Who’s in the headline – The newest iteration of the Chase has made gambling much easier for those people who have a win or two under their belts. Saturday night, Jimmie Johnson put another notch in his as he stretched his fuel and tires to a victory. A late-race caution allowed Johnson and his No. 48 team to roll the dice and stay out on old tires while 2/3 of the pack came in to top off with fuel and add a couple of tires. Johnson’s track position and ability, which also saved him twice earlier in the race from calamity, allowed him to hold off the pack to take the lead in series wins at this point of the season.
What happened – Joey Logano led from the drop of the green flag to lap 30 when Kurt Busch passed him for the lead on the restart after the competition caution. Kevin Harvick passed Busch for the lead on the track and Martin Truex Jr. did the same thing to Harvick. That was the extent of the on track passes for the lead, but the race was filled with plenty of intrigue and exciting racing. A rain delay 95 laps into the event resulted in a 2:16 red flag. After that red flag, the racing was faster and cars were moving from the top of the track to the bottom. In the end, the rock-hard tire allowed for the strategy call at the end which let Johnson stay on the track and steal the win.
Why you should care – The more things change the more they stay the same. Johnson and Harvick are the dominant cars on mile-and-a-half tracks this season and they showed it again Saturday night, racing to the checkered flag with everyone else wondering what they have to do to beat them. Truex had the car to do it Saturday but pit-stop timing doomed his effort. The season is almost a third over, so there will be plenty of ebbs and flows of momentum but, for now, the Nos. 4 and 48 are the cars to beat for the 2015 championship.
What your friends are talking about – Another questionable caution flag possibly taints the outcome of a Cup race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got into the wall with 11 laps to go and NASCAR immediately threw the caution. The race was shaping up to be a fuel gamble for multiple drivers and instead came down to a tire gamble for those who chose to not to pit after the caution. Stenhouse was up against the wall and not leaving debris on the track yet the caution flew immediately. Last week a driver was sideways with cars bearing down on him and the yellow stayed tucked away. The consistency issue still hangs over NASCAR’s head and they need to figure out a way to fix it. The race would have played out differently but at least it would have come down to the drivers’ ability and not a pit call.
The Joe Gibbs Racing teams are feeling a bit targeted when it comes to cautions lately. Carl Edwards was upset last week when he spun in the middle of the pack at Talladega and the caution did not come out. This week, Denny Hamlin spun on the front straight and made contact with the outside wall. He spun down the racetrack for seven seconds before the caution flew, with many of the competitors flashing by him at full speed. Needless to say, Hamlin was less than pleased after the incident.
AJ Allmendinger just added five years to his contract at JTG Daugherty Racing, otherwise known as the little team that could made the Chase last season thanks to their win at Watkins Glen. Allmendinger has resurrected his career in the No. 47 and his fit with that team seems to be a marriage made in heaven. As they sit 15 points out of the Chase right now, they are competing with the big dogs. While they most likely will have to win their way into the Chase again if they make it, they are in even better shape to compete if they can manage to pull that off. Putting Allmendinger in position to be behind the wheel for half of a decade sets the entire organization up for continued success for the foreseeable future.
Richard Childress Racing had their final appeal for the tire tampering suspensions heard and denied this week. It was almost certainly a formality after the appeals board had already reduced the suspensions. There may have been some new evidence presented but, unless it was remarkably different from their previous case, nothing was going to change.
Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion had a heck of a week. There were rumors last weekend that the Tommy Baldwin Racing team had been sold or was merging. He then got a call and accepted a job to take over the No. 9 car of Richard Petty Motorsports with Sam Hornish Jr. behind the wheel. If that wasn’t enough change, he also walked down the aisle with his new bride. Read into it what you want with Manion leaving TBR, but one thing is for sure: RPM has been struggling this year and bringing in a successful chief like Manion to provide a new perspective cannot hurt.
RCR was also in the news this week for implementing new safety requirements for their over-the-wall pit crew members. Each of the six crew members have to wear a flame retardent head sock under their helmets. They are also considering changing the helmets and adding eye protection. RCR has been at the forefront of safety before, as far back as being the first to attempt to use Lexan windshields. Expect to see NASCAR mandating more safety requirements for pit crew members soon.
Chase Elliott‘s primary sponsor for most of his 2016 debut season, and the following two years, will be NAPA Auto Parts. The familiar blue and yellow logo has been on his car for much of his career since making it to the national level and they are stepping up to continue that partnership as he makes the final step. into the Sprint Cup Series
Who is mad – Truex would have been happy a year ago to have a top-10 finish at Kansas. For the most part, he would have been happy to have a top 10 at any point in the first 11 races of the season. At this time last year, Truex had a single top 10 and had led a grand total of zero laps. What a difference a year makes. Truex has 10 top-10 finishes this season and led 95 laps Saturday night, the most of anyone in the race. When the final caution flag of the night flew, he was poised to make a run at Harvick for the race win. Truex came down pit road with most of the rest of the lead-lap cars, but opted only to take fuel. Unfortunately for him, a handful stayed out and they made the gamble work. Truex ended up being swallowed up by those who took two tires on the final stop and came home in ninth position. Truex has been banging on the door of a win all season, and Saturday night very well might have been his best chance yet. Being mad about leading the most laps and not getting the win is a good thing.
