Who’s in the headline – The early leader in 2016 Cup season is Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization started the season with Denny Hamlin‘s win at Daytona and now has back-to-back wins with Kyle Busch. Busch’s recent success, coupled with his impressive consistency over the first seven races (six finishes of fourth or better) has him leading the points. Even with the misfortunes that have befallen Matt Kenseth this year, the organization has all four drivers in the top 12 in points.
What happened – Carl Edwards started on pole and led the first five laps thanks to the idiotic decision to “start” the race with a green-yellow condition. When the green flew, Edwards hung onto the point for the next 25 laps until the competition caution flew. After a token lap led by David Ragan under the yellow, Edwards led an additional 27 laps before Martin Truex, Jr. made the first on-track pass for the lead.
For the next 157 laps, it was Edwards and Truex swapping the lead with a handful of drivers leading laps during green-flag pit stops. Kenseth took the lead on the fourth restart of the night and was eventually passed by Truex. Lap 260 saw Trevor Bayne make a strategy call to try and finish the race on one more stop. He led for 12 laps before Truex chased him down.
The turning point of the race came during the penultimate caution, when Truex’s team decided to stay on track with tires that only had a handful of laps on them. He was able to lead on the restart, but another quick caution for a huge pileup on the back straight put cars with fresh tires on his tail and to his outside. The final restart on Lap 302 saw Busch prevail in turns three and four and cruise to the victory.
Why you should care – While many talking heads will tell you that a win puts you into the Chase, the simple truth is that it isn’t a guarantee. 16 spots are available for the Chase and there are 26 races leading up to the cutoff. If every race had a different winner, it would come down to points rather than wins. That said, a driver who wins twice is guaranteed a spot, assuming they attempt to make the remaining races. The second consecutive win by Busch means the 2015 Champion is ensured a shot at defending his title, provided he tries to qualify for the 19 remaining races before the Chase.
What your friends are talking about – After another dominating performance by Busch in the XFINITY race, the Twitterverse was abuzz with opinions on his participation in the national series below the Cup level. The two camps in the debate are never going to agree, but one thing is for sure: there is a tremendous amount of passion in the argument and it was on full display this weekend.
Busch is the all-time leader in XFINITY wins, six behind Ron Hornaday, Jr. for most Truck Series wins and is tied for 20th in Sprint Cup wins. He is 2/3 of the way to the top 10 in the top series. He has 161 wins in the top three NASCAR series and will soon be approaching 200, which will spur an even greater debate among fans.
The Darlington throwback schemes are already starting to trickle out. Regan Smith is going to run a tribute scheme to 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is set to unveil his scheme Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. Based on the success of last year’s program, there will most likely be 35 or more schemes at Darlington this year.
The Charlotte Motor Speedway folks have announced some of the pre-race activities that will take place for the Coca-Cola 600. The list is far too long to include here, but rest assured it will include ground exercises, air displays, a myriad of military personnel and social media coverage throughout.
LUNKENHEIMER: Charlotte Motor Speedway Announcement
Clint Bowyer continues to struggle in the No. 15 HScott Motorsports entry. He spoke with Kickin’ the Tires this week and acknowledged that he is frustrated and not where he thought he’d be at this point in the season. He did, however, credit his team with working their hardest to get him where he is, no matter where that point is. He stated he is determined to leave HScott in a better spot by the time he climbs out of the seat at the end of the season. One side note to this discussion: Justin Allgaier appears to be a far better driver than he was given credit for considering how well he ran in the No. 51 out of the HScott stable the last few years.
Nazareth Speedway has changed ownership. The facility, which has sat idle since 2004, was purchased by an agricultural business that intends to farm the land around the speedway. There was no announcement as to the potential use of the actual track. Many people in the area would love to see racing return, but as we’ve seen with other shuttered historic tracks of late, that is a tall order.
Speaking of old racetracks, to almost no one’s surprise, it was announced this week that the X-Cup series would not run its planned race at Rockingham on April 23. The cloudy picture around the track’s financial situation led to a change of locks on the gates and a termination of the signed lease with Vets-Help.org, which was going to put on the race. While some vocal fans continue to beat the drum for the old track, they didn’t show up when they had the chance to support it, and it will take a significant financial commitment from the surrounding area to make another race take place.
Banana and mayonnaise sandwiches have been a part of Southern culture for ages. Thanks to Twitter the attention to the culinary curiosity is at an all-time high. Earnhardt, Jr. posted a video about the sandwich and the racing world exploded with interest. The folks at JR Motorsports took the opportunity to put together a funny video and start a charitable effort at dalejrsandwich.com. Fans can donate money and Earnhardt will match the donations up to $50,000 to help with hunger and the Blessings in a Backpack organization.
