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?
Restrictor-plate racing is definitely a skill in itself, and this week, one driver reminded everyone that it’s a skill he has. Trevor Bayne has struggled in his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series but he had a strong race Sunday night, contending for the lead late and staying in the picture to pick up a ninth-place finish. Bayne pulled the bottom line almost to the front before Sam Hornish Jr.‘s spin brought out the caution and halted the No. 6 car’s forward momentum. While Bayne might not have had enough horsepower to win, he certainly showed the car had enough driver to take it to the front.
What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?
It’s restrictor-plate racing; that means the possibility of being taken out by someone else’s mistake increases greatly. The craziness started early this time around when David Gilliland tried to block Clint Bowyer, triggering a 10-car crash on lap 3.
Another multi-car incident happened just past halfway, on lap 85 triggered when Kyle Larson got loose and turned Edwards. The No. 19 car then spun back across the track and collected Brian Scott. Three additional cars were involved as well.
Next, Kasey Kahne took the air off of Matt Kenseth coming off turn 4 and from there, it was on in the middle of lap 106. All in all, 11 cars were scored by NASCAR as involved; the total was actually higher, others suffering damage trying to avoid the melee.
But the biggest, scariest wreck came as the field took the checkered flag. Denny Hamlin got sideways from contact with Kevin Harvick while battling for second; most of the field was involved. Austin Dillon‘s car was thrown into the catchfence and came to rest near pit road with only the roll-cage somewhat intact. Three fans suffered minor injuries from debris. Dillon walked away (a testament to the safety of this generation of racecar), but the crash was still a reminder of what’s wrong with plate racing.
In the end, it’s hard to blame anyone for the product of restrictor-plate competition because it’s the nature of the game when drivers can’t get away from one another at close to 200 mph. Unless it’s blatantly intentional, chalk all these incidents up to the nature of the beast.
Where… did the polesitter and defending race winner wind up?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the pole by virtue of a rainout of the scheduled Saturday qualifying session, the field being set by the speed chart in the weekend’s first practice session instead. That was a harbinger of things to come, and Earnhardt would finish the night right where he started – in first place.
Aric Almirola won a rain-shortened version of this race a year ago, giving him his first and only Sprint Cup win to date. He had another strong run going until getting collected in a multi-car crash on lap 106, sending him to the garage for an early exit in 34th place.
When… did it all go sideways?
Who thought starting a major sporting event well after 11 p.m. on a Sunday night was a good idea? There was a reason the summer Daytona race was run at about 11 a.m. for so many years: it’s a lot less likely to rain then. Scheduling the July Cup race on Saturday night was one thing; at least they could race Sunday if it rained. But running on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET during a season where rain is expected at that time of day? Just not smart for NBC. Even less smart was insisting on racing Sunday night at all costs. You wouldn’t see a Major League Baseball game start at nearly midnight because it just doesn’t make sense. They’d lose TV ratings and stadium audience playing a doubleheader the next day, but that’s what they would do nonetheless. There was no good reason to schedule the race Sunday night, no good reason not to postpone until Monday, and hopefully the schedule next year will put it back on Saturday or Sunday morning instead.
On the flip side, NBC deserves props for some parts of the broadcast. Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte were both strong in the booth, particularly Letarte. The ticker at the top of the screen moved at a good speed and provided other useful information. The network showed on-track incidents numerous times and from different angles. They still need to give some more airtime to what’s going on behind the leaders, but we’ll see whether that improves at Kentucky, a non-restrictor-plate track. Overall, it was a solid broadcast, much better than FOX provided this season.
Why… did Earnhardt Jr. win the race?
It sounds simplistic, but Earnhardt clearly had a car that was a cut above the rest of the field, with the possible exception of his teammate Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt drove a smart race as well, blocking when he needed to but knowing better than to take a second shot at a move you only get to make once. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet also nailed his restarts when he had to. It was a dominant performance from a veteran who owned the plate tracks early in his career, scoring his 10th career plate-racing victory. Following a win at Talladega this spring, it’s safe to say that Earnhardt has rediscovered his mojo on the superspeedways.
