Talk about going into it blind. The stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series dove right into Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on an entirely new aero package with very limited track time. The new rules package that NASCAR brought last weekend, along with a new tire compound from Goodyear, pushed drivers to really take control of their machines, which slid around the 1.5-mile oval more than under the previous aero setups.
More downforce and less drag made for exceptional racing the entire night and ended in a thrilling finish, with Kyle Busch narrowly escaping race contenders Joey Logano, Brad Kesolowski and the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing team in the front of the pack. Busch’s second win in just seven starts this season, which has included two top fives and two DNFs, has propelled the driver to 35th in the points standings. He now sits with a slot for the Chase for the Sprint Cup almost within his reach.
This weekend the series heads to a place where Busch has had great success over the years: New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In Busch’s 20 starts at the Magic Mile, he has posted one victory, seven top fives, and has won two poles. Despite the No. 18’s struggles at short tracks this season, Busch’s history in Loudon speaks volumes, and he can’t be overlooked as one of the favorites to take home yet another win in New England.
Now let’s dive into this week’s mailbox questions from you, our readers…
Q: Hi Greg, Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting into it on the track on Saturday night seems to be the hot topic, besides the new rules package coming out of Kentucky. Was Danica right to get retaliation on Dale? I am a huge No. 88 fan and really curious if we can read any into Dale Jr.’s troubles Saturday? Thanks. – Robert F., Fayetteville, N.C.
A: Thanks for writing in this week, Robert. Outside of the early success of the new rules package debuting this past week at Kentucky, this has been sort of the story lead of the week in the Cup Series. The entire situation, as has been well documented, can be summed-up by one word: misunderstanding. There was a great deal of misunderstanding on the part of both teams. While Patrick had a right to be mad that Earnhardt ran into the back of her, she didn’t fully know right away that he had no brakes.
At the same time, the No. 88 shouldn’t have been running up in that high groove, and probably should have been down near the apron before coming in for pit service to get the brakes assessed. It seem like Earnhardt’s spotter, TJ Majors, didn’t see Patrick up there on the track, and before he could instruct Earnhardt to move down, he collided with the No. 10 car. Earnhardt actually said following the race, “I probably shouldn’t have had been racing that hard…”
Patrick declined to speak with the media.
It was the events that occurred following the initial contact that were troublesome, though. There is no room for drivers getting into one another on pit road, no matter the situation. Although it was just a tap on the bumper by Patrick, the results could have been much worse. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, drivers forget that there is a reason for a speed limit on pit road or that there are defenseless crew members who are not immune to moving steel and rubber. Again, Patrick did not intend to cause real harm to the No. 88 or any one person, but when drivers make contact on pit road, no matter how small, the possibility of something much, much worse happening is certainly increased. In the end, I doubt this scuffle will continue beyond Kentucky, and the feud between her and Earnhardt will be over by the time we take the green flag up in New Hampshire on Sunday.
As for the brake issues Earnhardt suffered? I wouldn’t read anything into it at all. Parts are subject to failure, and those kinds of problems happen in racing. It appears Earnhardt may have been at fault for the issues since he didn’t turn on his brake fans early in the race, and the system was just unable to recover. With that said, the No. 88 team has been pretty stout all season long, and I don’t foresee that changing at all before the Chase.
Q: Hey Greg, the Chevys seemed to not be on their game on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway with the new package. Any insight as to why the Chevrolets were so weak when they’ve been dominant all season? – Clay S., Augusta, Maine
A: Clay, thanks for the question. Why were the Chevrolets not dominant on Saturday night? Now I’m no engineer, but I’ll be honest with you, there is no real racing or scientific reason for why the Chevy drivers were not up at the front on Saturday.
For example, we saw our pole sitter, Kyle Larson, who prefers the looser style of driving that was present on Saturday night, up toward the front of the pack during the race. Unfortunately, Larson went up into the wall and finished two laps down, and we also saw the brake trouble with the Earnhardt. The rest of the dominant bowties finished in the top 10, including Jeff Gordon (seventh), Kevin Harvick (eighth), Jimmie Johnson (ninth) and Kurt Busch (10th). So not a horrible night for these Chevrolet teams, right?
However, to your point, the only Chevrolets that led laps were Reed Sorenson, who led a single circuit, Alex Bowman and Ryan Newman, who topped the field for two laps apiece. That’s a major decline in laps led for a single race by the manufacturer that has been beating the rest of the field like a drum all season long. Chevy’s 11 wins leads the way in the Sprint Cup Series this season.
I don’t think the reason the Chevys didn’t contend for the lead Saturday night was because of the new rules package. It probably had more to do with a very strong Toyota camp led by JGR and a pair of Ford Fusions for Team Penske that were extremely hard to beat all night.