The amount of laps Matt Kenseth lost after failing to heed a black flag during the early stages of Sunday’s race. Kenseth was penalized for illegal fueling after the gas man placed a wrench on the deck lid of the car during a stop while the gas can was engaged, and while crew chief Jason Ratcliff was arguing the team’s case, Kenseth continued to run, seemingly oblivious to the black flag waving off the side of the flag stand.
It was only when the black flag with white cross came out that Kenseth did notice, and by then it was too late as NASCAR was no longer scoring the No. 20. Kenseth lost a lap while he wasn’t being scored and another serving the penalty. Normally a team could conceivably make up the lost laps with free passes and wave arounds, but Atlanta was devoid of the cautions that bring them both. Only thee cautions slowed the race, with two of them coming in the final 10 laps of the event, and there was no way that a team would pass up four tires in order to make up a lap.
It was a costly mistake by the gas man, but just as equal a mistake by the crew chief and spotter. If either had notified Kenseth that the black flag was flying, Kenseth would’ve only lost a single lap. It was a second straight disappointing finish for the No. 20 team, both inflicted by Joe Gibbs Racing personnel.
That’s the average finish for Clint Bowyer through two races this season. The Michael Waltrip Racing transplant knew that he’d potentially be taking a step backward this season while at HScott Motorsports, but nobody thought he’d be this far behind the competition following two races. He hasn’t crashed, he hasn’t blown an engine. He’s just been flat-out beat by smaller teams like BK Racing and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing as well as his teammate Michael Annett, whose best-career finish is 13th. In fact, his only highlight of 2016 is a crash in a celebrity supercross race held this past weekend.
Finishing 35th in a 39-car field is unacceptable for a driver of Bowyer’s caliber and a team that receives support from Stewart-Haas Racing. But if Bowyer’s team can’t get this new package under control (and there’s plenty of time for that, for sure), it’s going to be a long season for the Kansas native. The silver lining to this early-season nightmare? It’s a temporary situation. His soon-to-be Ford No. 14 is just 34 races away.
That’s the number of wins that Jimmie Johnson has earned including his victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is now tied with the legendary Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time wins list. It didn’t seem like Johnson would take the victory until late in the race – no, the race was at one point Kenseth’s to win, and then perhaps Martin Truex Jr.‘s before Kevin Harvick took the lead and looked to lock up a hard-earned win.
But Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus made a gutsy call late in the race, bringing Johnson in for four fresh tires way before the competition did. The resulting grip advantage allowed Johnson to surge to a nearly 15-second lead, a number too big for Harvick to overcome on his own. Not even a late-race caution for a spinning Ryan Newman could help Harvick pass Johnson. It’s no secret that the No. 48 team is a dynasty, and Johnson tying Earnhardt further cements the legacy that he’ll leave behind when he finally decides to hang up the wheel in a few years.
It only took Kyle Busch 150 laps to reach the top 10 in the running order during Sunday’s race. Why is this significant? Busch started dead last in the field after having a pole-winning qualifying lap disallowed earlier in the weekend. He also made up all the ground during a green-flag run while not relying on cautions to bunch the field up and restarts to whiz by the competition.
No, Busch used the new low-downforce package to his advantage, being aggressive with new tires and wheeling the car when tires fell off and skill came into play. When all was said and done, Busch finished third and could have won the race had the race not been called a lap early due to a crash back in the field. The new package was by all means a success – drivers were sliding around searching for grip and passing was markedly easier to do. While Busch didn’t win, he did prove just why this package is a perfect choice for 2016.
XFINITY Series race 30 of year 2010. That was the last time that NOS Energy Drink found itself in victory lane as the primary sponsor in any NASCAR race until Busch’s triumph in last Saturday’s NXS race. Five and a half years have passed since Busch last took them to victory lane at Auto Club Speedway. By the end of 2011, Busch and NOS had parted ways when he started his own race team sponsored by rival product Monster Energy.
NOS switched alliances to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., was part of his NXS championship-winning 2012 campaign and followed Stenhouse to Cup, electing to sponsor only a handful of races. The results were subpar during the Cup effort, with a best finish of 15th at Auto Club in 2015. The company moved back to JGR this season, once again teaming up with Busch for 18 races. It didn’t take them long to reach victory lane again.
It’s a nice story in an era where sponsors are dropping out left and right that NOS refused to leave the sport following disappointing results. Instead it found a way to return to a team that had provided great results and picked up right where they left off.