How… did the little guys do?
The Three Best
Casey Mears; Germain Racing: Mears is probably the best plate racer among this group, so it should be no surprise that he was in contention for a top-five finish until getting shuffled on the green-white-checkered (11th). Still, his No. 13 team had to overcome a problem that could have been disastrous to get there. Cup cars have a sensor on the brake that will shut the car off if the driver hits the brakes too hard while still on the throttle. It’s designed to stop a car when its throttle has hung open, but Mears’s sensor was a little too sensitive during the race, causing the car to shut off when he’d get in the gas after touching his brakes. The crew was able to fix the issue under caution and keep their driver in contention. The race was probably their last, best shot to make the Chase, but they have shown some improvement this year just the same.
Landon Cassill; Hillman-Smith Motorsports: Cassill just might be the most underrated driver in the garage, and he showed what he’s made of this week. When the cars are more equal, Cassill can race with just about anyone, and he did so this weekend, running as high as the top five as the race wore on until fading to 13th.
Justin Allgaier; HScott Motorsports: Allgaier was in stealth mode this week, racing his way quietly through the first part of the race and showing up in a big way at the end. Allgaier made his way into the top 10 as the race drew to a close, in contention for an upset victory until Kurt Busch muscled him out of the way on the GWC. He got shuffled back but still wound up a respectable 18th.
All the Rest:
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||15th||11th – Had issue with brake sensor shutting the car off; easily had a top-10 car; involved in last-lap crash||+4||22nd||-1|
|40||Landon Cassill||Hillman-Smith Motorsports||Snap Fitness Chevy||22nd||13th – Strong run; contact with No. 55 late||+9||N/A||—|
|51||Justin Allgaier||HScott Motorsports||TradeMark Nitrogen Chevy||21st||18th||+3||29th||+2|
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Kroger/Better Than Bullion Chevy||7th||21st – Involved in last-lap crash||-14||23rd||—|
|7||Alex Bowman||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Golden Corral Chevy||37th||24th – Minor damage in lap 106 crash||+13||33rd||—|
|35||Cole Whitt||Front Row Motorsports||Speed Stick Ford||29th||25th||+4||30th||—|
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Dustless Blasting Toyota||41st||26th||+15||36th||—|
|34||Brett Moffitt||Front Row Motorsports||CSX Play It Safe Ford||14th||27th – Minor damage in lap 106 crash||-13||32nd||—|
|62||Brendan Gaughan||Premium Motorsports||Vydox Plus Chevy||43rd||28th – Minor damage in lap 3 crash||+15||N/A||—|
|98||Josh Wise||Phil Parsons Racing||Heat Treating/ Royal Teak Chevy||42nd||31st – Minor damage in lap 106 crash||+11||35th||—|
|23||JJ Yeley||BK Racing||Dr. Pepper Toyota||39th||33rd – Damaged in lap 86 crash||+6||N/A||—|
|26||Jeb Burton||BK Racing||Maxim Toyota||40th||36th – Involved in lap 3 crash||+4||39th||—|
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||18th||37th – Involved in lap 3 crash||-19||34th||—|
|78||Martin Truex Jr.||Furniture Row Racing||Furniture Row Chevy||19th||38th – Collected in lap 106 crash||–19||5th||-3|
|38||David Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Florida Lottery Ford||6th||40th – Triggered lap 3 crash with a late block on Bowyer; later cut a tire||-34|
|33||Brian Scott||Circle Sport (RCR car w/Scott)||Shore Lodge Chevy||26th||42nd – Collected in lap 85 crash||-15||N/A||—|
|32||Bobby Labonte||GO FAS Racing||C&J Energy Ford||38th||43rd – Involved in lap 3 crash||-5||41st||—|
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft/ Quick Lane Ford||DNQ||Qualifying rained out||—||N/A||—|
|95||Michael McDowell||Leavine Family Racing||KLOVE Radio Ford||DNQ||Qualifying rained out||—||38th||—|