several times to pass Gase before, frustrated and in danger of falling a lap down, giving him a push that sent him around. The damage was enough to send Gase to the garage for the day with a 43rd-place finish for his trouble.