Joey Logano‘s night looked like a National Lampoon movie on Saturday night. His team was penalized for having the gas man come over the wall early without the gas can. They then received a second penalty for pitting when the pit road was closed after a spin by Clint Bowyer. Logano’s team has been fast, but mistakes like that will torpedo a run at a title in a heartbeat. It is early in the season and they have time to work out the difficulties before Chase time gets here, but it is going to start undermining team morale if they continue to have these mistakes.
So far in 2015, Tony Stewart has almost had a permanent spot in the “Who is Mad” section. The start to his 17th season in Cup has been far from memorable. Saturday night, Stewart looked to be a contender for a top-10 run early in the event but a poorly-timed pit stop put him back in the pack that ultimately saw him get caught up in a melee. The damage from contact with the wall during the mishap put Stewart multiple laps down. The end result was 39th-place run and another memory that Stewart would rather forget.
Who is happy – Jeff Gordon had a difficult weekend at Kansas. Like the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, the car was not up to snuff in qualifying, although Gordon did make the final round before qualifying 11th. He spent much of the race in the back of the top 10-15. Alan Gustafson made a call similar to Chad Knaus at the end which put Gordon in strong track position. The four-time champion took full advantage, finishing the event in fourth. Gordon certainly hopes to finish his final season with a title, and he’s had cars capable of winning his way in this season. Saturday night wasn’t one of those nights, but his team made the most of it in the end. That is the kind of run that can lead to a swing in momentum and a run toward a title.
Erik Jones finished the race in 40th thanks to a late-race incident that saw him spin off turn 4 and plant the nose of his car in the outside wall. Before that incident, Jones was running near the back of the top 10 for most of the race, affording himself very well in his first official start in the series. Jones impressed many of his fellow competitors with his ability and is building a foundation for a long and distinguished career in the series.
Aric Almirola came home in 11th place Saturday night, tying his best finish of the season. Almirola put himself just outside of the top 10 with 70 laps to go and maintained that position for the rest of the race. The RPM teams have been struggling this season, but Almirola has been running in the teens for much of the year. He just hasn’t made his way into the top 10 yet. Heading to another mile-and-a-half track for the Coca-Cola 600 just might finally give him his first top 10 of the season.
When the checkered flag flew
Johnson’s triumph on Saturday night was his 73rd in 482 career starts. Johnson moved one race closer to Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list. Johnson is three away from tying Earnhardt for seventh on that list. This was Johnson’s third career win at Kansas Speedway. It is also his third victory of 2015. Johnson has the most wins on mile-and-a-half tracks all-time with 23 trophies on those intermediate tracks. Johnson is the only active driver in the top 10 on the winning percentage list all-time. Johnson takes the checkered flag first 15.15% of the time he takes the green flag.
Harvick’s runner-up finish was his third career top-two result at Kansas. This was Harvick’s eighth top-two run of 2015. Harvick has 37 career second-place finishes. That ranks 16th on the all-time list.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s podium finish was his fifth top-three run. Four of those runs are third-place finishes. The other was his win last week. Earnhardt’s third place was his second career top-three at Kansas. This was Earnhardt’s 84th top-three finish. That puts him 28th on the all-time list.
Brett Moffitt finishes 34th and won the Rookie of the Race award.
Harvick, Logano, Brad Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Busch and Earnhardt Jr. 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, thanks to multiple wins.
The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 11 races without wins and their standing in points:
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Clint Bowyer
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $4,644,293 in the first 11 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $922,850.
In the Xfinity Series, the number is $722,297 for the winners and $152,204 for last place after nine races.
After four Truck races the winner has $238,257 and the last loser has banked $42,855.
What is in the cooler – As mile-and-a-half tracks go, it was a race. Early on there were passes, on track, for the lead. After the rain, not so much. With the laps winding down it was playing out like there was going to be some intriguing fuel mileage gambles. Unfortunately the Stenhouse caution killed that. As a result we’ll give it three room temperature 5k IPAs from Rock and Run brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – It is time for the All-Star break in the Cup series. The race teams will be where most of them call home for the first race weekend of the year at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There are two events at CMS next weekend. The Sprint Showdown will run on Friday night. Drivers who are not eligible for Saturday night’s All-Star event have two final shots to race their way into the event. The Showdown consists of two 20-lap segments. The winner of each segment of the Showdown will race in the All-Star Race. The green flag flies at 7:15 p.m. ET on Friday, May 15th.
Saturday, May 16th will see the 31st running of the All-Star Race. Winners from 2014 and 2015, past series champions and past All-Star Race winners will battle it out for the big bucks. They will be joined by the two segment winners from the Showdown and the fan vote winner. The green flag drops at 9:00 p.m. ET. Both the Showdown and the All-Star Race can be seen on FOX Sports 1. They can also be heard on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.