Who is mad – Jimmie Johnson started the race in 11th position and was quickly carving his way through the field when the competition caution flew. He pulled out of his stall and was heading down pit lane behind Busch when Kevin Harvick pulled out of his stall. Busch checked up and Johnson rear ended him, causing damage to the nose of Johnson’s car. Adding insult to injury, Johnson got caught on pit lane when a caution flew which resulted in having to take the wave around. He battled back to the top five only to be part of the final caution. His team barebonded the car and he drove back to a fourth place finish, but had a car capable of winning the race.
Austin Dillon has been showing some strength this year and has always run well on 1.5-mile tracks. His team made a call to stay out on slightly used tires with 45 laps to go. Unfortunately for Dillon, a quick caution put him in the middle of a hornet’s nest of cars with fresher tires and laps winding down. Dillon got out of shape when Hamlin got close to his left rear in turn two. As he attempted to gather it up Johnson bumped him and he slapped the outside wall. Dillon slid down through the field and a dozen cars were caught up in the subsequent mayhem. Dillon managed a 19th-place finish but had hopes of so much more.
LUNKENHEIMER: Austin Dillon Triggers Multi-Car Pileup
Bayne was running in the teens for much of the event when his team tried a strategy call to attempt to steal a win. He led 12 laps late in the race and was on pace for a one stop strategy over the final 75 laps when the debris caution flew on Lap 279. His strategy was torpedoed at that point and he was hoping to salvage a good run. He had minor damage from the Dillon incident and came home on the lead lap in 15th place. While he ended up where he ran most of the day, he had the strategy in place for so much more.
Who is happy – Chase Elliott is trying to establish his own identity in the No. 24 this season. After a disappointing Daytona 500 and a poor run at Las Vegas, he has hit a stride over the last four events. Saturday night saw him notch his best finish in his Cup career, coming home with his first top 5 run. The Hendrick Motorsports gang filled three of the top 5 spots and seems to be the only challenger to Joe Gibbs Racing at this point in the season. Elliott is showing the signs that he just might end up in Victory Lane before the end of the season.
Kasey Kahne has had a horrible start to 2016. One top 10 and two finishes better than 22nd before Saturday night have led to discussions of the No. 5 being a test car for HMS. Kahne was on his way to a decent run, but nothing special, before his team hit on the proper adjustments on his last pit stop. He took advantage of the final two restarts and clawed his way to an eighth-place run and his second top 10 of the year.
Earnhardt was another Hendrick driver who was happy after Saturday night. Like Johnson, Earnhardt was caught a lap down by the fourth caution of the night, but he was the first car on that lap so he received the Lucky Dog. He drove back through the field and passed Truex for the second spot with the laps winding down. While he was a bit mad about not having a shot at the win over the final 20 laps, he was pleased that his team rebounded and he scored his third top 5 and second runner-up of the season.
When the checkered flag flew:
Kyle Busch scored his 36th victory of his career in his 397th career start Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
This was Busch’s second triumph of 2016.
Busch has two career victories at TMS.
Busch is now tied with Matt Kenseth for 20th on the all-time wins list.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second Saturday night.
It is Earnhardt’s fourth career top 2 run in Ft. Worth.
This is Earnhardt’s second top 2 run of the season.
Earnhardt has 30 career second place runs which is tied with Ricky Rudd for 24th on the all-time list.
Joey Logano came home in third for his second top 3 run of the season.
Logano finished in the top 3 at TMS for the third time in his career.
This is Logano’s 35th podium run of his career. That ties him with Cotton Owens for 59th on the all-timelist.
Chase Elliott was the highest finishing rookie and crowned Rookie of the Race.
After seven races this season, Johnson and Busch both have two wins and are guaranteed spots in the Chase provided they attempt the remaining 19 races before the cutoff. Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick have one victory each and could lock in with one more win. The drivers without wins who would currently make the Chase based on points and their associated position include:
- Carl Edwards
- Joey Logano
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Kurt Busch
- Austin Dillon
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Matt Kenseth
- Jamie McMurray
- Chase Elliott
- AJ Allmendinger
- Kasey Kahne
What is in the cooler – The marriage of the new aero package and the Goodyear tires that are wearing out and giving up is putting on some great racing. It is also resulting in people making late race strategy calls. We saw on-track passes for the lead and strategy plays on Saturday along with cars coming and going all night long. In the end a car that wasn’t in the mix until the end grabbed the win and the six shooters. As a result we’ll give the race five cold Rahr & Sons Texas Red Amber Lagers.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The mountains of eastern Tennessee are calling and the Cup series is answering. The tour is headed to Bristol for the first visit of the season and the Food City 500. The race will be broadcast on Fox at 1:00PM Sunday April, 17th. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.